Archive for July, 2013

PCBs and Monsanto’s marred reputation

On the Health Regulation page, publishing soon at  www.internationalcomparisons.org as we announced last week, we will include in the statistic table each country’s policy on  polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The United States, most of the world, and all other advanced democracies have banned PCBs. Still, PCBs are noteworthy and relevant to our research to the extent that it’s a great introduction to Monsanto’s lack of business and political ethics. After reviewing the information, below, we understand better why the precautionary principle is absolutely irrelevant in U.S. health regulation policy.

  • Monsanto deliberately hid, tampered with, and denied scientific evidence of PCBs’ hazardous properties up to and beyond its U.S. ban in 1977

    As meticulously outlined by foxriverwatch.com, Monsanto has a prolific history of publicly denying knowledge of the damage caused by PCBs (as they did in 197019731974, 1979, 1993), or altering scientific reports (as they did in 1949, 1969–a critical year: see also the Planet Waves report as well as The Nation report–, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1990) despite privately receiving from others and making their own warnings concerning its harm (as they did in 1937, 1938, 1951, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1979, 1980, ).

  • Monsanto neglects safety as its own responsibility and places it on government regulation

    Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.

    -Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications

    In fact, in several instances Monsanto has rewarded employees who have intentionally bucked and stalled the government’s ability to regulate.

  • Monsanto sticks close to the federal government not only by an intimate and thorough lobbying campaign, but also by its revolving door relationship between top-tiered company positions and presidentially appointed offices in the EPA, FDA, USAID, and USDA (Obama’s no exception)

    NAME

    MONSANTO JOB

    GOVERNMENT JOB

    ADMIN

    Toby Moffett Monsanto Consultant US Congessman D-CT
    Dennis DeConcini Monsanto
    Legal Counsel
    US Senator D-AZ
    Margaret Miller Chemical Lab Supervisor Dep. Dir. FDA,
    HFS
    Bush Sr,
    Clinton
    Marcia Hale Director, Int’l
    Govt. Affairs
    White House
    Senior Staff
    Clinton
    Mickey Kantor Board Member Sec. of Commerce Clinton
    Virginia Weldon VP, Public Policy WH-Appt to CSA, Gore’s SDR Clinton
    Josh King Director, Int’l
    Govt. Affairs
    White House Communications Clinton
    David Beler VP, Gov’t & Public Affairs Gore’s Chief Dom.
    Polcy Advisor
    Clinton
    Carol Tucker-Foreman Monsanto Lobbyist WH-Appointed Consumer Adv Clinton
    Linda Fisher VP, Gov’t & Public Affairs Deputy Admin
    EPA
    Clinton,
    Bush
    Lidia Watrud Manager, New Technologies USDA, EPA Clinton,
    Bush, Obama
    Michael Taylor VP, Public Policy Dep. Commiss. FDA Obama
    Hilary Clinton Rose Law Firm, Monsanto Counsel US Senator,
    Secretary of State
    D-NY
    Obama
    Roger Beachy Director, Monsanto Danforth Center Director USDA NIFA Obama
    Islam Siddiqui Monsanto Lobbyist Ag Negotiator
    Trade Rep
    Obama

    Source: http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/

    This list is nothing new, as some reports exposed the relationship fifteen years ago.

    Such relations also have pertinent implications in explaining such issues like why Monsanto has gotten away without charges from the EPA during a fraudulent investigation in the early 1990’s.

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Italian and French policy values heritage over Monsanto

Yesterday, Italy (from where itnernationalcomparisons.com will conduct its research and reporting starting in October) set a valuable precedent in the world’s fight for an autonomous food system, the EU’s battle against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and a country’s fight to maintain original taste and quality in its produce.

The protection of Italian distinctiveness must be a policy priority since it determines the existence of ‘Made in Italy’, which is our engine, our future, our leverage to return to growth in the food industry.           -Statement from Italian agriculture ministry

Based on this quote, an 80% public backing, and the decision by three separate governmental ministries to ban Monsanto’s MON810 maize,  the Italians resoundingly favor their own original food over Monsanto’s GM, uniform product. So the Italians are not only setting precedent in standing up against the health risks from GMOs and the corporate irresponsibility from Monsanto, but also by adding another element to the argument: pride in country*. And without the latter, the Italians see their hopes of recovery as significantly diminished. According to Italy, Monsanto’s monopoly and bland, uniform product represents such a threat.

In 2012 the French, the most prolific crop growers in all of Europe,  also banned the same product, the only GM product allowed in the EU. France also claims national heritage to be a factor in its decision in spite of the temporary hardship the French face as they transition agriculturally and economically away from MON810. From France and Italy’s perspectives, having little to do with GMOs is still too much.

Perhaps Italy and France have gleaned from the India-Monsanto relationship, which is too much to take on in the same blog. As we prepare research to be released on our new Health Regulation page coming soon, look forward to more blogs on chemical policy, the precautionary principle, and its commercial antithesis: Monsanto.

*Regardless to what extent Italy made its decision as a matter of national pride in its produce, they will need to provide a scientific basis, a “health or environmental risk,” if their position on MON810 is going to stand. France implemented its own custom ban on GMOs last year by going through the same process.

What the Snowden scenario offers us from an international affairs perspective

Edward Snowden’s pursuit for political asylum is captivating from many international affairs perspectives. One that particularly has my attention is to what extent U.S. exceptionalism will attempt to buck not only other states’ sovereignty, but also international rule of law.

Where’s Snowden? Credity: heavy.com

Indeed, this could turn out to be a fascinating showdown indicating which holds more pertinence: the cumulated efforts among international organizations, the relevance of international law, and assistance from human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International versus the once highly favored, yet still proven counterweight, U.S.

Snowden’s claiming under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that he is entitled to political asylum, and that it is the sovereignty of a host nation (in this case Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and potentially Russia) to grant him. Somebody should probably point out the irony in the United States’ prolific reluctance to sign and ratify international treaties, yet still deny rights granted in treaties that they not only signed and ratified, but its former First Lady also championed and authored.

Such duplicity is nothing new coming from the U.S., but the organization and cooperation in the international community could pose a threat that the U.S., especially given its waning clout, is not used to facing.

Norway=model; exception

In addition to already having country profile pages for Germany and Japan, we have recently just added Denmark and Norway (also accessible from our home index page under the “countries covered” listing). While putting together the Norway page, we realized even more how exemplary Norway truly is.

Norway is not a member of the European Union. Also a factor in escaping the eurozone crisis is their oil and gas industry which has them benefiting from the largest budget surplus among all advanced democracies. Norway has an unemployment rate below 3%, no net national debt, and around $640 billion dollars stored away in a sovereign wealth account, mostly from its oil and gas industry. In 2009 Norway earned the highest per capita income.

Deserving much credit for its success is Norway’s fearlessness to tax. Their prosperous oil and gas industry receives a 28% corporate tax and a 50% industry surtax. Overall tax as a share of GDP is among the highest in the OECD. Corporate taxes are four times as high as U.S. rates. Their highest income tax bracket kicks in at $124,000 at 47.8%. Yet businesses aren’t saddling up to head to places where they might save on looser tax breaks, an argument from those in the U.S. representing a vast majority who refuse to consider any tax increase. In fact, start up activity not only in Norway, but also Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada is higher than that of the U.S. From 2006-2009, the U.S. economy treaded at a practically stagnant .1% growth rate compared to Norway’s exponentially faster rate of 3%. Norway also boasts more entrepreneurs per capita than the U.S.

Part of the reason why business owners are so keen to comply without raising a stir at Norwegian taxes is the sense of appreciation they have for the system. Norwegians benefit from free education from preschool to graduate school (often including universities outside of Norway); free healthcare; generous unemployment benefits due to a competitive, employee-friendly job market; forty-six weeks of maternity leave paid in full, 10 weeks for paternal leave. Education, retirement, and medical expenses are three paramount concerns for the average U.S. citizen, but all of which are provided in Norway. There’s a sense of giving back to the system in Norway for the ways one has benefited previously from the system.

 

Adapted from“US fiscal debate could learn from Norway” by Mark Provost from Progressive Press and  “In Norway, start ups say Ja to socialism” by Max Chafkin in Inc. Magazine.

More on gun control: utilizing a healthy rationale

Moderation is key Credit: skepticink.com

As thoroughly established in last week’s blog, it’s entirely implausible to revoke all gun rights with the second amendment’s clarity in establishing the right to bear arms. Equally erroneous is the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) tirelessly obstinate refusal to consider anything resembling regulation or compromise.

Both sides need to take a break from either polarity in order to find some sort of common ground if we are to resolve anything in this controversy. Such common ground is hardly extreme. We review five “commonsense” options as provided by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Erwin Chemerinsky and Robert Steinbuch. (For an idea on how nonsensical gun laws can be here in the States, look no further than another one of our previous blogs.)

  1. Extend background check requirements: Most notably, this should include gun show sales and private sales. This loophole is too big to ignore and of which is too easy for potential criminals to take advantage.
  2. Expand the FBI’s database with more thorough information: Today, the requisite information is hardly sufficient in determining whether the consumer can be considered safe. The background checks should require more information about the individual.
  3. Reinstate liability of gunmakers: Thanks to heavy lobbying efforts from organizations like the NRA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was passed in 2005, effectually removing any liability a gunmaker could have in a lawsuit. Gunmakers should be held responsible like producers of all other legal products.
  4. Certain weapons ban: The phrase used here by Chemerinsky and Steinbuch is “weapons that serve no other purpose than to kill a large number of the public in a short amount of time.” They also make the point that society has always been assertive in setting limits on the availability of the most dangerous weapons. It is quite reasonable to regulate such weapons without challenging the second amendment.
  5. Regulate magazine size: There have been instances in which gunmen (Cherminsky and Steinbuch cite the Long Island Railroad killer) have been stopped only when they ran out of ammunition in one magazine and needed to change to another. The application is obvious: if the magazine had less capacity, the opportunity to stop him would have come sooner and before he had the chance to kill more people. Larger magazine capacities hardly serve any other functional value.