Category Archives: Food Security

Covid-19: past, present and future

The current pandemic continues to have a large negative impact on most aspects of our lives. Over 20.6 million have been infected and almost 750,000 have died worldwide (about 5.3 million infections and over 168,00 deaths in the US) due to this pandemic. Besides these horrific impacts, this pandemic has also made clearer the failure of the bipartisan neoliberal economic approach that puts profit before people and planet.

Pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, the world was already nearing a climate catastrophe and ecological collapse. In addition, under its neoliberal approach, the US already had a shamefully large number of homeless, tens of millions underinsured or without health insurance, millions experiencing hunger, millions without jobs, millions more facing huge debts, and an appalling wealth and income inequality. Politicians, operating in a system of legalized bribery, continued to fund the military wildly beyond its needs. This wasteful spending clearly didn’t make us secure and took money from the far more needed and productive domestic spending. In addition, systemic racism, especially in the US ‘injustice’ system, greatly harmed minorities. This was hardly an ideal world.

During the pandemic

Due to the Trump administration’s scandalous lack of preparedness and its failure to promptly implement public health measures, many municipalities instituted total lockdowns in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. These lockdowns led to the closing of many businesses (especially small businesses) and tens of millions filed for unemployment. These job losses resulted in millions more: 1) losing their health insurance; 2) facing the loss of their housing; and 3) experiencing severe hunger. In addition, due to systemic racism, minorities were disproportionately more susceptible to the disease than whites.

So far, the Trump administration and Congress have enacted relief packages that primarily benefited the already obscenely wealthy while providing only minimal short-term aid to the rest of us. In contrast, several other nations demonstrated real concern about their people and their businesses by funding 70% or more of the business payrolls. As a result, they didn’t experience large job losses or bankruptcies.

My hopes

My hopes are that the politicians would finally live up to the ideas in: 1) the Second Bill of Rights (an economic bill of rights) that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed in 1944; and 2) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including the rights of women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Roosevelt said: In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; and,
  • The right to a good education.

Unfortunately, the US doesn’t recognize these rights and some others in the UDHR that are accepted by many other wealthy nations. As a result, tens of millions of our population unnecessarily suffer tremendous harm.

In addition, my hopes include a major overhaul in our imperialistic foreign policy. We must rejoin the family of nations and rely on diplomacy instead of military power and economic coercion. The global threats of nuclear war and the looming climate catastrophe require nations to work together.

Some vital changes

Unless the Trump administration and Congress quickly enact bills that:

1) fill shortfalls in the budgets of the Post Office and state and local governments;

2) provide aid to true small businesses;

3) provide long-term funding directly to the population;

4) declare a jubilee on debts owed to predatory lenders;

5) support a green new deal;

6) provide healthcare for all;

7) drastically reduce the military budget; and especially

8) fully protect the rights of minorities,

I fear the US is likely to fall into a long-lasting depression and risk societal collapse.

Update

President Trump and the Republican-led Senate dithered around for two months after the House proposed its major relief bill instead of getting a new relief bill enacted. This ineptitude and callous attitude towards the desperation and suffering of many Americans is incredible. Making matters maddeningly worse, the US is still ill prepared to deal with this crisis, a crisis that is likely to worsen upon the return of inadequately protected teachers and students to school.

Unfortunately, these updates reinforce my fears about the future.

From Toxic Food to Agrarian Disaster: Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap

During the early days of the coronavirus lockdowns, in some quarters there was a certain degree of optimism around. Although millions of people were suffering, the hope was that the Covid-19 crisis would shine light on societal and economic systems across the world, exposing some of the deep-rooted flaws of capitalism. There was a belief that people working together with their respective governments could start building a fairer capitalism and more sustainable economies.

However, we see exactly the opposite taking place. In the UK, we now witness a post-Brexit trade deal being negotiated behind closed doors with the US that could see a lowering of food and environment standards, despite the Conservative government pledge that it would not compromise on standards in these areas. The government now proposes that chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from ractopamine-injected animals and many other toxic foods produced in the US will be allowed into the UK. Sanctioning the entry of (chemical-resistant) GM crops and GM food are also likely to be part of any deal.

It would effectively mean sacrificing UK farmers’ livelihoods, the environment and the nation’s health to suit the bottom line of US agribusiness corporations.

The UK isn’t the only country that US agribusiness has set its sights on. World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various coronavirus lockdowns. This ‘help’ will be on condition that neoliberal reforms are implemented and become further embedded. Ranil Salgado, mission chief for India at the IMF, says that when the economic shock passes, it’s important that India returns to its path of undertaking such long-term reforms.

But haven’t ordinary Indians already had enough of these ‘structural adjustments’ and their impacts? Rural affairs commentator P Sainath has highlighted the desperate plight of migrant workers in India. He notes that millions of rural livelihoods have been deliberately snuffed out over a period of many years, sparking an agrarian crisis. As a result of lockdown, tens of millions went back to their villages but there is no work there because rural jobs have been extinguished – the reason for urban migration in the first place.

The US has been pushing to bring Indian agriculture under corporate control for a long time. Further ‘reforms’ would serve to accelerate this process. US agribusiness wants to force GMO food crops into the country, further displace peasant farmers thereby driving even more people to cities and ensure corporate consolidation and commercialisation of the sector based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants.

Like the UK, India is also involved in trade talks with the US. If this deal goes through and India capitulates to US demands, it could devastate the dairy, poultry, soybean, maize and other sectors and severely deepen the crisis in the countryside. India could also see GMO food flooding the country and the further corporate consolidation of the seed sector. The article ‘Perils of the US-India free trade agreement for Indian farmers’ published on the grain.org website highlights what could be in store.

In the wake of India deciding to not participate in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, another trade deal that would have had devastating consequences for farmers and the food system. the article concludes:

It would be inconsistent, and a slap in the face, to now start US-India trade talks that will pose much bigger challenges for India’s rural communities and agriculture sector. Such a deal would greatly compromise India’s huge diversity of local seeds and plants which are conserved and reused by millions of Indian farmers year after year. It will also destroy India’s hope for food sovereignty.

Any such trade deal will be for the benefit of powerful agribusiness giants and will reinforce the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of these corporations. It would also send millions more to the cities in search of jobs that are just not there. This will be the result of the ‘reforms’ demanded by the World Bank and IMF.

If lockdown has shown anything, it is that many of those who sought better lives in the cities have failed to establish a firm foothold. They are marginalised and employed in the worst jobs working long hours for minimal wages. The fragility of their position is demonstrated by the reverse migrations we have witnessed and the callous treatment they are used to was demonstrated by the government’s attitude to their plight under lockdown.

The various lockdowns around the globe have also exposed the fragility of the global food system, dominated by long-line supply chains and global conglomerates – which effectively suck food and wealth from the Global South to the richer nations.

What we have seen underscores the need for a radical transformation of the prevailing globalised food regime based on a system of agroecology which reduces dependency on external proprietary inputs, distant volatile commodity markets and patented technologies. It would help to shorten chains, increase crop diversity, improve diets, regenerate soils, support food sovereignty, re-localise production and consumption and boost local economies, which in India would stem the flow of people moving to the cities and would even create livelihoods for those who have returned to the countryside.

It is the type of system that Prof Michel Pimbert and Colin Anderson of Coventry University in the UK advocate. In contrast to corporate-driven trade deals, centrally controlled hi-tech innovations, people-free farming, drones replacing bees, genetically engineered crops and a future of synthetic lab-based food, the two academics argue:

Agroecological innovations… are being driven largely from the bottom up by civil society, social movements and allied researchers. In this context, priorities for innovations are ones that increase citizen control for food sovereignty and decentralise power.

Instead of trade deals hammered out behind closed doors above the heads of ordinary people by elite interests, the authors state that deliberative, inclusive processes like citizens’ juries, peoples’ assemblies and community-led participatory actions are urgently needed.

It is these types of processes that should guide all economic sectors, not just agriculture. Processes underpinned by a vision for a better, more just world that can only be delivered by challenging capitalism’s dispossessive strategies which fuel India’s agrarian crisis and the types of human and environmental degradation and exploitation we see across the globe.

Global Issues Require United Action and a Reinvigorated UN

Whatever corner of the world one happens to live in, the most pressing issues of the day affect everyone. Pandemics/epidemics and the environmental emergency; war and terrorism; poverty and food insecurity; overpopulation and the displacement of persons. Such crises cannot be limited by borders or controlled by nation states; no government or corporate power can manage them. They are interconnected global issues and they require a coordinated global response.

Drawn together by economic interest or shared geo-political concerns various allied groupings and regional alliances exist in the world. While such assemblies present the possibility of nations unifying, self-interest, ideology and partisanship dominate the approach of many governments to global problems: achieving consensus is rare, and consistent implementation of agreements even more so. And with the rise of tribal nationalism in recent years, led by major nations like America, Russia and China, the space for cooperation and unity has been further eroded, the major issues of the times ignored, or in many cases enflamed.

The United Nations: What now?

In addition to highlighting a range of social inequalities the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for nations to work cooperatively in response to global issues, under the coordinated stewardship of an international body. One that is free from political ideology is non-partisan and works to build the broadest level of consensus.

Established in 1945 at the end of World War II, The United Nations (UN), with its range of 15 specialized agencies is the obvious body to take on such an expanded, essential role. Not by adopting powers of governance over member states but by being invested with a new status based on the recognition that certain issues demand unified strategic action and the understanding that the future of individual countries rests upon the health and stability of the whole.

Like all global organizations the UN is imperfect and reforms are needed, but it represents a high point in human achievement and the world is a richer place for its existence. Since its inception million of people have been fed, educated and cared for by UN agencies. Its overall aim is, “the maintenance of international peace and security.” However, with member states pursuing their own ideologically fuelled agendas and with limited or no influence to tackle the underlying causes of conflict, this has proven impossible. One of the most significant accomplishments in the history of the UN is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948. It includes the right to not be enslaved, the right to free expression, the right to food and shelter and the right to seek asylum from persecution.

Despite the fact that many of the rights expressed remain unrealized the existence of the UDHR is crucially important, establishing a clear set of rights for every human being in the world. And, as we move into a new time, the UDHR could serve as a guiding template for systemic change, in particular the rights outlined in article 25, which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Within the UN there are a range of relevant departments concerned with the global issues outlined, agencies that are overflowing with expertise and people of goodwill. But whether it’s the UNHCR (working with refugees), the WHO or the UN Environment agency, all too often their efforts to act for the benefit of those they serve are inhibited by the power exerted by the 15-member Security Council, in particular the permanent five (P5), by the self-centered short -term approach of member states, lack of funding and a somewhat ambiguous world role.

Agents of Change

At the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO works to bring about “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health… physical, mental and social well-being.” And much has been achieved in the 70 years since it was set up. But in developing regions (where nations cannot fund health care adequately) access to medical support is extremely limited and, as in countries where health care is not (freely) provided by the state, the quality of treatment received by patients is conditioned by their economic status. The agency has been criticized by some, most notably President Trump (who has now withdrawn US funding), for failing to act quickly enough over Covid-19. Certainly mistakes were made. The worldwide response to the virus, however, should have been coordinated by the WHO; consistent methodologies followed – while being adapted to specific populations – with clear messages and detailed scientific information. Instead, nations turned within and formulated their own approach.

Together with the IPCC, UN Environment has potentially the most important role of any UN agency. But their aim to encourage partnership in “caring for the environment” is frustrated by the forces of commercialization and the consumer obsessed way of life relentlessly promoted by corporate governments and followed by the mass of humanity. Governments are fixated on ‘growth’, and ‘caring for the environment’ is a secondary consideration, if considered at all. “Reducing food insecurity and rural poverty” is the concern of the UN food agency (UNFAO). Around 2 billion people in the world are estimated to be ‘food insecure’, of which, just under a billion ‘don’t have enough to eat’. The world is vastly overpopulated; common estimates suggest that the planet can comfortably support 3.5 – 4 billion people, but currently the global population stands at 7.8 billion. There is, however, food enough for everyone; starvation and malnourishment are fundamentally problems of poverty and distribution, not over-population, although this is a significant issue which is having a devastating impact on the natural environment.

Peace, hunger, displacement, environment, health care, every issue is interconnected, one impacting on the other. All arise from, and are intensified by, the all-pervasive unjust socio-economic system. Everything and all areas of life have become commodified and commercialized, including the natural environment, food, health care and education. No money no food, no cash no health care, no income poor or non-existent education and sub-standard housing. As a means of organizing the socio-economic life of humanity, promoting human wellbeing and environmental health it is utterly deficient, detrimental, in fact. And whatever bailouts and stimulus programs are concocted to mop up the Covid economic spillage it is a system in decay; a vessel running on empty, propelled only by the momentum of the past.

Renewed UN

Key to overcoming the global issues here outlined and bringing about socio-economic change is the introduction of sharing, together with a reinvigorated expanded United Nations. Most people and many nations are poor, or poorly off, but the world is rich, overflowing; it is an abundant world and everyone is entitled to benefit from its collective riches.

Sharing as a principle of living needs to be planted in all areas of life, a unifying seed of goodness infusing all systems and modes of living. This will require the establishment of a new UN agency (‘The United Nations Office for Sharing (UNOS)’ perhaps) and eventually the dissolution of the Security Council, which is currently the most powerful arm of the UN.

The new agency would design systems of sharing and oversee the equitable distribution, firstly of food and water, then, through a massive volunteer program, of other resources that are held collectively, including knowledge, skills, creativity. Sharing is an extraordinarily potent quality, both an action and an attitude of mind. It is an expression of trust and an acknowledgment of our oneness, it encourages cooperation and cultivates trust, and when there is trust much can be achieved between individuals and groups. It a vibrant force for good and its time has come.

All countries are deficient in some areas, but as humanity begins to function as a World community, the needs of everyone can be met; all that is required is that we acknowledge the needs of all and learn to share. And although the current systems work against such commonsensical ways, through the application of creative thinking and goodwill, coordinated by a revitalized unifying UN, much can be achieved.

Food and Agroecology: Coping with Future Shocks

The food crisis that could follow in the wake of the various lockdowns that were implemented on the back of the coronavirus may have long-lasting consequences. We are already seeing food shortages in the making. In India, for instance, supply chains have been disrupted, farm input systems for the supply of seeds and fertilisers have almost collapsed in some places and crops are not being harvested. Moreover, cultivation has been adversely affected prior to the monsoon and farm incomes are drying up. Farmers closer to major urban centres are faring a bit better due to shorter supply chains.

Veteran rural reporter P Sainath has urged India’s farmers to move away from planting cash crops and to start cultivating food crops, saying that you cannot eat cotton. It’s a good point. For instance, according to a report that appeared on the ruralindiaonline website, in a region of southern Odisha, farmers have been pushed towards a reliance on (illegal) expensive genetically modified herbicide tolerant cotton seeds and have replaced their traditional food crops. Farmers used to sow mixed plots of heirloom seeds, which had been saved from family harvests the previous year and would yield a basket of food crops. They are now dependent on seed vendors, chemical inputs and a volatile international market to make a living and are no longer food secure.

But what is happening in India is a microcosm of global trends. Reliance on commodity monocropping for international markets, long global supply chains and dependency on external inputs for cultivation make the food system vulnerable to shocks, whether resulting from public health scares, oil price spikes (the industrial global food system is heavily fossil-fuel dependent) or conflict. An increasing number of countries are recognising the need to respond by becoming more food self-sufficient, preferably by securing control over their own food and reducing supply chains.

Various coronavirus lockdowns have disrupted many transport and production activities, exposing the weaknesses of our current food system. While one part of the world (the richer countries) experiences surplus food but crop destruction due to farm labour shortages, millions of people elsewhere could face hunger due to rising food prices — or a lack of food availability altogether: the story of India’s migrant workers returning to their villages from the cities has been one of hardship, hunger and even death.

If the current situation tells us anything, it is that structural solutions are needed to reorganise food production. In his final report (2014) to the UN Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur, Olivier De Schutter called for the world’s food systems to be radically redesigned. His report concluded that by applying agroecological principles to the design of democratically controlled agricultural systems we can help to put an end to food crises and poverty challenges. De Schutter argued that agroecological approaches could tackle food needs in critical regions and could double food production in 10 years. However, he stated that insufficient backing seriously hinders progress.

In addition to De Schutter’s 2014 report, the 2009 IAASTD peer-reviewed report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommends agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture. Moreover, the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concluded that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

As a model of agriculture, agroecology is based on traditional knowledge and modern agricultural research, utilising elements of contemporary ecology, soil biology and the biological control of pests. This system combines sound ecological management by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging endogenous solutions to manage pests and disease without the use of agrochemicals and corporate seeds.

Agroecology can also offer concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems. It offers an alternative to a prevailing system of doctrinaire neoliberal economics that drives a failing model of industrial agriculture which is having devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security and food sovereignty.

Agroecology outperforms the prevailing industrial food system in terms of diversity of food output, nutrition per acre, soil health and efficient water use. In addition, by creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work in richer countries, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by those countries and the displacement of peasant farmers elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs.

The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology by Nyeleni in 2015 argued for building grass-root local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on genuine agroecological food production. It added that agroecology requires local producers and communities to challenge and transform structures of power in society, not least by putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of those who feed the world.

It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests driven by commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions to their global supply chains and questionable products( whether unhealthy food or proprietary pesticides and seeds). For consumers, the public good includes more diverse diets leading to better nutrition and enhanced immunity when faced with any future pandemic.

As Florence Tartanac, senior officer at Nutrition and Food Systems Division of the UN FAO, stated in April 2018:

… agroecological markets bring an increase in the availability of more diverse food, especially of local varieties, that are linked to traditional diets. Therefore, consumers’ awareness should be increased on the importance of diet diversification and its effects on physical and mental health as well as on the positive impacts of sustainable, local and traditional consumption on the social, economic and environmental compartments.

She made these comments during the second FAO international symposium ‘Scaling up Agroecology to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’. And it’s a valid point seeing that the modern diet has become less diverse and is driving a major public health crisis in many countries.

Across the world, decentralised, region and local community-owned food systems based on short(er) food supply chains that can cope with future shocks are now needed more than ever.

The Decade Of Transformation: Being In Balance With Nature

Save Our Planet Save Our Future, Belgium, January 31, 2019 (Photo: EuroNews/Twitter)

This is the fourth newsletter in our series on the 2020s as a decade of transformation See Remaking International Relations, Remaking the Economy for the People, and Remaking Healthcare. In addition to COVID-19 and the economic collapse, multiple crises are reaching a peak and the world is changing as a result. How the world changes will be determined in some part by our actions. This week, we look at what can be done to bring our societies into balance with nature.

Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes an alternative theory of evolution to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” in her book, “Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution.” Sahtouris finds that evolution is cyclical, a spiral instead of linear. She describes how when a new species arises, it upsets the ecological equilibrium as it comes into competition with other species over habitat. The task of that species in the adolescent phase of its evolution is to find its niche in a way that is cooperative with other species. If it fails, it goes extinct.

The human species is in its adolescent phase, and now it is time to recognize our mistakes and change our behaviors. Sahtouris writes:

Like any adolescent who is suddenly aware of having created a very real life crisis, our species faces a choice — the choice between pursuing our dangerous course to disaster or stopping and trying to find mature solutions to our crises. This choice point is the brink of maturity — the point at which we must decide whether to continue our suicidal course or turn from it to responsible maturity. Are we going to continue our disastrously competitive economics, our ravaging conversion of our natural supply base into things, our pollution of basic soils, waters and atmosphere in the process? Or will we change the way we see life — our worldview, our self-image, our goals, and our behavior — in accord with our new knowledge of living nature in evolution?

We’re in for a rough patch

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred quickly. The first documented cases occurred in Wuhan, China in late December. The first reported case outside of China occurred two weeks later in Thailand. At that point, it was also discovered that human-to-human transmission of the virus could occur. One week later, the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States. Within a month, 18 countries besides China had infections. By early March, there were 500 cases in the United States impacting 30 states plus the District of Columbia. And within another month, the number of cases in the US grew one thousand-fold to 500,000, with 20,000 deaths. These are only the ones we know about. It is certain that the number of cases in the US is being undercounted, perhaps by a factor of ten, as are deaths.

Within a matter of months, the pandemic has had wide-ranging and devastating impacts. There are nearly two million cases in 210 countries. Over 100,000 people have died. Health care systems are being overwhelmed. The pandemic triggered a global recession, which the world was on course to experience at some point soon, and this was before the economy started shutting down.

Nearly 17 million people in the US became unemployed in the last three weeks. This is also likely an underestimate as unemployment offices are overwhelmed. And a majority of workers in the fields of construction, manufacturing, and transportation, and in the service sectors are unable to meet their basic needs. Millions are losing their health insurance when they need it most.

As abruptly as the pandemic and global economic collapse have changed our lives, scientists predict another rapid disruption in our lives is on the horizon. A new study published in Nature predicts ecosystem collapse could start occurring within the next decade. Researchers found that many species are already living near the limits of the conditions they require to survive. As the planet heats up, many species will reach their limit simultaneously and there will be mass die-offs.

Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News explains:

As global warming heats their habitat to the point that it is intolerable, many species have no place to go. Some will go extinct, with a domino effect that affects scores of other species. If it gets too hot for bumblebees, for example, it affects the reproduction of plants. If it gets too warm for insects and reptiles, it affects food supplies for birds and mammals.

When ecosystems start collapsing abruptly, we will face similar situations as we are facing today with the twin COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. We will be forced to adapt to a new reality, but this time it will be a reality that threatens the food supply in addition to increasing the risk of disease. Just as health professionals warned us for years that we were unprepared for an inevitable pandemic, climate scientists are warning us of ecosystem collapse. We can mitigate the crisis, but that is only going to happen if we take the initiative to make it happen.

COVID-19 will change the world (From News Karnataka)

We’re all connected and it’s all connected

Before we start looking at solutions, we must understand the roots of the crises we face. It is by changing systems at the root level that we will bring about the transformation we need. Of course, this won’t be an in-depth examination. That is beyond the scope of a newsletter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are a connected global community. Diseases, greenhouse gases, and capital are not restricted by borders. What we do in one place, impacts another. To stop the pandemic, we must control the infection everywhere or there will always be a repository perpetuating it and putting any of us at risk. International cooperation and solidarity are required to make the transition we need.

The same is true with the climate crisis and the globalized neoliberal economy. They are connected to each other and to our health. It is the globalized neoliberal financial system that has driven the race to the bottom. Capital moves freely about the world in search of the cheapest labor and resources. Many governments, especially those in the global south, compete with each other to loosen regulations that protect workers and the environment to attract capital to their countries. Corporate trade agreements make transnational corporate profits more important than protecting the planet. Humans have created multiple environmental crises from polluting the Earth, as Robert J. Burrowes writes, turning it into a junk planet.

Capitalism knows no limits when it comes to profits. People are being displaced from their land as corporations gobble it up for mining, energy production or industrial agriculture. This forces people deeper into wild habitats where they come in contact with wildlife and also pushes wildlife into human communities. It increases the chances of transmission of disease.

As Keishia Taylor explains, “…human activity disrupts ecosystems and damages biodiversity, shaking loose viruses, which then need a new host.” As the barriers between humans and wildlife break down, the greater the risk for zoonoses, diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. COVID-19 “is the sixth major epidemic in the last 26 years that originated in bats, mediated by a range of farmed, domesticated or hunted animals.” Factory farming is a great culprit driving these epidemics. Large numbers of animals live in crowded and unnatural environments, which weaken their immune systems and make disease transmission more likely.

Biodiversity is key to healthy ecosystems, writes Eric Roston in TIME. He adds, “Almost half of the new diseases that jumped from animals to humans… after 1940 can be traced to changes in land use, agriculture, or wildlife hunting. …There may be 10,000 mammalian viruses potentially dangerous to people.” The climate crisis is another threat to biodiversity as described above, for which governments are not responding.

Capitalism drives the exploitation of people and resources for profit without regard for the consequences. The burning of cheap, dirty fossil fuels for transportation required to connect disparate parts of the global supply chain as well as the oil and gas industry’s history of pushing dirty forms of transit drives greenhouse gas emissions along with large polluting industries and factory farms. Destruction of the land, including our forests, has lowered the capacity for natural carbon sequestration. This has led to the high levels of carbon in the atmosphere that cause climate chaos; record high temperatures are heating the oceans and storms, fires and droughts are causing more damage.

Vijay Prashad describes the many ways neoliberal capitalism has also driven privatization of state institutions, such as healthcare, and has created precarious livelihoods in his newsletter “We Won’t Go Back to Normal, Because Normal Was the Problem.” And that is our task: to make sure that out of these crises come major changes, the maturation of our species to cooperate with the ecosystems in which we live.

Activists march in a climate change rally in London, Britain, September. 20, 2019 (Reuters)

Opportunities for change

Life has changed drastically for many people as we are suddenly required to stay in our homes. Education has moved online. People are doing more of their own food preparation. Conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled, and some have moved online. We’ve had to change our habits quickly to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases.

One positive side effect of our reduced activity is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly. Charles Komanoff and Christopher Ketcham of the Carbon Tax Institute estimate that the drop could be as much as 50% this year. They identify four positive lessons from the pandemic: greater reliance on science, the recognition that government action is required to confront crises, the knowledge that we can change our behavior quickly, and the necessity of social solidarity.

We can take rapid action to “flatten the curve” of greenhouse gas emissions just as we are for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a list of ten basic steps we can take to reduce greenhouse gases and support the health of all living beings and the planet:

  1. Decentralize agriculture – End monopolized industrial agriculture and return to small and medium-sized farms owned by farmers who will manage the land in ways that support biodiversity, rebuild the soil and sequester carbon. This means organic farming methods and includes urban agriculture to produce food locally.
  2. End land grabs – Stop the land grabs that drive people off their land and allow them to return. Smaller landowners tend to be better stewards of the land.
  3. Sequester carbon naturally – Do this through regenerative farming methods, and by restoring wetlands which has the added benefit of buffering sea level rise, and protecting forests, especially mature forests.
  4. Restore wildlife habitat – Protect wildlife areas and plan our communities in ways that do not encroach upon them. This includes rethinking tourism. There are some areas humans ought to avoid out of respect for wildlife habitat.
  5. End fossil fuel and nuclear use – Move rapidly to a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy. To make this a just transition, areas that overuse energy will need to reduce consumption and areas that do not have enough energy to meet basic needs will need to increase energy use. This also means finding ways to reduce travel until we can reduce the carbon output. Many businesses and organizations are changing to online meetings and conferences instead of doing them in-person.
  6. Decentralize energy production – Massive solar and wind farms can be disruptive through displacement of communities and the destruction of wildlife areas. Energy production can be integrated into the infrastructure; e.g., on rooftops, parking lots and community solar. Decentralized production ends energy monopolies and allows many people to benefit from the energy they produce.
  7. Remake transportation – Reduce energy use significantly through investment in mass public transit and shared ownership of vehicles as cars are parked 95% of the time. Many cities already have fleets of cars for short-term rental. Fewer cars mean fewer resources being used. And we can increase bike and pedestrian areas to encourage less driving.
  8. Rebuild the rail system – Electrify our railroads and increase their use for moving goods and people. Decentralized energy production can feed into the rail line to power it. This is a concept called Solutionary Rail.
  9. Become zero waste communities – Rethink our consumption and reduce it to what is necessary and then find ways to meet our necessities through closed-loop production cycles, reuse of materials, sharing of items and more.
  10. Cooperate more – In this pandemic, people around the world are organizing mutual aid to provide food and other basic needs. Let’s build on this spirit to look out for each other and connect human-to-human. We may find that building our communities will increase sharing and reduce our desire for so much stuff.

There are more steps we could add to this list that include socializing sectors of the economy so that human rights and protection of the planet supersede corporate profits, remaking trade along the same lines and strengthening localized, worker or community-owned enterprises.

We are truly at a crossroads. The pandemic has taught us to act in solidarity and that we can alter our lifestyles drastically when necessary. The climate crisis requires us to flatten the curve of our greenhouse gas emissions and toxic, polluting society. We can’t go back to normal because normal is killing us. The time is now to create a new world in balance with nature.

Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order

On 12 March, British PM Boris Johnson informed the public that families would continue to “lose loved ones before their time” as the coronavirus outbreak worsens.

He added:

We’ve all got to be clear, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation.

In a report, the Imperial College had warned of modelling that suggested over 500,000 would die from the virus in the UK. The lead author of the report, epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, has since revised the estimate downward to a maximum of 20,000 if current ‘lockdown’ measures work. Johnson seems to have based his statement on Ferguson’s original figures.

Before addressing the belief that a lockdown will help the UK, it might be useful to turn to an ongoing public health crisis that receives scant media and government attention – because context is everything and responses that are proportionate to crises are important.

The silent public health crisis

In a new 29-page open letter to Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason spends 11 pages documenting the spiralling rates of disease that she says (supported by numerous research studies cited) are largely the result of exposure to health-damaging agrochemicals, not least the world’s most widely used weedkiller – glyphosate.

The amount of glyphosate-based herbicides sprayed by UK farmers on crops has gone from 226,762 kg in 1990 to 2,240,408 kg in 2016, a 10-fold increase. Mason discusses links between multiple pesticide residues (including glyphosate) in food and steady increases in the number of cancers both in the UK and worldwide as well as allergic diseases, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity and many other conditions.

Mason is at pains to stress that agrochemicals are a major contributory factor (or actual cause) for the spikes in these diseases and conditions. She says this is the real public health crisis affecting the UK (and the US). Each year, she argues, there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers.

Of course, it would be unwise to lay all the blame at the door of the agrochemicals sector: we are subjected each day to a cocktail of toxic chemicals via household goods, food processing practices and food additives and environmental pollution. Yet there seems to be a serious lack of action to interfere with corporate practices and profits on the part of public bodies, so much so that a report by the Corporate Europe Observatory said in 2014 that the then outgoing European Commission had become a willing servant of a corporate agenda.

In a 2017 report, Hilal Elver, UN Special rapporteur on the right to food, and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes Baskut Tuncak were severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

The authors said that pesticides have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning.  They concluded that it is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.

At the time, Elver said that, in order to tackle this issue, the power of the corporations must be addressed.

While there is currently much talk of the coronavirus placing immense strain on the NHS, Mason highlights that the health service is already creaking and that due to weakened immune systems brought about by the contaminated food we eat, any new virus could spell disaster for public health.

But do we see a ‘lockdown’ on the activities of the global agrochemical conglomerates? Not at all. As Mason has highlighted in her numerous reports, we see governments and public health bodies working hand in glove with the agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals manufacturers to ensure ‘business as usual’. So, it might seem strange to many that the UK government is seemingly going out of its way (by stripping people of their freedoms) under the guise of a public health crisis but is all too willing to oversee a massive, ongoing one caused by the chemical pollution of our bodies.

Mason’s emphasis on an ongoing public health crisis brought about by poisoned crops and food is but part of a wider story. And it must be stated that it is a ‘silent’ crisis because the mainstream media and various official reports in the UK have consistently ignored or downplayed the role of pesticides in fuelling this situation.

Systemic immiseration

Another part of the health crisis story involves ongoing austerity measures.

The current Conservative administration in the UK is carrying out policies that it says will protect the general population and older people in particular. This is in stark contrast to its record over the previous decade which demonstrates contempt for the most vulnerable in society.

In 2019, a leading UN poverty expert compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies. He accused them of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

In another 2019 report, it was claimed that more than 130,000 deaths in the UK since 2012 could have been prevented if improvements in public health policy had not stalled as a direct result of austerity cuts.

Over the past 10 years in the UK, there has been rising food poverty and increasing reliance on food banks, while the five richest families are now worth more than the poorest 20% and about a third of Britain’s population lives in poverty.

Almost 18 million cannot afford adequate housing conditions; 12 million are too poor to engage in common social activities; one in three cannot afford to heat their homes adequately in winter; and four million children and adults are not properly fed (Britain’s population is estimated at 63 to 64 million). Welfare cuts have pushed hundreds of thousands below the poverty line since 2012, including more than 300,000 children.

In the wake of a lockdown, we can only speculate about how a devastated economy might be exploited to further this ‘austerity’ agenda. With bailouts being promised to companies and many workers receiving public money to see them through the current crisis, this will need to be clawed back from somewhere. Will that be the excuse for defunding the NHS and handing it over to private healthcare companies with health insurance firms in tow? Are we to see a further deepening of the austerity agenda, let alone an extension of the surveillance state given the current lockdown measures which may not be fully rolled back?

The need for the current lockdown and the eradication of our freedoms has been questioned by some, not least Lord J. Sumption, former Supreme Court Justice. He has questioned the legitimacy of Boris Johnson’s press conference/statement to deprive people of their liberty and has said:

There is a difference between law and official instructions. It is the difference between a democracy and a police state.

Journalist Peter Hitchens says a newspaper headline for what Sumption says might be – ‘Former Supreme Court justice says Johnson measures lead towards police state’ or ‘TOP JUDGE WARNS OF POLICE STATE’.

But, as Hitchens implies, such headlines do not appear. Indeed, where is the questioning in the mainstream media or among politicians about any of this? To date, there have been a few isolated voices, with Hitchens himself being one.

In his recent articles, Hitchens has questioned the need for the stripping of the public’s rights and freedoms under the pretext of a perceived coronavirus pandemic. He has referred to esteemed scientists who question the need for and efficacy of ‘social distancing’ and keeping the public under virtual ‘house arrest’.

An open Letter from Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, to Angela Merkel calls for an urgent reassessment of Germany’s lockdown response to Covid-19. Then there is Dr Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health at Stanford University. He argues that we have made such decisions on the basis of unreliable data. These two scientists are not alone. On the OffGuardian website, two articles have appeared which present the views of 22 experts who question policies and/or the data that is being cited about the coronavirus.

Shift in balance of power

Professor Michel Chossudovsky has looked at who could ultimately benefit from current events and concludes that certain pharmaceutical companies could be (are already) major beneficiaries as they receive lavish funding to develop vaccines. He asks whether we can trust the main actors behind what could amount to a multi-billion dollar global (compulsory) vaccination (surveillance) project.

The issue of increased government surveillance has also been prominent in various analyses of the ongoing situation, not least in pushing the world further towards cashless societies (under the pretext that cash passes on viruses) whereby our every transaction is digitally monitored and a person’s virtual money could be declared null and void if a government so decides. Many discussions have implicated the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in this – an entity that for some time has been promoting the roll-out of global vaccine programmes and a global ‘war on cash’.

For instance, financial journalist Norbert Haring notes that the Gates Foundation and US state-financial interests had an early pivotal role in pushing for the 2016 demonestisation policy with the aim of pushing India further towards a cashless society. However, the policy caused immense damage to the economy and the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions in India who rely on cash in their everyday activities.

But that does not matter to those who roll out such policies. What matters is securing control over global payments and the ability to monitor and block them. Control food you control people. Control digital payments (and remove cash), you can control and monitor everything a country and its citizens do and pay for.

India has now also implemented a lockdown on its population and tens of millions of migrant workers have been returning to their villages. If there is a risk of corona virus infection, masses of people congregating in close proximity then returning to the countryside does not bode well.

Indeed, the impact of lockdowns and social isolation could have more harm than the effects of the coronavirus itself in terms of hunger, depression, suicides and the overall deterioration of the health of older people who are having operations delayed and who are stuck indoors with little social interaction or physical movement.

If current events show us anything, it is that fear is a powerful weapon for securing hegemony. Any government can manipulate fear about certain things while conveniently ignoring real dangers that a population faces. In a recent article, author and researcher Robert J Burrowes says:

… if we were seriously concerned about our world, the gravest and longest-standing health crisis on the planet is the one that starves to death 100,000 people each day. No panic about that, of course. And no action either.

And, of course, each day we live with the very real danger of dying a horrific death because of the thousands of nuclear missiles that hang over our heads. But this is not up for discussion. The media and politicians say nothing. Fear perception can be deliberately managed, while Walter Lippmann’s concept of the ‘bewildered herd’ cowers on cue and demands the government to further strip its rights under the guise of safety.

Does the discussion thus far mean that those who question the mainstream narrative surrounding the coronavirus are in denial of potential dangers and deaths that have been attributed to the virus? Not at all. But perspective and proportionate responses are everything and healthy debate should still take place, especially when our fundamental freedoms are at stake.

Unfortunately, many of those who would ordinarily question power and authority have meekly fallen into line: those in the UK who would not usually accept anything at face value that Boris Johnson or his ministers say, are now all too easily willing to accept the data and the government narrative. This is perplexing as both the government and the mainstream media have serious trust deficits (putting it mildly) if we look at their false narratives in numerous areas, including chemical attacks in Syria, ‘Russian aggression’, baseless smear campaigns directed at Jeremy Corbyn and WMDs in Iraq.

What will emerge from current events is anyone’s guess. Some authors like economist and geopolitical analyst Peter Koenig have presented disturbing scenarios for a future authoritarian world order under the control of powerful state-corporate partners. Whatever the eventual outcome, financial institutions, pharmaceuticals companies and large corporations will capitalise on current events to extend their profits, control and influence.

Major corporations are already in line for massive bailouts despite them having kept workers’ wages low and lining the pockets of top executives and shareholders by spending zero-interest money on stock buy backs. And World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet – on the condition that further neoliberal reforms and the undermining of public services are implemented and become further embedded:

Countries will need to implement structural reforms to help shorten the time to recovery and create confidence that the recovery can be strong.  For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.

In the face of economic crisis and stagnation at home, this seems like an ideal opportunity for Western capital to further open up and loot economies abroad. In effect, the coronavirus provides cover for the further entrenchment of dependency and dispossession. Global conglomerates will be able to hollow out the remnants of nation state sovereignty, while ordinary people’s rights and ability to organise and challenge the corporate hijack of economies and livelihoods will be undermined by the intensified, globalised system of surveillance that beckons.

Toxic Agriculture and the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has $46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.

The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) — a global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable management of natural resources.

In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?‘ According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.

On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:

The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed.

She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate America’:

The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.

The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food across the continent.

Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.

According to Curtis, the Gates-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The Gates foundation is also supporting projects involving other chemical and seed corporations, including DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer. It is effectively promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of agrochemicals and patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified crops.

What the Gates Foundation is doing is part of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative, which is based on the premise that hunger and malnutrition in Africa are mainly the result of a lack of technology and functioning markets. Curtis says AGRA has been intervening directly in the formulation of African governments’ agricultural policies on issues like seeds and land, opening up African markets to US agribusiness.

More than 80% of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial (chemical-dependent) seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.

The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with Bill Gates and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.

Gates, pesticides and global health

The Gates Foundation is also very active in the area of health, which is ironic given its promotion of industrial agriculture and its reliance on health-damaging agrochemicals. This is something that has not been lost on environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason.

Mason notes that the Gates Foundation is a heavy pusher of agrochemicals and patented seeds. She adds that the Gates Foundation is also reported to be collaborating in Bayer’s promotion of “new chemical approaches” and “biological crop protection” (i.e. encouraging agrochemical sales and GM crops) in the Global South.

After having read the recent ‘A Future for the World’s Children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission’, Mason noticed that pesticides were conspicuous by their absence and therefore decided to write to Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, who is the lead author of the report.

In her open 19-page letter, ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’, she notes in the Costello-led report that there is much talk about greater regulation of marketing of tobacco, alcohol, formula milk and sugar-sweetened beverages but no mention of pesticides.

But perhaps this should come as little surprise: some 42 authors’ names are attached to the report and Mason says that in one way or another via the organisations they belong to, many (if not most) have received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is a prominent funder of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Gates has been the largest or second largest contributor to the WHO’s budget in recent years. His foundation provided 11% of the WHO’s entire budget in 2015, which is 14 times greater than the UK government’s contribution.

Perhaps this sheds some light on to why a major report on child health would omit the effects of pesticides. Mason implies this is a serious omission given what the UN expert on toxics  Baskut Tuncak said in a November 2017 article in the Guardian:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.

Mason notes that in February 2020, Tuncak rejected the idea that the risks posed by highly hazardous pesticides could be managed safely. He told Unearthed (GreenPeace UK’s journalism website) that there is nothing sustainable about the widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides for agriculture. Whether they poison workers, extinguish biodiversity, persist in the environment or accumulate in a mother’s breast milk, Tuncak argued that these are unsustainable, cannot be used safely and should have been phased out of use long ago.

In his 2017 article, he stated:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty in the world (only the US is not a party), makes it clear that states have an explicit obligation to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, from contaminated food and polluted water, and to ensure that every child can realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health. These and many other rights of the child are abused by the current pesticide regime. These chemicals are everywhere and they are invisible.

Tuncak added that paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability. He noted that exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer and stated that children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals: increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

He concluded that the overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

However, it seems that the profits of agrochemical manufacturers trump the rights of  children and the public at large: a joint investigation by Unearthed and the NGO Public Eye has found the world’s five biggest pesticide manufacturers are making more than a third of their income from leading products, chemicals that pose serious hazards to human health and the environment.

Mason refers to an analysis of a huge database of 2018’s top-selling ‘crop protection products’ which revealed the world’s leading agrochemical companies made more than 35% of their sales from pesticides classed as “highly hazardous” to people, animals or ecosystems. The investigation identified billions of dollars of income for agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta from chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose health hazards like cancer or reproductive failure.

This investigation is based on an analysis of a huge dataset of pesticide sales from the agribusiness intelligence company Phillips McDougall. This firm conducts detailed market research all over the world and sells databases and intelligence to pesticide companies. The data covers around 40% of the $57.6bn global market for agricultural pesticides in 2018. It focuses on 43 countries, which between them represent more than 90% of the global pesticide market by value.

While Bill Gates promotes a chemical-intensive model of agriculture that dovetails with the needs and value chains of agri-food conglomerates, Mason outlines the spiraling rates of disease in the UK and the US and lays the blame at the door of the agrochemical corporations that Gates has opted to get into bed with. She focuses on the impact of glyphosate-based herbicides as well as the cocktail of chemicals sprayed on crops.

Mason has discussed the health-related impacts of glyphosate in numerous previous reports and in her open letter to Costello again refers to peer-reviewed studies and official statistics which indicate that glyphosate affects the gut microbiome and is responsible for a global metabolic health crisis provoked by an obesity epidemic. Moreover, she presents evidence that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals – diseases skip a generation then appear.

However, the mainstream narrative is to blame individuals for their ailments and conditions which are said to result from ‘lifestyle choices’. Yet Monsanto’s German owner Bayer has confirmed that more than 42,700 people have filed suits against Monsanto alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

Mason says that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers; at the same time, she argues, these treatments maximise the bottom line of the drug companies while the impacts of agrochemicals remains conspicuously absent from the disease narrative.

She states that we are exposed to a lifetime’s exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – “a global mass poisoning.”

Gates Foundation in perspective

As part of its hegemonic strategy, the Gates Foundation says it wants to ensure global food security and optimise health and nutrition.

However, Rosemary Mason alludes to the fact that the Gates Foundation seems happy to ignore the deleterious health impacts of agrochemicals while promoting the interests of the firms that produce them, but it facilitates many health programmes that help boost the bottom line of drug companies.  Health and health programmes seem only to be defined with certain parameters which facilitate the selling of the products of the major pharmaceutical companies which the foundation partners with. Indeed, researcher Jacob Levich argues that the Gates Foundation not merely facilitates unethical low-cost clinical trials (with often devastating effects for participants) in the Global South but also assists in the creating new markets for the “dubious” products of pharmaceuticals corporations.

As for food security, the foundation would do better by supporting agroecological  (agrochemical-free) approaches to agriculture, which various high-level UN reports have advocated for ensuring equitable global food security. But this would leave smallholder agriculture both intact and independent from Western agro-capital, something which runs counter to the underlying aims of the corporations that the foundation supports – dispossession and market dependency.

And these aims have been part of a decades-long strategy where we have seen the strengthening of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas.

While Bill Gates is busy supporting the consolidation of Western agro-capital in Africa under the guise of ensuring ‘food security’, it is very convenient for him to ignore the fact that at the time of decolonisation in the 1960s Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter with exports averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-70. The continent now imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer. More generally, developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s but by 2004 were importing US$ 11 billion a year.

The Gates Foundation promotes a (heavily subsidised and inefficient – certainly when the externalised health, social and environment costs are factored in) corporate-industrial farming system and the strengthening of a global neoliberal, fossil-fuel-dependent food regime that by its very nature fuels and thrives on, among other things, unjust trade policies, population displacement and land dispossession (something which the Gates Foundation once called for but euphemistically termed “land mobility”), commodity monocropping, soil and environmental degradation, illness, nutrient-deficient diets, a narrowing of the range of food crops, water shortages, pollution and the eradication of biodiversity.

At the same time, the foundation is helping powerful corporate interests to appropriate and commodify knowledge. For instance, since 2003, CGIAR (mentioned at the start of this article) and its 15 centres have received more than $720 million from the Gates Foundation. In a June 2016 article in The Asian Age, Vandana Shiva says the centres are accelerating the transfer of research and seeds to corporations, facilitating intellectual property piracy and seed monopolies created through IP laws and seed regulations.

Besides taking control of the seeds of farmers in CGIAR seed banks, Shiva adds that the Gates Foundation (along with the Rockefeller Foundation) is investing heavily in collecting seeds from across the world and storing them in a facility in Svalbard in the Arctic — the ‘doomsday vault’.

The foundation is also funding Diversity Seek (DivSeek), a global initiative to take patents on the seed collections through genomic mapping. Seven million crop accessions are in public seed banks.

Shiva says that DivSeek could allow five corporations to own this diversity and argues:

Today, biopiracy is carried out through the convergence of information technology and biotechnology. It is done by taking patents by ‘mapping’ genomes and genome sequences… DivSeek is a global project launched in 2015 to map the genetic data of the peasant diversity of seeds held in gene banks. It robs the peasants of their seeds and knowledge, it robs the seed of its integrity and diversity, its evolutionary history, its link to the soil and reduces it to ‘code’. It is an extractive project to ‘mine’ the data in the seed to ‘censor’ out the commons.

She notes that the peasants who evolved this diversity have no place in DivSeek — their knowledge is being mined and not recognised, honoured or conserved: an enclosure of the genetic commons.

This process is the very foundation of capitalism – appropriation of the commons (seeds, water, knowledge, land, etc.), which are then made artificially scarce and transformed into marketable commodities.

The Gates Foundation talks about health but facilitates the roll-out of a toxic form of agriculture whose agrochemicals cause immense damage. It talks of alleviating poverty and malnutrition and tackling food insecurity but it bolsters an inherently unjust global food regime which is responsible for perpetuating food insecurity, population displacement, land dispossession, privatisation of the commons and neoliberal policies that remove support from the vulnerable and marginalised, while providing lavish subsidies to corporations.

The Gates Foundation is part of the problem, not the solution. To more fully appreciate this, let us turn to a February 2020 article in the journal Globalizations. Its author, Ashok Kumbamu, argues that the ultimate aim of promoting new technologies – whether GM seeds, agrochemicals or commodified knowledge — on a colossal scale is to make agricultural inputs and outputs essential commodities, create dependency and bring all farming operations into the capitalist fold.

To properly understand Bill Gates’s ‘philanthropy’ is not to take stated goals and objectives at face value but to regard his ideology as an attempt to manufacture consent and prevent and marginalise more radical agrarian change that would challenge prevailing power structures and act as impediments to capitalist interests. The foundation’s activities must be located within the hegemonic and dispossessive strategies of imperialism: displacement of the peasantry and subjugating those who remain in agriculture to the needs of global distribution and supply chains dominated by the Western agri-food conglomerates whose interests the Gates Foundation facilitates and legitimises.

The full text of Rosemary Mason’s 19-page document (with relevant references) — ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’ — can be accessed via the academia.edu website)  

Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  

In 2017, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, produced a report that called for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming and move towards sustainable agricultural practices.

In addition to the devastating impacts on human health, the two authors argued that the excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, the destruction of the natural enemies of pests and the reduction in the nutritional value of food.  They drew attention to denials by the agroindustry of the hazards of certain pesticides and expressed concern about aggressive, unethical marketing tactics that remain unchallenged and the huge sums spent by the powerful chemical industry to influence policymakers and contest scientific evidence.

At the time, Elver said that agroecological approaches, which replace harmful chemicals, are capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed and nourish the entire world population, without undermining the rights of future generations to adequate food and health. The two authors added that it was time to overturn the myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world and create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.

The authors were adamant that access to healthy, uncontaminated food is a human rights issue.

And this is not lost on environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason who has just sent a detailed open letter/report to Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) in the UK – ‘Open Letter to the National Farmers Union About Fraud in Europe and the UK’. Mason’s report contains a good deal of information about pesticides, health and the environment.

Health impacts aside, Mason decided to write to Batters because it is increasingly clear that pesticides are responsible for declines in insects and wildlife, something which the NFU has consistently denied.

In 2017, the Soil Association obtained figures from FERA Science Ltd under a freedom of information request. Using data extracted for the first time from the records of FERA Science Ltd, which holds UK Government data on pesticide use in farming, it was found that pesticide active ingredients applied to three British crops have increased markedly. The data covered British staples wheat, potatoes and onions. Far from a 50% cut – which the NFU had claimed – the increase in active ingredients applied to these crops range from 480% to 1,700% over the last 40-odd years.

Health of the nation

Mason’s aim is to make Batters aware that chemical-dependent, industrial agriculture is a major cause of an ongoing public health crisis and is largely responsible for an unfolding, catastrophic ecological collapse in the UK and globally. Mason places agrochemicals at the centre of her argument, especially globally ubiquitous glyphosate-based herbicides, the use of which have spiralled over the last few decades.

Batters is given information about important studies that suggest glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals (diseases skip a generation before appearing) and that it is a major cause of severe obesity in children in the UK, not least because of its impact on the gut microbiome. As a result, Mason says, we are facing a global metabolic health crisis that places glyphosate at the heart of the matter.

And yet glyphosate may be on the market because of fraud. Mason points out that a new study has revealed the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology (LPT) in Hamburg has committed fraud in a series of regulatory tests, several of which had been carried out as part of the glyphosate re-approval process in 2017. At least 14% of new regulatory studies submitted for the re-approval of glyphosate were conducted by LPT Hamburg. The number could be higher, as this information in the dossiers often remains undisclosed to the public.

In light of this, Angeliki Lyssimachou, environmental toxicologist at Pesticide Action Network Europe, says:

The vast majority of studies leading to the approval of a pesticide are carried out by the pesticide industry itself, either directly or via contract laboratories such as LPT Hamburg… Our 140+ NGO coalition ‘Citizens for Science in Pesticide Regulation’ regularly calls on the (European) Commission to quit this scandalous process: tests must be carried out by independent laboratories under public scrutiny, while the financing of studies should be supported by industry.

Mason then outlines the state of public health in the UK.  A report, ‘The Health of the Nation: A Strategy for Healthier Longer Lives’,  written by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity found that women in the UK are living for 29 years in poor health and men for 23 years: an increase of 50% for women and 42% for men on previous estimates based on self-reported data.

In 2035, there will be around 16 million cases of dementia, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and cancers in people aged 65 and over in the UK – twice as many as in 2015. In 10 years, there will be 5.5 million people with type 2 diabetes while 70% of people aged 55+ will have at least one obesity-related disease.

The report found that the number of major illnesses suffered by older people will increase by 85% between 2015 and 2035.

Ecological collapse

Batters is also made aware that there is an insect apocalypse due to pesticides – numerous studies have indicated catastrophic declines. Mason mentions two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars that have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades. The research adds to growing evidence of what some scientists have called an “insect apocalypse”, which is threatening a collapse in the natural world that sustains humans and all life on Earth. A third study which Mason mentions shows plummeting numbers of aquatic insects in streams.

The survey of insects hitting car windscreens in rural Denmark used data collected every summer from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in abundance. It also found a parallel decline in the number of swallows and martins, birds that live on insects.

Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of the charity Buglife, says:

These new studies reinforce our understanding of the dangerously rapid disappearance of insect life in both the air and water… It is essential we create more joined up space for insects that is safe from pesticides, climate change and other harm.

Of course, it is not just insects that have been affected. Mason provides disturbing evidence of the decline in British wildlife in general.

Conning the public

Mason argues that the public are being hoodwinked by officials who dance to the tune of the agrochemical conglomerates. For instance, she argues that Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has been hijacked by the agrochemical industry: David Cameron appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta to the board of CRUK in 2010 and he became Chairman in 2011.

She asserts that CRUK invented causes of cancer and put the blame on the people for lifestyle choices:

A red-herring fabricated by industry and ‘top’ doctors in Britain: alcohol was claimed to be linked to seven forms of cancer: this ‘alleged fact’ was endlessly reinforced by the UK media until people in the UK were brainwashed.

By 2018, CRUK was also claiming that obesity caused 13 different cancers and that obesity was due to ‘lifestyle choice’.

Each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers. Mason says that treatments are having no impact on the numbers.

She argues that the Francis Crick Institute in London with its ‘world class resources’ is failing to improve people’s lives with its treatments and is merely strengthening the pesticides and pharmaceutical industries. The institute is analysing people’s genetic profile with what Mason says is an “empty promise” that one day they could tailor therapy to the individual patient. Mason adds that CRUK is a major funder of the Crick Institute.

The public is being conned, according to Mason, by contributing to ‘cancer research’ with the fraudulent promise of ‘cures’ based on highly profitable drugs manufactured by pharmaceutical companies whose links to the agrochemical sector are clear. CRUK’s research is funded entirely by the public, whose donations support over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses across the UK. Several hundred of these scientists worked at CRUK’s London Research Institute at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Clare Hall (LRI), which became part of the Crick institute in 2015.

Mason notes that recent research involving the Crick Institute that has claimed ‘breakthroughs’ in discoveries about the genome and cancer genetics are misleading. The work was carried out as part of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes project, which claims to be the most comprehensive study of cancer genetics to date. The emphasis is on mapping genetic changes and early diagnosis

However, Mason says such research misses the point – most cancers are not inherited. She says:

The genetic damage is caused by mutations secondary to a lifetimes’ exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – a global mass poisoning.

And she supports her claim by citing research by Lisa Gross and Linda Birnbaum which argues that in the US 60,000-plus chemicals already in use were grandfathered into the law on the assumption that they were safe. Moreover, the EPA faced numerous hurdles, including pushback from the chemical industry, that undermined its ability to implement the law. Today, hundreds of industrial chemicals contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – in the US and beyond.

Mason refers to another study by Maricel V Maffini, Thomas G Neltner and Sarah Vogel which notes that thousands of chemicals have entered the food system, but their long-term, chronic effects have been woefully understudied and their health risks inadequately assessed. As if to underline this, recent media reports have focused on Jeremy Bentham, a well-respected CEO of an asset management company, who argued that infertility caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals will wipe out humans.

Mason argues that glyphosate-based Roundup has caused a 50% decrease in sperm count in males: Roundup disrupts male reproductive functions by triggering calcium-mediated cell death in rat testis and Sertoli cells. She also notes that Roundup causes infertility – based on studies that were carried out in South America and which were ignored by regulators in Europe when relicensing glyphosate.

Neoliberal global landscape

Mason draws on a good deal of important (recent) research and media reports to produce a convincing narrative. But what she outlines is not specific to Britain. For instance, the human and environmental costs of pesticides in Argentina have been well documented and in India Punjab has become a ‘cancer capital’ due to pesticide contamination.

UN Special Rapporteurs Elver and Tuncak argue that while scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge, especially given the systematic denial by the pesticide and agro-industry of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals.

In the meantime, we are told that many diseases and illnesses are the result of personal choice or lifestyle behaviour. It has become highly convenient for public officials and industry mouthpieces to place the blame on ordinary people, while fraudulent science, regulatory delinquency and institutional corruption allows toxic food to enter the marketplace and the agrochemical industry to rake in massive profits.

Health outcomes are merely regarded as the result of individual choices, rather than the outcome of fraudulent activities which have become embedded in political structures and macro-economic ‘free’ market policies. In the brave new world of neoliberalism and ‘consumer choice’, it suits industry and its crony politicians and representatives to convince ordinary people to internalise notions of personal responsibility and self-blame.

Readers are urged to read Rosemary Mason’s new report which can be downloaded from the academia.edu website.

Menace on the Menu in Post-EU Britain

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. It has been sent to editors of major media outlets in the UK. In it, she outlines her concerns for pesticide regulation, health and the environment in a post-Brexit landscape. This article presents some of the report’s key points.

PM Boris Johnson is planning to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards. However, Johnson recently suggested that the UK will be “governed by science, not mumbo-jumbo” on food imports. He has called for an end to “hysterical” fears about US food coming to the UK as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.

In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, he talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations.

Just as concerning is who has the ear of government. Rosemary Mason notes that in February 2019, at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector, UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of the Bayer Crop Science Division. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made her priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known.

Dave Bench was also a speaker. Bench is a senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan and has previously stated that the regulatory system for pesticides is robust and balances the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society.

In a recent open letter to Bench, Mason states:

That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.

Furthermore, Mason has presented to him and other officials statistics on the spiralling rates of disease and illness among the UK public which correlate with the increasing use of agrochemicals, especially glyphosate.

While the UK was officially no longer part of the EU as of 1 February 2020, it will continue to follow EU rules on pesticide authorisations during a transition period lasting at least until 31 December 2020. But when the transition period ends, the UK could choose to go its own way, with major implications for several significant pesticides, including glyphosate and neonicotinoids.

In her new report, Mason discusses the health dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and numerous other products. These dangers (along with corrupt practices that have kept it on the market) have been documented many times in Mason’s various open letters to officials.

Glyphosate is authorised in the EU until 2022. Reauthorisation will therefore be considered after the end of the Brexit transition period. Luxembourg is now phasing out its use and will become the first EU country to permanently ban glyphosate. EU countries only narrowly approved its reauthorisation in 2017. The exit of the UK from the soon to be 27-country bloc could tip the voting scales against the substance in 2022.

On the other hand, however, Mason concludes that it is highly likely that the UK will authorise the continued use of glyphosate given the influence of industry.

As for neonicotinoids – seed-coating insecticides that have been linked to harming to bees – Mason concludes that it is difficult to say whether the UK would stick to its most recent position in favour of a ban on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. She advises officials to take notice of Dr Henk Tennekes’ toxicological studies on systemic neonicotinoid insecticides from 2010. Tennekes says that unwarranted product defence by Bayer and Syngenta may have had catastrophic consequences for the environment.

Human health and glyphosate

Boris Johnson said on 3 February 2020:

I look at the Americans, they look pretty well nourished to me. And I don’t hear any of these critics of American food coming back from the United States and complaining… So, let’s take some of the paranoia out of this argument.

Mason’s response is that to judge the health of a nation by claiming “they look well nourished to me” is pure nonsense: the US has the most obese citizens in the world and Britain has the second. In her numerous reports over the past 10 years, she has been consistently documenting a major public health crisis which is affecting both countries as a result of the chemical contamination of food and crops.

Of course, with a US trade deal in the pipeline, there are major concerns about GMOs, chlorinated chickens and the lowering of food standards across the board. But for Mason, glyphosate is a big concern.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests found glyphosate on 63 percent of corn samples and 67 percent of soybean samples. But the FDA did not test any oats and wheat, the two main crops where glyphosate is used as a pre-harvest drying agent, resulting in glyphosate contamination of foods such as Cheerios and some brands of granola.

Olga Naidenko, senior science advisor for children’s health at the Environment Working Group (EWG) has responded by saying:

FDA’s failure to test for glyphosate in the foods where it’s most likely to be found is inexcusable.

In August, tests commissioned by EWG found glyphosate residues on popular oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars. Almost three-fourths of the 45 samples tested had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety.

Mason says that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals: diseases skip a generation. Washington State University researchers have found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers say they saw “dramatic increases” in several pathologies affecting the second and third generations. The second generation had “significant increases” in testis, ovary and mammary gland diseases, as well as obesity. In third-generation males, the researchers saw a 30 percent incidence of prostate disease — three times the rate of a control population. The third generation of females had a 40 percent incidence of kidney disease, or four times the rate of the controls.

More than one-third of the second-generation mothers had unsuccessful pregnancies, with most of those affected dying. Two out of five males and females in the third generation were obese.

Mason notes that researchers call this phenomenon “generational toxicology” and they’ve seen it over the years in fungicides, pesticides, jet fuel, the plastics compound bisphenol A, the insect repellent DEET and the herbicide atrazine. At work are epigenetic changes that turn genes on and off, often because of environmental influences.

Glyphosate has been the subject of numerous studies about its health effects. This recent study is the third in the past few months out of Washington alone. A study published in February found the chemical increased the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by as much as 41 percent. A Washington State University study published in December found state residents living close to areas subject to treatments with the herbicide are one-third more likely to die an early death from Parkinson’s disease.

This research adds to long-held health-related concerns about glyphosate.

Robert F Kennedy Jr, one of the attorney’s fighting Bayer (which has bought Monsanto) in the US courts, has explained that for four decades Monsanto manoeuvred to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning. He says that Monsanto also faces cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts.

Moreover, strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

Nevertheless, Mason notes, senior officials in the UK trot out platitudes about glyphosate being harmless and refer to flawed procedures and biased assessments that overlooked key studies.

With these health issues in mind, we should remind ourselves of Boris Johnson’s first speech to parliament as PM. In it, he said:

Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules…

This could mean the irresponsible introduction of genetically modified Roundup Ready food crops to the UK, which would see the amount of glyphosate in British food reaching new levels (levels which are already disturbing).

In finishing, it is worth mentioning that Mason makes some very pertinent points about the Conservative government in the UK, accusing it of working hand in glove with Monsanto and now Bayer. Yet, as IG Farben, Bayer collaborated with the Nazis and had a factory and prisoner of war camp at Auschwitz. For Mason, the fact that the UK media remain silent on this and has run smear campaigns about Labour and Jeremy Corbyn being anti-semitic is as disgraceful as it is hypocritical.

The UK media do not mention the US lawsuits against Monsanto-Bayer and all the diseases that Roundup brings. The media also ignore every report Mason sends to them in the hope mainstream journalists will inform the public of the dangers of pesticides and pressurise the government to act.

In the meantime, Boris Johnson is attempting to soften up the public on behalf of the corporate interests he represents. Based on no science (or scruples) whatsoever, Johnson says US citizens are fit and healthy and dismisses valid science-based concerns about the food system as “mumbo jumbo” and hysteria. He hopes the public will fall for his knockabout schtick and will remain blissfully ignorant of the reality. With the media’s compliance, the majority of people may well do.

Readers are urged to read Rosemary Mason’s new report, which contains all relevant references and additional information to that which has been outlined in this article. It can be accessed on the academia.edu website along with dozens of her previous reports

Systemic Cruelty

When bailiffs broke down his door on the 20th June 2018 they found Errol Graham emaciated and dead. He weighed just four and a half stone (28.5kg). There was no food in the flat except for two tins of fish that were four years out of date, no gas or electricity supply. He was 57, lived alone in Nottingham, England and due to severe anxiety had little or no contact with family or friends. Unable to work he relied on state benefits to pay his rent, cover the bills and feed himself, benefits that were stopped when Graham did not attend a capability for work assessment. It was an isolated, painful life that ended tragically.

The conclusions of an inquest into the death of Errol Graham published last week, suggested “the removal of benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite his long history of mental health problems, may have contributed to his death,” The Guardian reported. His daughter-in-law, Alison Turner, went further, blaming the DWP for his death; saying, “he would still be alive. He’d be ill but he’d still be alive.”

This dreadful story took place in Britain, but it, or something like it, could happen anywhere in the world. It is but one of countless examples of institutionalized cruelty and systemic brutality, the greatest example of which is perhaps starvation and food insecurity in a world of plenty.

We have created a world in which the structures, systems and institutions are, by design, devoid of compassion, promoting suspicion and division; unkind policies flow from governments concerned solely with financial development and international dominance. False values are relentlessly promoted and crude methods of motivating people (i.e. competition and desire) to do what the architects of the machine want them to do are employed.

Growing selfishness

This hostile approach to living has infiltrated all areas, including schools and the home; parents, fearful for their child’s future in a brittle world, are more concerned than ever with academic achievement – believing success in this area will somehow enable their offspring to build secure lives for themselves – than with the cultivation of social responsibility. This conditioning into selfishness is borne out by various empirical studies; The Observer reports that, “psychologists find that kids born after 1995 are just as likely as their predecessors to believe that other people experiencing difficulty should be helped—but they feel less personal responsibility to take action themselves. For example, they are less likely to donate to charity, or even to express an interest in doing so.”

In addition to growing levels of selfishness and social isolation a widespread result of systemic cruelty coupled with intense competition – in the workplace, in schools and colleges and in the social arena – is psychological fear on a massive scale; ‘the world’ as currently constituted is seen to be a frightening place, indeed without the resources (physical, mental, family friends and financial) required to live – to ‘face the day’, pay the rent and feed oneself etc.—it is a frightening place.

Institutions and government agencies are regarded as threatening bodies of control; employees are constrained by procedure, drilled in rules and regulations denying flexibility crushing the humane, forming division. Once division is present the distance between procedural enforcement to impatience, and verbal insults to violence, is a good deal less than might be imagined; once an image of ‘the other’ is built and the threshold of self control, decency and mutual respect has been crossed all manner of abuse becomes possible.

For those on the margins of society – those with mental health illnesses; minorities; people who are uneducated or don’t speak the language well; men and women like Errol Graham, and there are many such, dealing with unforgiving inflexible forms of bureaucracy, corporations and bodies of control, is impossible, it literally makes them ill. As a result they retreat, hide away, are unable to follow the suffocating dictates and relentless demands, are overwhelmed by official letters, marketing emails and text messages. Frightened they simply stop responding, refuse to open letters, turn to drugs/alcohol, or some other addicted form of escape. To some the urge to ‘give up’ becomes irresistible and suicide holds out the promise, true or false, of release.

On a larger scale it is systemic cruelty that allows one billion or so people to live in absolute poverty, most of who are in South-East Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. Merely surviving another day in a world that is threatening to crush them totally, is the aim of life; ‘God’ then is a loaf of bread, a bowl of rice, a cup of drinking water. That such injustice and needless suffering exists in a world that is more connected than ever, is aware, more or less, of the problems and has the resources to end them is shameful and inhumane.

When we build systems rooted in injustice and division, devoid of all kindness and compassion, we encourage selfishness, suspicion and fear; and where there is fear there will be anger, and with anger comes conflict – within and without. Mankind is not this dispassionate machine, certainly not just this, and arguably not this at all. But intolerant ways of living beget discrimination and hate, violence triggers violence, hate fuels hate; this much at least we must have learned. And yet the systemic methodology that is feeding division persists, becomes louder, uglier, more extreme. It must end.

Institutionalized cruelty stifles humanity’s natural tendency towards expressions of kindness, concern for others, tolerance of difference and cooperation. All of which are extolled as moral virtues throughout the world, all of which allow a person to feel at ease with themselves and happy. And when a person is relaxed they can think more clearly, more creatively; kindness then becomes a facilitator of intelligence.

Social harmony, whether within a family unit, a school, workplace or a city rests on a series of interrelated pillars; trust is key, sharing helps cultivate trust and in a healthy social setting would be the natural way of things; forgiveness is another essential ingredient, as is tolerance. All of these principles of goodness flow from love – not sentimental emotional pink love, but that vibrant creative force beyond thought that animates all that is good. As the existing systems crystallize and become more extreme, it is upon a foundation of love and compassion that the new modes of living must be built.