Category Archives: glyphosate

Right Kind of Green: Agroecology

The globalised industrial food system that transnational agri-food conglomerates promote is failing to feed the world. It is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises.

Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina, localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to global supply chains dominated by policies which favour agri-food giants, resulting in the destruction of habitat and peasant farmer livelihoods and the imposition of a model of agriculture that subjugates remaining farmers and regions to the needs and profit margins of these companies.

Many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil, forests and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

Common ownership and management of these assets embodies the notion of people working together for the public good. However, these resources have been appropriated by national states or private entities. For instance, Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work; Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them; and India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient lands due to state collusion with mining companies.

Those who capture essential common resources seek to commodify them — whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds — create artificial scarcity and force everyone else to pay for access. Much of it involves eradicating self-sufficiency.

Traditional systems attacked

Researchers Marika Vicziany and Jagjit Plahe note that for thousands of years Indian farmers have experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion. They note the vital importance of traditional knowledge for food security in India and the evolution of such knowledge by learning and doing, trial and error. Farmers possess acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and storytelling. The very farmers whose seeds and knowledge have been appropriated by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids and now to be genetically engineered.

Large corporations with their seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced. The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding and climate appropriate.

Across the world, we have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for far away cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surpluses in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.

A recent article on the People’s Archive of Rural India website highlights how the undermining of local economies continues. In a region of Odisha, farmers are being pushed towards a reliance on (illegal) expensive genetically modified herbicide tolerant cotton seeds and are replacing their traditional food crops.

The authors state that Southern Odisha’s strength lay in multiple cropping systems, but commercial cotton monoculture has altered crop diversity, soil structure, household income stability, farmers’ independence and, ultimately, food security. 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. Cotton’s swift expansion is reshaping the land and people steeped in agroecological knowledge.

The article’s authors Chitrangada Choudhury and Aniket Aga note that cotton occupies roughly 5 per cent of India’s gross cropped area but consumes 36 to 50 per cent of the total quantum of agrochemicals applied nationally. They argue that the scenario here is reminiscent of Vidarbha between 1998 and 2002 – initial excitement over the new miracle (and then illegal) Bt cotton seeds and dreams of great profits, followed by the effects of their water-guzzling nature, the huge spike in expenses and debt and various ecological pressures. Vidarbha subsequently ended up as the epicentre of farmer suicides in the country for over a decade.

Choudhury and Aga echo many of the issues raised by Glenn Stone in his paper ‘Constructing Facts:Bt Cotton Narratives in India’. Farmers are attracted to GM cotton via glossy marketing and promises of big money and rely on what are regarded as authoritative (but compromised) local figures who steer them towards such seeds. There is little or no environmental learning by practice as has tended to happen in the past when adopting new seeds and cultivation practices. It has given way to ‘social learning’, a herd mentality and a treadmill of pesticides and debt. What is also worrying is that farmers are also being sold glyphosate to be used with HT cotton; they are unaware of the terrible history and reality of this ‘miracle’ herbicide, that it is banned or restricted in certain states in India and that it is currently at the centre of major lawsuits in the US.

All this when large agribusiness concerns wrongly insist that we need their seeds and proprietary chemicals if we are to feed a growing global population. There is no money for them in traditional food cropping systems but there is in undermining food security and food sovereignty by encouraging the use of GM cotton and glyphosate or, more generally, corporate seeds.

In India, Green Revolution technology and ideology has actually helped to fuel drought and degrade soils and has contributed towards illnesses and malnutrition. Sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’, in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

Across the world, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.

Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. If we take occurrences in Odisha as a microcosm, it would also mean the undermining of national food security.

Although traditional agroecological practices have been eradicated or are under threat, there is a global movement advocating a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.

Agroecology

In his final report to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur, in 2014 Olivier De Schutter called for the world’s food systems to be radically and democratically redesigned. His report was based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature. He 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 address climate-change 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.

And this last point should not be understated. For instance, the success of the Green Revolution is often touted, but how can we really evaluate it? If alternatives had been invested in to the same extent, if similar powerful and influential interests had invested in organic-based models, would we now not be pointing to the runaway successes of organic-based agroecological farming and, importantly, without the massive external costs of a polluted environment, less diverse diets, degraded soils and nutrient deficient food, ill health and so on?

The corporations which promote chemical-intensive industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall bogus narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agri-food conglomerates have secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policy makers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse. The integrity of society’s institutions have been eroded by corporate money, funding and influence, which is why agroecology as a credible alternative to corporate agriculture remains on the periphery.

But the erosion of that legitimacy is underway. 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 concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Writer and academic Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that agroecology offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – plunder which takes place under a prevailing system of doctrinaire neoliberal economics that in turn drives a failing model of industrial agriculture.

The scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs: the two-pronged process of neoliberal globalisation that has devastated the economies of the US and UK and which is displacing existing indigenous food production systems and undermining the rural infrastructure in places like India to produce a reserve army of cheap labour.

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 went on to say that agroecology should not become a tool of the industrial food production model but as the essential alternative to that model. The Declaration stated that agroecology is political and 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 involves prioritising localised rural and urban food economies and small farms and shielding them from the effects of rigged trade and international markets. 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.

There are enough examples from across the world that serve as models for transformation, from the Oakland Institute’s research in Africa and the Women’s Collective of Tamil Nadu to the scaling up of agroecological practices in Ethiopia.

Whether in Europe, Africa, India or the US, agroecology can protect and reassert the commons and is a force for grass-root change. This model of agriculture is already providing real solutions for sustainable, productive agriculture that prioritise the needs of farmers, citizens and the environment.

Pesticides in the Dock: Ecological Apocalypse but Business as Usual

Much of the following article is based on a new 20-page report by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason. Readers are urged to access the full report containing all relevant citations here  

In a new paper published in King’s Law Journal — ‘The Chemical Anthropocene: Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures’ — the authors Alessandra Arcuri and Yogi Hale Hendlin state:

As the science against glyphosate safety mounts and lawsuits threaten its chemical manufacture’s profits, the next generation of GMO crops are being keyed to the pesticide dicamba, sold commercially as XtendiMax® – and poised to be the next glyphosate. Regulatory agencies have historically been quick to approve products but slow to reconsider regulations after the decades of accumulated harms become apparent.

They add that the entrenched asymmetries between public and ecological health and fast-to-market new chemicals is exacerbated by the seeming lack of institutionalised precautionary policies.

According to environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason, these ‘entrenched asymmetries’ result from the corporate capture of key policy-making bodies and their subversion by agri-food oligopolies.

In her new report, ‘Why Does Bayer Crop Science Control Chemicals in Brexit Britain’, she states that Bayer is having secret meetings with the British government to determine which agrochemicals are to be used after Brexit once Britain is ‘free’ of EU restrictions and becomes as deregulated as the US.

Such collusion comes as little surprise to Mason who says the government’s ‘strategy for UK life sciences’ is already dependent on funding from pharmaceutical corporations and the pesticides industry:

Syngenta’s parent company is AstraZeneca. In 2010, Syngenta and AstraZeneca were represented on the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Foods, Consumer Products and the Environment. The founder of Syngenta, Michael Pragnell CBE, was the Chairman of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) from 2011-2017. CRUK started by giving money (£450 million/year) to the Government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences and AstraZeneca provided 22 compounds to academic research to develop medicines. AstraZeneca manufactures six different anti-cancer drugs mainly aimed at breast and prostate cancer.

It seems like a highly profitable and cozy relationship between the agrochemical and pharmaceutical sectors and the government at the expense of public health.

Mason states that pesticides have been conveniently kept off the public health agenda: people are being blamed for obesity and rising rates of illness because of lifestyle choices. Because ‘loosely’ regulated and unmonitored pesticides continue to proliferate, she says that each year 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.

However, it is not just human health that is at risk from pesticides.

Devastating impacts

In 2010, Dutch toxicologist Henk Tennekes described neonicotinoid insecticides as an unfolding disaster. In his book The Systemic Pesticides: a Disaster in the Making, he catalogued a tragedy of monumental proportions regarding the loss of invertebrates and subsequent losses of the insect-feeding (invertebrate- dependent) bird populations in all environments in the Netherlands.

Tennekes stated:

The disappearance can be related to agriculture in general, and to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid in particular, which is a major contaminant of Dutch surface water since 2004. The relationship exists because there are two crucial (and catastrophic) disadvantages of the neonicotinoid insecticides: they cause damage to the central nervous system of insects that is virtually irreversible and cumulative. There is no safe level of exposure, and even minute quantities can have devastating effects in the long term; they leach into groundwater and contaminate surface water and persist in soil and water chronically exposing aquatic and terrestrial organisms to these insecticides. So, what, in effect, is happening is that these insecticides are creating a toxic landscape, in which many beneficial organisms are killed off.

From Rachel Carson back in 1962 with her book Silent Spring to more recent researchers, governments have been warned about the catastrophic effects of pesticides but have continued to capitulate to industry interests.

Mason counts the costs of these unheeded warnings. In 2017, scientists in Germany found three quarters of flying insects had vanished in 25 years in protected habitats surrounded by intensively farmed land. It was predicted that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon” and profound impacts would be felt by human society.

In France, scientists have revealed a massive decline in bird populations. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects which they depend on for food have disappeared.

This global insect apocalypse is largely the result of intensive agriculture and pesticide usage. According to Mason, one of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

The demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached alarming proportions over the last two decades.

Corporate capture

Mason refers to documents that reveal the EU bowed to demands of pesticide lobbies and created SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) which she says is “a committee of corrupt individuals that would actually increase sales of pesticides.”

She notes that the environmental group Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN) has obtained over 600 documents showing top EU officials fighting to “cripple” the bloc’s pesticide protection legislation. They show top officials trying to protect chemical and farming interests (and profits) from incoming European rules that were expected to directly ban up to 32 endocrine disrupting (EDC) pesticides. Mason concludes that current EU legislation is set up in favour of the pesticides industry.

In discussing the failure of regulators to keep hazardous chemicals from polluting our wildlife, food, air and drinking water. Mason cites several studies and reports and concludes that thousands of chemicals have entered the food system. Their long-term, chronic effects have been woefully understudied and their health risks inadequately assessed.

It is worrying to think that, globally, sales of synthetic chemicals are to double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment if governments continue to fail to rein in the plastics, pesticides and cosmetics industries. The second Global Chemicals Outlook (2019) says the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.

Global agricultural corporations have been severely criticised by Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. A report presented to the UN human rights council in 2017 was 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”.

Elver says many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people: “The corporations are not dealing with world hunger,” she says, despite industry propaganda which claims it and its chemicals are necessary for feeding the world. This is simply not true. Numerous high-level reports say that agroecology can feed the world healthily and sustainably.

At the Royal Society of Medicine Conference on pesticides safety, the late Peter Melchett presented alarming figures from official sources. The number of active ingredients applied to wheat had risen 12-fold from 1.7 in 1974 to 20.7 in 2014; that those applied to potatoes had risen 5.8 times from 5.3 in 1975 to 30.8 in 2014; that those applied to onions and leeks had risen 18-fold from 5.3 in 1975 to 30.8 in 2014. Pesticides are tested individually but no one tests the cocktail of pesticides to which humans and the environment are exposed.

The Chief Scientist for the UK’s Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Professor Ian Boyd has pointed out that once a pesticide is approved there is no follow up.

Moreover, Dr Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London, told a Royal Society of Medicine conference that the adjuvants in commercial pesticide formulations can be toxic in their own right and in some cases more toxic than the declared active ingredients. Yet only the active ingredients are tested and assessed for long-term health effects in the regulatory process. He also said that research on hormone-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides, shows that very low realistic doses can be more toxic than higher doses.

Nevertheless, Dave Bench, head of UK Chemicals Regulation Division, has described the regulatory system for pesticides as robust and as balancing the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society. Does this mean balancing industry profits against public interest on a set of scales heavily weighted in favour of the former?

Glyphosate in the dock

Hilal Elver has stated that to address the pesticides issue, we must deal with the corporations pushing them. And this is not lost on Mason who documents Monsanto’s dirty tactics to keep its multi-billion-dollar money-spinner glyphosate-based Roundup on the market.

Bayer CEO Werner Bauman has told his top-tier investors that Bayer had performed an adequate due-diligence on Monsanto before purchasing the company for $66 billion. At the time of its purchase, Monsanto told its German suitors that a $270-million set-aside would cover all its outstanding liabilities arising from Monsanto’s 5,000 Roundup cancer lawsuits.

But Bauman has conceded to anxious shareholders that Monsanto had withheld internal papers relevant to the case. Bayer never saw those internal Monsanto documents prior to the purchase.

Robert F Kennedy, co-counsel to Baum Hedlund Law, which is representing nearly 800 people in the US who allege Roundup exposure caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma, says that it was no surprise that Monsanto kept secrets from Bayer.

He notes that Dewayne Johnson’s jury heard evidence that for four decades Monsanto maneuvered 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. The jury found that these activities constituted “malice, fraud and oppression” warranting $250 million in punitive damages.

Kennedy says:

Perhaps more ominously for Bayer, 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, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. 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.

“Researchers peg glyphosate as a potent endocrine disruptor, which interferes with sexual development in children. The chemical compound is certainly a chelator that removes important minerals from the body, including iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and molybdenum. Roundup disrupts the microbiome destroying beneficial bacteria in the human gut and triggering brain inflammation and other ill effects.

Kennedy states that glyphosate now accounts for about 50% of all herbicide use in the US. About 75% of glyphosate use has occurred since 2006, with the global glyphosate market projected to reach $11.74 billion by 2023. He adds that never in history has a chemical like glyphosate been so pervasive. It is in our air, water, plants, animals, grains, vegetables and meats. It’s in beer and wine, children’s breakfast cereal and snack bars and mother’s breast milk. It’s even in our vaccines.

The issues outlined here are not confined to Europe, the UK or the US. From Argentina to India, the agri-food industry is subverting public institutions and adversely impacting diets, food, public health and the environment.

Regardless of a rapidly emerging health and environmental apocalypse, unrestrained capitalism reigns, profits trump public interest and its business as usual.

Chakras, Subtle Bodies and the Aura

It’s a modest apartment in Newport where I sit with Susan Swift to go over “quite the life” as any listener might say about this feisty, spiritual and articulate, world-traveling woman.

The hitching post Susan and I tie our respective philosophical steeds on is “philosophy” and “fate,” although we could have brought in a whole team of other steeds to pull the conversation toward all spiritual directions.

“I know what is mine to do,” the 73-year-old Swift states early on in our talk. Since her life here on the coast — Five Rivers first — not only started in 1972 as a search for environmental justice, she also fell into a what would be a life-long walkabout as a student of karma, Dharma and the meaning of interconnected “souls.”

Before the Central Coast mountains, Waldport, Seal Rock and Newport, Susan was living the Southern California lifestyle in Compton.

The Alsea basin seems worlds away from her birthplace of Inglewood. Quickly, though, she and her husband and a whole slew of residents became embroiled in cloak and dagger drama, rising to the level of the US Forest Service spraying chemicals on their land, Dow Chemical and their lawyers attempting to wear down citizens’ groups, bugged telephones, and various sundry nefarious things unfolding in a seemingly isolated rural community.

One of Susan’s cohorts has already been featured in my column Deep Dive — Carol Van Strum. For more information on those battles with toxics, bad science and broken promises by officials breaking the rule of protecting public health, safety and welfare, read Oregon Coast TODAY, “A Real-Life Toxic Avenger.”

Sometimes a young life lived produces an amazingly detailed and complex life, for sure. However, in the end, when a journalist runs into a person like Swift, with seven-plus decades under her belt, a series of floodgates open up.

Toxins, Dirty Water, Building Family

Sure, Citizens Against Toxic Sprays is a big part of her foundation, 45 years ago when she was living in the woods, in a teepee and a small shack with Calvin Parker, husband number two (one of three, but who’s counting), and her son Joe Lund from a previous marriage.

C.A.T.S. was created with the organizing skills of Susan and others in the rural community, propelled by fear — the debilitating, permanent and deadly harm being perpetrated by officials and for-profit companies upon adults, children, pets, penned animals, wildlife and drinking water through herbicide spraying.

There’s plenty of newspaper copy and radio clips on Susan’s life out here, her singing, putting on events for the legal battle against the chemical companies and their spraying ways; her work on the Lincoln County Planning Commission and other issues tied to public health. She’s been featured in a November 23, 1980 article in Salem’s Statesman Journal.

What anchors much of what I see while talking with Susan (and in reporting on the people of this area) is best captured in one short passage from that article about Susan written by Kristine Rosemary with the Statesman Journal:

Now, to make any sense of the art of diplomacy as practiced in the hidden rural valleys and insulated towns of the Oregon Coast Range, you must consider this: It is a place of overlapping generations of emigrants, each with its own notions of how to live with the land. Rain and shards of Chinese-looking mists blow into those hollows in a thrashing wind. And writhing vines of domestic blackberry gone feral make a slow triumph of thorns. The children of homesteaders who came to farm these fertile valleys were joined 50 years after, by a second wave of urban exiles.

An emblematic quote and a microcosm of what this Oregon Coast now faces with population influxes, lack of affordable housing, more pollution to contend with, climate change and shifting economic, cultural and generational baselines. What is left out even in this Statesman Journal’s prescient description is what’s not included so many times in countless articles — who was here first.

The Siuslaw and Kuitsh people began settling the coast more than 9,000 years ago. They have probably lived in the same locations for hundreds of generations.

Who knows if that paper mill, hotel or housing development was built on an ancient significant site? Or on top of sacred burial grounds, or over summer root-picking fields or a shaman’s spiritual place?

Coast as Healing Center

Susan Swift, RN, formerly known as Mrs. Parker, Swedish massage therapist, is keenly aware of Native American history as her daughter, Autumn Rayne, is part Cheyenne. What has been germinated from those early days in Five Rivers, then in Waldport, and then to the Valley and even Portland, is a determined septuagenarian who has lived on a wildlife refuge in India, ended up in Egypt on a spiritual journey and has met the Dali Lama.

There are stories layered onto life lessons, like shoots on an old fig tree. Her past, Susan says, is her journey forward. She’s helped Mo and her husband (of the Oregon Coast’s famed seafood and chowder restaurants, Mo’s) get through the last days of their lives as their in-home certified care taker. She’s played guitar and sang with husband number three — musician and instrument maker, and she’s chased elephants out of her garden of succulents.

Iterations of her life include head of the Lincoln County Planning Commission, nursing school, working at a mental health unit in Portland, and now writing, which she’s recently pursued in a memoir workshop at the senior center.

The coast is the healing breath she takes with her wherever she ventures. Susan believes she has past lives (that we all do) to account for and to make amends with, as well as to understand in order to carry forth on a pathway to enlightenment. Ironically, Susan Swift says her gift of energy empathy and nursing came at a young age: “I first learned my hands could take away pain when I was 10 years old.”

Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.

— Thích Nh?t H?nh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist

Do what you love because the universe will support you. Speak and say what you want.

Be specific. Then get out of the way and let the universe take care of the details.

— Susan Swift, July 8, 2019

She laughs because her prayers for a partner were answered, but she wasn’t specific enough — “I didn’t mention that partner should be on the same continent.” That spiritual partner was living in India.

She went to India for a workshop with 45 people from 15 countries. That’s where she met this tall, dark handsome Reiki master. “He was raised Muslim, and I was raised Christian, and we came to the same spiritual place, looking for the same spiritual answers.” That was in 2005. She returned to the USA and had a spiritual awakening with him over the years — sharing emails, letters, phone calls.

“In 2010, I retired, closed up the Vancouver house, put everything I owned into my son’s house in Covington, Washington.” She spent a total of four years in India, on a wildlife refuge: Mudamalli Wildlife Refuge in Tamil Nadu. Her partner was Nijamudeen. Susan was “totally embraced by this huge Muslim family.”

Her travails get complicated as Susan courses back and forth through her own chronological history and these many points of enlightenment in her 73 years. She has a thousand stories floating around her cranium. I fill pages and pages of notes.

How she got to India, with her healing touch on a dog that had been attacked by a black panther, covers all levels of spiritual and geographical ground. She went to Egypt in 2003 on a prayer for peace journey with 250 people from 25 nations. She talks excitedly about going down the Nile and to a resort on the Red Sea. She talks about the guides and hotel charges playing the song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, wherever they went since the tour’s theme was taken from the songwriter’s famous piece.

The trip was part of a far-reaching international push to get George W. Bush and his administration to hold off on a violent attack on Iraq, to instead follow international players’ plans to get Saddam Hussein to agree to step down with loads of money.

“I told an Egyptian woman that this was my first use of a passport as an American, and I was ashamed and told her I couldn’t handle it. She held me and told me calmly: ‘America is the world’s great hope for democracy and freedoms. We understand that your president was appointed by the court and wasn’t elected by the people of your country.’”

The Enlightened Being is Really Inside Our “self”

Now rewind to 1982, and Susan Parker is headed for Seaside, to catch a talk by the Dali Llama concerning China’s latest offer to return Tibet to China. “It was quite an entourage. I was at the greeting line. Oh my gosh, there I was telling the Dali Llama I was so honored and most joyful about his visit, with my sandalwood mala in my hand. He leaned in and bonked third eyes with me.”

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A life is not always marked out with milestones set forth in an organized and clear path, but for the sake of brevity, it might be wise to follow our Central Coast resident using a timeline to get through some of her dynamic, compelling life chapters.

She grew up in a working-class family in Compton, and as stated earlier, she knew she had healing hands as a youngster placing them on her mom’s two ruptured spinal discs. The young Susan wanted to be outside playing baseball, “but my hands seemed to know what to do with the muscle spasms the size of my fists.”

Those healing hands more than five decades later would take care of a large tumor on Nami (Namaste), the Basenji dog in India she adopted, and used her healing words to help Gemmee, who has his shoulder gashed after it had outrun a black panther. “Nami never barked, just commented about everything in this yodeling song.”

Back to the Land on the Lam

Back to how she ended up in Five Rivers — she was with Calvin Parker, a Northern Montana Cheyenne she met in Pasadena. He was a sergeant in the US Army, about to be sent to Vietnam. He ended up AWOL, and the couple moved to Five Rivers where his sister was living in an old school house.

They lived in a 15-by-30, cold-water shack heated by a wood-burning-stove. “During this time, I was dreaming of a dark-haired, light-eyed girl.” (which eventually was their daughter, Autumn Rayne)

Susan ended up taking minutes for the local school committee. She found an old mimeograph machine and put together the Five Rivers Run-off Community Newsletter, stuffing flyers into mailboxes. That’s when she took notice of the herbicides issue popping up in editorials inside the Newport News Times.

“I hadn’t gone to school at that point, but I created a health form survey, passing it out door to door, all the way from Highway 34 to the mill. So many miscarriages, tumors and cancers were reported.” That was 1974, and Susan Swift shakes her head as she tells me that a scientist from OSU still advocates there is nothing wrong with 2,4,5-T.

This community of mostly women fighting the forest service and prevailing conservative strains of science worked together to build their adopted family on many levels. Susan laughs again recalling she was living in a teepee with two kids before getting her first place in Waldport. She was a single mom with a three- and 11-year-old. “They were exposed to musicians and artists coming and going all the time.” Joseph Lund graduated from Waldport High in 1985, and did the first video yearbook for the school.

She became an EMT-in-training for the Waldport Ambulance, graduating as the first woman to drive the ambulance. She ended working at a spa in Yachats. In 1978 she was lecturing at Lane Community College teaching different classes on the health effects of herbicide exposure, chemical releases in forestry and the dioxin molecule, diagramming it on the board, showing students how it worked.

She moved into her first house in Seal Rock, and put out her first shingle, “Susan Parker, LMT,” above a Waldport barbershop. The place became a center for healing. Transpersonal healing, encounters with lives, and more would begin to charge her life and encompass her interests.

“No matter what you believe, doing things out of compassion for others is as healing as we can get.”

She moved to Newport in the 1980s, at this point managing the Ocean Food Co-op. She was one of the spearheads to create an Oceana board of directors, hire a paid bookkeeper and charge a $10 yearly fee.

She met Husband Number Three at an open mic session at a local bar and eatery in Waldport. He was a guitarist and “amazingly gifted instrument maker.”

“I bought a guitar for twenty-five dollars cash and twenty-five in food stamps. I taught myself guitar and sang the songs I wanted to sing . . . positive ones. That’s when he said, ‘I like your voice.’” The marriage lasted one and a half years, but they are still friends.

With a belief in past lives, Susan takes many things both in stride and contextualized through transpersonal psychology, but she also has both feet in the waters of transglobal spirituality and multiple contexts for enlightenment and “godliness.”

Healing & Being in the Right Place Spiritually

Fate, she calls it, or her life’s proscribed journey points. She even ended up getting the finances for nursing school after working hard to take care of Mo (Mohava Niemi) who she was with until Mo died in 1992, as well as taking care of Mo’s spouse, Dutch Niemi, until he too passed on.

Dutch (he was a Finnish fisherman) had always wanted to send a child in need to college, but instead after Susan’s healing ways and hearing all the people taking care of his medical needs tell Susan she was a born natural for RN school, Dutch came through. “Dutch said he wanted to help me. That $9,000 helped me pay off bills and made it possible to go to nursing school.”

She worked for Dutch on weekends while she was at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. That healing and spiritual medical caretaking continued after nursing school graduation. She worked for a Portland neurosurgeon for three years, and she worked with the Oregon State Mental Hospital Portland campus as the lead nurse for six.

Her first nursing job was at Corvallis Manor, but she also took her caring hands and gifted spirit of empathy to a group home for developmentally disabled adults, Portland’s Eliot House.

“I treated every patient as a precious soul.”

While there was a 20-year absence from Lincoln County between 1994 and 2014, the draw to this area has been strong. She has joined up with Lincoln County Community Rights which just celebrated the two-year anniversary of its successful effort to ban aerial spraying in Lincoln County.

She’s done some driving for Yaquina Cab, shuttling people to and from the hospital. In this interview, Susan and I gravitate back to her story and her natural gifts — her abilities to organize and to start things, and her deep well of beliefs around alternative healing, energy fields on the body, and reincarnation.

These are book-level ideas, sculpted around a life still in the making, but one lived complexly and with mindfulness: with the added hues and tones of adventure, unique healing and death and dying situations painted in. One can hope she will see the light and eventually put down in writing a life well-lived, one where young and old might learn new (or old) meditative and mediation practices.

In our vapid celebrity culture, which is obsessed with putting the limelight on the rich, famous, or infamous, an authentic woman’s gritty and universal story should be compelling, to say the least.

“We have a choice everyday how we think. What you focus on, expands. We can choose how to go through this life. We need to just get out of our own way and begin living.”

•••

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Officials Ignore Pesticides and Blame Alcohol and Biscuits for Rising Rates of Disease  

The information below and the quotes were taken from the 12-page report that accompanied Rosemary Mason’s recent open letter to the Chief Medical Officer to England, Sally Davies. It can be accessed here.

*****

Campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has written an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer of England, Sally Davies. In it, Mason states that none of the more than 400 pesticides that have been authorised in the UK have been tested for long-term actions on the brain: in the foetus, in children or in adults.

The UK Department of Health (DoH) has previously stated that pesticides are not its concern. But, according to Mason, they should be. She says that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s showed that endocrine disrupters (EDCs) were changing humans and the environment, but this research was ignored by officials. Glyphosate, the most widespread herbicide in the world, is an EDC and a nervous system disrupting chemical.

In a book published in 1996, Our Stolen Future: How Man-made Chemicals are Threatening our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival, Colborn (d. 2014) and colleagues revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs. There was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of these chemicals can disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence and the functioning of the immune system.

In addition to glyphosate, EDCs include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine and dacthal.

Colborn stated:

The concentration of persistent chemicals can be magnified millions of times as they travel to the ends of the earth… Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.

Mason says that Colburn predicted that this would involve sexual development and adds this is why certain people may be confused about their sexuality.

She says to Davies:

You were appointed as interim CMO by David Cameron in June 2010; you became the permanent holder in 2011. Was that once you had assured him of your loyalty by not mentioning pesticides?

She continues by saying:

You did not train as a specialist in public health but as a consultant haematologist, specialising in haemoglobinopathies. You joined the Civil Service in 2004 and became Chief Scientific Adviser to the Health Secretary. Did David Cameron instruct Tracey Brown OBE from Sense about Science, a lobby organisation for GMO crops, to be your minder? When the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a paper saying that exposure to chemicals during pregnancy could damage the foetus, you and Tracey Brown publicly made fun of it.

After that I wrote to you about the Faroes Statement: in 2007, twenty-five experts in environmental health from eleven countries (including from the UK) met on the Faroes and contributed to this statement: ‘The periods of embryonic, foetal and infant development are remarkably susceptible to environmental hazards. Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in infants, children and across the entire span of human life.’ You asked Dr John Harrison from Public Health England to write to me to reassure me that there was no evidence that it was true.

You made an announcement in 2011 that antibiotic resistance was an apocalyptic threat to humans and the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies… When I informed you that one of glyphosate’s many actions was as an antibiotic, you ignored me.  Dr Don Huber, a Plant Pathologist from Purdue University, Indiana, says that glyphosate is an antibiotic, an organic phosphonate, a growth regulator, a toxicant, a virulence enhancer and is persistent in the soil. It chelates (captures) and washes out the following minerals: boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nickel and zinc.

Mason doesn’t waste much time in drawing conclusions as to why her previous letters to Davies and other officials have been ignored or sidelined. She notes that between May 2010 and the end of 2013 the UK Department of Health alone had 130 meetings with representatives of industry and concludes that commercial interests are currently in control of key decisions about the public’s health.

In 2014, an open letter from America warned citizens, politicians and regulators in the UK and EU against adopting GM crops and glyphosate. It was endorsed by NGOs, scientists, anti-GM groups, celebrities, food manufacturers and others representing 60 million citizens in the US. Mason draws attention to the fact that the letter outlined eight independent papers describing environmental harm and six about the threat to human health.

But David Cameron, PM at the time, ignored it. The European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority also ignored it. Glyphosate was relicensed.

Mason asked relevant officials why the EFSA was regularly increasing the maximum residue levels of glyphosate in foods at the request of Monsanto but has received no reply.

Professor Philippe Grandjean, the leader of the conference that issued the ‘Faroes Statement’, released the book: Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development – and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation (2013). In reviewing the book, Theo Colbern said:

This book is a huge gift to humankind from an eminent scientist. Grandjean tells the truth about how we have been ruining the brain power of each new generation and asks if there are still enough intelligent people in the world today to reverse the problem. I cannot rid myself of the idea that too many brains have been drained and society is beyond the point of no return. We must learn from the follies and scandals that Grandjean reveals and stop the chemical brain drain before it is too late.

But pesticides are ignored

A key point that Mason wants to make to Davies is that lifestyle choices are not to blame for rising rates of diseases, cancer and obesity; these increases are the outcome of the toxic cocktails of pesticides and other chemicals we are consuming.

Mason says to Davies about the Chief Medical Officer for England’s 2019 annual report:

For your final report, you failed to mention many diseases afflicting people in the UK… You claim that you work independently and you are going to write about childhood obesity in September. But why did you collude with Cancer Research UK to blame the people for obesity?

Not only did David Cameron ignore the ‘Letter from America’, he also appointed Michael Pragnell, founder of Syngenta and former Chairman of CropLife International, to the board of Cancer Research UK in 2010. He became Chairman in 2011. As of 2015, CropLife International´s member list included BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC Corp., Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. Many of these make their own formulated glyphosate.

Mason says to Davies:

CRUK, you, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Public Health England, linked cancer to alcohol, obesity and smoking. You all blamed the people for ‘lifestyle choices’. Where is the scientific evidence for this?

Syngenta is a member of the European Glyphosate Task Force, which sought to renew (and succeeded) European glyphosate registration. Not surprisingly, Mason says, the CRUK website denies that there is any link between pesticides and cancer. Its website says the following about pesticides:

For now, the evidence is not strong enough to give us any clear answers. But for individual pesticides, the evidence was either too weak to come to a conclusion, or only strong enough to suggest a “possible” effect. The scientific evidence on pesticides and cancer is still uncertain and more research is needed in this area.

Mason refers to a survey commissioned by CRUK, ‘People lack awareness of link between alcohol and cancer’, but asks what credible scientific evidence is there that alcohol causes seven different types of cancer and that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer? She concludes, none, and writes that certain top scientists have questioned (ridiculed) the messages being conveyed to the public about alcohol use.

In the Observer and the Guardian in July 2019, CRUK took out half-page advertisements stating that obesity (in huge letters) is a cause of cancer. In a smaller box, it was stated that, like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer. Bus stops and advertising hoardings were replete with black text on a white background. The adverts invited people to fill in the blanks and spell out OBESITY, asking the public to ‘Guess what is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking’.

Mason notes that CRUK has also paid for many TV adverts, describing how it looks after people with cancer and encourages donations from the public. It claims to have spent £42 million on information and influencing in 2018.

She says that the Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) has residues of 123 different pesticides that seriously impact the gut microbiome. Mason states that obesity is associated with low diversity of bacteria in the microbiome and glyphosate destroys most of the beneficial bacteria and leaves the toxic bacteria behind. In effect, she argues (citing relevant studies) that Roundup (and other biocides) is a major cause of gross obesity, neuropsychiatric disorders and other chronic diseases including cancers, which are all on the rise, and adversely impacts brain development in children and adolescents.

She asks Davies:

Why did you not attend the meeting in the Houses of Parliament on Roundup? If you were away, you have hundreds of staff in the DOH or Public Health England that could have deputised for you. Dr Don Huber, Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, Indiana, and one of four experts on Roundup, spoke at a meeting in the House of Commons on 18th June 2014 on the dangers of Roundup. In what was one of the most comprehensive meetings ever held in Europe on Glyphosate and Roundup, experts from around the World gathered in London to share their expertise with the media, members of a number of UK political parties, NGO representatives and members of the general public. EXCEPT THAT NONE OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA WAS PRESENT, NOR THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH NOR PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND. They are protecting the pesticides industry.

Mason makes much of the very cosy relationship between the Murdoch media and successive governments in the UK and asks:

Roundup weed killer is present in all our foods: why does the UK media not want us to know?

She notes that women in the UK are being warned to cut back on sweet treats or risk cancer. Sally Davies says women are consuming “two biscuits too much each day” and should lose weight. Davies says obesity will surpass smoking as the leading cause of cancer in women by 2043. Last year, official figures revealed 30 per cent of women in the UK are overweight and 27 per cent are obese. Obesity levels across all genders have risen from 15 per cent to 26 per cent since 1993.

But as Mason has shown time and again in her reports and open letters to officials, pesticides (notably glyphosate) are a key driver of obesity. Moreover, type 2 diabetes is closely associated with being very overweight. According to NHS data, almost four in five of 715 children suffering from it were also obese.

Type 2 diabetes is a disaster for the child and their family and for the NHS,” says Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health at Queen Mary University of London who is also the chair of the campaign group Action on Sugar. “If a child gets type 2 diabetes, it’s condemning them to a lot of complications of that condition, such as blindness, amputations and kidney disease,” he said. “These figures are a sign that we are in a crisis and that the government doesn’t seem to be taking action, or not enough and not quickly enough. The UK obesity levels now exceed those of the US.

Mason explains:

I am one of the many British women in 2014-16 who were spending nearly 20 years of their life in poor health (19.3 years) while men spend just over 16 years in poor health. Spanish women live the longest, with UK longevity ranked 17th out of 28 EU nations, according to Public Health England’s annual health profile. Each year 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.

She concludes:

Britain and America are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis. These countries are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. We are needlessly allowing our people to die early.

Poisoned for Profit: We Are Not the Agrochemical Industry’s Guinea Pigs

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Chemicals Regulation Division (HSE) in the UK claiming that the glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup has poisoned her nature reserve in South Wales and is also poisoning people across the UK (she includes herself here, as she struggles with a neurodegenerative condition). She notes that the widespread spraying of glyphosate went against the advice of directive 2009/128/EC of the European parliament but was carried out at the behest of the agrochemicals industry.

Mason has sent a 24-page fully referenced document with her letter in support of her claims. It can be accessed in full here. What follows is a brief summary of just a few of the take-home points. There is a lot more in Mason’s document, much of which touches on issues she has previously covered but which nonetheless remain relevant.

The thrust of her open letter to these agencies is that glyphosate is a major contributory factor in spiralling rates of disease and conditions affecting the UK population. She also makes it clear that official narratives — pushed by the pesticides industry, the media and various key agencies — have deliberately downplayed or ignored the role of agrochemicals in this. Instead, the focus has been on the role of alcohol use and obesity, conveniently placing the blame on individual behaviour and the failure of people to opt for ‘healthy lifestyle’ choices.

Mason argues that Monsanto emails released into the public domain have revealed that Roundup was kept on the market by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud. In addition, she notes that documents show that the European Commission bowed to the demands of pesticide lobbies. Former PM David Cameron, Defra, the European Food Safety Authority, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency all ignored the warnings that GM crops and Roundup were hazardous to human health and the environment.

In the run-up to the relicensing of glyphosate in the EU, Mason states that in its analysis the Glyphosate Task Force omitted key studies from South America (where herbicide-tolerant GM crops are grown) that associate Roundup with cancer, birth defects, infertility, DNA damage and neurotoxicity. She refers to many studies in support of her claim that glyphosate is deleterious to human health and the environment. It is worth noting that the European Chemicals Agency has classified glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.

Mason reserves a special place for Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in her letter, saying that the agency has been hi-jacked by the pesticides industry and has persuaded key figures in the medical establishment to repeat certain claims: that alcohol, cigarette smoking and obesity are the main causes of cancer. She argues that Monsanto and the US EPA have known for a long time that Roundup is carcinogenic.

CRUK recently made a bold statement about its vision to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. However, Mason asserts this is fantasy for public consumption. She argues there are a huge number of cancers in the UK and their prevalence is increasing each year in tandem with the rising use of glyphosate and other agrochemicals.

Mason provides the statistics:

In the UK, there were 13,605 new cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 (and 4,920 deaths in 2016): there were 41,804 new cases of bowel cancer in 2015 (and 16,384 deaths in 2016); 12,547 new cases of kidney cancer in 2015 (and 4,619 deaths in 2016); 5,736 new cases of liver cancer in 2015 (5,417 deaths in 2016); 15,906 new cases of melanoma in 2015 (2,285 deaths in 2016); 3,528 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2015 (382 deaths in 2016); 10,171 new cases of bladder cancer in 2015 (5,383 deaths in 2016); 8,984 new cases of uterine cancer in 2015 (2,360 deaths in 2016); 7,270 cases of ovarian cancer in 2015 (4,227 deaths in 2016); 9,900 new cases of leukaemia in 2015 (4,712 deaths in 2016); 55,122 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2015 (11,563 deaths in 2016); 47,151 new cases of prostate cancer in 2015 (11,631 deaths in 2016); 9,211 new cases of oesophageal cancer in 2015 (8,004 deaths in 2016); and 5,540 new cases of myeloma in 2015 (3,079 deaths in 2016); 2,288 new cases of testicular cancer in 2015 (57 deaths in 2016); 9,921 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2015 (9,263 deaths in 2016); 11,432 new cases of brain cancer in 2015 (5,250 deaths in 2016); 46,388 new cases of lung cancer in 2015 (and 35,620 deaths in 2016). In the US in 2014 there were 24,050 new cases of myeloma.

Arguing that UK farmers are “drowning” their crops in pesticides, Mason notes that it is therefore not surprising that Pesticide Action Network UK’s analysis of the last 12 years of residue data (published by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food) shows there are unacceptable levels of pesticides present in the food provided through the Department of Health’s (DoH) School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).

Residues of 123 different pesticides were found, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system. Moreover, residues contained on SFVS produce were higher than those in produce tested under the national residue testing scheme (mainstream produce found on supermarket shelves). However, Mason says that when PAN-UK sent its findings to the DOH, the agency was told that pesticides are not the concern of the DoH.

Perhaps they should be, given what Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, stated in 2017:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weed killers, 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.

He added:

Paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a ‘silent pandemic’ of disease and disability. Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

Tuncak says that most victims cannot prove the cause of their disability or disease and this limits our ability to hold those responsible to account. But this is changing. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the industry’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market, thanks to the various high-profile litigations in the US. Maybe it’s time for the (taxpayer-funded) agencies Rosemary Mason has continually written to over the years to finally act in the public interest. Or would that be too much to expect?

In finishing, we should take note of the current orchestrated campaign (cheer-led by those outside of India with industry links) to get herbicide-tolerant seeds planted in India. Aside from Bt cotton, GM crops are not allowed in the country. This cynical campaign is aimed at increasing GM seed, glyphosate and other toxic agrochemical sales. Given increasingly saturated markets elsewhere, the global GM seed and herbicide industry regards India as a massive potential money spinner.

However, Punjab took the lead in 2018 and banned glyphosate. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have since followed. But there is still no nationwide ban. With this in mind, author and academic Ashwani Mahajan has started a petition campaign (here) to stop the use of glyphosate in India.

He says that pesticide companies are taking advantage of farmers’ ignorance about the deadly risks associated with glyphosate. Mahajan notes that industry is sending its agents to approach farmers directly and trap them with attractive promotional offersThis is part of a wider strategy to get farmers to break with effective traditional practices and lure them onto agrochemical (and GMO) treadmills as described in the 2017 paper The Ox Fall Down: Path Breaking and Technology Treadmills in Indian Cotton Agriculture (Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs).

Farmers are being subjected to slick PR and lured because they are told this herbicide is a cost-effective method to kill weeds quickly. What they are not told is that its effectiveness is limited, that it’s a health and environmental hazard and that it’s a risk to their lives. But it’s not just farmers’ lives that are at risk. We just need to look at the statistics provided earlier in this article to realise the risk to the wider public health.

From Mad Cow Disease to Agrochemicals: Time to Put Public Need Ahead of Private Greed

The first part of this article documenting the development of BSE in Britain was written by Rosemary Mason and is taken from her new report. It is fully referenced and cites sources and evidence in support of her claims. Additional reporting for the second part of the article was provided by Colin Todhunter.

*****

Mad cow disease is a fatal epidemic neurological syndrome created by the agricultural industry, farmers and food processors.

In 1987, an epidemic of a fatal neurological disease in cows suddenly appeared in Britain. Cows became uncoordinated, staggered around, collapsed and finally died. The disease was called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) because there were holes in the brain where prion protein cells became folded, had linked up and then split to cover the surface of the brain. There were more than 1,300 cases of BSE spread over 6,000 farms.

For at least 40 years, infected slaughterhouse carcasses had been rendered down and recycled into animal feed. Not wanting to waste anything, pressure cooking of the spinal cord and brain produced a sludge known as ‘mechanically-recovered meat’. The regulators allowed it to go into meat products. This processed meat and bone meal was turned into a coarse powder and was fed back to cows. Cows are herbivores and this way they were turned into cannibals.

By 1990, BSE had spread into 14 other species, including cats. Politicians, the food industry, media, the government, farmers and vets said BSE couldn’t jump species to affect humans and it was safe to eat beef. Advertisements were taken out in newspapers and politicians were shown eating steak tartare in the Houses of Parliament to boost the sales of beef. At an agricultural show, the Agriculture Minister John Gummer was seen offering a beef burger to his daughter.

In 1995, the first human under 40 contracted what became known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (new vCJD, related to BSE and belonging to the same family of diseases). By March 1996, there were five cases and the government was forced to alter its advice. Kevin Maguire, a journalist, was lunching with someone in Westminster who said that scientists had discovered that ‘mad cow disease’ could jump species and had been found in humans.

Maguire said that it was a scandal in an effort to get every penny out of a carcass. His newspaper, The Mirror, was the first to break the news to the public, saying that humans could catch mad cow disease from eating infected beef and that the government was about to do a U-turn by finally accepting that the brain wasting disease may have been passed to people. This U-turn by ministers – who for 10 years had insisted it was impossible – was a devastating indictment of the British government and probably one of the worst examples of government since the war.

During 1996, 10 more cases of new vCJD in people under 40 were diagnosed. All died within 13 months and there was no cure. In 2005, the authorities thought the disease was over, but in 2009, a case was discovered in a 30-year-old man. Another case appeared four years later. Today, people are living with uncertainty, not knowing if they are incubating new vCJD.

The parents of children who had died from new vCJD said “We trusted government advice.” Each Christmas one mother had sent an e-mail to those she thought responsible with a photograph of her daughter and said your actions have deprived me of my daughter. Another parent from Scotland who had lost his 30-year-old son to the disease had tattooed on his arm the name of his son followed by: ‘murdered by greed and corruption’.

In the documentary ‘Mad Cow Disease: The Great British Beef Scandal’, first broadcast on BBC 2 on 11 July 2019, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, said:

New Variant CJD is not a natural disease. It is an epidemic we have created. If the agricultural industry hadn’t decided to feed cattle with meat and bone meal, if the food processors hadn’t decided to scrape every last bit of flesh off the carcass, and if MAFF [govt ministry] hadn’t prioritised farming over food safety, all of the people who died would still be alive. This is the tragedy.

The following is taken from a publication compiled by the European Environment Agency, ‘Late lessons from early warnings’ (Patrick van Zwanenberg and Erik Millstone):

Many of the UK policy makers who were directly responsible for taking policy decisions on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prior to March 1996 claim that, at the time, their approach exemplified the application of an ultra-precautionary approach and of rigorous science-based policy-making. We argue that these claims are not convincing because government policies were not genuinely precautionary and did not properly take into account the implications of the available scientific evidence.

… It is, however, essential to appreciate that UK public policy making was handicapped by a fundamental tension. The department responsible for dealing with BSE has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and it was expected simultaneously to promote the economic interests of farmers and the food industry whilst also protecting public health from food-borne hazards. The evidence cited here suggests that because MAFF was expected simultaneously to meet two contradictory objectives it failed to meet either.

The UK introduced legislation banning the use of contaminated ruminant protein for use in ruminant feed in 1988. By then, a million cows had entered the food chain. At the height of the scandal, British beef had lost around 60% of sales. Prior to the ban, microbiologist Stephen Dealler challenged the government’s claim over safety and was moved from his research lab.

However, Britain continued to export meat and bone meal to Europe. The European Commission asked the UK to introduce an export ban on feedstuffs, but the UK refused to do so. It was not until 1996 that the EC banned these exports.

From mad cows to GMOs and pesticides

Where glyphosate (and other agrochemicals) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are concerned, we again see commercial interests being prioritised and the public interest sidelined. Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup was originally sprayed on crops in 1980 and on grazing land in 1985 (recommended by Monsanto scientists). GMOs entered the commercial market in the US in the 1990s. As shown in the report mentioned in the introduction to this article, the authorities did not heed the advice of key scientists and went ahead regardless.

Readers are urged to consult the report as it documents the duplicity that underpins the agrochemical/GMO agritech sector and describes how science and regulatory processes have been corrupted. In Britain, the government is saying that GM crops and Roundup are safe and intends to introduce these crops after Brexit.

Of course, heavily compromised industry-funded scientists and other lobbyists say the science is decided on GM and that glyphosate is safe. They say anyone who rejects this is anti-science and doesn’t care about world hunger because we can only feed the world by rolling out more GM crops and more agrochemicals. But this is little more than propaganda and emotional blackmail, part of an industry strategy designed to tug at the heartstrings of public opinion and sway the policy agenda.

We need to turn to author Andre Leu who has outlined major deficiencies in pesticide safety protocols. He offers a more realistic appraisal:

… it is a gross misrepresentation to say that any of the current published toxicology studies can be used to say that any of the thousands of pesticide products used in the world do not cause cancer or other diseases… there is no evidence that pesticides are safe.

Washington State University researchers recently 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. The study’s authors say:

The ability of glyphosate and other environmental toxicants to impact our future generations needs to be considered and is potentially as important as the direct exposure toxicology done today for risk assessment.

And where GMOs are concerned, they are little more than a flawed technological panacea that ignores the structural causes of malnutrition and hunger.

An increasing number of prominent reports and voices are now arguing that we do not need toxic chemicals to feed the world and that if we maintain our economic and agricultural course we are headed for disaster. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva recently called for healthier and more sustainable food systems and said agroecology can contribute to such a transformation.

Moreover, the new report from the UN High Level Panel of Food Experts on Food Security and Nutrition — Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition — argues that food systems are at a crossroads and profound transformation is needed. Many high-profile reports and figures have been saying similar things for years.

It is therefore disconcerting that the British government seems oblivious to the need of the hour and remains intent on pursuing an obsolete neoliberal, water-polluting, soil degrading, health destroying, unsustainable model of food and agriculture at the behest of corporate interests.

Mad cow disease did not just suddenly appear from nowhere. It was created by humans, particularly the farming industry and food processors. The British government kept on maintaining that eating beef was perfectly safe. A scientist who spoke out was silenced. The interests of the beef industry were paramount.

Evidence suggests there could soon be a second wave of cases affecting humans. It will be among people with a genetic predisposition towards longer incubation periods than the first patients had. This genetic predisposition is shared by half the British population. Some 177 people (as of June 2014) have contracted and died of vCJD.

That number is dwarfed when it comes to the spiralling rates of disease and illness that we now see among the British population. This too hasn’t happened for no reason. We see clear trends between the rising use of agrochemicals (especially glyphosate) and rising rates of morbidity, while much of the media and policy makers remain silent on this connection.

From the ‘great British beef scandal’ of the 1980s to ongoing pesticide issue, the profit motives of rich corporations continue to trump the public interest.

Life Expectancy Falters in the UK

A special report in the Observer newspaper in the UK on 23 June 2019 asked the question: Why is life expectancy faltering? The piece noted that for the first time in 100 years, Britons are dying earlier. The UK now has the worst health trends in Western Europe.

Aside from the figures for the elderly and the deprived, there has also been a worrying change in infant mortality rates. Since 2014, the rate has increased every year: the figure for 2017 is significantly higher than the one in 2014. To explain this increase in infant mortality, certain experts blame it on ‘austerity’, fewer midwives, an overstrained ambulance service, general deterioration of hospitals, greater poverty among pregnant women and cuts that mean there are fewer health visitors for patients in need.

While all these explanations may be valid, according to environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason, there is something the mainstream narrative is avoiding. She says:

We are being poisoned by weedkiller and other pesticides in our food and weedkiller sprayed indiscriminately on our communities. The media remain silent.

The poisoning of the UK public by the agrochemical industry is the focus of her new report: Why is life expectancy faltering: The British Government has worked with Monsanto and Bayer since 1949.

What follows are edited highlights of the text in which she cites many official sources and reports as well as numerous peer-reviewed studies in support of her arguments. Readers can access the report here.

Toxic history of Monsanto in the UK

Mason begins by offering a brief history of Monsanto in the UK. In 1949, that company set up a chemical factory in Newport, Wales, where it manufactured PCBs until 1977 and a number of other dangerous chemicals. Monsanto was eventually found to be dumping toxic waste in the River Severn, public waterways and sewerage. It then paid a contractor which illegally dumped thousands of tons of cancer-causing chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins and Agent Orange derivatives, at two quarries in Wales – Brofiscin (80,000 tonnes) and Maendy (42,000 tonnes) – between 1965 and 1972.

Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston US in 1971 because of various scandals. However, the British government agreed to ramp up production at the Monsanto plant in Newport. In 2003, when toxic effluent from the quarry started leaking into people’s streams in Grosfaen, just outside Cardiff, the Environment Agency – a government agency concerned with flooding and pollution – was hired to clean up the site in 2005.

Mason notes that the agency repeatedly failed to hold Monsanto accountable for its role in the pollution (a role that Monsanto denied from the outset) and consistently downplayed the dangers of the chemicals themselves.

In a report prepared for the agency and the local authority in 2005 but never made public, the sites contain at least 67 toxic chemicals. Seven PCBs have been identified, along with vinyl chlorides and naphthalene. The unlined quarry is still leaking, the report says:

Pollution of water has been occurring since the 1970s, the waste and groundwater has been shown to contain significant quantities of poisonous, noxious and polluting material, pollution of… waters will continue to occur.

The duplicity continues

Apart from these events in Wales, Mason outlines the overall toxic nature of Monsanto in the UK. For instance, she discusses the shockingly high levels of weedkiller in packaged cereals. Samples of four oat-based breakfast cereals marketed for children in the UK were recently sent to the Health Research Institute, Fairfield, Iowa, an accredited laboratory for glyphosate testing. Dr Fagan, the director of the centre, says of the results:

These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).

According to Mason, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission colluded with the European Glyphosate Task Force and allowed it to write the re-assessment of glyphosate. She lists key peer-reviewed studies, which the Glyphosate Task Force conveniently omitted from its review, from South America where GM crops are grown. In fact, many papers come from Latin American countries where they grow almost exclusively GM Roundup Ready Crops.

Mason cites one study that references many papers from around the world that confirm glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup are damaging to the development of the foetal brain and that repeated exposure is toxic to the adult human brain and may result in alterations in locomotor activity, feelings of anxiety and memory impairment.

Another study notes neurotransmitter changes in rat brain regions following glyphosate exposure. The highlights from that study indicate that glyphosate oral exposure caused neurotoxicity in rats; that brain regions were susceptible to changes in CNS monoamine levels; that glyphosate reduced 5-HT, DA, NE levels in a brain regional- and dose-related manner; and that glyphosate altered the serotoninergic, dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems.

Little wonder, Mason concludes, that we see various degenerative conditions on the rise. She turns her attention to children, the most vulnerable section of the population, and refers to the UN expert on toxicity Baskut Tuncak. He wrote a scathing piece in the Guardian on 06/11/2017 on the effects of agrotoxins on children’s health:

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.

… Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at “low” doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

… In light of revelations such as the copy-and-paste scandal, a careful re-examination of the performance of states is required. 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.

Warnings ignored

It is a travesty that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s into the chemicals that were changing humans and the environment was ignored. Mason discusses his work into endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), man-made chemicals that became widespread in the environment after WW II.

In a book published in 1996, The Pesticide Conspiracy, Colborn, Dumanoski and Peters revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs.

At the time, there was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of man-made chemicals disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence, and the functioning of the immune system.

At that stage, PCBs, DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine+ and dacthal were shown to be EDCs. Many of these residues are found in humans in the UK.

Colborn illustrated the problem by constructing a diagram of the journey of a PCB molecule from a factory in Alabama into a polar bear in the Arctic. He stated:

The concentration of persistent chemicals can be magnified millions of times as they travel to the ends of the earth… Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.

Mason describes how EDCs interfere with delicate hormone systems in sexual development. Glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor and a nervous system disruptor. She ponders whether Colborn foresaw the outcome whereby humans become confused about their gender or sex.

She then discusses the widespread contamination of people in the UK. One study conducted at the start of this century concluded that every person tested was contaminated by a cocktail of known highly toxic chemicals that were banned from use in the UK during the 1970s and which continue to pose unknown health risks: the highest number of chemicals found in any one person was 49 – nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the chemicals looked for.

Corruption exposed

Mason discusses corporate duplicity and the institutionalised corruption that allows agrochemicals to get to the commercial market. She notes the catastrophic impacts of these substances on health and the NHS and the environment.

Of course, the chickens are now coming home to roost for Bayer, which bought Monsanto. Mason refers to attorneys revealing Monsanto’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market and the company being hit with $2 billion verdict in the third ‘Roundup trial’.

Attorney Brent Wisner has argued that Monsanto spent decades suppressing science linking its glyphosate-based weedkiller product to cancer by ghost-writing academic articles and feeding the EPA “bad science”. He asked the jury to ‘punish’ Monsanto with a $1 billion punitive damages award. On Monday 13 May, the jury found Monsanto liable for failure to warn claims, design defect claims, negligence claims and negligent failure to warn claims.

Robert F Kennedy Jr., another attorney fighting Bayer in the courts, says Roundup causes a constellation of other injuries apart from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma:

Perhaps more ominously for Bayer, 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, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. 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.

In finishing, Mason notes the disturbing willingness of the current UK government to usher in GM Roundup Ready crops in the wake of Brexit. Where pesticides are concerned, the EU’s precautionary principle could be ditched in favour of a US-style risk-based approach, allowing faster authorisation.

Rosemary Mason shows that the health of the UK populations already lags behind other countries in Western Europe. She links this to the increasing amounts of agrochemicals being applied to crops. If the UK does a post-Brexit deal with the US, we can only expect a gutting of environmental standards at the behest of the US and its corporations and much worse to follow for the environment and public health.

Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India

In February 2010, the Indian government placed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal. Prior to this decision, numerous independent scientific experts from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns regarding Bt (insecticidal) brinjal based on data and reports in the biosafety dossier that Mahyco, the crop developer, had submitted to the regulators.

The then Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had instituted a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings. His decision to reject the commercialisation of Bt brinjal was supported by advice from renowned international scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns, which included issues regarding the toxicity of Bt proteins resulting from their mode of action on the human gut system.

Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” The moratorium has not been lifted.

In India, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

Prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues says:

In his summing-up of the unsustainability of Bt brinjal and of its implications if introduced, one of the experts involved, Professor Andow, said it posed several unique challenges because the likelihood of resistance evolving quickly is high. He added that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal is projected to fail in 4-12 years.

And that is what we have witnessed with Bt cotton. The reason why this crop made it into India’s fields in the first place was due to ‘approval by contamination’. India’s first and only legal GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat. In March 2002, it was approved for commercial cultivation.

The pro-GMO lobby, having lost the debate on the need for and efficacy of GM, has again resorted to such tactics. It appears nothing has been learnt from the experience of an ill-thought-out experiment with Bt cotton that put many poor farmers in a corporate noose for the sake of Monsanto profit.

Pro-GMO lobby encourages illegal planting

India is signatory to the international agreement on the regulation of modern biotechnology – the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. The country also has science-based legal regulations for modern biotech.

The moratorium on Bt brinjal occurred because science won out against a regulatory process that lacked competency, possessed endemic conflicts of interest and demonstrated a lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.

As we have seen with the relentless push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems persist. Through numerous submissions to court, Aruna Rodrigues has described how GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny: in effect, there has been unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency. Moreover, this crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

Despite this, on 10 June 2019 a bunch of pro-GMO activists stage-managed an event designed to gain maximum publicity by illegally planting Bt brinjal seeds at Akola in the state of Maharashtra. A press release issued to coincide with this stunt stated that the event was an act of ‘Satyagraha’ (the notion of nonviolent resistance used by Gandhi against British rule).

One of the instigators has even argued that Bt brinjal is ‘organic’, involves almost pesticide-free cultivation, probably uses less fertiliser and is entirely natural. Moreover, the argument put forward is that if organic farming means growing plants without the support of safe and healthy modern technology and this is imposed by ‘eco-imperialists’, the poor would starve to death.

These unscientific claims and well-worn industry-inspired soundbites must be seen for what they are: political posturing unsupported by evidence to try to sway the policy agenda in favour of GM. The actions in Akola display a contempt for government acting in the wider public interest.

Drawing on previous peer-reviewed evidence, a 2018 paper in the journal Current Science concluded that Bt crops and HT crops are unsustainable and globally have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Furthermore, GM crop yields are at least no better than that of non-GM crops, despite the constant industry claims that only GM can feed the world.

Each genetic modification poses unique risks which cannot be controlled or predicted; as a technology, GM is thus fundamentally flawed. But a food crop isn’t just eaten. There are effects on the environment too. Even a cursory examination of the US cropping system is enough to prove that the legacy of pesticidal GM crops has fuelled the epidemics of herbicide- resistant weeds and emerging insecticide resistant pests.

GMOs are not substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts and there is no consensus on GM safety or efficacy among major institutions, despite what lobbyists claim. Genetic engineering is fundamentally different from natural plant breeding and presents various risks. This is recognised in laws and international guidelines on GM worldwide The claims and the research and ’big list’ studies (claiming safety) forwarded by the pro-GMO lobby do not stand up to scrutiny.

We need to look at GM objectively because plenty of evidence indicates it poses risks or is not beneficial and that non-GM alternatives are a better option. Moreover, many things that scientists are trying to achieve with GMOs have already been surpassed by means of conventional breeding.

Wider implications of GM agriculture

If people are genuinely concerned with ‘feeding the world’, they should acknowledge and challenge a global food regime which results in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. As stated by Eric Holt-Giménez and his colleagues in the 2009 book, Food rebellions! Crisis and the hunger for justice:

The construction of the corporate food regime began in the 1960s with the Green Revolution that spread the high-external input, industrial model of agricultural production to the Global South. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment policies (SAPs) followed in the 1980s, privatizing state agencies, removing barriers to northern capital flows, and dumping subsidized grain into the Global South. The free trade agreements of the 1990s and the World Trade Organization enshrined SAPs within international treaties. The cumulative result was massive peasant displacement, the consolidation of the global agri-food oligopolies and a shift in the global flow of food: While developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s, by 2004, they were importing US$ 11 billion a year.

Instead, we get calls for more corporate freedom, GMOs and deregulation that coincide with constant attacks on proven agroecolocical methods which have no need for proprietary pesticides or GMOs and thus represent a challenge to industry profits. India has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and, given appropriate support, can draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how built from hundreds (even thousands) of years’ experience to continue to do so.

But pro-GMO lobbyists adopt a haughty mindset and assert the world can genetically modify itself to food security. At the same time, they attempt to marginalise safe and sustainable approaches to farming and sideline important political, cultural, ethical and economic factors.

The consequences of GM do not just relate to unpredictable changes in the DNA, proteins and biochemical composition of the resulting GM crop. Introducing GM can involve disrupting cultures and knowledge systems and farmers’ relationships with their environments: changing the fabric of rural societies. We just need to look at the adverse social and environmental consequences of the Green Revolution as outlined by Bhaskar Save in his 2006 open letter to officials. Even here, if we just focus on the Green Revolution in India in terms of production alone, the benefits are questionable to say the least.

Like the Green Revolution, GM is not just about ‘the science’; if anything, it is about solidifying the processes described by Holtz Gimenez et al above and a certain type of farming and the subsequent impacts on local economies and relations within rural communities. Before the Green Revolution, for instance, agriculturalists relied on mutual relationships within their villages. After the introduction of Green Revolution technology, they found themselves solely dealing with banks and agribusiness, thus weakening relationships within villages (Vandana Shiva discussed these impacts at length in her 1993 book, The Violence of the Green Revolution).

If India or the world is to continue to feed itself sustainably, we must look away from the industrial yield-output paradigm and the corporations driving it and adopt a more localised agroecological systems approach to food and agriculture that accounts for many different factors, including local food security and food sovereignty, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures.

Prominent critics of GM respond

In response to the recent activities in Akola, Aruna Rodrigues issued a legal notice to initiate proceedings against those responsible for the deliberate planting of illegal Bt Brinjal.

Vandana Shiva issued a press release, which can be read on the site seed freedom. She cites numerous peer-reviewed studies to rebut the claims made in support of GM and notes the outright hypocrisy of industry lobbyists who are laying claim to Gandhi’s legacy. She argues that that ‘Satyagraha’ is being degraded and misused: the planting of illegal Bt brinjal is a crime that violates India’s Biodiversity Act.

Of course, one of the most vocal claims of lobbyists is that GM technology offers farmers choice and that ‘activists’ are denying choice.

Writing on the Times of India website, Kavitha Kuruganti says if choices are to be left to farmers entirely, why do we need regulation of chemical pesticides either? What about the choices of farmers impinging upon consumer health and environmental sustainability? What about the choice of one set of farmers (let us say the ones who are keen on adopting GM crops) impinging upon the choice of neighbouring organic farmers whose crop will inevitably get contaminated? She argues there is nothing like absolute freedom without concomitant duties and responsibilities and that applies to technologies too.

Choice operates on another level as well. It is easy to manufacture ‘choice’. In 2018, there were reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India. A 2017 journal paper reported that cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their ploughing practices, which has led to more weeds being left in their fields. It is suggested that the outcome in terms of yields (or farmer profit) is arguably no better than before. However, it coincides with the appearance of an increasing supply (and farmer demand) for HT cotton seeds.

The authors observe:

The challenge for agrocapital is how to break the dependence on double-lining and ox-weeding to open the door to herbicide-based management…. how could farmers be pushed onto an herbicide-intensive path?

They show how farmers are indeed being nudged onto such a path and also note the potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales could reach USD 800 million this year with scope for even greater expansion. From cotton to soybean, little wonder we see the appearance of HT seeds in the country.

And as for ‘choice’, what choice is there when non-GM seeds disappear and farmers only have GM seeds to ‘choose’ from, which is what happened with GM cotton. Real informed choice is the result of tried and tested environmental learning and outcomes. Then you decide which option is best. However, where Bt cotton was concerned this process gave way to ‘social learning’ – you follow the rest. This, coupled with Monsanto’s PR campaigns within villages and in the national media, did not leave a great deal of space for ‘free choice’.

The ‘free’ market ideologues behind events in Akola talk about ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ and helping the farmer. But the real agenda is to open-up India to GM and get farmers hooked on a corporate money-spinning GMO seed-chemical treadmill.

From Glyphosate to Front Groups: Fraud, Deception and Toxic Tactics

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Editor-in-Chief of the British Medical Journal and the British Medical Association Council Chairman, Chaand Nagpaul.

Her purpose is to not only draw attention to the impact of biocides, not least that of glyphosate, on health and the environment but also to bring attention to the corruption that allows this to continue.

Along with her letter, she enclosed a 13-page document. Readers can access the fully referenced document here: European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage. It is worth reading in full to appreciate the conflicts of interest and the corruption that has led to the rise in certain illnesses and the destruction of the natural environment.

By way of a brief summary, the key points raised by Dr Mason and her claims include the following.

  • The European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage. There has been a massive increase in the use of glyphosate in recent years. An increase in cataracts has been verified by epidemiological studies in England and by a 2016 WHO report.
  • There are shockingly high levels of weed killer in UK breakfast cereals. After testing these cereals at the Health Research Institute in Iowa, Dr Fagan, director of the centre, said: “These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).”
  • The amount of glyphosate in tap water in South Wales has increased tenfold in a very short period.
  • Glyphosate is largely responsible for the destruction of biodiversity and an increase in the prevalence of many serious health conditions.
  • There are massive conflicts of interest throughout various agencies in the EU that ensure harmful agrochemicals like glyphosate come to market and remain there.
  • In fact, a global industry has emerged to give ‘advice’ on biocides regulation. This results in regulatory bodies effectively working to further the commercial interests of the pesticide industry.
  • The European Food Safety Authority sanctioned increased maximum pesticide residue levels (MRL) at the request of industry (Monsanto in this case, to 100 times the previously authorised MRL).
  • The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is used by corporate backers to counter public health policies. Its members have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels. It is, however, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity. The ILSI describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”. But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence peddling.
  • ILSI Vice-President, Prof Alan Boobis, is currently the Chairman of the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (CoT) (2015-2021). He was directly responsible for authorising chemicals such as glyphosate, chlorothalonil, clothianidin and chlorpyrifos that are destroying human health and creating a crisis in biodiversity. His group and others have authorised glyphosate repeatedly. He and David Coggon, the previous Chairman of CoT (2008-2015), were appointed as experts on Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), a group allied with the agrochemical industry and is fighting for higher pesticide exposure.
  • Jean-Claude Juncker the President of the European Commission who, against a petition from more than 1.5 million European citizens, re-authorised glyphosate in December 2017 for a further five years. He set up the Science Advisory Mechanism, aiming to put industry-friendly personnel on various committees.

There are many more claims presented by Rosemary Mason in her report. But the take-home point is that the reality of the agrochemical industry is masked by well-funded public relations machinery (which includes bodies like the UK’s Science Media Centre). The industry also subverts official agencies and regulatory bodies and supports prolific lobby organisations and (‘public scientists’) which masquerade as objective institutions.

When such organisations or figures are exposed, they frequently cry foul and attempt to portray any exposure of their lack of integrity as constituting an attack on science itself; no doubt many readers will be familiar with the ‘anti-science’ epithet.

The industry resorts to such measures as it knows its products are harmful and cannot stand up to proper public scrutiny. And under a system of sustainable agroecology that can produce plentiful, nutritious food, it also knows its markets would disappear.

Motivated by fraud and fear of the truth emerging, it therefore tries to persuade politicians and the public that the world would starve without it and its products. It co-opts agencies and officials by various means and embeds itself within the policy agenda, both nationally and internationally.

And now, with increasingly saturated markets in the West, from Africa to India the industry seeks to colonise new regions and countries where it attempts to roll out its business model. Whether, say, through trade agreements, the WTO or strings-attached loans, this again involves capturing the policy ground and then trapping farmers on a financially lucrative chemical (-GMO)-treadmill, regardless of the consequences for farmers’ livelihoods, food, public health and the environment.

Monsanto, Scientific Deception and Cancer

Money may not be able to buy the purest love, but it can buy the best, life-ending cancer.  For Monsanto, giant of rule and misrule in matters of genetically modified crops, known for bullying practices towards farmers, things have not been so rosy of late.  Ever the self-promoter of saving the world an agricultural headache (biotech crops being the earth’s touted nutritional salvation), the company has run into a set of legal snags that have raided its funds and risk sinking it, along with Bayer AG, the company that bought it last year for $63 billion.

A spate of legal cases have begun entering the folklore of resistance to the company.  Central to it is the use of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weedkiller marketed since 1974 as Roundup, and a core chemical in the agrochemical industry. In 2015, it was deemed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) “probably carcinogenic to humans” in addition to being genotoxic and clearly carcinogenic to animals.

The legal train commenced last August, when a state court in San Francisco found for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former school groundskeeper, ordering $289 million in damages.  (The amount was subsequently reduced to $78 million.)  The jury had been satisfied that the use of the Roundup weedkiller, with its glyphosate constitution, had, in fact, been the cause of Johnson’s cancer.  They also found that the company had paid insufficient heed to warning the plaintiff of the impending dangers, also acting, in the process, with “malice or oppression”.

The picture that emerged in trial was of a beast keen to keep critics at bay and intimidate opponents.  Attorney Brent Wisner was keen to press the issue. “Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully… and to fight independent researchers.” Wisner’s evidence – a selection of internal Monsanto emails – showed the steadfast rejection on its part of warnings critical and researched. “They fought science.”

Not so, came the rebutting if not so convincing argument from Monsanto lawyer George Lombardi. “The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer.”

The message was very much in keeping with Monsanto’s program for colouring and fudging empirical data on the use of herbicides.  The 2015 IARC findings, despite being on some level qualified, infuriated the company. Christopher Wild, the director of the agency, was unequivocal in his interview with Le Monde: the company had gone rabid.  “We have been attacked in the past, we have faced smear campaigns, but this time we are the target of an orchestrated campaign of an unseen scale and duration.”  Monsanto dismissed the agency’s conclusions as “junk science”, the product of “cherry-picking” driven by a biased agenda.

The company duly harried the agency, using the law firm Hollingsworth to demand, “Drafts, comments, data tables… everything that has gone through the IARC system.”  In the event that the agency decline to do so, the firm requested and instructed the agency “to immediately take all reasonable steps in your power to preserve all such files intact pending formal discovery requests issued via a US court.”

What commenced was a concerted effort to cook the science and massage the results.  Monsanto chief scientist William Heydens proposed one method of doing so: ghost-writing papers under the thinly veiled cover of scientific legitimacy.  As Heydens noted in an email, “we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak.”  This was a practice not unknown to the company; a paper had been so authored in 2000, one conspicuously short on detail regarding the affiliation of Monsanto employees.

In the safety stakes, Monsanto was also careful to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency was on board – at least when it came to terminating or frustrating investigations.  Jess Rowland, formerly a manager in the EPA’s pesticide division, is said to have boasted in an April 2015 conversation with a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager that, “If I can kill this I should get a medal.”  In October that year, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), chaired by Rowland (miracle of miracles) produced an internal report claiming that glyphosate, contrary to the IARC findings, were “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The Johnson case was significant for the court’s allowance of extensive scientific argument.  This flatfooted Mansanto (now Bayer’s) legal team.  It was an approach that would be repeated in subsequent trials.  In March this year, a unanimous jury verdict in the federal court in San Francisco ordered the company to fork out damages to the value of $80 million for failing to warn Edwin Hardeman, the plaintiff, of any cancer risks associated with the use of Roundup.

A trifecta was achieved this month when a jury of the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Alameda was willing to find that Roundup weedkiller caused the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the plaintiffs Alberta and Alva Pillioid. It took 17 days of trial testimony leading to the decision to award the couple $1 billion each.

The order of punitive damages centred on the finding that Monsanto “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto”.

The next case of interest against Monsanto is being pressed by Sharlean Gordon with an entire cohort of fellow litigants, set to take place in St. Louis County Circuit court on August 19.  The formula is tried and true, alleging that they were harmed as “a direct and proximate result of [Monsanto’s] negligent, wilful, and wrongful conduct in connection with the design, development, manufacture, testing, packaging, promoting, marketing, distribution, and/or sale of Roundup and/or other Monsanto glyphosate-containing products.”

Legal watchers, thousands of other litigants, and those in St. Louis County, will be curious to see whether the company finally gets some respite after its Californian hammerings.  It employs a considerable labour force in the area and has been very much in the charity game.  But the sympathy of local jurors should not detract from the St. Louis City Court’s reputation as one of the more favourable forums to seek mammoth verdicts against corporations.  Sympathies for Monsanto-Bayer might well have truly curdled by then.