Category Archives: Health/Medical

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.

The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!

It is increasingly clear that the wagons have circled both in the Democratic National Committee and in the news media to shut down any possibility of a national health plan as proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) or Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The media for their part, keep touting — almost a year and a half before Election day, and just under a year after next year’s Democratic primary voting and caucusing, that two “centrists” (who should be called the Establishment candidates, both neo-Liberals in the Clinton mold) — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the “leading candidates” for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden is quoted favorably for perpetrating the lie that establishing a new “single-payer” program of government insurance covering everyone would mean “starting from scratch” and taking away everyone’s current employer-funded, or Obamacare subsidized health insurance.

Meanwhile Harris, who was against Medicare for All before she was for it, and who now talks about “funding” it with taxes on Wall Street, is treated like the voice of reason, when in fact she’s just blowing smoke and confusing the issue deliberately.

So let’s get this straight.  Funding a program of what Bernie Sanders and health care activists call Medicare for All, would cost an estimated $30 trillion over the next 10 years (that last bit about over ten years tends to get left out of articles criticizing the plan), as in this report in the National Review.  But it’s not just right wing media that obfuscate.  In a CNN interview of Harris, reporter Kyung Lah just says Sen. Sanders says the plan will  “require a middle class tax cut” to fund.

But Lah doesn’t say, and Harris, who is smart enough to know, but doesn’t want to admit publicly, that the US healthcare system today already costs more than $3 trillion per year and will cost much more than $30 trillion over the next 10 years.

Here’s the real story. As things stand presently, health care costs in the US account for 18% of total US Gross Domestic Product. That is to say, 18 % of all economic transactions in the US, government and private sector, go for medical care. That’s 18% of $21.1trillion in 1019, or about $3.7 trillion. In constant dollars over the course of the next decade that would be $3.7 trillion.

That figure includes the cost of Medicare for the elderly and disabled — a program that is already funded by taxes paid by individuals and their employers (the federal budget for Medicaid, financed by those taxes, is about $600 billion this year). Add to that the amount for Medicaid, which provides health benefits for one-in-five Americans unable to obtain private insurance and which is funded by the federal government and the states (also about $600 billion this year), and taxpayers are already funding some $1.2 trillion of the US health care bill through taxation. Then add in the cost of private insurance, paid by both employers and employees, or for those working at stingier employers, or for themselves, through insurance offered under the ironically named Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is about $2.2 trillion, and the cost of medical care paid out-of-pocket because it’s not covered by increasingly loophole-plagued insurance plans (another $400 billion, and Americans and their employers are already paying a total of $3.6 trillion per year for health care. But this haphazard free-marked/government-funded tacked-together chaos that we call American-style healthcare still leaves  30 million citizens uninsured!

Now note that all of those expenditures — all $3.6 trillion of it — would be eliminated to be replaced by dedicated taxes paid by citizens and private companies to fund a real Canadian-style system of what is being called Medicare for All. On top of that, there would be no more worrying about paying medical bills, worrying about whether pre-existing conditions would be covered, worrying about losing a house because of medical expenses, or losing benefits if one lost a job, or needed to go out on strike to fight for better pay or working conditions. Your publicly funded health care would be a right, just like the right of free speech or the right to vote.

So saying, as CNN reporter Lah does so disingenuously, that the Sanders Medicare for All plan will “require a middle-class tax hike” is a grotesque fraud on the public. Medicare for All, which even a right-wing Koch-Brothers study claimed disparagingly would cost $30 trillion in tax funding over a ten-year period, while true, would actually cost some $6-7 trillion less in constant dollars than the current joke of a “system” we have in the US.

I would point out, for those who don’t know it, that Canada, our neighbor to the north, has had a kind of “Medicare for All” system in place since 1976 — in fact it’s called Medicare. And that system, which covers the medical care of all Canadians, no exception, and is financed entirely by taxes paid by individuals and businesses, is so popular that even though Canada and its provinces (which actually administer the system) all have been governed more often by conservatives than liberals or socialists over the intervening years, not one government, even the arch-conservative federal government of Stephen Harper that preceded the current one led by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, dared to cut it or to try to undo it. To do so would be to face immediate ouster, so popular is Canada’s Medicare program.

I would add that even in the UK, which has a truly socialist health care system, where much like our huge and, from a point of quality, if not access, excellent Veterans Health Care System, features public hospitals owned by the government and physicians and support staff who are government employees paid salaries, not fees for service, no conservative government has dared to try and undo the system put in place by a Labour government just after the end of World War II nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

Harris deserves to be pummeled in upcoming debates, at her campaign appearances and in the media for her failure to admit that Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would not increase the costs of healthcare by raising taxes, but would reduce those costs by freeing those 160 million Americans who are currently in costly bondage to their employers, depending on them for offering mostly crappy private health insurance coverage that they would lose if they lost those jobs, would end taxes for increasingly privatized Medicare and for hard to get and always threatened Medicaid, and would slash the costs of prescription drugs (now running at close to $500 billion a year).

Meanwhile, while in place of those taxes, and while eliminating private payment and employer payment of insurance premiums, there would surely have to be taxes paid by individuals and businesses to fund a new public insurance system like Medicare for All, Harris and other half-hearted “backers” of the Sanders program — and Sanders himself — should be calling for massive cuts in military spending, now at a record $1.3 trillion per year, with some of the savings going to fund public healthcare. That would be real “national defense”!

I don’t object to Harris’s proposal in her pathetic CNN interview, that taxes be increased on Wall Street and the Financial sector to fund health care,  but that’s small beer compared to the funds available from cutting the US military down to size and ending the current imperial policy of endless wars and of military action instead of diplomacy in foreign affairs.

First though, we need an honest debate about Medicare-for-All — not one that hides the issue behind false warnings about “increased middle-class taxes” to fund it.

Everyone will save money under Medicare-for-All, and we will have a far, far healthier population to show for it.  Even Sanders himself has done a poor job of making this point in his campaigning. Why doesn’t he just say it: Americans will be financially, and medically, better off if they paid a bit more in taxes to obtain full coverage under Medicare for All and eliminated the premiums they and their employer now pay increasingly costly and less adequate private insurance coverage.

The clear advantage of government-provided over privately funded health care is why every other developed nation in the world, and many less developed ones, has some form of nationally-funded health care system that treats health care as a right, why every one of those countries has spends less total money as both a share of GDP and national budget, and on a per-capita basis than we do in the US, and yet, in all developed country cases and in many less developed countries, also have better health statistics (life expectancy, infant mortality rates, incidence of diabetes and untreated high blood pressure, etc.).

Time for some god-damned honesty about this issue from both our politicians and the media!

The Doctor-Patient Relationship Can be Found in the Graveyard of Informed Consent

My master that was thrall to Love
Is become thrall to Death.

— “A Ballad of Death,” by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads, First Series, 1866

The 21st century is only in its infancy, and the United States has revealed itself to be a truly remarkable country. We have imaginary jobs, an imaginary middle class, imaginary checks and balances, and an imaginary society. We even have imaginary bioethics. At the root of this new and exciting phenomenon is the dismantling of informed consent and the disintegration of the doctor-patient relationship that has followed in its wake.

The privatization of health care has contributed to the weakening of the physician-patient bond, as health care has largely been taken over by the gangster capitalists of the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, device manufacturers, and hospital administrators. In a KevinMD article titled “The Self-Inflicted Death of the Physician,” an anonymous doctor writes, “For certainly we, as a profession, have handed over our authority to others, not all at once, but slowly, inexorably, over decades. We are just a shadow of our former selves.” Mirroring these sentiments, Linda Girgis, MD, writes in Physician’s Weekly, “The doctor is no longer center stage, unless you are watching a puppet show.”

In what will inevitably foment more unscrupulous behavior, MD/MBA programs are teaching doctors to think like businessmen, an irreconcilable contradiction. Hospital administrators are pressuring doctors to see increasing numbers of patients each day, while the health insurance companies continue to play a major role in stripping doctors of their autonomy by regularly countermanding doctor’s orders. This corporate coup d’état, rooted in avarice, callousness, and sociopathy has caused many clinicians to become unmoored from their traditional moral compass.

Physicians are now compelled to use electronic medical records (EMRs), which force them to waste countless hours doing mind-numbing data entry. If an attending physician decides to employ a medical scribe, nurse, or medical student to assume responsibility for this onerous task, it means that a third party will be in the examination room during patients’ office visits, which if done without the patient’s permission, constitutes an egregious violation of informed consent. It is also common for businesses to change the health insurance plans of their employees each year, which invariably results in many patients having to leave doctors that they have established long-standing relationships with, and who may be critically important to their physical and emotional well-being.

In addition to seeking assistance with EMRs, many physicians opt to bring interlopers into patients’ office visits, either because they prioritize teaching trainees to establishing a sound physician-patient rapport, or because they have figured out that it is much harder to be sued if there is a chaperone present in the examination room. Unsurprisingly, the medical institutions that spend the most money on glossy advertisements boasting of their boundless magnanimity and benevolence are frequently the institutions that are the most eager to bully patients into accepting a culture anchored in authoritarianism and absolute contempt for the rights of the patient.

In a KevinMD article titled “Electronic Health Records Cannot Replace a Doctor Who Knows You,” the authors write: “Ensuring the best medical care is not primarily a technical challenge. It is a human challenge, which requires patients and doctors to be able to form deep and long-standing relationships.” And yet American teaching hospitals are churning out delusional and hubristic creatures who have not been inculcated with a respect for patient privacy and informed consent, and who are incognizant of the fact that once these principles have been jettisoned the majority of their patients will neither trust, nor respect, nor confide in them. The deterioration of this vitally important relationship has resulted in a situation where it is increasingly common for patients to fail to disclose pertinent medical information. The deplorable state of the humanities and the rise of subspecialization have undoubtedly  contributed to this scourge of blindness in American health care.

Commenting on the dangers posed by medical scribes, Ami Schattner, MD, of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, said in an interview with The Medical Bag:

I have serious concerns about the impact of scribes on the tender dynamic and intimacy of the physician-patient encounter. Perhaps the word ‘sanctity’ is not too strong when talking about the physician-patient relationship.

In an article titled “Shining a Light on Shadowing,” by Elizabeth A. Kitsis, MD, the author warns of the ethical ramifications of imposing pre-med students on patients during their doctor visits:

Physician shadowing by college students…may involve subtle coercion of the patient. To maintain his or her rapport with the physician, a patient may feel compelled to allow students into the examination room if his or her physician makes the request. However, the patient may resent the intrusion, and feel uncomfortable during the interaction.

Indeed, Kitsis’ words are also applicable with regard to nurses, medical students, residents, and fellows observing office visits. In an article in Medscape titled “What is Medical Ethics, and Why is it Important?” the authors write: “Ethical decisions cannot be avoided. Whenever doctors make a clinical decision, they are almost always making an ethical decision, consciously or not.” It is not even unusual for attending physicians to inform patients of ominous test results with their entourage in tow. While this may be very exciting for medical students it can be perceived as callous, degrading, and inhuman from the standpoint of the patient.

In “Stop the Anti-Doctor Media Bias,” by Rebekah Bernard, MD, the author writes that “Most physicians are dedicated individuals who hold patient care as sacrosanct.” I saw more doctors from 2016 to 2018 than a person would typically work with if they lived to a hundred, and have yet to see a single doctor’s office present me with a choice regarding the presence of observers during my office visits. In what could form the basis of a Kafka story, I had to voice my objections to the same institution and the same departments over and over again ad infinitum. Is this indicative of holding patient care as sacrosanct?

Jeremy Brown, MD, has proposed that doctors be equipped with body cameras, and Myles Riner, MD, supports the recording of physician-patient encounters, arguing in “Should Physicians Record and Share Conversations with Patients?” that “One thing is certain, this approach is certainly indicative of patient-centered care, and I think many patients would greatly appreciate the effort.” Not to be outdone, The New York Times has waxed glowingly on the subject of group doctor visits. Virtual office visits and doctor visits at work also pose a serious threat to confidentiality. So little value is placed on patient privacy that hospitals have even allowed television crews into emergency rooms, resulting in one New York widow turning on the television one evening, only to watch her husband die before her very eyes. Even if medical students attend a few decent lectures on bioethics, this is frequently negated by what they see their attending doing on a daily basis.

When the time comes for doctors to be patients, they often take for granted having the finest insurance plans which permit them to see any doctor without restrictions. This is in contrast with the majority of patients, who are increasingly restricted to narrow networks.

In a KevinMD article titled “Please, be kind to your doctor. We need it.,” Sara R Ahronheim, MD, writes: “But when I go home, I am alone; no one knows your stories, no one sees the tears you cried when I told you the awful things I had to tell you.” No one, that is, except the nurse, medical student, and resident who also happened to be hanging out in the room at the time.

What will become of the younger generation, being mentored as they so often are, in an environment where degradation is professionalism, indifference is empathy, and the most sordid behavior is hailed as “patient-centered care.” Indeed, this practice embodies everything base, ignoble, and treacherous in contemporary American health care. So relentlessly are patients besieged by these indignities, that there are times when I cannot help but wonder if these are really accidents and misunderstandings or the result of knavery and villainy. Teaching hospitals have a sacred duty to inculcate their trainees with a comprehensive understanding of, and respect for, medical ethics. All too often they are derelict in this duty. That so many attendings and their charges are indifferent to the physical, psychological, and emotional vulnerability of their patients underscores the fact that doctors and patients often speak in completely different languages.

This imposition of interlopers during physician office visits — a depraved reality show euphemistically called “team-based care” — constitutes a violation of every foundational tenet of medical ethics: informed consent, confidentiality, patient privacy, patient dignity, patient trust, and the oath to do no harm. Moreover, once trainees have learned to disregard informed consent with regard to nonconsensual physician shadowing, it is highly probable that they will do so again when the opportunity presents itself.

For instance, it is common for medical students and residents to be instructed to do practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients, and the practice is legal in 45 states. A 2007 study done in Canada — a country with a comprehensive single-payer system — revealed that over 70 percent of medical students had done practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients, and women have reported pain and bruising from these unauthorized exams.

Teaching hospitals frequently regard their patients, especially those who lack the best commercial plans, as their property. In an online forum on The Student Doctor Network where the ethics of having trainees perform practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients is debated, AmoryBlaine writes:

It’s surprising how worked up some people get over the issue. You will be naked on a brightly lit table for all to see. A medical student will put a tube into your bladder. We’re about to flay your belly open and remove your uterus and ovaries. But to do a pelvic exam! What a violation! If you get into this habit of being deathly afraid of the patient’s feelings about an internal exam you will never learn how.

Glorytaker writes:

When I was doing OB/GYN as a med student, the attending would have me do a pelvic right after the patient was under and before we started surgery. Of course, we were doing GYN-related surgery and he wanted me to note the difference before and after a cystocele or rectocele repair. We didn’t exactly get permission but it was for teaching purposes.

Any rational layperson would be able to tell you that this is unethical, and yet many medical students and residents would disagree. What does that say about our education system? Perhaps it is this sort of degenerate thinking that led The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to nonchalantly point out that “The turn of the 21st century has seen doubts surfacing about informed consent.” The fighter pilot that bombs wedding parties in Afghanistan and the impressionable trainee who is taught that it is acceptable to do practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients have much in common. For they have both been inculcated with a profound sense of blind obedience.

It is common for doctors to do nonconsensual episiotomies and pelvic exams on women in labor, and women are frequently coerced into having pelvic exams in exchange for birth control prescriptions. This is an example of how, with a medical degree and some mental gymnastics, blackmail and rape can be transformed into cod liver oil and brussel sprouts. Writing about the lack of informed consent with regard to Pap smears and testing for cervical cancer, Joel Sherman, MD, has pointed out that cervical cancer is very rare in the United States. In Finland women are given the option of being tested for cervical cancer once every five years. And in an article that appeared in The Milbank Quarterly titled “Cervical Cancer Screening in the United States and the Netherlands: A Tale of Two Countries,” the authors write, “Even though three to four times more Pap smears per woman were conducted in the United States than in the Netherlands over a period of three decades, the two countries’ mortality trends were quite similar.” Perhaps this egregious lack of ethics in obstetrics and gynecology should come as no surprise, considering the fact that James Marion Sims, who invented the speculum and who is widely regarded as the founder of modern gynecology, performed experiments on black slave girls.

Will a 25-year-old woman continue to trust her oncologist should she go into permanent early menopause following chemotherapy, and her oncologist failed to disclose this as a common side effect associated with her chemotherapy regimen? What is the likelihood that a cancer patient will continue to trust their doctors should they experience long-term chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction, they are unable to continue with their career, and this too was not disclosed? Indeed, failure to disclose common long-term chemotherapy side effects is standard practice in many American cancer centers. It is also common for school districts to force high school students to undergo genital exams as a requirement to play sports, despite the fact that the scientific rationale behind the practice remains murky at best. And there are medical institutions, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, that do not allow patients to change from one doctor to another within any given department, which can leave a patient torn between seeking care at an inferior facility or being the slave of an overbearing scoundrel.

Informed consent is absent in routine mammography screening, as no evidence exists that mammograms provide any benefit, whereas evidence exists that they have caused considerable harm. Obstetrics and gynecology aside, in no other specialty is there greater contempt for informed consent than in psychiatry, where dangerous side effects from psychiatric drugs are regularly withheld from patients and these drugs are even being prescribed for children. Psychiatrist Lawrence Kelmenson writes in “The Three Types of Psychiatric Drugs – A Doctor’s Guide for Consumers:”

Psychiatrists are seen as hard-working, caring, understanding healers, but they’re really snake-oil salesmen, drug-dealers, and master-sedaters. What they do should be illegal. Someday everyone will realize that not only do psychiatrists not heal anything, they’re a major contributor to the recent rise in suicides and overdoses.

Dr. Peter Breggin has echoed these sentiments, and actually specializes in getting people off these drugs.

It is common for patients who are perceived as “anti-authoritarians” to be diagnosed as “mentally ill,” and a number of school shooters were found to be taking powerful psychiatric drugs at the time they unleashed a fusillade of bullets on their classmates and teachers. Informed consent is frequently absent in the treatment of prostate cancer, and tens of thousands of American men have their prostates removed unnecessarily each year, only to fully understand the dire consequences after the damage is irreversible. (Consider the words of Atul Gawande, MD, in “Overkill:” “The forces that have led to a global epidemic of overtesting, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment are easy to grasp. Doctors get paid for doing more, not less.”) These are all examples of how informed consent is routinely disregarded in an unconscionable manner. The Tuskegee Alabama syphilis experiments, as well as medical experiments conducted on the downtrodden of IndiaAmerican prisoners, and on prisoners in Guantanamo are emblematic of the barbarities that can be unleashed when the celestial temple of informed consent lies in ruins.

After undergoing a surgical procedure in the summer of 2016, I was given a prescription for oxycodone, a semisynthetic opioid. Never was the highly addictive nature of this drug disclosed to me. Thankfully, Dr. Google informed me that oxycodone posed a “high risk for addiction and dependence.” Perhaps this might explain why, according to the CDC, “On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” Many medical blogs delight in reminding us of the fact that the doctor-patient relationship is foundational to sound health care, and yet narcissism, moral bankruptcy, and careerism are endemic to our health care system. The erosion of trust that has followed this satanic cult of medical coercion has led to a situation where it has become harder for physicians to get patients to follow through with their treatment protocols.

The hazing and bullying commonly experienced by many trainees can cause medical students and residents to become jaded, and to lose their sense of empathy. Residents are often so exploited that many suffer from depression and are chronically sleep-deprived, and the brutal military-style training they are forced to endure can lead to many trainees forgetting that “gall bladder in Room 213” is a human being with a name. It is incontrovertible that corporations have undermined the doctor-patient relationship and inflicted catastrophic damage to our health care system. And while doctors must support the fight for single-payer, they must also acknowledge the fact that the cavalier attitude towards informed consent on the part of many American physicians has played a critical role in the dissolution of the public’s trust. Inexperienced patients naively assume that every doctor will have their best interests at heart. All too often, this is sadly not the case. Moreover, once this trust has been violated, it can result in grievous and long-lasting emotional harm. A clinician that is indifferent to the doctor-patient relationship, and who is only interested in scans, pathology reports, and blood tests has been infected with the virus of technocracy and fallen into a morass of charlatanism.

In the Charmides Plato wrote that “The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.” Medical students and residents may learn how to diagnose and treat different diseases, yet are seldom inculcated with an understanding of medical ethics and why it is so indispensable. In “Bringing Hospitality Back to the Hospital: Lessons From a Bartender,” by Cory Michael, MD, the author writes: “People remember how you make them feel. They don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Medical terrorism and corporatization are the Goneril and Regan of medical sacrilege. Perpetually locked in a deadly embrace, they fuel one another’s nefarious designs. The tragedy is that so many medical students and residents are being seduced, not by the voice of truth, but by the voice of damnation. Let us recall the chilling words of Iago: “When devils will the blackest sins put on / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows / As I do now.” (Othello II.iii.)

Informed consent is a river that separates the consecrated light of morality from the profane and blasphemous abyss of amorality. Once this Rubicon has been crossed, there is no turning back. Those who have strayed from their sacred oath will find absolution not in the ways of the wicked, but in a return to the path of compassion, integrity, and righteousness. Indeed, dignity for the patient and dignity for the physician are mutually interdependent.

The doctor-patient relationship now lies buried in the unhallowed primeval ground; a cemetery where broken tombstones litter the earth with thorns and broken bottles, the land is barren and no flowers grow, and a once-proud beating heart beats no more. Only with a return to this inviolable bedrock of medical ethics can we embrace its resurrection.

The Doctor-Patient Relationship Can be Found in the Graveyard of Informed Consent

My master that was thrall to Love
Is become thrall to Death.

— “A Ballad of Death,” by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads, First Series, 1866

The 21st century is only in its infancy, and the United States has revealed itself to be a truly remarkable country. We have imaginary jobs, an imaginary middle class, imaginary checks and balances, and an imaginary society. We even have imaginary bioethics. At the root of this new and exciting phenomenon is the dismantling of informed consent and the disintegration of the doctor-patient relationship that has followed in its wake.

The privatization of health care has contributed to the weakening of the physician-patient bond, as health care has largely been taken over by the gangster capitalists of the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, device manufacturers, and hospital administrators. In a KevinMD article titled “The Self-Inflicted Death of the Physician,” an anonymous doctor writes, “For certainly we, as a profession, have handed over our authority to others, not all at once, but slowly, inexorably, over decades. We are just a shadow of our former selves.” Mirroring these sentiments, Linda Girgis, MD, writes in Physician’s Weekly, “The doctor is no longer center stage, unless you are watching a puppet show.”

In what will inevitably foment more unscrupulous behavior, MD/MBA programs are teaching doctors to think like businessmen, an irreconcilable contradiction. Hospital administrators are pressuring doctors to see increasing numbers of patients each day, while the health insurance companies continue to play a major role in stripping doctors of their autonomy by regularly countermanding doctor’s orders. This corporate coup d’état, rooted in avarice, callousness, and sociopathy has caused many clinicians to become unmoored from their traditional moral compass.

Physicians are now compelled to use electronic medical records (EMRs), which force them to waste countless hours doing mind-numbing data entry. If an attending physician decides to employ a medical scribe, nurse, or medical student to assume responsibility for this onerous task, it means that a third party will be in the examination room during patients’ office visits, which if done without the patient’s permission, constitutes an egregious violation of informed consent. It is also common for businesses to change the health insurance plans of their employees each year, which invariably results in many patients having to leave doctors that they have established long-standing relationships with, and who may be critically important to their physical and emotional well-being.

In addition to seeking assistance with EMRs, many physicians opt to bring interlopers into patients’ office visits, either because they prioritize teaching trainees to establishing a sound physician-patient rapport, or because they have figured out that it is much harder to be sued if there is a chaperone present in the examination room. Unsurprisingly, the medical institutions that spend the most money on glossy advertisements boasting of their boundless magnanimity and benevolence are frequently the institutions that are the most eager to bully patients into accepting a culture anchored in authoritarianism and absolute contempt for the rights of the patient.

In a KevinMD article titled “Electronic Health Records Cannot Replace a Doctor Who Knows You,” the authors write: “Ensuring the best medical care is not primarily a technical challenge. It is a human challenge, which requires patients and doctors to be able to form deep and long-standing relationships.” And yet American teaching hospitals are churning out delusional and hubristic creatures who have not been inculcated with a respect for patient privacy and informed consent, and who are incognizant of the fact that once these principles have been jettisoned the majority of their patients will neither trust, nor respect, nor confide in them. The deterioration of this vitally important relationship has resulted in a situation where it is increasingly common for patients to fail to disclose pertinent medical information. The deplorable state of the humanities and the rise of subspecialization have undoubtedly  contributed to this scourge of blindness in American health care.

Commenting on the dangers posed by medical scribes, Ami Schattner, MD, of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, said in an interview with The Medical Bag:

I have serious concerns about the impact of scribes on the tender dynamic and intimacy of the physician-patient encounter. Perhaps the word ‘sanctity’ is not too strong when talking about the physician-patient relationship.

In an article titled “Shining a Light on Shadowing,” by Elizabeth A. Kitsis, MD, the author warns of the ethical ramifications of imposing pre-med students on patients during their doctor visits:

Physician shadowing by college students…may involve subtle coercion of the patient. To maintain his or her rapport with the physician, a patient may feel compelled to allow students into the examination room if his or her physician makes the request. However, the patient may resent the intrusion, and feel uncomfortable during the interaction.

Indeed, Kitsis’ words are also applicable with regard to nurses, medical students, residents, and fellows observing office visits. In an article in Medscape titled “What is Medical Ethics, and Why is it Important?” the authors write: “Ethical decisions cannot be avoided. Whenever doctors make a clinical decision, they are almost always making an ethical decision, consciously or not.” It is not even unusual for attending physicians to inform patients of ominous test results with their entourage in tow. While this may be very exciting for medical students it can be perceived as callous, degrading, and inhuman from the standpoint of the patient.

In “Stop the Anti-Doctor Media Bias,” by Rebekah Bernard, MD, the author writes that “Most physicians are dedicated individuals who hold patient care as sacrosanct.” I saw more doctors from 2016 to 2018 than a person would typically work with if they lived to a hundred, and have yet to see a single doctor’s office present me with a choice regarding the presence of observers during my office visits. In what could form the basis of a Kafka story, I had to voice my objections to the same institution and the same departments over and over again ad infinitum. Is this indicative of holding patient care as sacrosanct?

Jeremy Brown, MD, has proposed that doctors be equipped with body cameras, and Myles Riner, MD, supports the recording of physician-patient encounters, arguing in “Should Physicians Record and Share Conversations with Patients?” that “One thing is certain, this approach is certainly indicative of patient-centered care, and I think many patients would greatly appreciate the effort.” Not to be outdone, The New York Times has waxed glowingly on the subject of group doctor visits. Virtual office visits and doctor visits at work also pose a serious threat to confidentiality. So little value is placed on patient privacy that hospitals have even allowed television crews into emergency rooms, resulting in one New York widow turning on the television one evening, only to watch her husband die before her very eyes. Even if medical students attend a few decent lectures on bioethics, this is frequently negated by what they see their attending doing on a daily basis.

When the time comes for doctors to be patients, they often take for granted having the finest insurance plans which permit them to see any doctor without restrictions. This is in contrast with the majority of patients, who are increasingly restricted to narrow networks.

In a KevinMD article titled “Please, be kind to your doctor. We need it.,” Sara R Ahronheim, MD, writes: “But when I go home, I am alone; no one knows your stories, no one sees the tears you cried when I told you the awful things I had to tell you.” No one, that is, except the nurse, medical student, and resident who also happened to be hanging out in the room at the time.

What will become of the younger generation, being mentored as they so often are, in an environment where degradation is professionalism, indifference is empathy, and the most sordid behavior is hailed as “patient-centered care.” Indeed, this practice embodies everything base, ignoble, and treacherous in contemporary American health care. So relentlessly are patients besieged by these indignities, that there are times when I cannot help but wonder if these are really accidents and misunderstandings or the result of knavery and villainy. Teaching hospitals have a sacred duty to inculcate their trainees with a comprehensive understanding of, and respect for, medical ethics. All too often they are derelict in this duty. That so many attendings and their charges are indifferent to the physical, psychological, and emotional vulnerability of their patients underscores the fact that doctors and patients often speak in completely different languages.

This imposition of interlopers during physician office visits — a depraved reality show euphemistically called “team-based care” — constitutes a violation of every foundational tenet of medical ethics: informed consent, confidentiality, patient privacy, patient dignity, patient trust, and the oath to do no harm. Moreover, once trainees have learned to disregard informed consent with regard to nonconsensual physician shadowing, it is highly probable that they will do so again when the opportunity presents itself.

For instance, it is common for medical students and residents to be instructed to do practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients, and the practice is legal in 45 states. A 2007 study done in Canada — a country with a comprehensive single-payer system — revealed that over 70 percent of medical students had done practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients, and women have reported pain and bruising from these unauthorized exams.

Teaching hospitals frequently regard their patients, especially those who lack the best commercial plans, as their property. In an online forum on The Student Doctor Network where the ethics of having trainees perform practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients is debated, AmoryBlaine writes:

It’s surprising how worked up some people get over the issue. You will be naked on a brightly lit table for all to see. A medical student will put a tube into your bladder. We’re about to flay your belly open and remove your uterus and ovaries. But to do a pelvic exam! What a violation! If you get into this habit of being deathly afraid of the patient’s feelings about an internal exam you will never learn how.

Glorytaker writes:

When I was doing OB/GYN as a med student, the attending would have me do a pelvic right after the patient was under and before we started surgery. Of course, we were doing GYN-related surgery and he wanted me to note the difference before and after a cystocele or rectocele repair. We didn’t exactly get permission but it was for teaching purposes.

Any rational layperson would be able to tell you that this is unethical, and yet many medical students and residents would disagree. What does that say about our education system? Perhaps it is this sort of degenerate thinking that led The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to nonchalantly point out that “The turn of the 21st century has seen doubts surfacing about informed consent.” The fighter pilot that bombs wedding parties in Afghanistan and the impressionable trainee who is taught that it is acceptable to do practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients have much in common. For they have both been inculcated with a profound sense of blind obedience.

It is common for doctors to do nonconsensual episiotomies and pelvic exams on women in labor, and women are frequently coerced into having pelvic exams in exchange for birth control prescriptions. This is an example of how, with a medical degree and some mental gymnastics, blackmail and rape can be transformed into cod liver oil and brussel sprouts. Writing about the lack of informed consent with regard to Pap smears and testing for cervical cancer, Joel Sherman, MD, has pointed out that cervical cancer is very rare in the United States. In Finland women are given the option of being tested for cervical cancer once every five years. And in an article that appeared in The Milbank Quarterly titled “Cervical Cancer Screening in the United States and the Netherlands: A Tale of Two Countries,” the authors write, “Even though three to four times more Pap smears per woman were conducted in the United States than in the Netherlands over a period of three decades, the two countries’ mortality trends were quite similar.” Perhaps this egregious lack of ethics in obstetrics and gynecology should come as no surprise, considering the fact that James Marion Sims, who invented the speculum and who is widely regarded as the founder of modern gynecology, performed experiments on black slave girls.

Will a 25-year-old woman continue to trust her oncologist should she go into permanent early menopause following chemotherapy, and her oncologist failed to disclose this as a common side effect associated with her chemotherapy regimen? What is the likelihood that a cancer patient will continue to trust their doctors should they experience long-term chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction, they are unable to continue with their career, and this too was not disclosed? Indeed, failure to disclose common long-term chemotherapy side effects is standard practice in many American cancer centers. It is also common for school districts to force high school students to undergo genital exams as a requirement to play sports, despite the fact that the scientific rationale behind the practice remains murky at best. And there are medical institutions, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, that do not allow patients to change from one doctor to another within any given department, which can leave a patient torn between seeking care at an inferior facility or being the slave of an overbearing scoundrel.

Informed consent is absent in routine mammography screening, as no evidence exists that mammograms provide any benefit, whereas evidence exists that they have caused considerable harm. Obstetrics and gynecology aside, in no other specialty is there greater contempt for informed consent than in psychiatry, where dangerous side effects from psychiatric drugs are regularly withheld from patients and these drugs are even being prescribed for children. Psychiatrist Lawrence Kelmenson writes in “The Three Types of Psychiatric Drugs – A Doctor’s Guide for Consumers:”

Psychiatrists are seen as hard-working, caring, understanding healers, but they’re really snake-oil salesmen, drug-dealers, and master-sedaters. What they do should be illegal. Someday everyone will realize that not only do psychiatrists not heal anything, they’re a major contributor to the recent rise in suicides and overdoses.

Dr. Peter Breggin has echoed these sentiments, and actually specializes in getting people off these drugs.

It is common for patients who are perceived as “anti-authoritarians” to be diagnosed as “mentally ill,” and a number of school shooters were found to be taking powerful psychiatric drugs at the time they unleashed a fusillade of bullets on their classmates and teachers. Informed consent is frequently absent in the treatment of prostate cancer, and tens of thousands of American men have their prostates removed unnecessarily each year, only to fully understand the dire consequences after the damage is irreversible. (Consider the words of Atul Gawande, MD, in “Overkill:” “The forces that have led to a global epidemic of overtesting, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment are easy to grasp. Doctors get paid for doing more, not less.”) These are all examples of how informed consent is routinely disregarded in an unconscionable manner. The Tuskegee Alabama syphilis experiments, as well as medical experiments conducted on the downtrodden of IndiaAmerican prisoners, and on prisoners in Guantanamo are emblematic of the barbarities that can be unleashed when the celestial temple of informed consent lies in ruins.

After undergoing a surgical procedure in the summer of 2016, I was given a prescription for oxycodone, a semisynthetic opioid. Never was the highly addictive nature of this drug disclosed to me. Thankfully, Dr. Google informed me that oxycodone posed a “high risk for addiction and dependence.” Perhaps this might explain why, according to the CDC, “On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” Many medical blogs delight in reminding us of the fact that the doctor-patient relationship is foundational to sound health care, and yet narcissism, moral bankruptcy, and careerism are endemic to our health care system. The erosion of trust that has followed this satanic cult of medical coercion has led to a situation where it has become harder for physicians to get patients to follow through with their treatment protocols.

The hazing and bullying commonly experienced by many trainees can cause medical students and residents to become jaded, and to lose their sense of empathy. Residents are often so exploited that many suffer from depression and are chronically sleep-deprived, and the brutal military-style training they are forced to endure can lead to many trainees forgetting that “gall bladder in Room 213” is a human being with a name. It is incontrovertible that corporations have undermined the doctor-patient relationship and inflicted catastrophic damage to our health care system. And while doctors must support the fight for single-payer, they must also acknowledge the fact that the cavalier attitude towards informed consent on the part of many American physicians has played a critical role in the dissolution of the public’s trust. Inexperienced patients naively assume that every doctor will have their best interests at heart. All too often, this is sadly not the case. Moreover, once this trust has been violated, it can result in grievous and long-lasting emotional harm. A clinician that is indifferent to the doctor-patient relationship, and who is only interested in scans, pathology reports, and blood tests has been infected with the virus of technocracy and fallen into a morass of charlatanism.

In the Charmides Plato wrote that “The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.” Medical students and residents may learn how to diagnose and treat different diseases, yet are seldom inculcated with an understanding of medical ethics and why it is so indispensable. In “Bringing Hospitality Back to the Hospital: Lessons From a Bartender,” by Cory Michael, MD, the author writes: “People remember how you make them feel. They don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Medical terrorism and corporatization are the Goneril and Regan of medical sacrilege. Perpetually locked in a deadly embrace, they fuel one another’s nefarious designs. The tragedy is that so many medical students and residents are being seduced, not by the voice of truth, but by the voice of damnation. Let us recall the chilling words of Iago: “When devils will the blackest sins put on / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows / As I do now.” (Othello II.iii.)

Informed consent is a river that separates the consecrated light of morality from the profane and blasphemous abyss of amorality. Once this Rubicon has been crossed, there is no turning back. Those who have strayed from their sacred oath will find absolution not in the ways of the wicked, but in a return to the path of compassion, integrity, and righteousness. Indeed, dignity for the patient and dignity for the physician are mutually interdependent.

The doctor-patient relationship now lies buried in the unhallowed primeval ground; a cemetery where broken tombstones litter the earth with thorns and broken bottles, the land is barren and no flowers grow, and a once-proud beating heart beats no more. Only with a return to this inviolable bedrock of medical ethics can we embrace its resurrection.

Over 40 Years of Lead Poisoning in Children

As of 2017, more than half a million US children have lead poisoning. For over 2,000 years humanity has documented the poisonous effects of lead. It is a preventable environmental toxin that has no biological role in the human body. Lead causes irreversible brain damage especially in children. Presently the law does not require testing of all children for dangerous lead levels. Compare this to PKU (Phenylketonuria).

PKU is a genetic disorder that causes irreversible brain damage. It can be found in 1 in 10,000 White newborns and 1 in 50,000 Black newborns. In 1963 a blood test for PKU was developed. Just a few years later in the late 1960s, mandatory universal screening became the law. (A special diet could prevent brain damage).

Lead poisoning causes irreversible brain damage. It can be found in 1 in 40 children, and Black children have the highest lead poisoning risk. In 1976 a blood test for lead was developed. (A life free of lead can prevent brain damage). Today in 2019, over 40 years later, there is still no mandatory universal lead screening law in the US.

The USPSTF (The US Preventative Service Task Forces), in its 2019 report to Congress stated: “the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for elevated blood levels”. The potential harms of trying to help more than half a million children who are disproportionately Black, are listed by the USPSTF as: cost and possible side effects of treatment for severe lead poisoning.

In 2012 the CDC, (Center for Disease Control) stated that there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood. What did the great believers in family values, the politicians in Congress, do with this information? In 2012 Congress cut the CDC lead program budget by $27 million.

“Requiring industries to prove that chemicals are not toxic before they are put on the market or emitted by polluting industries is the only way to protect children.”

We need a political economy that does just that. The economic system we have now puts profit over people. It’s time for change.

From the Green Revolution to GMOs

Why did the European Food Safety Authority claim that glyphosate was not ecotoxic? This is the question environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason poses in her new 23-page report which can be accessed in full here. In places, the report reads like a compilation of peer-reviewed studies and official reports that have documented the adverse impacts of chemicals used in modern agriculture.

Only a brief outline of Mason’s report is possible here. Readers are urged to consult the document to grasp more detailed insight into the issues she discusses as well as the evidence cited in support of her arguments and claims.

Mason argues that the European Commission has consistently bowed to the demands of the pesticide lobby. In turn, she notes the fraudulent nature of the assessment of glyphosate which led to its relicensing in Europe and thus the continued use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. This ongoing support for the pesticide lobby flies in the face of so much evidence pointing to the detrimental effects of Roundup and other agrochemicals on the environment, living organisms, soil, water and human health.

These chemicals have become integral to an increasingly globalised process of agro-industrialisation. Mason discusses the nature of modern farming by referring to the endless corn fields of Iowa. One hundred years ago, these fields were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds and thousands of insects. Now, there is almost literally nothing – except corn – in what amounts to a biological desert. The birds, bees and insects have gone.

It’s a type of farming where so much toxic agrochemicals are used that they have ended up in soils and sediment, ditches and drains, precipitation, rivers and streams and even in seas, lakes, ponds, wetlands and groundwater. A type of agriculture that is responsible for undermining essential biodiversity, human health and diverse, nutritious diets.

The report takes us further afield, to the Great Barrier Reef to discuss the destruction of coral by Monsanto’s Roundup and Bayer’s insecticide clothianidin. It is interesting that the pesticide industry and the media tend to blame global warming for the degradation of the reef. Although there have been efforts to grow new corals, Mason states that pesticide run off from farmland means that corals will continue to be destroyed.

She touches on the role of agrochemicals in relation to the decline of the Monarch butterfly and the now well-documented ecological Armageddon due to the dramatic plunge in insect numbers: insects which are vital to soil health and the food web. Numerous studies and reports are presented as well as warnings from scientists and whistleblowers like Henk Tennekes and Evaggelos Vallianatos about the impacts of toxic chemicals in food and agriculture.

Indeed, since the late 1990s, Mason notes that various scientists have written in increasingly desperate tones about biodiversity loss and the impact on humanity as well as the emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health.

Mason also reveals insight into her own struggles with a local authority in Wales over the destruction of her nature reserve due to the council’s spraying of Roundup in the vicinity. Despite numerous open letters and e-mails to UK and European agencies documenting the impacts of this herbicide (some of this correspondence is contained in the report, with responses), her evidence has been ignored and it remains ‘business as usual’.

That’s because global agrochemical conglomerates exert huge political influence at state and international levels. For instance, back in 2017, the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food was heavily critical of these companies and accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”. The authors noted the catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society in general.

At the time, one of the report’s authors, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, said:

The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies…

Her co-author, Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, added:

While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.

In noting the severity of the issue and the driving forces that perpetuate and profit from the chemical-intensive corporatised global food regime, Mason quotes Vandana Shiva:

The ecological crisis, the agrarian crisis, the food crisis, the health and nutrition crisis, the crisis of democracy and sovereignty are not separate crises. They are one. And they are connected through food. The web of life is a food web. When it is ruptured by chemicals and poisons that come from war, and rules of ‘free trade’ that is a war declared by corporations against the earth and humanity, biodiversity is wiped out, farmers are killed through debt, and people die either because of hunger or because of cancer, diabetes, heart problems, hypertension and other environment and food related chronic diseases. Everyone is paying a very high price for corporate greed and dictatorship and collusion of corporate states to spread the toxic empire of corporations in the name of ‘reforms’.

Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, termiticides, nematicides, rodenticides and fungicides. Today, the pesticide industry is valued at over $50 billion and there are around 600 active ingredients. Herbicides account for approximately 80 per cent of all pesticide use.

Of course, Vandana Shiva’s main focus is on India and the ongoing undermining of its indigenous agriculture by foreign corporations. The potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales have probably now reached over $800 million per year in that country, with scope for even greater expansion. And have no doubt the global agrochemical industry has made India a priority, with a push to break traditional weeding practices (‘double-lining’ ox ploughing), seemingly with the intention on nudging farmers towards taking up herbicide-tolerant seeds.

Little wonder too that we currently see industry-connected lobbyists (masquerading as objective scientists or independent ‘science communicators’) residing abroad and encouraging farmers in India to plant these illegal GM seeds in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign. Numerous high-level reports have stated that GM is unsuitable for India. Having lost the debate, the GM/agrochemical lobby has now resorted to a tactic of illegal cultivation.

While touting the supposed virtues of GM agriculture, these lobbyists also spend much of their time promoting the merits of its godparent, the Green Revolution, in an attempt to justify the roll-out of GM seeds and associated herbicides. But emerging academic research indicates that the Green Revolution in India did next to nothing in terms of increasing productivity, despite the well-perpetuated myth that it saved lives and helped avert famine. In fact, in Punjab, the cradle of the Green Revolution in India, this ‘green dream’ has turned into a toxic environmental and human health nightmare.

India produces enough food to feed its population. It does so without GM and could do so agroecologically without synthetic chemicals – without ‘nuking’ nature and without destroying human health. While the agrochemical lobby continues to spin the message that India and the world  need its proprietary inputs to feed the world and eradicate hunger, the reality is – as noted by Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak – that we do not.

If we want to look at the causes of hunger and malnutrition, we must first address the deleterious impacts of the water-guzzling, chemical-dependent Green Revolution, so eloquently described by Bhaskar Save in his open letter to officials in 2006 and extremely pertinent given India’s current water emergency; the global capitalist food regime and its undermining of regional food security and food sovereignty; the lack of income to purchase sufficient food; and various other issues, including an erosion of land rights, debt, poverty and food distribution problems.

No amount of genetic engineering or chemicals can address these issues. And no amount of industry-inspired spin can divert attention from the root causes of malnutrition and hunger and genuine (agroecological) solutions.

Is Bottled Water Safe to Drink Every Day?

The next time you put your lips to a plastic bottle of “crystal-clear mountain spring water” think about Trump’s herculean efforts to dismantle federal agencies that protect health.

More to the point, Trump’s innate distrust of science is already starting to impact health risks; e.g., according to Consumer Reports (“CR”) excessive levels of arsenic are found in some bottled water that should have been spotted by federal regulators, and not by Consumer Reports.

As it happens:

The federal government’s safety inspections of water bottling facilities hit a 15-year low in 2017, according to documents CR obtained through a public records request.

The referenced CR headline:

Arsenic in Some Bottled Water Brands at Unsafe Levels, Consumer Reports Says.1

More on that travesty later.

Meanwhile, because Trump is doing everything possible to take federal regulations back to the “Sixties,” then Rachel Carson’s inimitable The Silent Spring (1962) should be required reading for every household in America because she exposes the dangers of 60 years ago that are, once again, starting to be exposed today. To say that this is a remarkable event is, indeed, remarkable!

Rachel Carson has never been more relevant, in fact, doubly more relevant, e.g., according to The Silent Spring, page 237:

Human exposures to cancer-producing chemicals (including pesticides) are uncontrolled and they are multiple. An individual may have many different exposures to the same chemical. Arsenic is an example… It is quite possible that no one of these exposures alone would be sufficient to precipitate malignancy— yet any single supposedly ‘safe dose’ may be enough to tip the scales that are already loaded with other ‘safe doses.’2

In other words, the cumulative effect of repeated exposure to dangerous toxins causes cancer. Carson’s book hits hard on this crucial point, earning her accolades as “the finest nature writer of the Twentieth Century.” Furthermore, exposure to one chemical can trigger dormancy of an altogether different chemical, a compounding effect that triggers malignant growths, like cancer.

More from Carson:

The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that one chemical may act on another to alter its effect. Cancer may sometimes require the complementary action of two chemicals, one of which sensitizes the cell or tissue so that it may later, under the action of another or promoting agent, develop true malignancy.3

Without question, most American families experience cancer.

Thus, foretelling: Is it a good idea to cut federal health and environmental regulations?

According to Consumer Reports:

CR tracked down and reviewed hundreds of public records and test reports from bottled water brands… We found that several popular brands sell bottled water with arsenic levels at or above 3 ppb; current research suggests that amounts above that level are potentially dangerous to drink over extended periods of time.

For example, drinking every day!

CR identified 11 brands with detectable amounts of arsenic and of those six had “levels of 3 ppb or higher. These brands are Starkey (owned by Whole Foods), Peñafiel (owned by Keurig Dr Pepper), Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, Volvic (owned by Danone), and two regional brands, Crystal Creamery and EartH₂O.

Not only that but, as Flint, Michigan glaringly demonstrated, it’s not only bottled water that demands rigorous federal government oversight.

Nevertheless, in spite of the necessity of rocklike vigilance of the nation’s most precious resources, Trump’s 2020 budget seeks a cut for the National Institutes of Health for the third year in a row. Some of the biggest losers (a Trump classic) will be the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  Not only that, but according to the American Association of Immunologists, Trump’s cuts would defund 2,824 research project grants and cut short the work “of many talented and dedicated scientists.”4

Wow, what an accomplishment! America’s president really knows how to “drain the swamp.”

Ultimately, the president’s proposed $2.7 trillion in spending cuts will leave the nation less healthy and less safe,” says Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).5

And, just for good measure:

Trump’s plan sees spending on Medicare and Medicaid trimmed by $818 billion and $1.5 trillion respectively over the next 10 years.5

So much for Trump’s humongous big-mouthed loud and boastful campaign promise to safeguard America’s “sacred” Medicare, rather, it’s down the drain with Drano, lickety-split!

Meanwhile, and nearly impossible to comprehend: Trump’s tax cuts for billionaires/millionaires, which “drains federal revenue,” results in a U.S. deficit of $691B by the halfway mark of the current fiscal year, which is more for his “one-half of a year” than all but five “annual deficits” throughout American history.6

Whew!

That breathlessness of enormous/gigantic tax cuts for the rich while sticking all American families with the bill for responsibility of the resultant record-setting federal deficit/debt amidst “cutting to the bone” federal protection of health services and the environment is almost too much to absorb without experiencing crazy bouts of dizziness, some kind of strange vertigo that alters the mindset to dangerous delusions of mercy killing.

And, yes, it’s endless:

According to the Environmental Defense Fund:

For the third year in a row, the Trump administration proposed deep cuts to EPA. These reductions would allow more lead, toxic chemicals, and contaminated water.

Once again, “draining the swamp.”

Yet, EPA accounts for only 0.2% of the federal budget, but proposed funding for EPA will be at its absolute lowest level in “real dollars” (adjusted for inflation) in over 40 years, taking funding for environmental safety back to the “Seventies,” when the Clean Water Act (1972) was first signed by President Nixon, which is an absolutely amazing coincidence, as impeachment reigns supreme, then and now.

Have a healthy pre-election year!

  1. June 28, 2019.
  2. The Silent Spring, p. 237.
  3. The Silent Spring, p. 238.
  4. FierceBiotech, March 12, 2019.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Peter G. Peterson Foundation – bipartisan nonprofit that focuses on national debt.

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.

Canada enables corrupt Haitian president to remain in power

At the front of a protest against Haiti’s president last week a demonstrator carried a large wooden cross bearing the flags of Canada, France and the US. The Haiti Information Project tweeted that protesters “see these three nations as propping up the regime of President Jovenel Moïse. It is also recognition of their role in the 2004 coup.”

Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, Haitian protesters regularly criticize Canada. On dozens of occasions since Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government was overthrown in 2004 marchers have held signs criticizing Canadian policy or rallied in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. For their part, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force”, “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times.

In the face of months of popular protest, Canada remains hostile to the protesters who represent the impoverished majority. A recent corruption investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes has rekindled the movement to oust the Canadian-backed president. The report into the Petrocaribe Fund accuses Moïse’s companies of swindling $2 million of public money. Two billion dollars from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela was pilfered under the presidency of Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly.

Since last summer there have been numerous protests, including a weeklong general strike in February, demanding accountability for public funds. Port-au-Prince was again paralyzed during much of last week. In fact, the only reason Moïse — whose electoral legitimacy is paper thin — is hanging on is because of support from the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”.

Comprising the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US, as well as representatives of Spain, EU and OAS, the “Core Group” released another statement effectively backing Moise. The brief declaration called for “a broad national debate, without preconditions”, which is a position Canadian officials have expressed repeatedly in recent weeks. (The contrast with Canada’s position regarding Venezuela’s president reveals a stunning hypocrisy.) But, the opposition has explicitly rejected negotiating with Moïse since it effectively amounts to abandoning protest and bargaining with a corrupt and illegitimate president few in Haiti back.

In another indication of the “Core Group’s” political orientation, their May 30 statement “condemned the acts of degradation committed against the Senate.” Early that day a handful of opposition senators dragged out some furniture and placed it on the lawn of Parliament in a bid to block the ratification of the interim prime minister. Canada’s Ambassador André Frenette also tweeted that “Canada condemns the acts of vandalism in the Senate this morning. This deplorable event goes against democratic principles.” But, Frenette and the “Core Group” didn’t tweet or release a statement about the recent murder of journalist Pétion Rospide, who’d been reporting on corruption and police violence. Nor did they mention the commission that found Moïse responsible for stealing public funds or the recent UN report confirming government involvement in a terrible massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline in mid-November. Recent Canadian and “Core Group” statements completely ignore Moise’s electoral illegitimacy and downplay the enormity of the corruption and violence against protesters.

Worse still, Canadian officials regularly promote and applaud a police force that has been responsible for many abuses. As I detailed in a November story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Frenette attended a half dozen Haitian police events in his first year as ambassador. Canadian officials continue to attend police ceremonies, including one in March, and offer financial and technical support to the police. Much to the delight of the country’s über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state since Aristide’s ouster.

On Wednesday Frenette tweeted, “one of the best parts of my job is attending medal ceremonies for Canadian police officers who are known for their excellent work with the UN police contingent in Haiti.” RCMP officer Serge Therriault leads the 1,200-person police component of the Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la Justice en Haïti (MINUJUSTH).

At the end of May Canada’s ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard led a United Nations Economic and Social Council delegation to Haiti. Upon his return to New York he proposed creating a “robust” mission to continue MINUJUSTH’s work after its planned conclusion in mid-October. Canadian officials are leading the push to extend the 15-year old UN occupation that took over from the US, French and Canadian troops that overthrew Aristide’s government and was responsible for introducing cholera to the country, which has killed over 10,000.

While Haitians regularly challenge Canadian policy, few in this country raise objections. In response to US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent expression of solidarity with Haitian protesters, Jean Saint-Vil put out a call titled “OH CANADA, TIME TO BE WOKE LIKE ILHAN OMAR & MAXINE WATERS!” The Haitian Canadian activist wrote:

While, in Canada, the black population is taken for granted by major political parties who make no effort to adjust Canadian Foreign policies towards African nations, Haiti and other African-populated nations of the Caribbean, where the Euro-Americans topple democratically-elected leaders, help set up corrupt narco regimes that are friendly to corrupt Canadian mining companies that go wild, exploiting the most impoverished and blackest among us, destroying our environments in full impunity… In the US, some powerful voices have arisen to counter the mainstream covert and/or overt white supremacist agenda. Time for REAL CHANGE in Canada! The Wine & Cheese sessions must end! We eagerly await the statements of Canadian party leaders about the much needed change in Canadian Policy towards Haiti. You will have to deserve our votes, this time around folks!

Unfortunately, Canadian foreign policymakers — the Liberal party in particular — have co-opted/pacified most prominent black voices on Haiti and other international issues. On Monday famed Haitian-Canadian novelist Dany Laferrière attended a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Port-au-Prince while the head of Montréal’s Maison d’Haïti, Marjorie Villefranche, says nary a word about Canadian imperialism in Haiti. A little discussed reason Paul Martin’s government appointed Michaëlle Jean Governor General in September 2005 was to dampen growing opposition to Canada’s coup policy among working class Haitian-Montrealers.

Outside the Haitian community Liberal-aligned groups have also offered little solidarity. A look at the Federation of Black Canadians website and statements uncovers nothing about Canada undermining a country that dealt a massive blow to slavery and white supremacy. (Members of the group’s steering committee recently found time, however, to meet with and then attend a gala put on by the anti-Palestinian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.)

A few months ago, Saint-Vil proposed creating a Canadian equivalent to the venerable Washington, D.C. based TransAfrica, which confronts US policy in Africa and the Caribbean. A look at Canadian policy from the Congo to Venezuela, Burkina Faso to Tanzania, suggests the need is great. Anyone seeking to amplify the voices from the streets of Port-au-Prince should support such an initiative.

Modified

Parts of the documentary Modified are spent at the kitchen table. But it’s not really a tale about wonderful recipes or the preparation of food. Ultimately, it’s a story of capitalism, money and power and how our most basic rights are being eroded by unscrupulous commercial interests.

The film centres on its maker, Aube Giroux, who resides in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her interest in food and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was inspired by her mother, Jali, who also appears throughout. Aube says that when her parents bought their first house her mother immediately got rid of the lawn and planted a huge garden where she grew all kinds of heirloom vegetables, berries, flowers, legumes and garlic.

“She wanted me and my sister to grow up knowing the story behind the food that we ate, so our backyard was basically our grocery store,” says Aube.

During the film, we are treated not only to various outdoor scenes of the Giroux’s food garden (their ‘grocery store’) but also to Aube and her mother’s passion for preparing homemade culinary delights. The ‘backyard’ is the grocery store and much of Giroux family life revolves around the kitchen and the joy of healthy, nutritious food.

When GMOs first began appearing in food, Aube says that what bothered her mother was that some of the world’s largest chemical companies were patenting these new genetically engineered seeds and controlling the seed market.

In the film, Aube explains, “Farmers who grow GMOs have to sign technology license agreements promising never to save or replant the patented seeds. My mom didn’t think it was a good idea to allow corporations to engineer and then patent the seeds that we rely on for food. She believed that seeds belong in the hands of people.”

As the GMO issue became prominent, Aube became more interested in the subject. It took her 10 years to complete the film, which is about her personal journey of discovery into the world of GMOs. The film depicts a world that is familiar to many of us; a place where agritech industry science and money talk, politicians and officials are all too eager to listen and the public interest becomes a secondary concern.

In 2001, Canada’s top scientific body, The Royal Society, released a scathing report that found major problems with the way GMOs were being regulated. The report made 53 recommendations to the government for fixing the regulatory system and bringing it in line with peer reviewed science and the precautionary principle, which says new technologies should not be approved when there is uncertainty about their long-term safety. To date, only three of these recommendations have been implemented.

Throughout the film, we see Aube making numerous phone calls, unsuccessfully trying to arrange an interview to discuss these issues with Health Canada, the department of the government of Canada that is responsible for national public health.

Meanwhile, various people are interviewed as the story unfolds. We are told about the subverting of regulatory agencies in the US when GMOs first appeared on the scene in the early 1990s: the Food and Drug Administration ignored the warnings of its own scientists, while Monsanto flexed its political muscle to compromise the agency by manoeuvring its own people into positions of influence.

One respondent says, “We’ve had a number of people from Monsanto, many from Dupont, who have actually been in top positions at the USDA and the FDA over the last 20 years, making darn sure that when those agencies did come out with any pseudo-regulation, that it was what these industries wanted. The industry will often say these are the most regulated crops in history… I’m not an expert on the law in many other countries. But I am an expert on the laws in the United States and I can tell you… they are virtually unregulated.”

Aube takes time to find out about genetic engineering and talks to molecular biologists. She is shown how the process of genetic modification in the lab works. One scientist says, “In genetics, we have a phrase called pleiotropic effects. It means that there are other effects in the plant that are unintended but are a consequence of what you’ve done. I wouldn’t be surprised if something came up somewhere along the line that we hadn’t anticipated that’s going to be a problem.”

And that’s very revealing: if you are altering the genetic core of the national (and global) food supply in a way that would not have occurred without human intervention, you had better be pretty sure about the consequences. Many illnesses can take decades to show up in a population.

This is one reason why Aube Giroux focuses on the need for the mandatory labelling of GM food in Canada. Some 64 countries have already implemented such a policy and most Canadians want GM food to be labelled too. However, across North America labelling has been fiercely resisted by the industry. As the film highlights, it’s an industry that has key politicians in its back pocket and has spent millions resisting effective labelling.

In the film, we hear from someone from the agri/biotech industry say that labelling would send out the wrong message; it would amount to fearmongering; it would confuse the public; it would raise food prices; and you can eat organic if you don’t want GMOs. To those involved in the GMO debate and the food movement, these industry talking points are all too familiar.

Signalling the presence of GMOs in food through labelling is about the public’s right to know what they are eating. But the film makes clear there are other reasons for labelling too. To ensure that these products are environmentally safe and safe for human health, you need to monitor them in the marketplace. If you have new allergic responses emerging is it a consequence of GMOs? There’s no way of telling if there is no labelling. Moreover, the industry knows many would not purchase GM food if people were given any choice on the matter. That’s why it has spent so much money and invested so much effort to prevent it.

During the film, we also hear from an Iowa farmer, who says GM is all about patented seeds and money. He says there’s incredible wealth and power to be had from gaining ownership of the plants that feed humanity. And it has become a sorry tale for those at the sharp end: farmers are now on a financially lucrative (for industry) chemical-biotech treadmill as problems with the technology and its associated chemicals mount: industry rolls out even stronger chemicals and newer GM traits to overcome the failures of previous roll outs.

But to divert attention from the fact that GM has ‘failed to yield’ and deliver on industry promises, the film notes that the industry churns out rhetoric, appealing to emotion rather than fact, about saving the world and feeding the hungry to help legitimize the need for GM seeds and associated (health- and environment-damaging) chemical inputs.

In an interview posted on the film’s website, Aube says that genetic engineering is an important technology but “should only take place if the benefits truly outweigh the risks, if rigorous adequate regulatory systems are in place and if full transparency, full disclosure and the precautionary principle are the pillars on which our food policies are based.”

Health Canada has always claimed to have had a science-based GMO regulatory system. But the Royal Society’s report showed that GMO approvals are based on industry studies that have little scientific merit since they aren’t peer reviewed.

For all her attempts, Aube failed to get an interview with Health Canada. Near the end of the film, we see her on the phone to the agency once again. She says, “Well I guess I find it extremely concerning and puzzling that Health Canada is not willing to speak with me… you guys are our public taxpayer funded agency in this country that regulates GMOs, and so you’re accountable to Canadians, and you have a responsibility to answer questions.”

Given this lack of response and the agency’s overall track record on GMOs, it is pertinent to ask just whose interests does Health Canada ultimately serve.

When Aube Giroux started this project, it was meant to be a film about food. But she notes that it gradually became a film about democracy: who gets to decide our food policies; is it the people we elect to represent us, or is it corporations and their heavily financed lobbyists?

Aube is a skilful filmmaker and storyteller. She draws the viewer into her life and introduces us to some inspiring characters, especially her mother, Jali, who passed away during the making of the film. Jali has a key part in the documentary, which had started out as a joint venture between Aube and her mother. By interweaving personal lives with broader political issues, Modified becomes a compelling documentary. On one level, it’s deeply personal. On another, it is deeply disturbing given what corporations are doing to food without our consent – and often – without our knowledge.

For those who watch the film, especially those coming to the issue for the first time, it should at the very least raise concerns about what is happening to food, why it is happening and what can be done about it. The film might be set in Canada, but the genetic engineering of our food supply by conglomerates with global reach transcends borders and affects us all.

Whether we reside in North America, Europe, India or elsewhere, the push is on to co-opt governments and subvert regulatory bodies by an industry which regards GM as a multi-billion cash cow  – regardless of the consequences.

Modified won the 2019 James Beard Foundation award for best documentary and is currently available on DVD. It is due to be released on digital streaming platforms this summer.