All posts by Colin Todhunter

Pouring Poison and Planting Seeds of Dependency 

Do you remember the iconic Union Carbide image from the 1950s or early 1960s? The one with the giant hand coming from the sky, pouring pesticides onto Indian soil.

The blurb below the image includes the following:

Science helps build a new India – India has developed bold new plans to build its economy and bring the promise of a bright future to its more than 400 million people. But India needs the technical knowledge of the western world. For example working with Indian engineers and technicians, Union Carbide recently made available its fast scientific resource to help build a chemicals and plastics plant near Bombay. Throughout the free world, Union Carbide has been actively engaged in building plants for the manufacture of chemicals, plastics, carbons, gases and metals.

In the bottom corner is the Union Carbide logo and the statement ‘A HAND IN THINGS TO COME’.

This ‘hand of god’ image has become infamous. Union Carbide’s ‘hand in things to come’ includes the gas leak at its pesticides plant in Bhopal in 1984. It resulted in around 560,000 injured (respiratory problems, eye irritation, etc), 4,000 severely disabled and 20,000 dead.

As for the chemical-intensive agriculture it promoted, we can now see the impacts: degraded soils, polluted water, illness, farmer debt and suicides (by drinking pesticides!), nutrient-dense crops/varieties being side-lined, a narrower range of crops, no increase in food production per capita (in India at least), the corporate commodification of knowledge and seeds, the erosion of farmers’ environmental learning, the undermining of traditional knowledge systems and farmers’ dependency on corporations.

Whether it involves the type of ecological devastation activist-farmer Bhaskar Save outlined for policy makers in his 2006 open letter or the social upheaval documented by Vandana Shiva in the book The Violence of the Green Revolution, the consequences have been far-reaching.

And yet – whether it involves new genetic engineering techniques or more pesticides –  there is a relentless drive by the agritech conglomerates to further entrench their model of agriculture by destroying traditional farming practices with the aim of placing more farmers on corporate seed and chemical treadmills.

These corporations have been pushing for the European Commission to remove any labelling and safety checks for new genomic techniques. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that organisms obtained with new genetic modification techniques must be regulated under the EU’s existing GMO laws. However, there has been intense lobbying from the agriculture biotech industry to weaken the legislation, aided financially by the Gates Foundation.

Since 2018, top agribusiness and biotech corporations have spent almost €37 million lobbying the European Union. They have had 182 meetings with European Commissioners, their cabinets and director generals. More than one meeting a week.

In recent weeks, Syngenta (a subsidiary of ChemChina) CEO Erik Fyrwald has come to the fore to cynically lobby for these techniques.

But before discussing Fyrwald, let us turn to another key agribusiness figure who has been in the news. Former Monsanto chairman and CEO Hugh Grant recently appeared in court to be questioned by lawyers on behalf of a cancer patient in the case of Allan Shelton v Monsanto.

Shelton has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is one of the 100,000-plus people in the US claiming in lawsuits that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller and its other brands containing the chemical glyphosate caused their cancer.

His lawyers argued that Grant was an active participant and decision maker in the company’s Roundup business and should be made to testify at the trial.

Why not? After all, he did make a financial killing from peddling poison.

Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018 and Grant received an estimated $77 million post-sale payoff. Bloomberg reported in 2017 that Monsanto had increased Grant’s salary to $19.5 million.

By 2009, Roundup-related products, which include genetically modified seeds developed to withstand glyphosate-based applications, represented about half of Monsanto’s gross margin.

Roundup was integral to Monsanto’s business model and Grant’s enormous income and final payoff.

Consider the following quote from a piece that appeared on the Bloomberg website in 2014:

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant is focused on selling more genetically modified seeds in Latin America to drive earnings growth outside the core US market. Sales of soybean seeds and genetic licenses climbed 16%, and revenue in the unit that makes glyphosate weed killer, sold as Roundup, rose 24%.

In the same piece, Chris Shaw, a New York-based analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co, is reported as saying “Glyphosate really crushed it” – meaning the sales of glyphosate were a major boost.

All fine for Grant and Monsanto. But this has had devastating effects on human health. ‘The Human Cost of Agrotoxins. How Glyphosate is killing Argentina’, which appeared on the Lifegate website in November 2015, serves as a damning indictment of the drive for “earnings growth” by Monsanto. Moreover, in the same year, some 30,000 doctors in that country demanded a ban on glyphosate.

The bottom line for Grant was sales and profit maximisation and the unflinching defence of glyphosate, no matter how carcinogenic to humans it is and, more to the point, how much Monsanto knew it was.

Noam Chomsky underlines the commercial imperative:

 … the CEO of a corporation has actually a legal obligation to maximize profit and market share. Beyond that legal obligation, if the CEO doesn’t do it, and, let’s say, decides to do something that will, say, benefit the population and not increase profit, he or she is not going to be CEO much longer –  they’ll be replaced by somebody who does do it.

Syngenta’s CEO is cut from the same cloth as Grant. While Monsanto’s crimes are well documented, Syngenta’s transgressions are less well publicised.

In 2006, writer and campaigner Dr Brian John claimed:

GM Free Cymru has discovered that Syngenta, in its promotion of GM crops and foods, has been involved in a web of lies, deceptions and obstructive corporate behaviour that would have done credit to its competitor Monsanto.

Some weeks ago, Fyrwald called for organic farming to be abandoned. In view of the food crisis, brought on by the war in Ukraine, he claimed rich countries had to increase their crop production – but organic farming led to lower yields. Fyrwald also called for gene editing to be at the heart of the food agenda in order to increase food production.

He stated:

The indirect consequence is that people are starving in Africa because we are eating more and more organic products.

In response, Kilian Baumann, a Bernese organic farmer and president of the Swiss Small Farmers’ Association, called Fyrwald’s arguments “grotesque”. He claimed Fyrwald was “fighting for sales”.

Writing on the GMWatch website, Jonathan Matthews says the Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to have emboldened Fyrwald’s scaremongering.

Matthews states:

Fyrwald’s comments reflect the industry’s determination to undermine the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy, which aims by 2030 not just to slash pesticide use by 50% and fertilizer use by 20% but to more than triple the percentage of EU farmland under organic management (from 8.1% to 25%), as part of the transition towards a ‘more sustainable food system’ within the EU’s Green Deal.

He adds:

Syngenta view[s] these goals as an almost existential threat. This has led to a carefully orchestrated attack on the EU strategy.

The details of this PR offensive have been laid out in a report by the Brussels-based lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO): A loud lobby for a silent spring: The pesticide industry’s toxic lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork.

Mathews quotes research that shows GM crops have no yield benefit. He also refers to a newly published report that draws together research clearly showing GM crops have driven substantial increases – not decreases – in pesticide use. The newer and much-hyped gene-edited crops look set to do the same.

Syngenta is among the corporations criticised by a report from the UN for “systematic denial of harms” and “unethical marketing tactics”. Matthews notes that selling highly hazardous pesticides is actually at the core of Syngenta’s business model.

According to Matthews, even with the logistical disruptions to maize and wheat crops caused by the war in Ukraine, there is still enough grain available to the world market to meet existing needs. He says the current price crisis (not food crisis) is a product of fear and speculation.

Matthews concludes:

If Erik Fyrwald is really so concerned about hunger, why isn’t he attacking the boondoggle that is biofuels, rather than going after organic farming? The obvious answer is that the farmers being subsidised to grow biofuels are big consumers of agrichemicals and, in the US case, GMO seeds – unlike organic farmers, who buy neither.

Fyrwald has a financial imperative to lobby for particular strategies and technologies. He is far from an objective observer. And he is far from honest in his appraisal – using fear of a food crisis to push his agenda.

Meanwhile, the sustained attacks on organic agriculture have become an industry mainstay, despite numerous high-level reports and projects indicating it could feed the world, mitigate climate change, improve farmers’ situations, lead to better soil, create employment and provide healthier and more diverse diets.

There is a food crisis but not the one alluded to by Fyrwald –  denutrified food and unhealthy diets that are at the centre of a major public health crisis, a loss of biodiversity which threatens food security, degraded soils, polluted and depleted water sources and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production (especially in the Global South), squeezed off their land and out of farming.

Transnational agribusiness has lobbied for, directed and profited from policies that have caused much of the above. And what we now see is these corporations and their lobbyists espousing (fake) concern (a cynical lobbying tactic) for the plight of the poor and hungry while attempting to purchase EU democracy to the tune of €37 million. Cheap at the price considering the financial bonanza that its new patented genetic engineering technologies and seeds could reap.

Various scientific publications show these new techniques allow developers to make significant genetic changes, which can be very different from those that happen in nature. These new GMOs pose similar or greater risks than older-style GMOs.

By attempting to dodge regulation as well as avoid economic, social, environmental and health impact assessments, it is clear where the industry’s priorities lie.

Unfortunately, Fyrwald, Bill Gates, Hugh Grant and their ilk are unwilling and too often incapable of viewing the world beyond their reductionist mindsets that merely regard seed/chemical sales, output-yield and corporate profit as the measuring stick of success.

What is required is an approach that sustains indigenous knowledge, local food security, better nutrition per acre, clean and stable water tables and good soil structure. An approach that places food sovereignty, local ownership, rural communities and rural economies at the centre of policy and which nurtures biodiversity, boosts human health and works with nature rather than destroying these.

Fyrwald’s scaremongering is par for the course – the world will starve without corporate chemicals and (GM) seeds, especially if organics takes hold. This type of stuff has been standard fare from the industry and its lobbyists and bought career scientists for many years.

It flies in the face of reality, not least how certain agribusiness concerns have been part of a US geopolitical strategy that undermines food security in regions across the world. These concerns have thrived on the creation of dependency and profited from conflict. Moreover, there is the success of agroecological approaches to farming that have no need for what Fyrwald is hawking.

Instead, the industry continues to promote itself as the saviour of humanity – a hand of god powered by a brave new techno-utopian world of corporate science, pouring poison and planting seeds of corporate dependency with the missionary zeal of Western saviourism.

The post Pouring Poison and Planting Seeds of Dependency  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Farmers’ Struggle Not Over: Corporate Takeover of Indian Agriculture Still Looms

The following is an unpublished transcript of an interview the author did for a UK-based TV channel that covers issues of interest to the worldwide Sikh diaspora. It concerns three pieces of farm legislation in India that were repealed in late 2021 after a prolonged protest by India’s farmers that gained global support and recognition.

Although the interview took place before the laws were repealed, the issues discussed remain highly relevant. That is because farmers are concerned that the government is dragging its feet on a number of issues more than six months after the legislation was repealed, not least a guaranteed minimum support price for produce procured by the public and private sectors, loan default injustices and other matters that have fuelled and deepened the country’s agrarian crisis.

The government’s apparent reluctance to implement the demands of farmers might indicate that the global corporations and financial institutions behind the legislation remain steadfast in seeking to secure what the laws aimed to bring about – the full-scale neoliberal marketisation of India’s agrifood sector, including the displacement of peasant farmers and independent, indigenous enterprises.    

The interview took place with prominent UK-based campaigner Ranjit Singh Srai.

Ranjit Singh Srai:  There has been much said about PM Modi’s new farm laws in terms of the motivation and the potential effect on farmers as well as the wider population. The government’s narrative has been pushed by its media friends and those taking part in the agitation have had their arguments patronisingly rubbished and simply been targeted as foreign agents, criminals and even terrorists. How do you see the outcome of any implementation of these new laws and the motivation behind them?

Colin Todhunter:  The new farm laws are being narrowly framed by certain commentators and sections of the corporate media. We hear they will be good for farmers and good for consumers. Farmers will have more freedom of choice when it comes to selling their produce and we will see more distribution networks and opportunities emerge.

We also hear that farmers will receive good prices as well. Farmers are concerned about the minimum support price mechanism being done away with. But we also hear that this will not occur and, even if it does, it will not matter so much because farmers will still be receiving good prices as a result of the farm legislation.

So, it is all being portrayed as a great success for farmers, for consumers and for the agribusiness corporations. Once this narrative is established, as it has been, it becomes easy to portray anyone who questions any of it as being somehow politically motivated.

But this depiction of those who protest or raise uncomfortable questions about the farm laws is little more than a diversion. To properly understand the new legislation and the reasons behind it, we must go back 30 years to India’s foreign exchange crisis.

At that time, the IMF and the World Bank granted India the equivalent of £90 billion worth of loans (around double that figure in 2022 given inflation) in return for the government dismantling its state seed supply system and reducing public funding for agriculture. India was also directed to shift towards the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange and to move 400 million people from the countryside into the cities.

Although many factors are at play, reducing the public sector’s role and the consequent lack of support for agriculture in general have to a large extent fuelled the ongoing agrarian crisis in the country.

This plan for agriculture has been going on for a long time regardless of which party has been in power. But under the current administration and with the implementation of the three farm laws, this programme is set to be accelerated.

The farm legislation is intended to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a mere facilitator of private capital, leading to the entrenchment of industrial agriculture and the replacement of small-scale farms. To put it in simple terms, the legislation is intended to deliver a knockout blow to small holder agriculture and the peasantry.

(It must be added here that this form of agriculture remains vital. Contrary to much mainstream thinking, it can be said that rural India subsidises urban India. It provides a vast but cheap pool of labour to work in more menial positions. Millions migrate between city and village, especially when times get tough. When work dries up – or when the COVID-related lockdown was enforced – they headed back to their villages to survive. Moreover, the money earned in the city can be insufficient to live on and farming activities bring in much-needed revenue.)

The norm will eventually be industrial GMO commodity crop agriculture suited to the needs of the likes of Cargill, Archer Daniel Midlands and India’s giant retail and agribusiness giants as well as global agritech seed and chemical corporations. It could result in hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work given that India is heading towards or is already experiencing jobless growth.

It is unfortunate that prominent journalists and media outlets in India are celebrating the new farm legislation and have attempted to discredit farmers who are protesting as being anti national. As if handing over the sector to foreign corporations is in any way serving the national interest. What prominent figures are actually doing, whether they are aware of it or not, is cheerleading for the destruction of local markets and small-scale enterprises – farmers, hawkers, food processers or mom and pop corner stores.

By implication, they are helping to ensure that India is surrendering control over its agrifood sector to global players. They are doing the bidding of the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and global agrifood corporations which want India to eradicate its buffer food stocks and dismantle the public food distribution system.

To understand what is planned for agriculture, we also need to understand what is planned for retail. This, too, could decimate millions of livelihoods in the retail sector. For example, Walmart entered India in 2016 with a multi-2.1billion dollar takeover of the retail start-up Jet.com. In 2018, this was followed by a takeover of India’s largest online retail platform, Flipkart. Today, Walmart and Amazon control almost two thirds of India’s digital retail sector.

In 2020, Facebook and a US based private equity firm committed over 7 billion U.S. dollars to Reliance Jio. It means that customers will soon be able to shop using Facebook’s chat application, WhatsApp.

These are key developments because, by monopolising digital retail platforms, these companies will not only control data about consumption and consumer preferences but will also control data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved. The online world and the offline world are not separate; they are intertwined. E-commerce platforms will be able to shape the entire physical economy.

What is concerning is that Amazon and Walmart have sufficient global clout to ensure they become a duopoly, controlling much of Indian agriculture, including the nature of agricultural production itself. Markets will no longer matter; so-called platforms will take over.

At the same time, the aim is to allow financial speculators and global agribusiness to buy up rural land and amalgamate it. The end game is a system of contract farming that serves the interests of big tech, big agribusiness and big retail. Small-holder agriculture and small-scale retail are regarded as impediments to this.

Through what is called ‘data-driven agriculture’, with the data owned and controlled by corporate interests, the farmer will be told how much production is expected, how much rain is anticipated, what type of soil quality there is, what type of genetically engineered seeds and input are required and when the produce needs to be ready.

Traders, manufacturers, and cultivators who remain in the system will become slaves to the platforms and stripped of any independence. It is a clear concern that India will cede control of its entire economy its politics and its culture to these all-powerful modern-day East India companies.

By reducing public sector buffer stocks, side-lining the role of the Food Corporation of India and by introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of unscrupulous billionaires who run Walmart, Reliance, Amazon, Facebook and the like.

Bayer, Cargill and the big tech giants and the rest of the corporate entourage that will benefit from the new legislation are depicted as the saviours of Indian agriculture and Indian farmers. But we should remind ourselves of how Monsanto sucked around $900 million from Indian farmers courtesy of its genetically modified seeds, while leaving small-scale and marginal farmers in what a pre-eminent US academic called a “corporate noose” of dependency and indebtedness.

Despite what industry-funded lobbyists and academics might say, BT cotton in India has been a failure. Monsanto helped itself, not Indian farmers.

RSS:  PM Modi’s Hindutva, based on majoritarianism and authoritarianism, is working closely with, and is supported by, huge corporations that are taking over many sectors of the economy. To what extent do you see these new agricultural laws in that context?

CT:  Both foreign and home-grown billionaires like Adani and Ambani have pushed for the farm laws and are determining policy in India. We are witnessing a crisis of democracy. The new farm legislation is but a symptom of this crisis.

Neoliberal globalisation is ultimately based on the deregulation of international capital flows, euphemistically called financial liberalisation. The dismantling of Bretton Woods and the deregulation of global capital movements have deepened the level of dependency of nation states on capital markets. In India, we can see the implications.

Global finance is in a position to dictate domestic policy. Successive administrations have made the country dependent on volatile flows of foreign capital and India’s foreign exchange reserves have been built up by borrowing and foreign investments. For policymakers, the fear of capital flight is ever present. Policies are often governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign capital inflows.

The Indian government has chosen to submit to the regime of foreign finance, awaiting signals on how much it can spend and giving up any notion of economic sovereignty. And as the state withdraws from aspects of public policy (under World Bank directives), the space left open becomes occupied by private players. We will see this with the new farm laws because this is what they are designed to  facilitate.

It is clear that the ongoing farmers protest in India is not just about farming. Given that around 60% of the population still rely on agriculture for a living, we are witnessing a struggle for the heart and soul of the country.

There is an intensifying struggle over space between local markets and global markets. The former are the domain of independent small-scale producers, cultivators and enterprises. The latter are dominated by large scale international retailers, commodity traders and the rapidly growing and highly influential e-commerce companies.

It is essential to protect local markets and indigenous, independent small-scale enterprises and farmers. This will ensure that India has more control over its food supply, the ability to determine its own policies and its own economic independence. In other words, the protection of food and national sovereignty and the capacity to pursue genuine democratic development.

But as a result of the farm legislation, we could see India bidding for food with borrowed funds on the open market. Instead of the Food Corporation of India continuing to procure and physically hold food stocks, thereby ensuring a degree of food security, the country will be at the mercy of international traders. This is why Modi places so much stress on the policy of foreign direct investment. Foreign reserves will be needed to procure food stocks. This constitutes a recipe for further dependency. It constitutes a reliance on foreign finance and global corporations.

Mainstream economic thinking passes this subjugation off as liberalisation. How the inability to determine your own economic policies and surrendering food security to outside forces is in any way liberating is perplexing to say the least.

It is interesting to note that various reports from international human rights organisations recently downgraded India from being a free democracy to a partially free democracy. One report says India is now an electoral autocracy. How they ever considered India to be a free democracy in the first place is open to question. But these reports focused on the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment, clampdowns on freedom of expression and the restrictions on civil society since PM Modi took power.

The undermining of liberty in all these areas is cause for concern in its own right, but this trend towards divisiveness and authoritarianism serves another purpose. It diverts attention from the corporate takeover of the country, including agriculture. Whether it involves a divide and rule strategy along religious lines, the churning out of nationalistic sentiments, the suppression of free speech, pushing the farm bills through parliament without proper debate or the use of the police and the media to undermine the farmers protest, a major undemocratic heist is underway that will fundamentally adversely impact people’s livelihoods and the cultural and social fabric of the country.

RSS:  You have, in your writings, linked self-determination with economic sovereignty and the need to challenge the authority and machinery of an over-powerful central state. To what extent can we protect the sovereignty of people and their livelihoods when, since 1947, one colonial master was simply replaced by another?

CT:  On one side of this equation, there are the interests of a handful of multi billionaires who own corporations and platforms that seek to control India. On the other side, there are the interests of hundreds of millions of vendors, cultivators and small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever-greater profit.

Indian farmers are on the frontline against global capitalism and a colonial style de-industrialisation of the economy. This is where the struggle for democracy and the future of India is taking place.

There is a need for a fundamental reorganisation of the prevailing globalised food system. We require a system that reduces dependency on global conglomerates, external proprietary inputs, long supply chains, distant volatile commodity markets and patented technologies. Practical solutions to the agrarian crisis – it is a global crisis and these solutions universally apply – must be based on placing the farmer at the centre of policies. Policies centred on localisation, self-sufficiency, food sovereignty and agroecological principles.

India, like other countries, must delink from neoliberal globalisation. It must manage foreign trade and expand indigenous markets by protecting and encouraging small-scale enterprises, including smallholder agriculture. It must increase welfare expenditure by the state and commit to a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and income.

Genuine food security, in principle, derives from food sovereignty, which, in a broad sense, is based on the right of people and sovereign states and regions to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies. Instead of rolling back the public sector and surrendering the food security of the nation to foreign corporations, there is a need for India to further expand official procurement and public distribution.

This would occur by extending government procurement to additional states in India and expanding the range of produce under the public distribution system. It would not only boost rural incomes but also address hunger and malnutrition, which is still a major issue in the country. If policymakers are really serious about boosting the rural economy, they would reject the corporate agenda and a reliance on rigged and unstable markets.

And if the various coronavirus-related lockdowns have shown anything, it is that regional and locally owned food systems are now required more than ever. But a solution that would genuinely address rural distress and malnutrition does not suit the agenda of global corporations.

This is why ordinary people need to push back and assert self-determination and democratic development, involving challenging the dominance of private capital and disputing the authority of central states which work to consolidate state-corporate power above the heads of ordinary people.

The post Farmers’ Struggle Not Over: Corporate Takeover of Indian Agriculture Still Looms first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Long COVID”: Economic Devastation and Quarter of a Billion Pushed Into Extreme Poverty  

There is a terrifying prospect that in excess of a quarter of a billion more people will fall into extreme levels of poverty in 2022 alone. Without immediate radical action, we could be witnessing the most profound collapse of humanity into extreme poverty and suffering in memory.

That is according to Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher.

She adds this scenario is made more sickening given that trillions of dollars have been captured by a tiny group of powerful men who have no interest in interrupting this trajectory.

In its January 2021 report ‘The Inequality Virus’, Oxfam stated that the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn between 18 March and 31 December 2020. Their total wealth then stood at $11.95tn, a 50 per cent increase in just 9.5 months.

In 2021, an Oxfam review of IMF COVID-19 loans showed that 33 African countries were encouraged to pursue austerity policies. This despite the IMF’s own research showing austerity worsens poverty and inequality.

Barely days into the shutdown of the global economy in April 2020, the Wall Street Journal ran the headline ‘IMF, World Bank Face Deluge of Aid Requests From Developing World‘. Scores of countries were asking for bailouts and loans from financial institutions with $1.2 trillion to lend.

Prior to that, in late March, World Bank Group President David Malpass said that poorer countries would be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various COVID-related lockdowns. However, any assistance would be on condition that further neoliberal reforms became embedded.

Malpass said:

For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.

Two years on and it is clear what ‘reforms’ really mean. In a press release issued on 19 April 2022, Oxfam International insists the IMF must abandon demands for austerity as a cost-of-living crisis continues to drive up hunger and poverty worldwide.

According to Oxfam’s analysis, 13 out of the 15 IMF loan programmes negotiated during the second year of COVID require new austerity measures such as taxes on food and fuel or spending cuts that could put vital public services at risk. The IMF is also encouraging six additional countries to adopt similar measures.

Kenya and the IMF agreed a $2.3 billion loan programme in 2021, which includes a three-year public sector pay freeze and increased taxes on cooking gas and food. More than three million Kenyans are facing acute hunger as the driest conditions in decades spread a devastating drought across the country. Oxfam says nearly half of all households in Kenya are having to borrow food or buy it on credit.

At the same time nine countries, including Cameroon, Senegal and Surinam are required to introduce or increase the collection of VAT, a tax that disproportionately impacts people living in poverty.

In Sudan, nearly half of the population live in poverty. However, it has been told to scrap fuel subsidies which will hit the poorest hardest. A country already reeling from international aid cuts, economic turmoil and rising prices for everyday basics such as food and medicine. More than 14 million people need humanitarian assistance (almost one in every three people) and 9.8 million are food insecure in Sudan.

In addition, 10 countries are likely to freeze or cut public sector wages and jobs, which could mean lower quality of education and fewer nurses and doctors in countries already short of healthcare staff. Consider that Namibia had fewer than six doctors per 10,000 people in early 2020.

Prior to Covid, the situation was bad enough. The IMF had consistently pushed a policy agenda based on cuts to public services, increases in taxes paid by the poorest and moves to undermine labour rights and protections. As a result, 52 per cent of Africans lack access to healthcare and 83 per cent have no safety nets to fall back on if they lose their job or become sick.

Nabil Abdo, Oxfam International’s senior policy advisor, says:

The IMF must suspend austerity conditions on existing loans and increase access to emergency financing. It should encourage countries to increase taxes on the wealthiest and corporations to replenish depleted coffers and shrink widening inequality.”

It is interesting to note what could be achieved. For instance, Argentina has collected about $2.4 billion from its one-off pandemic wealth tax. Oxfam estimates that a ‘Pandemic Profits Tax’ on 32 super-profitable global companies could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020 alone.

Many governments are nearing debt default and being forced to slash public spending to pay creditors and import food and fuel. The world’s poorest countries are due to pay $43 billion in debt repayments in 2022, which could otherwise cover the costs of their food imports. Oil and gas giants are reporting record-breaking profits, with similar trends expected to play out in the food and beverage sector.

Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) have also revealed that 43 out of 55 African Union member states face public expenditure cuts totalling $183 billion over the next five years.

Oxfam says that, despite COVID costs piling up and billionaire wealth rising more since COVID than in the previous 14 years combined, governments — with few exceptions — have failed to increase taxes on the richest.

Gabriela Bucher rejects any notion that governments do not have the money or means to lift all people out of poverty and hunger and ensure their health and welfare. She says the G20, World Bank and IMF must immediately cancel debts and increase aid to poorer countries and act to protect ordinary people from an avoidable catastrophe.

Nabil Abdo says:

The pandemic is not over for most of the world. Rising energy bills and food prices are hurting poor countries most. They need help boosting access to basic services and social protection, not harsh conditions that kick people when they are down.

The ‘pandemic’ is not over for most of the world – for sure. People too often conflate the effects of COVID-related policies with the impact of COVID itself. It is these policies that have caused the ongoing devastation to lives and livelihoods.

What it has amounted to is a multi-trillion-dollar bailout for a capitalist economy that was in meltdown prior to COVID. This came in the form of trillions of dollars pumped into financial markets by the US Fed (in the months prior to March 2020) and ‘COVID relief’.

As the world’s richest people lined their pockets even more in the past two years, COVID IMF loans are now piling more misery on some of the world’s poorest people. For them, ‘long COVID’ is biting austerity – their ‘new normal’.

All this resulting from policies supposedly brought in to protect public health – a claim that rings hollower by the day.

The post “Long COVID”: Economic Devastation and Quarter of a Billion Pushed Into Extreme Poverty   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Localization and Local Futures: The Alternative to the Authoritarian New Normal    

World Localization Day’ will be celebrated on 20 June. Organised by the non-profit Local Futures, this annual coming together of people from across the world began in 2020 and focuses on the need to localise supply-chains and recover our connection with nature and community. The stated aim is to “galvanize the worldwide localization movement into a force for systemic change”.

Local Futures, founded by Helena Norberg-Hodge, urges us to imagine a very different world, one in which most of our food comes from nearby farmers who ensure food security year round and where the money we spend on everyday goods continues to recirculate in the local economy.

We are asked to imagine local businesses providing ample, meaningful employment opportunities, instead of our hard-earned cash being immediately siphoned off to some distant corporate headquarters.

Small farms would be key in this respect. They are integral to local markets and networks, short supply chains, food sovereignty, more diverse cropping systems and healthier diets. And they tend to serve the food requirements of communities rather than the interests of big business, institutional investors and shareholders half a world away.

If the COVID lockdowns and war in Ukraine tell us anything about our food system, it is that decentralised, regional and local community-owned food systems based on short(er) supply chains that can cope with future shocks are now needed more than ever.

The report Towards a Food Revolution: Food Hubs and Cooperatives in the US and Italy offers some pointers for creating sustainable support systems for small food producers and food distribution. Alternative, resilient food models and community supported agriculture are paramount.

Localization involves strengthening and rebuilding local economies and communities and restoring cultural and biological diversity. The ‘economics of happiness’ is central to this vision, rather than an endless quest for GDP growth and the alienation, conflict and misery this brings.

It is something we need to work towards because multi-billionaire globalists have a dystopian future mapped out for humanity which they want to impose on us all – and it is diametrically opposed to what is stated above.

The much-publicised ‘great reset’ is integral to this dystopia. It marks a shift away from ‘liberal democracy’ towards authoritarianism. At the same time, there is the relentless drive towards a distorted notion of a ‘green economy’, underpinned by the rhetoric of ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘climate emergency’.

The great reset is really about capitalism’s end-game. Those promoting it realise the economic and social system must undergo a reset to a ‘new normal’, something that might no longer resemble ‘capitalism’.

End-game capitalism  

Capital can no longer maintain its profitability by exploiting labour alone. This much has been clear for some time. There is only so much surplus value to be extracted before the surplus is insufficient.

Historian Luciana Bohne notes that the shutting down of parts of the economy was already happening pre-COVID as there was insufficient growth, well below the minimum tolerable 3% level to maintain the viability of capitalism. This, despite a decades-long attack on workers and corporate tax cuts.

The system had been on life support for some time. Credit markets had been expanded and personal debt facilitated to maintain consumer demand as workers’ wages were squeezed. Financial products (derivatives, equities, debt, etc) and speculative capitalism were boosted, affording the rich a place to park their profits and make money off money. We have also seen the growth of unproductive rentier capitalism and stock buy backs and massive bail outs courtesy of taxpayers.

Moreover, in capitalism, there is also a tendency for the general rate of profit to fall over time. And this has certainly been the case according to writer Ted Reese, who notes it has trended downwards from an estimated 43% in the 1870s to 17% in the 2000s.

The 2008 financial crash was huge. But by late 2019, an even bigger meltdown was imminent. Many companies could not generate enough profit and falling turnover, squeezed margins, limited cashflows and highly leveraged balance sheets were prevalent. In effect, economic growth was already grinding to a halt prior to the massive stock market crash in February 2020.

Fabio Vighi, professor of critical theory, describes how, in late 2019, the Swiss Bank of International Settlements, BlackRock (the world’s most powerful investment fund), G7 central bankers, leading politicians and others worked behind closed doors to avert a massive impending financial meltdown.

The Fed soon began an emergency monetary programme, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars per week into financial markets. Not long after, COVID hit and lockdowns were imposed. The stock market did not collapse because lockdowns occurred. Vighi argues lockdowns were rolled out because financial markets were collapsing.

Closing down the global economy under the guise of fighting a pathogen that mainly posed a risk to the over 80s and the chronically ill seemed illogical to many, but lockdowns allowed the Fed to flood financial markets (COVID relief) with freshly printed money without causing hyperinflation. Vighi says that lockdowns curtailed economic activity, thereby removing demand for the newly printed money (credit) in the physical economy and preventing ‘contagion’.

Using lockdowns and restrictions, smaller enterprises were driven out of business and large sections of the pre-COVID economy were shut down. This amounted to a controlled demolition of parts of the economy while the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Meta (Facebook) and the online payment sector – platforms which are dictating what the ‘new normal’ will look like – were clear winners in all of this.

The rising inflation that we currently witness is being blamed on the wholly avoidable conflict in Ukraine. Although this tells only part of the story, the conflict and sanctions seem to be hitting Europe severely: if you wanted to demolish your own economy or impoverish large sections of the population, this might be a good way to go about it.

However, the massive ‘going direct’ helicopter money given to the financial sector and global conglomerates under the guise of COVID relief was always going to have an impact once the global economy reopened.

Similar extraordinary monetary policy (lockdowns) cannot be ruled out in the future: perhaps on the pretext of another ‘virus’ but possibly based on the notion of curtailing human activity due to ‘climate emergency’. This is because raising interests rates to manage inflation could rapidly disrupt the debt-bloated financial system (an inflated Ponzi scheme) and implode the entire economy.

Permanent austerity   

But lockdowns, restrictions or creating mass unemployment and placing people on programmable digital currencies to micromanage spending and decrease inflationary pressures could help to manage the crisis. ‘Programmable’ means the government determining how much you can spend and what you can spend on.

How could governments legitimise such levels of control? By preaching about reduced consumption according to the creed of ‘sustainability’. This is how you would ‘own nothing and be happy’ if we are to believe this well-publicised slogan of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

But like neoliberal globalization in the 1980s – the great reset is being given a positive spin, something which supposedly symbolises a brave new techno-utopian future.

In the 1980s, to help legitimise the deregulated neoliberal globalisation agenda, government and media instigated an ideological onslaught, driving home the primacy of ‘free enterprise’, individual rights and responsibility and emphasising a shift away from the role of state, trade unions and the collective in society.

Today, we are seeing another ideological shift: individual rights (freedom to choose what is injected into your own body, for instance) are said to undermine the wider needs of society and – in a stark turnaround – individual freedom is now said to pose a threat to ‘national security’, ‘public health’ or ‘safety’.

A near-permanent state of ‘emergency’ due to public health threats, climate catastrophe or conflict (as with the situation in Ukraine) would conveniently place populations on an ongoing ‘war footing’. Notions of individual liberty and democratic principles would be usurped by placing the emphasis on the ‘public interest’ and protecting the population from ‘harm’. This would facilitate the march towards authoritarianism.

As in the 1980s, this messaging is being driven by economic impulses. Neoliberalism privatised, deregulated, exploited workers and optimised debt to the point whereby markets are now kept afloat by endless financial injections.

The WEF says the public will ‘rent’ everything they require: stripping the right of personal ownership under the guise of ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘saving the planet’. Where the WEF is concerned, this is little more than code for permanent austerity to be imposed on the mass of the population.

Metaverse future 

At the start of this article, readers were asked to imagine a future based on a certain set of principles associated with localization. For one moment, imagine another. The one being promoted by the WEF, the high-level talking shop and lobby group for elite interests headed by that avowed globalist and transhumanist Klaus Schwab.

As you sit all day unemployed in your high-rise, your ‘food’ will be delivered via an online platform bought courtesy of your programmable universal basic income digital money. Food courtesy of Gates-promoted farms manned by driverless machines, monitored by drones and doused with chemicals to produce crops from patented GM seeds for industrial ‘biomatter’ to be engineered, processed and constituted into something resembling food.

Enjoy and be happy eating your fake food, stripped of satisfying productive endeavour and genuine self-fulfilment. But really, it will not be a problem. You can sit all day and exist virtually in Zuckerberg’s fantasy metaverse. Property-less and happy in your open prison of mass unemployment, state dependency, track and chip health passports and financial exclusion via programmable currency.

A world also in which bodily integrity no longer exists courtesy of a mandatory vaccination agenda linked to emerging digital-biopharmaceutical technologies. The proposed World Health Organization pandemic treaty marks a worrying step in this direction.

This ‘new normal’ would be tyrannical, but the ‘old normal’ – which still thrives – was not something to be celebrated. Global inequality is severe and environmental devastation and human dislocation has been increasing. Dependency and dispossession remain at the core of the system, both on an individual level and at local, regional and national levels. New normal or old normal, these problems will persist and become worse.

Green imperialism  

The ‘green economy’ being heavily promoted is based on the commodification of nature, through privatization, marketization and monetary valuation. Banks and corporations will set the agenda – dressed in the garb of ‘stakeholder capitalism’, a euphemism for governments facilitating the needs of powerful global interests. The fear is that the proposed system will weaken environmental protection laws and regulations to facilitate private capital.

The banking sector will engage in ‘green profiling’ and issue ‘green bonds’ and global corporations will be able to ‘offset’ (greenwash) their environment-degrading activities by, for example, protecting or planting a forest elsewhere (on indigenous people’s land) or perhaps even investing in (imposing) industrial agriculture which grows herbicide-resistant GMO commodity crop monocultures that are misleadingly portrayed as ‘climate friendly’. Imperialism wrapped in green.

Relying on the same thinking and the same interests that led the world to where it is now does not seem like a great idea. This type of ‘green’ is first and foremost a multi-trillion market opportunity for lining pockets and part of a strategy that may well be used to secure compliance required for the ‘new normal’.

The future needs to be rooted in the principles of localization. For this, we need look no further than the economics and the social relations that underpin tribal societies (for example, India’s indigenous peoples). The knowledge and value systems of indigenous peoples promote long-term genuine sustainability by living within the boundaries of nature and emphasise equality, communality and sharing rather than separation, domination and competition.

Self-sufficiency, solidarity, localization and cooperation is the antidote to globalism and the top-down tyranny of programmable digital currencies and unaccountable, monopolistic AI-driven platforms which aim to monitor and dictate every aspect of life.

The post Localization and Local Futures: The Alternative to the Authoritarian New Normal     first appeared on Dissident Voice.

From Rachel Carson to Monsanto: The Silence of Spring  

Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant is currently in the news. He is trying to avoid appearing in court to be questioned by lawyers on behalf of a cancer patient in the case of Allan Shelton v Monsanto.

Shelton has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is one of the 100,000-plus people in the US claiming in lawsuits that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its other brands containing the chemical glyphosate caused their cancer.

According to investigative journalist Carey Gillam, Former Monsanto CEO files for protective order in Roundup case (substack.com) Shelton’s lawyers have argued that Grant was an active participant and decision maker in the company’s Roundup business and should be made to testify at the trial.

But Grant says in the court filings that the effort to put him on the stand in front of a jury is “wholly unnecessary and serves only to harass and burden” him.

His lawyers state that Grant does not have “any expertise in the studies and tests that have been done related to Roundup generally, including those related to Roundup safety”.

Gillam notes that the court filings state that Grant’s testimony “would be of little value” because he is not a toxicologist, an epidemiologist, or a regulatory expert and “did not work in the areas of toxicology or epidemiology while employed by Monsanto”.

Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018 and Grant received an estimated $77 million post-sale payoff. Bloomberg reported in 2017 that Monsanto had increased Grant’s salary to $19.5 million for that fiscal year.

Even by 2009, Roundup-related products, which include genetically modified seeds developed to withstand glyphosate-based applications, represented about half of Monsanto’s gross margin. It is reasonable to say that Roundup was integral to Monsanto’s business model and Grant’s enormous income and final payoff.

But the cancer lawsuits in the US are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage done by glyphosate-based products and many other biocides.

Silent killer    

June 2022 marks 60 years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s iconic book Silent Spring. It was published just two years before her death at age 56.

Carson documented the adverse impacts on the environment of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, which she said were ‘biocides’, killing much more than the pests that were targeted. Silent Spring also described some of the deleterious effects of these chemicals on human health.

She accused the agrochemical industry of spreading disinformation and public officials of accepting the industry’s marketing claims without question. An accusation that is still very much relevant today.

Silent Spring was a landmark book, inspiring many scientists and campaigners over the years to carry on the work of Carson, flagging up the effects of agrochemicals and the role of the industry in distorting the narrative surrounding its proprietary chemicals and its influence on policy making.

In 2012, the American Chemical Society designated Silent Spring a National Historic Chemical Landmark because of its importance for the modern environmental movement.

For her efforts, Carson had to endure vicious, baseless smears and attacks on her personal life, integrity, scientific credentials and political affiliations. Tactics that the agrochemicals sector and its supporters have used ever since to try to shut down prominent scientists and campaigners who challenge industry claims, practices and products.

Although Carson was not calling for a ban on all pesticides, at the time Monsanto hit back by publishing 5,000 copies of The Desolate Year which projected a world of famine and disease if pesticides were to be banned.

A message the sector continues to churn out even as evidence stacks up against the deleterious impacts of its practices and products and the increasing body of research which indicates the world could feed itself by shifting to agroecological/organic practices (see the online article “Living in Epoch-Defining Times: Food, Agriculture and the New World Order“, January 2022).

The title of Carson’s book was a metaphor, warning of a bleak future for the natural environment. So all these years later, what has become of humanity’s ‘silent spring’?

In 2017, research conducted in Germany showed the abundance of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years. The research data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany and has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture as it seems likely that the widespread use of pesticides is an important factor.

Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University in the UK was part of the team behind the study and said that vast tracts of land are becoming inhospitable to most forms of life: if we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.

Flying insects are vital because they pollinate flowers and many, not least bees, are important for pollinating key food crops. Most fruit crops are insect-pollinated and insects also provide food for lots of animals, including birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and important decomposers, breaking down dead plants and animals. And insects form the base of thousands of food chains; their disappearance is a principal reason Britain’s farmland birds have more than halved in number since 1970.

Is this one aspect of the silence Carson warned of – that joyous season of renewal and awakening void of birdsong (and much else)? Truly a silent spring.

The 2016 State of Nature Report found that one in 10 UK wildlife species is threatened with extinction, with numbers of certain creatures having plummeted by two thirds since 1970. The study showed the abundance of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters over a 25-year period.

Campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason has written to public officials on numerous occasions noting that agrochemicals, especially Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup, have devastated the natural environment and have also led to spiralling rates of illness and disease.

She indicates how the widespread use on agricultural crops of neonicotinoid insecticides and the herbicide glyphosate, both of which cause immune suppression, make species vulnerable to emerging infectious pathogens, driving large-scale wildlife extinctions, including essential pollinators.

Providing evidence to show how human disease patterns correlate remarkably well with the rate of glyphosate usage on corn, soy and wheat crops, which has increased due to ‘Roundup Ready’ seeds, Mason argues that over-reliance on chemicals in agriculture is causing irreparable harm to all beings on the planet.

In 2015, writer Carol Van Strum said the US Environmental Protection Agency has been routinely lying about the safety of pesticides since it took over pesticide registrations in 1970.

She has described how faked data and fraudulent tests led to many highly toxic agrochemicals reaching the market and they still remain in use, regardless of the devastating impacts on wildlife and human health.

The research from Germany mentioned above followed a warning by a chief scientific adviser to the UK government, Prof Ian Boyd, who claimed that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored.”

Prior to that particular warning, there was a report delivered to the UN Human Rights Council saying that pesticides have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole.

Authored by Hilal Elver, the then special rapporteur on the right to food, and Baskut Tuncak, who was at the time special rapporteur on toxics, the report states:

Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.

Elver says that the power of the corporations over governments and the scientific community is extremely important: if you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies which deny the damage inflicted by their chemicals as they continue to aggressively market their products

While these corporations falsely claim their products are essential for feeding a burgeoning global population, they also mouth platitudes about choice and democracy, while curtailing both as they infiltrate and subvert regulatory agencies and government machinery.

Whether it is the well-documented harm to the environment or tales of illness and disease in Latin America and elsewhere, the devastating impacts of chemical-intensive agriculture which the agribusiness-agritech corporations rollout is clear to see.

Corporate criminals  

Post-1945 the nutritional value of what we eat has been depleted due to reliance on a narrower range of crops, the side-lining of traditional seeds which produced nutrient-dense plants and modern ‘cost-effective’ food-processing methods that strip out vital micronutrients and insert a cocktail of chemical additives.

Fuelling these trends has been a network of interests, including the Rockefeller Foundation and its acolytes in the US government, giant agribusiness conglomerates like Cargill, the financial-industrial complex and its globalisation agenda (which effectively further undermined localised, indigenous food systems) and the giant food corporations and the influential groups they fund, such as the International Life Sciences Institute.

Included here in this network is the agrochemical-agritech sector which promotes its proprietary chemicals and (genetically-engineered) seeds through a well-developed complex of scientists, politicians, journalists, lobbyists, PR companies and front groups.

Consider what investigative journalist Carey Gillam says:

US Roundup litigation began in 2015 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Internal Monsanto documents dating back decades show that the company was aware of scientific research linking its weed killer to cancer but instead of warning consumers, the company worked to suppress the information and manipulate scientific literature.

Over the years, Monsanto mounted a deceitful defence of its health- and environment-damaging Roundup and its genetically engineered crops and orchestrated toxic smear campaigns against anyone – scientist or campaigner – who threatened its interests.

In 2016, Rosemary Mason wrote an open letter to European Chemicals Agency Executive Director Geert Dancet: Open Letter to the ECHA about Scientific Fraud and Ecocide. More of an in-depth report than a letter, it can be accessed on the academia.edu site.

In it, she explained how current EU legislation was originally set up to protect the pesticides industry and Monsanto and other agrochemical corporations helped the EU design the regulatory systems for their own products.

She also drew Dancet’s attention to the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology and how, in 2016 Volume 46, Monsanto commissioned five reviews published in a supplement to the journal.  Monsanto also funded them. Mason argues the aim was to cast serious doubts about the adverse effects of glyphosate by using junk science. Straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook.

Mason told Dancet:

CEO Hugh Grant and the US EPA knew that glyphosate caused all of these problems. The corporation concealed the carcinogenic effects of PCBs on humans and animals for seven years. They have no plans to protect you and your families from the tsunami of sickness that is affecting us all in the UK and the US.

Meanwhile, on the US Right to Know site, the article Roundup Cancer Cases – Key Documents and Analysis sets out just why more than 100,000 cancer sufferers are attempting to hold Monsanto to account in US courts.

In a just (and sane) world, CEOs would be held personally responsible for the products they peddle and earn millions from. But no doubt they would do their utmost to dodge culpability.

After all, they were ‘just doing their job’ – and they would not want to feel harassed or burdened, would they?

The post From Rachel Carson to Monsanto: The Silence of Spring   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Propaganda 101: Ukraine 2022 

During 2011, NATO bombed a path to Tripoli to help its proxy forces on the ground oust Gaddafi. Tens of thousands lost their lives and much of Libya’s social fabric and infrastructure lay in ruins.

The 2016 article appearing in Foreign Policy Journal ‘Hillary Emails Reveal True Motive for Libyan Intervention’ exposed why Libya was targeted. Gaddafi was murdered and his plans to assert African independence and undermine Western hegemony on that continent were rendered obsolete.

A March 2013 Daily Telegraph article ‘US and Europe in ‘major airlift of arms to Syrian rebels through Zagreb’’ reported that 3,000 tons of weapons dating back to the former Yugoslavia had been sent in 75 planeloads from Zagreb airport to rebels.

In the same month of that year, The New York Times ran the article ‘Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands with CIA Aid’, stating that Arab governments and Turkey had sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters. This aid included more than 160 military cargo flights.

In his book The Dirty War on Syria, Tim Anderson describes how the West and its allies were instrumental in organising and then fuelling that conflict.

Over the last two decades, politicians and the media have been manipulating popular sentiment to get an increasingly war-fatigued Western public to support ongoing conflicts under the notion of ‘protecting civilians’ or a ‘war on terror’.

A yarn is spun about securing women’s rights or fighting terrorists, removing despots (possessing non-existent WMDs) from power or protecting human life to justify military attacks, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of civilian lives and the displacement of many more.

Emotive language designed to instill fear about terror threats or ‘humanitarian intervention’ is used as a pretext to wage imperialist wars in mineral-rich countries and geo-strategically important regions.

Although it has been referred to in many articles over the years, it is worth mentioning again retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark and a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense that he was told about just a few weeks after 9/11. It revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years,” starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran”. Clark argued this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources.

Part of the battle for the public’s hearts and minds is to convince people to regard these wars and conflicts as a disconnected array of events, not the planned machinations of empire. For the last decade, the ongoing narrative about Russian aggression has been part of the strategy.

Anglo-American financial-corporate interests have long been seeking to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia to prevent closer economic alignment. Aside from the expansion of NATO and installation of missile systems in Eastern Europe targeting Russia, there has also been the ever-tightening economic sanctions which the EU has largely been compelled to go along with.

Back in 2014, the proposed (but never implemented) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was part of the broader geopolitical game plan to weaken Western Europe by making it even more dependent on the US and to divide the European continent by side-lining Russia. While the TTIP may appear to have had nothing to do with what was happening in Ukraine in 2014 (the coup) or Syria, it was a cog in the machine to cement US hegemony.

Much more can be (and has been) written about US strategies to undermine Russia’s fossil-fuel based economy, but the point is that US actions have for some time been aimed at weakening Russia.

The financial-industrial-military complex is setting this agenda, hammered out behind closed doors in its various forums. Those who sit at the top of this complex fine-tune their plans within powerful think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute (documented in Brian Berletic’s 2012 article ‘Naming Names: Your Real Government’) as well as at the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg and NATO, as described in the 2008 book by David Rothkopf, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making.

It is worthwhile noting the 2019 report ‘Overextending and Unbalancing Russia’ by the influential US policy think tank the Rand Corporation. The document sets out various scenarios for destabilising and weakening Russia, including “imposing deeper trade and financial sanctions” and “providing lethal aid to Ukraine” but without provoking “a much wider conflict in which Russia, by reason of proximity, would have significant advantages”.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia did not happen out of the blue. It is not the result of the machinations of a power-hungry madman hellbent on taking over Europe, a notion that mainstream commentators have for a number of years tried to embed in the psyche of the Western public.

A recent analysis appearing on the India-based news channel WION, ‘Did NATO push Ukraine into war?’, provides the type of insightful analysis of events absent from the Western media. It succinctly outlines Russia’s valid concerns about NATO’s expansionist thrust into Eastern Europe and how successive US administrations ignored these concerns for many years, including those from top officials in Washington itself.

That such an analysis remains off the Western media agenda is of no surprise. Prominent journalists in key media outlets are essential foot soldiers whose role is to support power. They are groomed for their positions by various means (the British-American Project being a case in point) as they climb the well-paid career ladder.

Notwithstanding the countless civilian casualties and the suffering currently in Ukraine, a country being used as a pawn in a geopolitical war, there are also the effects of disrupted energy supplies and fertilizer and food exports from Ukraine and Russia which will impact possibly hundreds of millions across the world.

For instance, the war could unleash a “hurricane of hunger” and poverty with the World Bank estimating that the average person in Sub-Saharan Africa will be spending about 35% of their income on food in 2023 if the war in Ukraine drags on. It was a little more than 20% in 2017. Elsewhere, in places like South Asia and the Middle East, the increase could be worse.

But this is merely ‘collateral damage’ worth imposing on others in the calculations of those who determine what the ‘price worth paying’ is and who will pay it.

Nevertheless, the public has been encouraged to support a strategy of increasing tension towards Russia, culminating in the situation we now see in Ukraine, by a media which plays its part well. The media serves as a key cheerleader for US-led wars and ensures the civilian wounded and dead of those conflicts are kept out of the headlines and off the screens, unlike the current situation in Ukraine whose victims receive 24/7 coverage across the major media outlets.

But this comes as little surprise. Former CIA boss General Petraeus stated in 2006 that his strategy was to wage a war of perceptions conducted continuously through the news media.

Many readers will be aware of the revelation back in 2015 about the former editor of a major German newspaper who said he planted stories for the CIA. Udo Ulfkotte claimed he accepted news items written and given to him by the agency and published them under his own name in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

While this came as a shock to many, it was noted decades ago by former senior British intelligence officer Peter Wright (author of the 1987 autobiographical book ‘Spycatcher’) that many top journalists in the UK were associated with MI5.

It was another former CIA boss, William Casey, who in the 1980s said:

We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.

Civilian suffering is given full media coverage when it can be used to tug at the emotional heartstrings in order to sway public opinion. Made-for-media outpourings of morality about good and evil are designed to create outrage and support for more ‘interventions’.

The shaping of public opinion is not a haphazard affair. It is now sophisticated and well established.

Take, for instance, the harvesting of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica to shape the outcomes of the US election a few years back and the Brexit campaign. According to journalist Liam O’Hare writing in 2018, its now defunct parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) conducted ‘behavioural change’ programmes in more than 60 countries. Its clients included the British Ministry of Defence, the US State Department and NATO.

According to O’Hare, among SCL’s activities in Europe were campaigns targeting Russia. The company had “sweeping links” with Anglo-American political and military interests. In the UK, the interests of the governing Conservative Party and military-intelligence players were brought together via SCL: board members included “an array of Lords, Tory donors, ex-British army officers and defence contractors”.

For O’Hare, all SCL’s activities were inextricably linked to its Cambridge Analytica arm.

He states:

We finally have the most concrete evidence yet of shadowy actors using dirty tricks in order to rig elections. But these operators aren’t operating from Moscow… they are British, Eton educated, headquartered in the City of London and have close ties to Her Majesty’s government.

Welcome to the world of mass deception à la Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels.

With talk of a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine, sanctions on Russia which Putin says are “akin to a declaration of war” and Biden calling Putin a “war criminal”, the world now finds itself in a ‘thinking the unthinkable’ scenario that was totally avoidable.

The day before the invasion of Ukraine, Putin stated on Russian TV:

Whoever tries to get in our way and create further threats to our country and our people must know that Russia’s response will come immediately and will lead to consequences without precedent in history. All the necessary decisions have been taken.

President of the German Council on Foreign Relations Thomas Enders has since responded by calling for a no-fly zone in western Ukraine, which would most likely lead to direct military involvement by NATO:

It is time for the West to expose Putin’s nuclear threats for what they really are – a bluff to deter Western governments from military intervention.

Speaking on TV in 2021, prominent US politician and Iraq war veteran Tulsi Gabbard spelt out the consequences of a war with Russia over Ukraine. With thousands of nuclear weapons that the US and Russia have aimed at each other, she said that a nuclear exchange would “exact a cost on every one of us that would result in excruciating death and suffering beyond comprehension”.

And yet, despite what Gabbard warns of, the arrogance and recklessness of power brokers is displayed each day for all to see.

Although it may be regarded as political posturing – in a centuries-old ‘great game’ played out by the ruling elites that boils down to oil, gas, minerals, power, wealth, ego and strategic and military dominance – talk of direct NATO intervention or Putin’s implied threat about the use of nuclear weapons ultimately amounts to those at the pinnacle of power risking gambling away your life and the lives of every living creature on the planet.

The post Propaganda 101: Ukraine 2022  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

War and a “Hurricane of Hunger”: Transforming Food Systems  

On Monday, 14 March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a “hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system” in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine.

Guterres said:

Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. Supply chains are being disrupted. And the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels.

He added that this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.

Poorer countries had already been struggling to recover from the lockdowns and the closing down of much of the global economy. There is now rising inflation and interest rates and increased debt burdens.

Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. Together, Russia and Ukraine produce more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and 30% of the world’s wheat. Some 45 African and least-developed countries import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia with 18 of them importing at least 50%.

Prior to the current crisis, prices for fuel and fertilizer had been rising. It was clear before COVID and the war in Ukraine that long global supply chains and dependency on (imported) inputs and fossil fuels made the prevailing food system vulnerable to regional and global shocks.

The coronavirus lockdowns disrupted transport and production activities, exposing the weaknesses of the system. Now, due to a combination of supply disruption, sanctions and Russia restricting exports of inorganic fertilisers, the global food regime is again facing potential turmoil, resulting in food price increases and possible shortages.

Aside from it being a major producer and exporter of natural gas (required for manufacturing certain fertilizers), Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer and the world’s largest exporter of crude.

The fragility of an oil-dependent globalised food system is acutely apparent at this particular time, when Russian fossil-fuel energy supplies are threatened.

Writing in 2005, Norman J Church stated:

Vast amounts of oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilisers and pesticides and as cheap and readily available energy at all stages of food production: from planting, irrigation, feeding and harvesting, through to processing, distribution and packaging. In addition, fossil fuels are essential in the construction and the repair of equipment and infrastructure needed to facilitate this industry, including farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has also affected global fertilizer supply chains, with both countries moving to suspend their fertilizer exports. The major markets for Russian fertilizers include Brazil and the EU and US. In 2021, Russia was the largest exporter of urea, NPKs, ammonia, urea/ammonium nitrate solution and ammonium nitrate and the third-largest potash exporter. Fertilizer prices for farmers have spiked and could lead to an increase in food costs.

It all indicates that regional and local community-owned food systems based on short(er) food supply chains that can cope with future shocks are required. How we cultivate food also needs to change.

recent article on the Agricultural and Rural Convention website (ACR2020) states:

What we urgently need now to invest in is a new local and territorial infrastructure for food production and processing which transforms the agro-industrial food system into a resilient decentralized food supply system. The war in Ukraine reveals the extreme vulnerability of food supply, far from the food security of actual food sovereignty.

The agri-food and global trade system is heavily reliant on synthetic fertilizers and fossil fuels. However, agroecological and regionally resilient approaches would result in less dependency on such commodities.

The 2017 report Towards a Food Revolution: Food Hubs and Cooperatives in the US and Italy offers some pointers for creating sustainable support systems for small food producers and food distribution. These systems would be based on short supply chains and community-supported agriculture. This involves a policy paradigm shift that prioritises the local over the global: small farms, local markets, renewable on-farm resources, diverse agroecological cropping and food sovereignty.

An approach based on local and regional food self-sufficiency rather than dependency on costly far away imported supplies and off-farm (proprietary) inputs.

The 2020 paper Reshaping the European Agro-food System and Closing its Nitrogen Cycle says an organic-based, agri-food system could be implemented in Europe that would reinforce the continent’s autonomy, feed the predicted population in 2050 and allow the continent to continue to export cereals to countries which need them for human consumption.

The question is how can this be achieved, especially when influential agribusiness and retail conglomerates regard such an approach as a threat to their business models.

The 2021 report A Long Food Movement: Transforming Food Systems by 2045 offers useful insights. Authored by ETC Group and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), the document says grassroots organisations, international NGOs, farmers’ and fishers’ groups, cooperatives and unions need to collaborate more closely to transform financial flows, governance structures and food systems from the ground up.

During times of war, sanctions or environmental disaster, systems of production and consumption often undergo radical transformation. If the past two years have told us anything, it is that transforming food systems is required now more than ever.

Colin Todhunter’s new e-book Food, Dependency and Dispossession: Resisting the New World Order can be read for free here

The post War and a “Hurricane of Hunger”: Transforming Food Systems   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Economic Restructuring, Democratic Deficit and Locking Down Liberty  

Remember how the notion of freedom was spun by the ideologues of neoliberalism for decades prior to COVID? The freedom to consume. The freedom to make money. The freedom to be plunged into poverty and debt.       

Platitudes about ‘individual responsibility’ and ‘standing on your own two feet’. A relentless ideological attack on the state and collective responsibility. The doctrine of ‘no such thing as society’ Thatcherism. Ideologically, at least, the individual and ‘the market’ were paramount. But in reality, of course, there was no genuine rolling back of the state: its machinery was used differently to facilitate the needs of global capital while attacking the labour movement. 

In all this ‘freedom’, there was never much talk in the mainstream political and media narrative about the plight of the poor or workers who felt the brutal effects of the brave new world of neoliberal capitalism. 

Never sufficient analysis about offshoring manufacturing and service-sector jobs to cheap labour economies to boost profits. This was merely presented as efficiency and job creation for poorer countries, as if the owners of industry were on some kind of humanitarian mission. 

But it was only ever the old colonialist mentality passed off in new clothing. 

Today, this mentality manifests by subjecting poorer nations to IMF-World Bank ‘structural adjustment’ directives and beating them into being ‘business friendly’ and compliant with the needs of global (Western) capital. Spin it any way you like, whether ‘foreign direct investment’ or ‘liberalising’ the economy, it amounts to richer countries merely using or loaning back money to the poorer countries (with strings) that they stole from them over the centuries. 

Courtesy of lop-sided trade deals, the WTO and the international financial institutions, we see a model of ‘development’ characterised by indebtedness, displaced populations resulting from ‘infrastructure projects’ (to facilitate the needs of capital) and a deliberate running down of indigenous models of agriculture. 

There was not much talk about ‘freedom’ in relation to the subsequent state-corporate economic brutality experienced by society’s most marginalised, highlighted, for instance, by Arundhati Roy in The Ghosts of Capitalism – the ‘invisible’ and shoved-aside victims of a rampant neoliberalism, with a good dose of state-backed violence always on hand to secure compliance.

Their ‘freedom’ never amounted to much in the first place. 

Economic structural violence waged against people, economies and ecosystems courtesy of elite interests bent on monopolising energy, money, food, land and violence across the globe. 

Yet the system now purports to care about the well-being of those it persistently regards as ‘collateral damage’ and ‘economic fodder’. A system that by its very nature concentrates money, control and power at the top of the pyramid. 

Consider that prior to COVID, Pfizer was “the least trusted company in the least trusted industrial sector in the United States”, according to Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice. 

But we are supposed to have faith in Pfizer and disregard its lengthy corporate rap sheet and its unscrupulous profiteering practices regarding its COVID vaccine rollout across the globe. We are supposed to trust its products and its vaccine data that it is trying so hard, with help from the US Food and Drug Administration, to keep from the public. 

At the same time, to facilitate uptake of Pfizer’s injections, we hear a lot about ‘collective responsibility’. A much-maligned concept in a dog-eat-dog neoliberal regime. Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau and others spin vaccine sceptics’ talk of ‘freedom of choice’ regarding what is allowed to be injected into their own bodies as selfish and the domain of right-wing women haters and fascists. 

The right to protest, to free speech, to associate and so forth were (and often continue to be) suspended as people were locked down waiting for ‘the vaccine’ thanks to a virus that mainly targets those over 80 and those with compromised immune systems due to existing (serious) morbidities. 

We have seen all manner of state interference in the private lives of citizens over the past two years. 

Political leaders like Macron, Trudeau, Biden, Merkel and Arden – the frontline managers and facilitators of private capital – have seemingly become so concerned about the public’s welfare that their freedoms and rights must be trampled on by the state. 

Those who demand freedom and have questioned the mainstream COVID narrative have been labelled ‘anti-vaxxers’, ‘granny killers’, irresponsible and as prioritising their own selfish needs over those of the collective. 

Even those who claim to be of the ‘left’ have become part of the ideological apparatus of the state: joining in the chorus and defending tyranny as well as Big Pharma’s rushed-to-market injections and its right to your body and right to make billions in the process. 

Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine brought in $37bn in 2021. Nick Dearden calculates the NHS has paid a mark-up of at least £2bn – six times the cost of the pay rise the UK government agreed to give nurses last year. 

Moreover, Dearden argues companies like Pfizer behave more like hedge funds, buying up and controlling other firms and intellectual property, rather than traditional medical research companies. 

He says: 

The truth is, they aren’t the sole inventors of the vaccine. That was the work of public money, university research and a much smaller company, Germany’s BioNTech. As one former US government official complained, the fact we call it the ‘Pfizer’ vaccine is ‘the biggest marketing coup in the history of American pharmaceuticals’.

Even though many on the ‘left’ have campaigned against the brutality of capitalism over the years, they bought into the fear propaganda from the start without question, helping to pave the way for pharma’s distorted profits, the destruction of small businesses and the loss of countless livelihoods due to lockdowns. 

Many stood by in silence and watched the mega rich accrue enormous profits. Research by Oxfam has shown that the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn between March and December 2020. The world’s 10 richest billionaires collectively saw their wealth increase by $540bn over this period. In September 2020, Jeff Bezos could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID. 

While lockdowns and restrictions were imposed on ordinary people and small businesses, the winners were the likes of Amazon, Big Pharma and the tech giants. The losers were small enterprises and the bulk of the population, deprived of their right to work and an entire panoply of civil rights. 

A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated that COVID-19 policies had severely disrupted economies and labour markets in all world regions, with estimated losses of working hours equivalent to nearly 400 million full-time jobs in the second quarter of 2020, most of which were in emerging and developing countries. 

Among the most vulnerable were the 1.6 billion informal economy workers, representing half of the global workforce, who were working in sectors experiencing major job losses or had seen their incomes seriously affected by lockdowns. Most of these were self-employed and in low-income jobs in the informal sector. 

For policies that were supposedly brought in to protect health, there has also been immense damage resulting in lengthy non-COVID healthcare waiting lists for all manner of life-threatening diseases and conditions. 

A more logical approach to protecting public health would have involved the promotion of a targeted strategy based on risk along with early intervention treatments as set out in the Great Barrington Declaration. But this was not even up for debate. Censorship and smears were the norm. 

Locking the global population in their homes, or in places like India compelling millions to walk huge distances or travel in crowded conditions to return to the countryside, until a vaccine was made available smacks of incompetence or worse – a predetermined agenda. 

Writing in the Contemporary Voice of Dalit journal (31 October 2021), researchers Krishna Ram and Shivani Yadav note the effects of COVID policies in India: 

The economic tumult caused by the pandemic over the past two years has the potential to double the nation’s poverty… Our calculations show that around 150–199 million additional people will fall under poverty in 2021–2022; a majority of which are from rural areas, owing to the immiserate nature of the rural economy. Further disaggregation reveals that the SC/ST [Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes], casual labour and the self-employed are the most impacted groups.

It is clear who was influencing the lockdown-COVID public health policy. In a report by Yohan Tengra of the Awaken India Movement, it is described how the Gates Foundation and Big Pharma have infiltrated and co-opted key public health institutions at the national level in India, not least the COVID-19 National Task Force. 

Tengra says the report has exposed: 

… not just the names of those who are sitting in this task force but also how they are financially connected to the pharmaceutical industry and vaccine mafia. This task force has been responsible for the aggressive push to lockdown, mandatory mask requirements, forced testing of asymptomatics, dropping ivermectin and hcq from the national protocol, suppressing vaccine adverse events and a lot more!

It was fitting that an MP recently asked in Canada’s parliament just who does the government serve: Klaus Schawb and the World Economic Forum (WEF) or Canadian citizens? 

A pertinent question. But any enquiry should also look to include the wider digital-financial-industrial complex which has used COVID as cover for bailing out financial markets and restructuring capitalism and trying to manage the long-term falling rate of profit. 

These issues are at the heart of the ‘Great Reset’ or ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ that Klauss Schwab and others talk of. Concepts that – like neoliberal globalisation in the 1980s – are given a positive spin and which supposedly symbolise a brave new techno-utopian future. 

The WEF, Big Finance, Big Tech, the Gates Foundation and Big Pharma have been heavily promoting the COVID-Great Reset agenda from the start. This has to date resulted in the reinvigoration of an ailing pharma sector with a multi-billion-dollar windfall, the eradication of smaller firms and jobs, cementing the dominance of the online retail giants, global chains and the digital payments sector and the injection of much-needed liquidity into what were by late 2019/early 2020 collapsing financial markets. 

In the 1980s, to help legitimise the deregulated neoliberal agenda, government and media instigated an ideological onslaught, pressing home the notion of individual rights and responsibility and emphasising a shift away from the state, trade unions and the public sector. This reflected economic changes underpinned by notions of the primacy of the market and individual consumer choice.  

But there is now a new ideological shift. We hear claims of a ‘democratic deficit’, whereby individual rights are said to be undermining the wider needs of society. The message is that individual freedom is posing a threat to ‘national security’, ‘public health’ and ‘safety’.” As a result, there must be clampdowns on the right to travel, associate and protest and on freedom of speech.  

As stated by journalist Iain Davis in a recent article, a commitment to the ‘public interest’, ‘safety’ and protecting the population from ‘harm’ will replace freedom and democracy. Technocracy: The Operating System For The New International Rules-Based Order (unlimitedhangout.com) 

As in the 1980s, this messaging is being driven by economic factors. Neoliberalism has privatised, deregulated, exploited workers and optimised debt to the limit. We have collapsing markets kept afloat by endless financial injections and an overall declining rate of profit with firms suffocating under mountains of debt. 

AI and advanced automation of production, distribution and service provision (3D manufacturing, drone technology, driverless vehicles, lab grown food, farmerless farms, robotics, etc) are also on the horizon. 

A mass labour force – and therefore mass education, mass welfare, mass healthcare provision and entire systems that were in place to reproduce labour for capitalist economic activity – might in the near future no longer be required. Labour’s relationship to capital is being transformed. So, if labour is the condition for the existence of the working class, why bother with the working class?  

COVID has accelerated economic restructuring and the shift towards an authoritarian form of capitalism that is ultimately to be based on a Chinese-style social credit system to ensure the population complies with its coming servitude.  

Former WEF-sponsored ‘young global leaders’ like Trudeau, Macron, Merkel and Arden rose to the political helm of various countries after having been suitably groomed. They will continue to fulfill their roles by managing dissent through mass surveillance and clamping down on civil rights as the effects of inflation (induced by the liquidity injected into the system), joblessness and post-COVID austerity measures kick in. 

They will, of course, still facilitate freedom: the freedom of the billionaire class to continue to plunder across the globe. And the freedom for citizens to submit. 

 

The post Economic Restructuring, Democratic Deficit and Locking Down Liberty   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

An Inconvenient Truth:  The Peasant Food Web Feeds the World

In October 2020, CropLife International said that its new strategic partnership with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) would contribute to sustainable food systems. It added that it was a first for the industry and the FAO and demonstrates the determination of the plant science sector to work constructively in a partnership where common goals are shared.

A powerful trade and lobby association, CropLife International counts among its members the world’s largest agricultural biotechnology and pesticide businesses: Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, FMC, Corteva and Sumitoma Chemical. Under the guise of promoting plant science technology, the association first and foremost looks after the interests (bottom line) of its member corporations.

Not long after the CropLife-FAO partnership was announced, PAN (Pesticide Action Network) Asia Pacific along with 350 organisations wrote a letter to FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu urging him to stop the collaboration and for good reason.

A 2020 joint investigation by Unearthed (Greenpeace) and Public Eye (a human rights NGO) revealed that BASF, Corteva, Bayer, FMC and Syngenta bring in billions of dollars by selling toxic chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose serious health hazards.

It also found more than a billion dollars of their sales came from chemicals – some now banned in European markets – that are highly toxic to bees. Over two thirds of these sales were made in low- and middle-income countries like Brazil and India.

The Political Declaration of the People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 stated that global corporations are increasingly infiltrating multilateral spaces to co-opt the narrative of sustainability to secure further industrialisation, the extraction of wealth and labour from rural communities and the concentration of corporate power.

With this in mind, a major concern is that CropLife International will now seek to derail the FAO’s commitment to agroecology and push for the further corporate colonisation of food systems.

The July 2019 UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts Report concluded that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture. This report formed part of the FAO’s ongoing commitment to agroecology.

But agroecology represents a direct challenge to the interests of CropLife members. With the emphasis on localisation and on-farm inputs, agroecology does not require dependency on proprietary chemicals, seeds and knowledge nor the long-line global supply chains dominated by transnational agrifood corporations.

There does now appear to be an ideological assault from within the FAO on alternative development and agrifood models that threaten CropLife International’s member interests.

In the report ‘Who Will Feed Us? The Industrial Food Chain vs the Peasant Food Web (ETC Group, 2017), it was shown that a diverse network of small-scale producers (the peasant food web) actually feeds 70% of the world, including the most hungry and marginalised.

The flagship report indicated that only 24% of the food produced by the industrial food chain actually reaches people. Furthermore, it was shown that industrial food costs us more: for every dollar spent on industrial food, it costs another two dollars to clean up the mess.

However, two prominent papers have since claimed that small farms feed only 35% of the global population.

One of the papers is ‘How much of our world’s food do smallholders produce?’ (Ricciardi et al, 2018).

The other is an FAO report, ‘Which farms feed the world and has farmland become more concentrated? (Lowder et al, 2021).

Eight key organisations have just written to the FAO sharply criticising the Lowder paper which reverses a number of well-established positions held by the organisation. The letter is signed by the Oakland Institute, Landworkers Alliance, ETC Group, A Growing Culture, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, GRAIN, Groundswell International and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The open letter calls on the FAO to reaffirm that peasants (including small farmers, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers and urban producers) provide more food with fewer resources and are the primary source of nourishment for at least 70% of the world population.

ETC Group has also published the 16-page report ‘Small-scale Farmers and Peasants Still Feed the World‘ in response to the two papers, indicating how the authors indulged in methodological and conceptual gymnastics and certain important omissions to arrive at the 35% figure – not least by changing the definition of ‘family farmer’ and by defining a ‘small farm’ as less than 2 ha. This contradicts the FAO’s own decision in 2018 to reject a universal land area threshold for describing small farms in favour of more sensitive country-specific definitions.

The Lowder et al paper also contradicts recent FAO and other reports that state peasant farms produce more food and more nutritious food per hectare than large farms. It maintains that policy makers are wrongly focused on peasant production and should give greater attention to larger production units.

The signatories of the open letter to the FAO strongly disagree with the Lowder study’s assumption that food production is a proxy for food consumption and that the commercial value of food in the marketplace can be equated with the nutritional value of the food consumed.

The paper feeds into an agribusiness narrative that attempts to undermine the effectiveness of peasant production in order to promote its proprietary technologies and agrifood model.

Smallholder peasant farming is regarded by these conglomerates as an impediment. Their vision is fixated on a narrow yield-output paradigm based on the bulk production of commodities that is unwilling to grasp an integrated social-cultural-economic-agronomic systems approach that accounts for the likes of food sovereignty and diverse nutrition production per acre.

This systems approach also serves to boost rural and regional development based on thriving, self-sustaining local communities rather than eradicating them and subordinating whoever remains to the needs of global supply chains and global markets. Industry lobbyists like to promote the latter as ‘responding to the needs of modern agriculture’ rather than calling it for what it is: corporate imperialism.

The FAO paper concludes that the world small farms only produce 35% of the world’s food using 12% of agricultural land. But ETC Group says that by working with the FAO’s normal or comparable databases, it is apparent that peasants nourish at least 70% of the world’s people with less than one third of the agricultural land and resources.

But even if 35% of food is produced on 12% of land, does that not suggest we should be investing in small, family and peasant farming rather than large-scale chemical-intensive agriculture?

While not all small farms might be practising agroecology or chemical-free agriculture, they are more likely to be integral to local markets and networks, short supply chains, food sovereignty, more diverse cropping systems and healthier diets. And they tend to serve the food requirements of communities rather than those of external business interests, institutional investors and shareholders half a world away.

When the corporate capture of a body occurs, too often the first casualty is truth.

The post An Inconvenient Truth:  The Peasant Food Web Feeds the World first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Right to Healthy Food: Comorbidities and COVID-19

In early 2020, we saw the beginning of the COVID-19 ‘pandemic’. The world went into lockdown and even after lockdowns in various countries had been lifted, restrictions continued. Data now shows that lockdowns seemingly had limited, if any, positive impacts on the trajectory of COVID-19 and in 2022 the world – especially the poor – is paying an immense price not least in terms of loss of income, loss of livelihoods, the deterioration of mental and physical health, the eradication of civil liberties, disrupted supply chains and shortages.

The mortality rate for COVID-19 patients is linked to their comorbid conditions. In the US, the Center for Disease Control provides a list of comorbid conditions in COVID-19 patients, which includes cancer, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, Down syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Research conducted in a German hospital shows that for those who died after SARS-CoV-2 infection the median number of chronic comorbidities was four and ranged from three to eight. Arterial hypertension was the most prevalent chronic condition (65.4%), followed by obesity (38.5%), chronic ischemic heart disease (34.6%), atrial fibrillation (26.9%) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (23.1%). Of all patients, 15.4% had diabetes type II and chronic renal failure was noticed in 11.5%. The data suggests severe chronic comorbidities and health conditions in the majority of patients that had died after COVID-19.

The meta-analysis Prevalence of comorbidities in patients and mortality cases affected by SARS-CoV2: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2020) found that hypertension was the most prevalent comorbidity (affecting 32% of patients). Other common comorbidities included diabetes (22%) and heart disease (13%). The odds ratio of death for a patient with a comorbidity compared to one with no comorbidity was 2.4. The higher the prevalence of comorbidities the higher the odds that the COVID-19 patient will need intensive care or will die, especially if the pre-existing disease is hypertension, heart disease or diabetes.

In 2020, just 1,557 people aged 1-64 with no underlying co-morbidities were listed as having died from COVID in England and Wales out of a population of about 59 million. For the tens of thousands who were categorised as dying with COVID, co-morbidities were a major factor. UK data for 2020 shows that for ages 1-64 years, those who died with COVID had on average 1.71 co-morbidities. For those aged 65 and over, the figure is 2.02.

Patients with rare autoimmune rheumatic diseases have a 54% increased risk for COVID-19 infection and more than twice the risk for COVID-19 death, versus the general population, according to data published in the journal Rheumatology (2021).

In the paper ‘COVID-19 in patients with autoimmune diseases: characteristics and outcomes in a multinational network of cohorts across three countries’ (2021), which also appeared in Rheumatology, researchers compared influenza with COVID-19 and concluded that the latter is a more severe disease for people with these conditions, leading to added complications and higher mortality.

Of deaths in England and Wales where COVID-19 is listed, official government data shows the most common pre-existing condition recorded on the death certificate is diabetes (July to September 2021). This was identified in almost a quarter (22.5%) of ‘COVID deaths’.

Emerging data also suggests that obesity is a big risk factor for the progression of major complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), cytokine storm and coagulopathy in COVID-19.

A paper posted on the Center for Disease Control website provides an overview of factors associated with Covid-19 deaths for a 12-month period. The study, Underlying Medical Conditions and Severe Illness Among 540,667 Adults Hospitalized with COVID-19, March 2020–March 2021, looked at records of hospitalised adults and found that 94.9% had at least one underlying medical condition. The authors conclude that certain underlying conditions and the number of conditions were associated with severe COVID-19 illness. Hypertension and disorders of lipid metabolism were the most frequent, whereas obesity, diabetes with complication and anxiety disorders were the strongest risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness.

Based on the findings, Dr Peregrino Brimahdata (a molecular biologist, medical doctor, college professor and a published researcher) notes that obesity by itself gave a 30% increased death risk, anxiety disorders gave a 29% increased risk of death and diabetes led to a 26% increased risk of death.

Brimahdata concludes that about two thirds of ‘COVID deaths’ were patients who may be regarded as grossly unhealthy.

From the data presented above, it is clear that the vast majority of ‘COVID deaths’ (dying with COVID) are people who has serious, ongoing health conditions, the prevalence of which among the population has been rising year on year for decades and accelerating.

Food system

Although hereditary factors are involved, scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London believe the growing popularity of Western-style diets is a major reason why autoimmune diseases are rising across the world by around 3% to 9% a year.

Professor James Lee from the institute recently told The Observer newspaper that human genetics has not altered over the past few decades, so something is changing in our environment that is increasing predisposition to autoimmune disease. His research team found that Western-style diets based on processed ingredients and with a lack of fresh vegetables can trigger autoimmune diseases.

Lee says that numbers of autoimmune cases began to increase about 40 years ago in the Western countries but are now also emerging in countries that never had such diseases before. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.

It is estimated that approximately four million people in the UK have an autoimmune disease.

A Western-style diet is characterised by highly processed and refined foods with high contents of sugars, salt, and fat and protein from red meat. It is a major contributor to metabolic disturbances and the development of obesity-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease – the top comorbidities where ‘COVID deaths’ are concerned.

But it goes beyond that because a lot of the health-related problems we see can also be traced back to modern farming methods and how food is cultivated, not least the toxic agrochemicals used. Michael McCarthy, writer and naturalist, says that three generations of industrialised farming with a vast tide of poisons pouring over the land year after year after year since the end of the Second World War is the true price of pesticide-based agriculture, which society has for so long blithely accepted.

Professor Carola Vinuesa, who heads another research team at the Francis Crick Institute, argues that fast-food diets can negatively affect a person’s microbiome – gut microorganisms which play a key role in controlling various bodily functions.

The gut microbiome can contain up to six pounds of bacteria and agrochemicals and poor diets are disturbing this ‘human soil’. Many important neurotransmitters are located in the gut. Aside from affecting the functioning of major organs, these transmitters affect our moods and thinking.

Findings published in the journal ‘Translational Psychiatry’ provide strong evidence that gut bacteria can have a direct physical impact on the brain. Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome have been implicated in a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including autism, chronic pain, depression and Parkinson’s Disease. Gut bacteria are also important for cognitive development in adolescence.

Changes to the gut microbiome are also linked to obesity. Increasing levels of obesity are associated with low bacterial richness in the gut. Indeed, it has been noted that tribes not exposed to the modern food system have richer microbiomes. Environmental campaigner Rosemary Mason lays the blame squarely at the door of agrochemicals, not least the use of the world’s most widely used herbicide, glyphosate.

Mason has written to the two professors from the Francis Crick Institute mentioned above, making it clear to them that it would be remiss to ignore the role pesticides play when it comes to the worrying rates of disease we now see. She brings their attention to concerning levels of glyphosate in certain cereals in the UK.

Based on an analysis of these cereals, Dr John Fagan, director of Health Research Laboratories, has concluded:

The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals… is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).

Mason also refers the two academics to the paper Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America in Journal of Organic Systems (2014)

It notes:

The herbicide glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and its use is accelerating with the advent of herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops. Evidence is mounting that glyphosate interferes with many metabolic processes in plants and animals and glyphosate residues have been detected in both. Glyphosate disrupts the endocrine system and the balance of gut bacteria, it damages DNA and is a driver of mutations that lead to cancer.

The researchers searched US government databases for GE crop data, glyphosate application data and disease epidemiological data. Correlation analyses were then performed on a total of 22 diseases in these time-series data sets. The Pearson correlation coefficients were highly significant between glyphosate applications and a wide range of diseases, including hypertension, stroke, diabetes prevalence, diabetes incidence, obesity, Alzheimer’s, senile dementia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal infections, end stage renal disease, acute kidney failure and various cancers. The Pearson correlation coefficients were also highly significant between the percentage of GE corn and soy planted in the US and most of the conditions listed above.

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, said:

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

Consider that little is being done to address the food-related public health crisis which, according to the data on co-morbidities, seems to be a major contribution to increased risk where COVID is concerned. Then consider that governments are going all out to vaccinate children for a virus that poses minimal or virtually no risk to them. There is no logic to this approach.

While there is currently much talk of the coronavirus placing immense strain on the NHS, the health service was already creaking due to spiralling rates of disease linked to the food we eat. But do we see a clampdown on the activities or products of the global agrochemical or the food conglomerates? Instead, we see that successive governments in the UK have worked hand in glove with them to ensure ‘business as usual’.

The UK government is going out of its way under the guise of a health crisis to undermine the public’s rights in order to manage risk and to ‘protect’ the NHS but is all too willing to oversee a massive, ongoing health crisis caused by the chemical pollution of our bodies.

The unvaccinated are being cast as irresponsible or much worse if we listen to the recent reprehensible outbursts from leaders like Macron or Trudeau (concerning a disease that is as risky as the flu for the vast majority of the population) for having genuine concerns about vaccine safety, waning efficacy and the logic behind mass vaccination across all ages and risk groups.

Given that underlying health conditions substantially increase risk where COVID-19 is concerned, it is clear where the real irresponsibility lies – with government inaction for decades in terms of failing to tackle the corporations behind the health-damaging food they produce.

The post The Right to Healthy Food: Comorbidities and COVID-19 first appeared on Dissident Voice.