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Saturday, May 17, 2003

David (ehr, Percy) vs. the GM Goliath

At 72, lifelong Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser never dreamed he'd be the poster boy in what he calls a worldwide struggle for farmers' rights and autonomy.

But five years and $200,000 in legal fees later, the Saskatchewan farmer said he will go down fighting St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. for the right of farmers to plant seed saved from one growing season in the next.

Schmeiser barely had heard of Monsanto before 1998, he said Friday at the Biodevastation 7 conference in St. Louis, a three-day gathering of opponents of genetic engineering.

He and his wife had scratched out a good life on 567 hectares in Western Canada as farmers and canola seed developers, saving seeds from high-yield harvests year to year, as growers have for centuries.

That year, Schmeiser was sued in federal court by Monsanto for raising herbicide-resistant canola from its genetically modified seed, which the company said is a violation of its patent rights. The suit would cost the couple their life savings and 25 years of seed research, Schmeiser said.

Monsanto said canola plants grown from its genetically altered seed had grown along a ditch on the Schmeiser farm in violation of the company's patent. Schmeiser contends the GM seed blew off a truck or came from someone else's field but Monsanto argued that's impossible. Schmeiser said he never bought Monsanto seed.

In May 2001, a judge ruled for Monsanto, saying it didn't matter how the genetically modified plant ended up on Schmeiser's property - bees, birds, wind or transport - it became Monsanto's property. Schmeiser said he had to forfeit his profits from his 1998 crop and was forbidden from using his plants or seed again because they were contaminated.

Read the entire article.

Posted by Richard
5/17/2003 09:26:28 AM | PermaLink

Friday, May 16, 2003

Appeals Don't Stall Most Forest Thinning Projects

"Healthy Forests" is outed as the right-wing scam to prevent the democratic process over how communities and the nation want to handle America's public lands. The Bush project has been to suggest that such "process" is harmful because it endlessly locks up in court necessary timber clearing that would prevent forest fires. But this, as this blog has endlessly posted about, has just been another great example of Bushspeak. In fact, this is a neoliberal fascist policy that seeks to give control of public spaces (via the government) to the corporations who can best profit through their management. In this case, the timber and mining industries are the two set up to profit the most from the passage of "Healthy Forests." But their clear-cutting of old growth trees, applying roads to what were suppossed to be roadless areas, and dredging of the eventual open land for minerals is hardly "healthy." In fact, we may very well look back in twenty years from today to find that many of the public wilderness that this legislation claimed it wanted to "protect" is no longer even forest. If paving paradise and putting up a parking lot is the way to save trees, then I must be mixed up indeed! I guess I can't wait for my next camping trip to the downtown mall...
95% of Wildfire Protection Projects on Target, GAO Says

Few forest thinning projects have been stalled by citizen appeals, a new government report has found, undermining the main argument on behalf of President Bush's "Healthy Forests" plan just days before the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on it. Although environmentalists and others objected to some logging and brush- clearing projects, the General Accounting Office report released Wednesday concluded the Forest Service was able to proceed on 95 percent of its wildfire protection projects within 90 days or less.

Read the entire article.

Posted by Richard
5/16/2003 08:58:36 AM | PermaLink

Remains of Toxic Bullets Litter Iraq

The following is a brave article in many ways -- Scott Peterson defied military orders and risked his own health to check out the radiation from depleted uranium sites in Iraq for himself. What he found confirms wholesale what DU scientists and activists have been saying for years and makes the military's domestic claim that "its safe and necessary" seem quite bogus indeed. It also makes the military seem bumbling and irresponsible, yet again, by pointing out that in many cases he saw signs left saying "Danger" due to depleted uranium -- but the signs were all in English and hardly anyone could understand them. Even so, he did see one in Arabic, only highlighting further that while DU is safe for media consumption here, its radioactive and toxic there. The article must be taken to task for whimping out at the end, however. It intimates that much less DU may have been used in this war, putting the reported military figure at 75 tons of bulletage. I've heard 97 as the figure myself, but regardless -- even if this figure is accurate (which I question) -- it represents only the DU from A-10 Warthog anti-tank planes. What about all the missles of Shock and Awe ladies and gentlemen? What about anti-tank panzer and ground troop weaponry -- all of which greatly exceeded Gulf War I. What about the Apache helicopters? In disagreement with this article, then, I see no reason whatsoever to move from the conservative estimate of twice the amount of DU used in this war -- but some have it as high as 1000 tons.
By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BAGHDAD - At a roadside produce stand on the outskirts of Baghdad, business is brisk for Latifa Khalaf Hamid. Iraqi drivers pull up and snap up fresh bunches of parsley, mint leaves, dill, and onion stalks.

But Ms. Hamid's stand is just four paces away from a burnt-out Iraqi tank, destroyed by - and contaminated with - controversial American depleted-uranium (DU) bullets. Local children play "throughout the day" on the tank, Hamid says, and on another one across the road.

No one has warned the vendor in the faded, threadbare black gown to keep the toxic and radioactive dust off her produce. The children haven't been told not to play with the radioactive debris. They gather around as a Geiger counter carried by a visiting reporter starts singing when it nears a DU bullet fragment no bigger than a pencil eraser. It registers nearly 1,000 times normal background radiation levels on the digital readout.

The Monitor visited four sites in the city - including two randomly chosen destroyed Iraqi armored vehicles, a clutch of burned American ammunition trucks, and the downtown planning ministry - and found significant levels of radioactive contamination from the US battle for Baghdad.

In the first partial Pentagon disclosure of the amount of DU used in Iraq, a US Central Command spokesman told the Monitor that A-10 Warthog aircraft - the same planes that shot at the Iraqi planning ministry - fired 300,000 bullets. The normal combat mix for these 30-mm rounds is five DU bullets to 1 - a mix that would have left about 75 tons of DU in Iraq.

The Monitor saw only one site where US troops had put up handwritten warnings in Arabic for Iraqis to stay away. There, a 3-foot-long DU dart from a 120 mm tank shell, was found producing radiation at more than 1,300 times background levels. It made the instrument's staccato bursts turn into a steady whine.

Read the full article.

Posted by Richard
5/16/2003 07:40:52 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Key Ocean Fish Species Ravaged, Study Finds

More data of the unprecedented global extinction of creatures that we are living through right now (and responsible for). In a side story, I read that biotech wizards are creating GM fish that will grow to full-size in a fraction of the time that it would normally take. I can see this being proposed as an answer here...Here is a link to a Nature article about world fisheries stocks from 2001 and here is the recent finding that large ocean fish are now at 10% levels:
Industrial fishing practices have decimated every one of the world's biggest and most economically important species of fish, according to a new and detailed global analysis that challenges current fisheries protection policies.

Fully 90 percent of each of the world's large ocean species, including cod, halibut, tuna, swordfish and marlin, has disappeared from the world's oceans in recent decades, according to the Canadian analysis -- the first to use historical data dating to the beginning of large-scale fishing, in the 1950s.

The new research found that fishing has become so efficient that it typically takes just 15 years to remove 80 percent or more of any species that becomes the focus of a fleet's attention. Some populations have disappeared within just a few years, belying the oceans' reputation as a refuge and resource of nearly infinite proportions.

Read the full article.

Posted by Richard
5/15/2003 03:29:43 PM | PermaLink

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

In a related story, Steve Best sent in that now that the War on Iraq is over, the US is filing suit with the WTO against the EU's 5 year rejection of American GM crops. This depsite the EU already declaring that they would give on cereals and rice (a mistake in my opinion). Here is a link to more info on biotech food and the US government's attempt to market it worldwide.

From: Organic Consumers Association

In an appointment all too typical of the Bush administration, Dan Amstutz has been put in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq. Amstutz is a former senior executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in the world.

Oxfam, an organization focused on world hunger, said this is an example of the potentially damaging commercialization of the reconstruction effort in Iraq, which it would prefer to see conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. Oxfam's Kevin Watkins said Amstutz would "arrive with a suitcase full of open-market rhetoric," and was more likely to try to dump cheap US grain on the potentially lucrative Iraqi market than encourage the country to rebuild its once-successful agricultural sector.

"Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission," said Watkins. "This guy is uniquely well-placed to advance the commercial interests of American grain companies and bust open the Iraqi market - but singularly ill-equipped to lead a reconstruction effort in a developing country."

Posted by Richard
5/14/2003 08:54:21 AM | PermaLink

Sonar Incident Prompts Focus on Legislation

Last week, a Naval Destroyer conducting sonar exercises as part of a training exercise endangered orca whales, a minke, and about 100 porpoises -- all of whom were seen clearly disturbed by the sonar and desperate to get away from the area. Now, bodies of porpoises are being found washed up along the region's coastlines. The article below -- which notes that the House Resource Committee has passed the military exemption to the Marine Mammals Protection Act -- tries to paint the Navy as generally good and working with local communities and the environment and that it is currently a pawn in the hands of Capital ideologues. I must say that this is a truly shocking strategy on the part of the NRDC -- whose truce apparently remains in effect w/ the Navy. Is this not the same Navy that has turned Vieques into a superfund site and left most begrudgingly? Is this the same Navy that has a long history of beaching whales from sonar use? God only knows what they do with all that trash aboard those floating cities they send out around the world...

No, the Navy is the Navy and they are what they are, but to paint them as law-abiding and environmentally friendly is a sham. This organization would love to be free of legal restrictions, and in fact, may already have the go-ahead from those on high "not to worry" about legal clauses that will be "gone tomorrow." While the NRDC claims that the Navy will admit "a mistake," in fact the Navy's response has been to deny a connection between the whale deaths and the sonar. Importantly, it has also claimed that the Destroyer never saw the whales -- for if they are in sight, the Navy is suppossed to turn its sonar off. I guess it's hard to see when you've got you're eyes shut tight:
The Navy might have violated federal law last week when USS Shoup employed high-intensity sonar around marine mammals, but that's the least of the concerns, environmentalists say.

"I happen to believe that what they did was a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act," said Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But Jasny said he's more worried about a bill working its way through Congress that would allow the military to ignore any harm to marine mammals.

U.S. and Canadian officials are investigating an incident in which the Shoup, a guided-missile destroyer based in Everett, apparently passed by the San Juan Islands using sonar that caused noticeable agitation to about 20 killer whales and up to 100 porpoises.

Observers said many of the animals tried to escape the pinging noise, which reverberated off the hulls of whale-watching boats in the area.

Commercial whale watchers remain on the lookout for behavioral changes in marine mammals, whose sensitive hearing could have been damaged by the noise.

Under U.S. and Canadian law, it is considered illegal to harm or harass marine mammals, which generally means anything that significantly alters their behavior.

Brian Gorman of NOAA Fisheries, which oversees the Marine Mammal Protection Act, said his agency is looking into the incident, but investigators have not reached a stage of formal inquiry, let alone enforcement.

"At this point, we need to know what went on and where it happened," Gorman said.

The Navy typically applies for federal permits when proposed actions are likely to disturb marine mammals, Jasny noted.

The bigger concern, he said, is a Bush administration proposal to give the Navy and other armed forces "blanket exemptions" from key environmental laws, including those dealing with marine mammals, endangered species and hazardous wastes.

"The great irony of this," Jasny said, "is that the (Navy) folks who are doing the work are largely doing an excellent job for conservation. It is the higher-level political appointees who are seizing this time in the wake of the Iraq war to push these provisions through."

The sonar incident was probably a "mistake," likely to be be admitted by the Navy, Jasny said. But if the environmental exemptions are approved, the Navy will not be accountable for such actions in the future.

Raising concerns about marine mammals, Jasny's organization is suing to stop the Navy's deployment of low-frequency active sonar, a new type of sonar designed for long-range surveillance.

The House Resources Committee approved the military exemption for marine mammals Wednesday, with most Democrats - including Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island - voting against it.

"These bills are driven by the folks who have wanted to gut the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act from the day they were enacted," Inslee said. "These changes were not requested by the Navy."

Inslee said he wants to talk to Navy officials about the need for more flexibility. But the law already allows harm to marine mammals, provided the activity is studied and permitted.

"To its credit, the Navy has been good at working with local communities," Inslee said. "They have shown tremendous sensitivity to environmental issues in our state. It is unfortunate that certain ideologues are trying to beat the drums of anti-environmentalism."

Because the bills are opposed by a number of Republicans, they might never come to a full vote, Inslee said.

Several West Coast environmental and research groups say the Navy could foster research partnerships by allowing studies on certain vessels, so long as it does not conflict with national defense.

Fred Felleman of Orca Conservancy said Navy submarines could be used to identify Puget Sound's killer whales when they travel into the ocean. Navy ships could serve as research platforms to observe bird and fish movements. And shore-based facilities could have easily tracked transient orcas in Hood Canal last February and March.

"I think it is a huge missed opportunity not to use the assets the Navy has," Felleman said.

Inslee called the idea "interesting."

"We have huge holes in our scientific knowledge," he said, "and this idea bears some looking into."

Ken Balcomb, longtime orca researcher in the San Juans, said basic studies are needed on the effects of sound on marine mammals.

"As a baseline sort of thing, we have no management ideas about what exposure to sound means for these animals," Balcomb said Friday after a three-day conference about marine mammals and acoustics. "They are living in a sound environment that we know nothing about."

Christopher Dunagan of The Sun in Bremerton, Wash.

Posted by Richard
5/14/2003 08:01:30 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Environment Key To Gauging Wealth, Canada Told

E.O. Wilson has the 1997 figure of $33 Trillion dollars contributed to the global GNP by so-called "ecosystem services." That is, if nations continue to plunder the Earth for resources in order to make capital gains and produce commodities, they do so at their own (and our) peril -- for it appears to be those very "resources" that are contributing things like clean air, clean water, benign weather conditions, healthy agriculture that would be so exorbitantly expensive to reproduce via the science and technology which currently threaten them that growth economies could not sustain. Therefore current economic figures that take a laissez-faire approach and fail to integrate the true costs and limits to their growth are at best naive, if not outright lies...
From: Toronto Globe and Mail

Canada is being urged to become the first jurisdiction in the world to start using formal environmental indicators to measure the country's real wealth and the sustainability of its economy. In a report being released today, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy is recommending the use of six indicators to give a better picture of the health of the Canadian economy.

Posted by Richard
5/13/2003 09:49:47 AM | PermaLink

Texas Considers Slaughter of Horses for Dinner

Important highlights of the following article:

1) 23% of Texans favor eating horse meat -- one assumes that this figure is much lower in the major metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and San Antonio, thus the figure must be astoundingly higher amidst those endless vistas as one drives down INT 10 for 10 hours. Gives new meaning to Don't Mess With Texas;
2) 89% of Texans didn't even realize that such an industry existed;
3) Horse meat is a delicacy in Europe and Asia and "killer buyers" travel the American auction market buying horses (the article claims that the sellers don't know this -- but c'mon) for slaughter and consumption abroad. So the horse trade is making a lot of money off of foreign consumption, bottom line; and
4) While Texas has taken measures to ensure slaughtering horses for the export market will be legal, still, a federal bill -- the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HR 857) -- has been introduced that would ban horse consumption and export for consumption. Don't expect it to get very far, however, if there is an actual international trade in this meat that American industry is making a profit from (and, importantly, rival Canada too)-- that is, of course, unless people make some noise about it and take action...

What the article doesn't address is that laws about the consumption of horse meat for animals in the US -- either as feed for fur-bearing animals (also being raised for slaughter) or in zoos -- are common. See Illinois, for instance.

Posted by Richard
5/13/2003 09:23:53 AM | PermaLink

Duck and Cover 3.0

Mr. Mackey's contention that he'll do what's wrong -- as if to spite being outed by PETA and VIVA -- is sickening. In this case, the right thing to do is clearly to get on board as (what I would consider less progressive companies) like Burger King, McDonalds, and even Whole Foods competitor Safeway have done and stop buying animal meat from farms that factor in excessive cruelty as a major staple of any diet maintained there. Mr. Mackey's logic that to stop selling duck meat from factory farms that deny the ducks any water (they are after all water fowl), raising them in filthy, packed, and dehydrated conditions would only be to anger customers is convoluted. I think customers would be angry (at themselves included) if they knew the actual history and source behind their choice of food from Whole Foods. How's this, then, as a compromise: Whole Foods continues to buy duck meat and support highly unethical practices in the name of cash flow and customer satisfaction, while putting pictures and informative leaflets up from PETA and VIVA about the meat's sources around the frozen food section where it is bought. Let's see what happens then...I have my guesses:
It's not always easy being a hip capitalist. Just ask John Mackey, president and CEO of Whole Foods Market. For years employees and union organizers have complained about the company's assiduous union-busting practices. Most recently, however, the company has had to contend with animal-rights groups.

According to Supermarket News, Mackey and other Whole Foods executives and investors were forced to walk out of the company's annual shareholders' meeting in April after representatives of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the vegetarian advocacy group Viva raised pointed questions about the company's meat suppliers. One issue, according to Viva, was the company's policy of buying ducks raised in appalling conditions.

"If we stop selling an item, we're just angering customers and sending them to buy from someone else," Mackey shot back. "So if we don't sell ducks, it harms our customers and it doesn't help the ducks." Interesting logic, but here is a more succinct statement of corporate policy, from Mackey: "Whole Foods will not be coerced by Viva, PETA, labor unions or any other advocacy groups under any circumstances. We will do what we believe is the right thing to do."

By Dave Mulcahey, In These Times

Posted by Richard
5/13/2003 08:09:10 AM | PermaLink

Monday, May 12, 2003

EPA to Pull Out of Computer Recycling Program?

Peripheral waste is one of the major environmental hazards of the new economy, hands down. Unbeknownst to most tech consumers, hardware is often brimming with toxic metal components and non-biodegradeable material that is just a plain hazard for a land fill (and community) near you. Of course, unless your salary is below the poverty line (and/or you live in a Third World nation or region resembling one), it's probably NOT coming near you whatsoever. In fact, if you're white and middle class (or above), you're probably churning through peripherals at the rate of a couple every two years and sending the old parts off to pollute China. The National Electronics Product Stewardship initiative is an attempt to try to find a workable answer to this problem -- they've been meeting since 2001 and represent the interests of government, big tech corps, and environmentalists. Surprise surprise: it appears that they're stalled and so the EPA is now threatening to call the whole deal off. Hopefully, this will move things along more than the current pace of an Apple IIe processor:
The U.S. EPA recently threatened to pull out of a proposed national electronics recycling initiative. A meeting in Chicago this week will try to sort out some of the disputes between the negotiating parties. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Chuck Quirmbach explains:

The 'National Electronics Product Stewardship' initiative is trying to maximize the collection, reuse, and recycling of used devices like old computers. The nearly four dozen stakeholders of the group are debating four different ways to foot the bill. But the EPA recently said it would pull the plug on the initiative if the members don't reach a financing agreement soon.

Garth Hickle is with the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance. He advises some group members and he's optimistic about a potential deal. Hickle says computer manufacturers that want a level playing field realize some states are looking at writing their own laws.

"So I think the whole notion of trying to go forward with a national federal approach rather than an individual state approach has a little more traction than it did."

Hickle hopes an electronics recycling subcommittee will soon narrow the number of financing options, so the EPA stays on board.

By: Chuck Quirmbach, Great Lakes Radio Consortium

Posted by Richard
5/12/2003 04:02:58 PM | PermaLink

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Dirty Weapons Will Drive Up Casualty Totals from Iraq War

Chalmers Johnson, notable author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, sets a new standard for the reporting on Depleted Uranium -- having not only the courage to make the usual Doug Rokke quotes, he also adds the often missing piece that DU is labelled a Weapon of Mass Destruction by international guidelines. This because while its radioactivity is only 40% of non-depleted Uranium -- that is still 40% of a significantly radioactive substance. When we magnify this to incorporate that there is potentially over a thousand metric tons of the stuff littering the Iraqi environment -- the toxicity mounts towards emergency levels in many areas:
...Moreover, by insisting on using such weaponry, the Pentagon is deliberately flouting a 1996 United Nations resolution that classifies DU ammunition as an illegal weapon of mass destruction.

DU, or uranium-238, is a waste product of power-generating nuclear reactors. It is used in projectiles such as tank shells and cruise missiles because it is 1.7 times denser than lead, burns as it flies and penetrates armor easily. But it breaks up and vaporizes on impact, which makes it potentially deadly. Each shell fired by an American tank includes 10 pounds of DU. Such warheads are essentially "dirty bombs" -- not very radioactive individually, but nonetheless suspected of being capable in quantity of causing serious illnesses.

In 1991, U.S. forces fired a staggering 944,000 DU rounds in Kuwait and Iraq. The Pentagon admits that it left behind a bare minimum of 320 metric tons of DU on the battlefield. One study of Gulf War veterans showed that their children had a higher possibility of being born with severe deformities, including missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers...

Read the entire article.

Posted by Richard
5/11/2003 09:15:38 AM | PermaLink

Our Natural World -- Critical Ecology in a Newspaper

Slowly but surely, notions of critical ecology are even filtering into popular tabloids like New York Newsday, which is maintaining its own kid-friendly website as part of its ongoing journalistic series, Our Natural World. While prone to over-hype the "beastliness" and "sliminess" of their topic, still, the editors there are to be commended for attempting to use the forum as a place to teach Long Islanders about the ecology of their place -- the importance of the flora and fauna inherently, but also as it relates to human development. This latter aspect is what makes it a step towards a critical social ecology. Today, they have run a piece (Steps Small, Footprints Large: Lacking size salamanders make a big impression on the ecosystem) on the endangered Eastern Tiger Salamander that ends on the following note:
"Every year there is some form of development going on near or around the breeding ponds," says Dan Rosenblatt, a regional wildlife manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which monitors Eastern tiger salamanders. Ponds in the fastness of the pine barrens core area, where development is prohibited, are safe, but many others are being hemmed in by concrete, which effectively eliminates the wooded habitat where salamanders spend 90 percent of their non-breeding lives.

Even when the ponds and upland habitats are protected, physical barriers such as parking lots, roads and expressways make it harder, if not impossible, for salamanders to recolonize areas where their species have died out.

That doesn't bode well for Long Island's ecology. A dearth of salamanders could trigger a chain reaction. Left unchecked, the small invertebrates that salamanders prey on such as spiders and pillbugs could become large-scale pests. And other creatures could take over the environmental gap left by the decline of the salamander.

Like a canary in a coal mine, the salamander's success or failure to thrive in an environment that has been compromised by pollution and development bears on our own future. The salamander is what is known as an indicator species - unprotected by fur or scales, this thin-skinned amphibian has an intimate relationship with the water, air and soil on which we all depend. In a way, the continued health of the salamander ensures our own.

Posted by Richard
5/11/2003 08:48:16 AM | PermaLink