Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#855 -- Nanotech Showdown, 18-May-2006

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More than 60 great speakers at 35 workshops and strategy
sessions. Pioneers of Precaution Award Ceremony & Concert
with superb musicians. The 1st National Conference on
Precaution June 9-11, 2006, in Baltimore. Register here.

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #855

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, May 18, 2006..................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Nanotech Showdown
  Eight public interest groups are forcing the Food and Drug
  Administration (FDA) to confront the reality that nanotechnology
  creates products that may be useful but may also be quite dangerous.
  Up to now, the FDA has kept its head in the sand on this issue,
  pretending there's no problem. Time for a major showdown.
Howard Zinn on Fixing What's Wrong
  "People think there must be some magical tactic, beyond the
  traditional ones -- protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil
  disobedience -- but there is no magical panacea, only persistence."
The Rotten Side of Organics -- Interview with Ronnie Cummins
  "Part of the overall problem is that our social change and
  progressive movement has been fragmented for the last 30 years. The
  movements for health, justice and sustainability must work together in
  this age of Peak Oil, permanent war, and climate chaos."
The Coming War: Internet Democracy vs. Monopoly Capitalism
  Until now, a basic principle of the Internet has been that the pipe
  companies [who bring the internet into our homes] can't discriminate
  among content providers. Everyone who puts stuff up on the Internet is
  treated exactly the same. The net is neutral. But now the pipe
  companies want to charge the content providers, depending on how fast
  and reliably the pipes deliver the content. Presumably, the biggest
  content providers would pay the most money, leaving the little content
  people in the slowest and least-reliable parts of the pipe.
Biotech Firm Raises Furor Proposing Human Gene in Rice
  Environmental groups, corporate food interests and thousands of
  farmers across the country have succeeded in chasing Ventria
  Bioscience's rice farms out of two states. And critics continue to
  complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a mostly
  untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops
  grown for food.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #855, May 18, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

NANOTECH SHOWDOWN

By Tim Montague

Just in time for summer, a group of eight environmental and public
interest groups have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) to recall nanotech sunscreens from supermarket shelves. This
will force FDA to finally decide whether nano particles are something
radically new or not.

Nano particles are named for their small size (a nanometer is a
billionth of a meter), and nano particles are smaller than anything
humans have ever put into commercial products before. Their tiny size
changes their characteristics completely. If they didn't represent
something new, they wouldn't have the commercial world excited. At
present something like a goldrush mentality surrounds nanotech.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the International Center for
Technology Assessment on May 17 demanded of FDA "that nanoparticles be
treated as new substances; nanomaterials be subjected to nano-specific
paradigms of health and safety testing; and that nanomaterial products
be labeled to delineate all nanoparticle ingredients." In other words,
they are asking the FDA to wake up to the consensus of respected
scientific bodies like the British Royal Society who concluded in
their 2004 report that nano particles are different from anything
humans have ever created before and that we need to take a
precautionary approach.

The petition to FDA says, "Engineered nanoparticles have fundamentally
different properties from their bulk material counterparts --
properties that also create unique human health and environmental
risks -- which necessitate new health and safety testing paradigms."
And this is confirmed by scientists like Gunter Oberdorster who has
written text books on the subject and a recent review of
'nanotoxicology'. Until now, FDA (like U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have
remained oblivious to all nanotech health risks. Their position is
that carbon is carbon regardless of the size of its particles, zinc is
zinc, and titanium is titanium. Size does not matter, says FDA.

But every physicist knows that size matters a great deal. The smaller
an object is, the larger its surface is in relation to its volume.
Thus nano particles have an enormous surface to volume ratio, which
renders them biologically active. Oberdorster says, "This increased
biologic activity can be either positive and desirable (e.g.,
antioxidant activity, carrier capacity for therapeutics, penetration
of cellular barriers for drug delivery) or negative and undesirable
(e.g., toxicity, induction of oxidative stress or of cellular
dysfunction), or a mix of both."

Now public interest organizations are asking the FDA to "Declare all
currently available sunscreen drug products containing engineered
nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as an imminent hazard
to public health." The petition (2.8 MB) and a related report (4
MB) by Friends of the Earth (FOE) expose the dark underbelly of the
health and beauty industry that has joined the nanotech gold rush
without much thought for the short or long term consequences to nature
or human health. But how could they? The structure of the modern
corporation doesn't allow for ethical perspectives or precautionary
action if they might significantly limit the bottom line.

Next time you (or your kids) want to slather up with your favorite
sunblock, remember that the active ingredient in the sunscreen --
typically zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide -- could very well be a
nanomaterial. There are now hundreds of sunscreens, moisturizers,
cosmetics and other personal care products containing sub-microscopic
materials that we simply don't understand. And because the FDA doesn't
require labeling, consumers are left in the dark -- a vast experiment
with only one winner, and that isn't you or me.

We aren't talking about the same zinc oxide that you knew as a youth
on lifeguard's noses. Nanoscale engineered materials (smaller than 100
nanometers in diameter -- iron, aluminum, zinc, carbon, and many
others) are measured in billionths of a meter. A human hair is 80,000
nanometers wide. A strand of DNA is 3.5 nm across. The nanoworld is
quite a different place -- a world where particles can pass directly
from the environment into your bloodstream, tissues, cells and
organelles. The nano revolution has burst upon us for just that reason
-- nanomaterials take on new and unique properties that make them
attractive as drug delivery vehicles, chemical sponges and nano-robot
("nanobot") building blocks.

There are three typical ways in which nanomaterials get into our
bodies -- we breath them, ingest them or absorb them through our skin.
And despite the evidence that nanomaterials cause lung, liver and
brain damage in animals, our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is
treating nanomaterials like their standard or bulk sized counterparts
of yesteryear.

In March, 2006, Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) summarized the state of regulatory affairs for nanotechnology
thus: "The Toxic Substances Control Act is the most obvious law for
regulating nanomaterials. But the law does not require manufacturers
to provide safety data before registering a chemical, instead placing
the burden on the government to demonstrate that a substance is
harmful. If the government does not follow up on potential risks with
a new product application within several months, the company can
proceed to sell its product. Other laws on the books also are
inadequate. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act [giving FDA regulatory
power] includes only feeble safeguards for cosmetics, which already
promise to be a major use of nanomaterials. Likewise, the poorly
enforced Occupational Safety and Health Act fails to address nano-
specific worker protections."

As we reported in Rachel's #816, the British Royal Society
(approximately the equivalent of our National Academy of Sciences)
issued a report in July 2004 recommending a series of precautionary
actions based on their review of the scientific literature on the
possible health effects of nanomaterials:

** "The evidence we have reviewed suggests that some manufactured
nanoparticles and nanotubes are likely to be more toxic per unit mass
than particles of the same chemicals at larger size and will therefore
present a greater hazard."

** "There is virtually no evidence available to allow the potential
environmental impacts of nanoparticles and nanotubes to be evaluated."

** Therefore, "the release of nanoparticles to the environment [should
be] minimized until these uncertainties are reduced."

** And, "until there is evidence to the contrary, factories and
research laboratories should treat manufactured nanoparticles and
nanotubes as if they were hazardous and seek to reduce them as far as
possible from waste streams."

At the heart of the health and safety concerns is the tendency for
nanoparticles like fullerenes, nanotubes, and nanoparticle metal
oxides to produce free radicals -- charged atoms that are highly
reactive and which can cause oxidative stress, inflammation, and
subsequent damage to cells and tissue. A recent study by Duke
University found that fullerenes (Buckyballs) cause brain damage in
large mouth bass.

The FOE report says "Because of their size, nanoparticles are more
readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles and are
able to cross biological membranes and access cells, tissues and
organs that larger sized particles normally cannot." Once in the blood
stream, nanomaterials can affect all of the organs and tissues of the
body including the bone marrow, heart, lungs, brain, liver, spleen and
kidneys. But little is known about what dose may cause harmful effects
or how long different nanomaterials remain in various tissues.

It is known that nanoparticles can inhibit the growth of and kill
kidney cells. At the cellular level, unlike larger particles,
nanomaterials can pass into organelles like the mitochondria -- the
power plant of the cell -- and cell nucleus where they can cause DNA
mutation and cell death.[1 p. 7]

Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide -- widely used in
sunscreens and cosmetics -- are photo active, "producing free radicals
and causing DNA damage to human skin cells when exposed to UV
light."[1 p.7] Although there is conflicting data on just how much
nanoparticles can actually penetrate human skin and enter our blood,
there is no doubt that what we put on our skin will end up in our air,
food, and water. A recent report in Environmental Science &
Technology found fish throughout Europe are contaminated with UV-
filter-chemicals -- from sunscreen -- (4-methylbenzylidene camphor or
4-MBC; and octocrylene or OC) which are known hormone disruptors. What
we rub on our bodies washes into the lakes and rivers, and then gets
into the food chain.

Even nanotech industry professionals themselves are skeptical about
the safety of these materials. Speaking about the incorporation of
fullerenes into skin-care products, Professor Robert Curl Jr. -- who
shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-discovery of
fullerenes -- expressed concern: "I would take the conservative path
of avoiding using such cosmetics while withholding judgment on the
actual merits or demerits of their use."

And when a scientist at an international nanotoxicology meeting asked
200 of her colleagues whether they would feel comfortable using face
cream that contained fullerenes, fewer than ten indicated that they
would.[1 p.8]

The scientists who specialize in nano materials don't trust the stuff,
yet thousands of workers and consumers are being exposed every day in
the manufacture, transport and application of skin care and many other
products from tires to computer hard drives and skis.

There is very little known about current levels of workplace exposure.
The US National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015 2 million
workers worldwide will be directly employed in nanotechnology
industries. This means the total number of exposed workers will
certainly be much larger.[1 p. 10]

While the evidence continues to pile up that nanomaterials pose
significant health risks to consumers and workers, the federal
bureaucracy turns a blind eye concerned mostly with fostering economic
growth at all cost. Of the "$1.3 billion budget for the US National
Nanotechnology Initiative, only $38.5 million (less than 4%) was
earmarked for the study of the health, safety and environmental
impacts of nanotechnology. Conversely, the US Department of Defense
received $436 million (33.5% of the nanotechnology budget)." We are
spending more than ten times as much on nanotech warfare technology as
we are investing on basic health and safety research.

By their nature, corporations cannot regulate themselves -- by law
they are only allowed to do one thing: return a decent profit to
investors using every legal means available. But judging from the
chemical, nuclear and biotechnology industries, government is not up
to the task of regulating corporations to protect human health. So,
while our tax dollars are doing relatively little to bring health and
safety research into the public domain, corporations are ploughing
forward, constrained only by consumer tastes and trends. We don't want
a visible white paste on our bodies (nanomaterials help the sunscreen
disappear fast), therefore we must want nanotech.

Now public health advocates are calling for a "moratorium on the
commercialization of nanoproducts until the necessary safety research
has been conducted." And they specifically call on a precautionary
approach which shifts the burden of proof onto industry to demonstrate
product safety, calls for product labeling and transparent peer-
reviewed health and safety studies that become part of the public
domain.

In March 2006 the EPA issued 'voluntary' reporting guidelines (you've
heard this one before) which give no incentive to industry to invest
in product safety research much less reveal what little they may
actually know about the health effects of their nano-products. Time
and time again -- remember tobacco, asbestos, and lead? -- the profit
motive will always drive corporations to release products into the
market (our air, food, water and soil) even if they know the product
is dangerous to human health and the environment.

As reported in Rachel's #816, the insurance industry is deeply
concerned about the environmental and health effects of these largely
untested technologies. They understand that nanomaterials could be the
next asbestos liability debacle. It would be interesting to see a full
cost accounting (see Rachel's #765) of the potential benefits and
costs not only to industry but to the public that currently shoulders
the burden of proof with their tax dollars, endangered health and
degraded environment.

As the pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated -- operating within a
precautionary framework -- a better safe than sorry approach can work
for investors and consumers alike. Big pharma has been hugely
succesful under a system that demands precautionary pre-market testing
-- so successful that it's now under constant attack for using its
financial influence to corrupt the regulatory system. When industry
and the current regulatory agencies tell us they fear a precautionary
approach will 'stifle innovation', they really don't have a leg to
stand on.

In the meantime, I'll be heading for the fantasy nano-free section of
my supermarket for some non-nano sunscreen.

[1] Nanomaterials, sunscreens and cosmetics: small ingredients big
risks. Friends of the Earth, Washington, D.C. May 17, 2006 available
here and at www.foe.org

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From: Tikkun, May 17, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

HOWARD ZINN ON FIXING WHAT'S WRONG

By Shelly R. Fredman

When I arrived at Boston University in 1978, it was like showing up at
a party after all the guests had gone home. The Civil Rights movement
and the Vietnam War protests were over, and everyone around me was
studying business and honing their resumes. The Sixties had died. All
the activists were gone.

Except for Howard Zinn. You could sign up for Zinn's classes,
"Marxism" and "Anarchism," and there, every Tuesday and Thursday, you
could hear the stories no one else would tell you: Columbus's arrival
on these shores from the Arawak Indian's point of view, Emma Goldman's
message to the unemployed in Union Square, black students in
Greensboro, NC, who one day sat down at the Woolworth's counter where
only whites could eat.

Now, some twenty years later, in the wake of Katrina, mired in Bush's
reckless reign and the ever-escalating death toll in Iraq, it seemed a
good time to revisit Zinn.

Best known for A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn
has been a professor, radical historian, social activist, and
intellectual leader of the Left for forty years. In over twenty books,
he has devoted himself to connecting America's past with its present,
providing a frame for left-wing activism and politics. Praised by
academics and lay readers alike, Zinn feels more at home on the
streets than in the ivory tower.

Zinn's message of hope is unflinching, and he is busier than ever. He
has written a play, "Marx in Soho," is producing a People's History of
the United States television series, and his new book, Original Zinn,
will be released in July.

He seems to have stashed De Leon's fountain of youth in his back
pocket. Though we are seated at a small table drinking coffee,
occasionally he still moves his large hands through the air, as he did
in class, underscoring the urgency of his words. And at the end of his
most radical sentences, a wry smile lights up his eyes, as if he's
imagining the glorious trouble we the people can, and will, make.

Shelly R. Fredman: I'd like to start by asking you about Michael
Lerner's new book, The Left Hand of God. In it, Lerner says that, post
9/11, a paradigm of fear has gripped our culture and been used to
manipulate the public into supporting politicians who are more
militaristic. How would you characterize the post-9/11 world?

Howard Zinn: Michael Lerner is certainly right about how fear has been
used since 9/11 to push the public into support of war. "Terrorism" is
used the way "communism" was used all through the Cold War, the result
being the deaths of millions and a nuclear arms race which wasted
trillions of dollars that could have been used to create a truly good
society for all.

SF: Lerner also claims that the parts of our cultural heritage that
embody elements of hope are dismissed as naive, with little to teach
us. You must have had your own bouts with critics who see your vision
as naive. How do you address them?

HZ: It's true that any talk of hope is dismissed as naive, but that's
because we tend to look at the surface of things at any given time.
And the surface almost always looks grim. The charge of naivete also
comes from a loss of historical perspective. History shows that what
is considered naive in one decade becomes reality in another.

How much hope was there for black people in the South in the fifties?
At the start of the Vietnam War, anyone who thought the monster war
machine could be stopped seemed naive. When I was in South Africa in
1982, and apartheid was fully entrenched, it seemed naive to think
that it would be dissolved and even more naive to think that Mandela
would become president. But in all those cases, anyone looking under
the surface would have seen currents of potential change bubbling and
growing.

SF: Has the Left responded adequately to the kind of fascism we see
coming from Bush's people? Street protests seem to be ineffective;
it's sometimes disheartening.

HZ: The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and
something changes. People very often think that there must be some
magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones -- protests,
demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience -- but there is no magical
panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual
tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not
come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but
because all of the actions built up over time.

If you listen to the media, you get no sense of what's happening. I
speak to groups of people in different parts of the country. I was in
Austin, Texas recently and a thousand people showed up. I believe
people are basically decent, they just lack information.

SF: You have been outspoken against the war in Iraq. Despite all the
chaos we've heard may ensue, do you still believe we should get out of
Iraq now?

HZ: Yes, we should immediately withdraw. There will be chaos... it is
actually there already, and much of the chaos and violence has come
about because of our involvement. But that doesn't change the fact
that our occupation of Iraq is wrong.

What's more troubling [than a military mistake] is that this is an
administration that is impervious to pressure. If you listen to LBJ's
tapes, where he discusses the escalation of the war in Vietnam, you
can hear that he is torn....

Still, the good news is that more and more of us are becoming aware of
Bush's true nature. Less than fifty percent of Americans are for the
war, and forty percent are calling for [Bush's] impeachment.

SF: Where do you see the Democrats in all this? What of their role,
their responsibility?

HZ: The Democratic Party is pitiful. Not only are they not
articulating a spiritual message, as Lerner says, they don't even have
a political message. The Democrats are tied to corporate wealth. And
they are incompetent when it comes to understanding how to win
elections. By the time Kerry ran, the public had actually shifted.
Fifty percent were against the war. The Democrats should have been
saying they would end the war, and make those dollars available for
healthcare.

SF: What about the upcoming crop of presidential candidates -- Hillary
Clinton, for instance?

HZ: Hillary Clinton is so opportunistic. She goes where the wind is
blowing. She doesn't say what needs to be said. And Barack Obama is
cautious. He's better than Clinton, but I'd suggest Marian Wright
Edelman as the Democratic candidate for president. She's the epitome
of what we need. A very smart black woman who deals with children,
poverty.... She's in the trenches, and she ties it in with
militarization. But she doesn't come out of government.

That's another problem -- the Democratic Party is a closed circle. It
may take a threatening third party to shake things up.

SF: Many people believe that history is a pendulum, and that we are
overdue for a swing to the Left. Lerner, for instance, views American
history as an oscillation between the voices of hope and the voices of
fear -- the fear after the stock market crash in 1929, the hope of the
New Deal, the fears of McCarthyism, the hope of the Civil Rights
movement and social change movements in the sixties. Is this a
compelling view of history?

HZ: Without making it chronological, like a roller coaster, with
predictable ups and downs, it's certainly true that in any period
there are voices that demand maintenance of the status quo, and other
voices demanding change. In other words, it isn't so much a period of
hope, then a period of fear, etc. But in every period there are both
tendencies, with one or another dominant and the dominant
characteristic often leads to a simplified picture of an era.

My differences with Lerner, though, reside in the proportion of
attention he pays to spiritual values. These are important, but
they're not the critical issue. The issue is how are people living and
dying. People are dying in Iraq and our wealth is being squandered on
war and the military budget.

SF: Don't you believe the Left needs to address spiritual needs to
win? How else can we galvanize the heartland, people taken in by the
religious rhetoric of Bush?

HZ: Yes, there are special needs and they need to be addressed. But
after the last election there was a kind of hysteria among liberal
pundits about a "failure" to deal with the moral issues. There is a
hard core for whom religion is key. They are maybe twenty-five percent
of the population. It's a mistake to try to appeal to that hard core.

I define the spiritual in emotional terms -- to the extent that
religion can draw on the Ten Commandments (for example, thou shalt not
kill), it is important. And I find the spiritual in the arts, because
they nourish the spirit and move people. Artists like Bob Dylan and
Joan Baez, for example, and now Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. We need
more of these.

It's not that people are turned off by the Left. The Left hasn't
reached out to people with a clear, coherent, and emotional message.
The Left often does not know how to talk to other people. Tikkun
magazine appeals to intellectuals. I've never spoken the language of
ivory tower academics. And there are other voices on the Left that
speak in understandable language. For instance, Barbara Ehrenreich's
Nickel and Dimed, in which she took menial jobs across the country and
wrote about those lives, was a bestseller. There's an emotionalism to
her message that makes contact and touches thousands. Michael Moore's
movies have been seen by all sorts of people. GI's in Iraq watched his
movie. We just have to do more along those lines.

SF: Many on the Left seem to identify religion with the fundamentalist
versions of it we see in the worst moments of human history. Do you
see any value in religious ideas and traditions? If I can get
personal: do you identify at all as a Jew, with the Jewish story? Is
there anything in it that's meaningful to you? Are there any thoughts
of the world beyond this one -- where, for example, you can sit with
Marx in Soho and eat Deli Haus blintzes together?

HZ: If I was promised that we could sit with Marx in some great Deli
Haus in the hereafter, I might believe in it! Sure, I find inspiration
in Jewish stories of hope, also in the Christian pacifism of the
Berrigans, also in Taoism and Buddhism. I identify as a Jew, but not
on religious grounds. Yes, I believe, as Pascal said, "The heart has
its reasons which reason cannot know." There are limits to reason.
There is mystery, there is passion, there is something spiritual in
the arts -- but it is not connected to Judaism or any other religion.

For those who find a special inspiration in Judaism or Christianity or
Buddhism or whatever, fine. If that inspiration leads them to work for
justice, that is what matters.

Shelly R. Fredman's work has appeared in Best Jewish Writing, First
Harvest, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, and the Forward.

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From: Satya, Apr. 15, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

THE ROTTEN SIDE OF ORGANICS -- INTERVIEW WITH RONNIE CUMMINS

The Satya Interview with Ronnie Cummins

Many compassionate consumers believe that buying organic food is the
only way to go. The label "organic" means refuge from pesticides,
chemicals and the damaging practices of the commercial food industry.
High-quality, mouth-watering, nutrient-rich produce -- all harvested
fresh from the farm, right? We tend to assume organic food producers
are all small farmers who combine ecologically sound farming practices
with a political agenda to promote and develop local sustainable food
systems. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) formed in 1998 after organic
consumers criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposed
national regulations for organic certification of food. Today the OCA,
a nonprofit public interest organization, strives for health, justice
and sustainability, and takes on such crucial issues as food safety,
industrial agriculture, corporate accountability and fair trade.

The OCA has been able to rally hundreds of thousands of consumers to
pressure the USDA and organic companies to preserve strict organic
standards. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to talk with OCA
founder and National Director, Ronnie Cummins about uniting forces to
challenge industrial agriculture, corporate globalization, and
inspiring consumers to "Buy local, organic, and fair made."

KAM: Can you discuss the corporate takeover of the organic food
market?

RC: Well the good news is there is a huge demand on the part of health
conscious and environmentally conscious consumers for organic
products. On the downside, right now there is a shortage of organic
foods and ingredients in the marketplace. And unfortunately,
corporations are noting this huge demand and are not only moving into
the organic sector, but doing it in a way which is not helping
American farmers and ranchers go organic. Instead, they are basically
degrading organic standards, bending the rules and starting to
outsource from slave labor and exploitive nations such as China for
organic foods and ingredients.

KAM: What kind of impact is this having on our food?

RC: Well the most glaring example presently is the blatant disregard
for organic standards in the dairy sector. Right now 40 percent of
organic milk is coming from Horizon Organic and Aurora Organic,
producers who are both practicing intensive confinement of farmed
animals, allowing them no access to pasture. They are also regularly
importing calves from industrial farms and simply calling them
organic. These heifers have been weaned on blood, administered
antibiotics, and fed slaughterhouse waste and GMO grains. Again, this
is not helping thousands of humane family-scale farmers make the
transition to organic. Instead they are changing the rules and
allowing industrial agriculture to call it organic.

And then there is the corporate takeover of organic food brands.
This is a major trend, all the way from Unilever taking over Ben and
Jerry's to General Mills taking over Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen.
These transnationals deliberately conceal the names of the parent
corporation on the label because they know those corporations have
such a terrible reputation that consumers would be unlikely to want to
buy the products. Also, for the most part, they do not list the
country of origin on the label. So organic consumers continue to buy
their products, while remaining in the dark about who produced them
and where they were produced. For example, people who buy the top-
selling soy milk Silk, don't know that Silk is actually owned by Dean
Foods, the $10 billion dairy conglomerate notorious for bottom line
business practices such as injecting their cows with bovine growth
hormone and paying the lowest prices possible to dairy farmers. They
also don't know that the soy beans in Silk are likely coming in from
China and Brazil rather than the U.S. or North America.

What about the organic standards in China? Are they the same as here?
There has been a lot of criticism that Chinese organic products are
not really organic. But certainly the most incontestable fact about
Chinese organics is that the workers are paid nearly nothing for their
work. It is slave labor.

KAM: That's madness! What can we do about this?

RC: We are going to have to stop companies from outsourcing the
organic foods and ingredients that they can buy here. One way to do
that is to pressure companies to put the country of origin on their
label. Congress actually passed a law three years ago -- after
receiving a lot of pressure from consumers -- requiring country of
origin labels.

Unfortunately, they turned around and listened to corporate
agribusiness and never allocated the money for labeling enforcement.
Then last fall in the waning days of the Congressional session, they
passed a rider that would delay the country of origin labeling law for
at least two more years.

How important is food safety to American consumers today?

Eighty percent of American consumers tell pollsters they are very
concerned about food safety issues while the majority says they are
more concerned than they were last year! It's understandable. We have
alarming levels of food poisoning -- 87 million cases a year --
leading to
thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. And
that's only the short-term damage. Consumers are becoming more and
more aware of the long-term damage -- the chronic sickness and illness
derived from the cheap food and junk food paradigm.

There was a story in the London Times that reports high levels of
benzene in soda pop! Nearly every day there is a story regarding mad
cow disease, pesticide levels, and toxic chemicals; yet the federal
government wants to restrict food labels. Two-thirds of organic
consumers say food safety is the primary reason for paying a premium
price for organic foods. The natural food and organic food market is
growing enormously. Ten cents out of every grocery store dollar is now
spent by consumers on products labeled either natural or organic.

KAM: I'm curious, what is the difference between "natural" and
"organic"?

RC: "Natural" is mainly a marketing tool. It simply means that there
are not supposed to be any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
in the product. But a lot of consumers are still learning about food
safety and they believe that "natural" products, like organic
products, are safer than foods that don't bear that label.

There has been a steady dynamic in the marketplace over the past ten
years. Companies that market "natural" products are tending to move to
"made with organic ingredients" and products marketed with "made with
organic ingredients" move on to "95 or 100 percent organic." There is
no doubt that within 5-10 years the majority of products in grocery
stores are going to bear a label that says "natural" or "organic." And
within 10 or 15 years most things will have an "organic" label on
them.

KAM: But with the way things are going, what will the standards mean
by then?

RC: Well, that is what we are facing right now. If we allow
corporations to take over the organic sector and degrade organic
standards, then most organic products will be coming from China and
sold at Wal-Mart. And you will not be able to trust the label. We are
going to have to get better organized than we are now, both in the
marketplace and politically and make some fundamental changes in
policies. For example, right now there are no subsidies helping
American ranchers and farmers go organic. This is ridiculous given the
huge demand. So we are going to have to stop the $20 billion annual
subsidies going to industrial agriculture and intensive confinement
farming and start subsidizing the transition to organic.

We also obviously need to subsidize farms being able to adopt
renewable energy practices and to develop and expand local and
regional markets. Studies indicate that 25 percent of greenhouse
gasses in the U.S. are generated by industrial agriculture and long-
distance food transportation. We need to switch over to sustainable
practices if we are going to slow down and stop the climate chaos that
is accelerating. To fund this we're also going to have to stop the
administration's insane project for world domination and begin
dismantling the military-industrial complex.

KAM: In terms of transportation and its effects on the environment,
what is your take on local vs. organic produce?

RC: The Organic Consumers Association launched a long-term campaign
last fall called Breaking the chains: Buy local, organic, and fair
made. We believe it is time to raise the bar on organic standards. We
need to recognize that the label USDA Organic is a good first step,
but it is just the beginning. We have got to start reducing food miles
and reducing the greenhouse gas pollution by creating a food system
similar to what we had 60 years ago -- local and regional production
for local and regional markets. Family sized farms need to become the
norm again and not the exception. We also to need to think hard about
things, like 80 percent of the world's grain is going to feed animals,
not people, and begin eating lower on the food chain if we are going
to survive.

KAM: Fair made, I like that. Will the campaign touch on labor
practices on organic farms? People think organic means humane
treatment of workers, but that is not always the case.

RC: Thirty years ago, the roots of the new organic movement came out
of an anti-war, pro-civil rights, pro-justice movement. As the
founders of the new wave of food coops in the late-1960s, we believed
that organic meant justice as well as health and sustainability.
Unfortunately, the federal organic standards that the USDA passed in
2002 did not incorporate the demands of groups like the Organic
Consumers Association who said that social justice had to be criteria.
So they passed a very narrow definition of "organic" that just
included production methods in terms of pesticides, synthetic
chemicals and the impact on the environment. They didn't take into
consideration the treatment of small farmers or farm workers. So it
has been left to us as consumers to exert pressure in the marketplace
to make sure that organic means justice too.

We have seen a strong growth the last few years in the fair trade
movement which is now a $600 million market globally. And finally the
fair trade movement and the organic movement are starting to work
together. We are involved in a long-term project with a number of
organic companies and farm organizations to create a new Fair Trade or
Fair Made label, which will be both certified fair trade and certified
organic. We think this is necessary. Until we can get the USDA and the
government to see things the way we do, we need to have our own label
and be able to point out to consumers that the USDA label doesn't
include social justice as a criteria.

KAM: What do you think is the main problem facing the organic movement
today?

RC: Part of the overall problem is that our social change and
progressive movement has been fragmented for the last 30 years.
Perhaps this fragmentation or specialization was initially beneficial
or necessary to understand and focus on all the issues and types of
oppression in our particular sectors and organize our sectors, but it
is time we start to bring it all together in a great synergy. The
movements for health, justice and sustainability must work together in
this age of Peak Oil, permanent war, and climate chaos.

If the organic community does not unite its forces with the anti-war
movement, with the movements for environmentalism, social justice,
animal rights, then we are not going to make any changes. As we say
increased market share for organic and fairtrade products in the age
of Armageddon and climate chaos is not going to count for very much.

We really have to stop thinking single issues and start thinking
movement building. For this reason, every one of the OCA's campaigns
is trying to reach out to other movements and show them that we are
willing to work in a holistic way to raise consciousness over the full
range of issues, and we are asking them to do the same.

For example right now I have been participating in a series of
national conference calls with the Climate Crisis Coalition. It is
very good to see that the climate crisis leaders understand that 25
percent of global greenhouse gasses are coming from industrial
agriculture and long-distance food transportation, and that we are not
going to stabilize the climate unless we convert global and U.S.
agriculture production to local and regional production. So they are
willing to help us as we lobby to change the farm bill and the yearly
agriculture appropriations.

KAM: It is so true. All of the movements are linked.

RC: It doesn't do any good to buy local, organic and fair made if you
then hop on an airplane or jump into a gas-guzzling car without
thinking . We have to take on the climate crisis issue together --
this is the number one issue in the world. If we don't stop this,
there isn't going to be any food period -- much less organic food for
the future generations. The same thing with the anti-war movement. We
have to start talking about solutions to permanent war. Not just bring
the troops home from this particular war. The reason we are in Iraq,
the reason we are probably going to start a war in Iran shortly, is
because of oil. We are going to keep having these wars until we have
energy independence -- until we convert our economy into something
that is renewable and sustainable. And we are not going to do this
with the organic community, the environmental community, the animal
rights community and the anti-war communities working on our different
issues in isolation. We have to create synergy between them all.

KAM: How did you get involved in the organic food movement?

RC: I grew up in Texas. In the 1960s I got involved in the civil
rights movement and in the anti-war movement. And part of what all the
participants in those movements understood at the time was that we had
to create one big movement to deal with all the interrelated issues.
Food and coops were a strategic part of what we called the New Left
and the counter-culture. Many consumer food cooperatives and the new
wave of the organic movement came out of the anti-war movement.

Frances Moore Lappe laid it out for a lot of us in Diet For a Small
Planet, "The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown
is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth." In other
words, what you do with your knife and fork has a lot to do with world
peace and justice.

For more information visit www.organicconsumers.org.

Copyright STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC. 1994-2006

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From: TomPaine.com, May 11, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

WAR ON THE WEB

By Robert B. Reich

[Robert Reich is professor of public policy at the Richard and Rhoda
Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California,
Berkeley. He was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration.]

This week, the House is expected to vote on something termed, in
perfect Orwellian prose, the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion
and Enhancement Act of 2006." It will be the first real battle in the
coming War of Internet Democracy.

On one side are the companies that pipe the Internet into our homes
and businesses. These include telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon and
cable companies like Comcast. Call them the pipe companies.

On the other side are the people and businesses that send Internet
content through the pipes. Some are big outfits like Yahoo, Google and
Amazon, big financial institutions like Bank of America and Citigroup
and giant media companies soon to pump lots of movies and TV shows on
to the Internet.

But most content providers are little guys. They're mom-and-pop
operations specializing in, say, antique egg-beaters or Brooklyn
Dodgers memorabilia. They're anarchists, kooks and zealots peddling
all sorts of crank ideas They're personal publishers and small-time
investigators. They include my son's comedy troupe -- streaming new
videos on the Internet every week. They also include gazillions of
bloggers -- including my humble little blog and maybe even yours.

Until now, a basic principle of the Internet has been that the pipe
companies can't discriminate among content providers. Everyone who
puts stuff up on the Internet is treated exactly the same. The net is
neutral.

But now the pipe companies want to charge the content providers,
depending on how fast and reliably the pipes deliver the content.
Presumably, the biggest content providers would pay the most money,
leaving the little content people in the slowest and least-reliable
parts of the pipe. (It will take you five minutes to download my
blog.)

The pipe companies claim unless they start charge for speed and
reliability, they won't have enough money to invest in the next
generation of networks. This is an absurd argument. The pipes are
already making lots of money off consumers who pay them for being
connected to the Internet.

The pipes figure they can make even more money discriminating between
big and small content providers because the big guys have deep pockets
and will pay a lot to travel first class. The small guys who pay
little or nothing will just have to settle for what's left.

The House bill to be voted on this week would in effect give the pipes
the green light to go ahead with their plan. Price discrimination is
as old as capitalism. Instead of charging everyone the same for the
same product or service, sellers divide things up according to grade
or quality. Buyers willing to pay the most can get the best, while
other buyers get lesser quality, according to how much they pay.
Theoretically, this is efficient. Sellers who also have something of a
monopoly (as do the Internet pipe companies) can make a killing.

But even if it's efficient, it's not democratic. And here's the rub.
The Internet has been the place where Davids can take on Goliaths,
where someone without resources but with brains and guts and
information can skewer the high and mighty. At a time in our nation's
history when wealth and power are becoming more and more concentrated
in fewer and fewer hands, it's been the one forum in which all voices
are equal.

Will the pipe companies be able to end Internet democracy? Perhaps if
enough of the small guys make enough of a fuss, Congress may listen.
But don't bet on it. This Congress is not in the habit of listening to
small guys. The best hope is that big content providers will use their
formidable lobbying clout to demand net neutrality. The financial
services sector, for example, is already spending billions on
information technology, including online banking. Why would they want
to spend billions more paying the pipe companies for the Internet
access they already have?

The pipe companies are busily trying to persuade big content providers
that it's in their interest to pay for faster and more reliable
Internet deliveries. Verizon's chief Washington lobbyist recently
warned the financial services industry that if it supports net
neutrality, it won't get the sophisticated data links it will need in
the future. The pipes are also quietly reassuring the big content
providers that they can pass along the fees to their customers.

Will the big content providers fall for it? Stay tuned for the next
episode of Internet democracy versus monopoly capitalism.

Copyright 2006 TomPaine.com

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From: KDKA (Pittsburgh, Pa.), May 15, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

BIOTECH FIRM RAISES FUROR WITH RICE PLAN

By Paul Elias, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A tiny biosciences company is developing a promising
drug to fight diarrhea, a scourge among babies in the developing
world, but it has made an astonishing number of powerful enemies
because it grows the experimental drug in rice genetically engineered
with a human gene.

Environmental groups, corporate food interests and thousands of
farmers across the country have succeeded in chasing Ventria
Bioscience's rice farms out of two states. And critics continue to
complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a mostly
untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops
grown for food.

"We just want them to go away," said Bob Papanos of the U.S. Rice
Producers Association. "This little company could cause major
problems."

Ventria, with 16 employees, practices "biopharming," the most
contentious segment of agricultural biotechnology because its
adherents essentially operate open-air drug factories by splicing
human genes into crops to produce proteins that can be turned into
medicines.

Ventria's rice produces two human proteins found in mother's milk,
saliva and tears, which help people hydrate and lessen the severity
and duration of diarrhea attacks, a top killer of children in
developing countries.

But farmers, environmentalists and others fear that such medicinal
crops will mix with conventional crops, making them unsafe to eat.

The company says the chance of its genetically engineered rice ending
up in the food supply is remote because the company grinds the rice
and extracts the protein before shipping. What's more, rice is "self-
pollinating," and it's virtually impossible for genetically engineered
rice to accidentally cross breed with conventional crops.

"We use a contained system," Ventria Chief Executive Scott Deeter
said.

Regardless, U.S. rice farmers in particular fear that important
overseas customers in lucrative, biotechnology-averse countries like
Japan will shun U.S. crops if biopharming is allowed to proliferate.
Exports account for 50 percent of the rice industry's $1.18 billion in
annual sales.

Japanese consumers, like those in Western Europe, are still alarmed by
past mad cow disease outbreaks mishandled by their governments, making
them deeply skeptical of any changes to their food supply, including
genetically engineered crops.

Rice interests in California drove Ventria's experimental work out of
the state in 2004, after Japanese customers said they wouldn't buy the
rice if Ventria were allowed to set up shop.

Anheuser-Busch Inc. and Riceland Foods Inc., the world's largest rice
miller, were among the corporate interests that pressured the company
to abandon plans to set up a commercial-scale farm in Missouri's rice
belt last year.

But Ventria was undeterred. The company, which has its headquarters in
Sacramento, finally landed near Greenville, N.C. In March it received
U.S. Department of Agriculture clearance to expand its operation there
from 70 acres to 335 acres. Ventria is hoping to get regulatory
clearance this year to market its diarrhea-fighting protein powder.

There has been little resistance from corporate and farming interest
in eastern North Carolina. But the company's work has raised the
hackles of environmentalists there.

"The issue is the growing of pharmaceutical products in food crops
grown outdoors," said Hope Shand of the environmental nonprofit ETC
Group in Carrboro, N.C. "The chance this will contaminate
traditionally grown crops is great. This is a very risky business."

Deeter points out that there aren't any commercial rice growers in
North Carolina, although the USDA did allow Ventria to grow its
controversial crop about a half-mile from a government "rice station,"
where new strains are tested. The USDA has since moved that station to
Beltsville, Md., though an agency spokeswoman said the relocation had
nothing to do with Ventria.

The company, meanwhile, has applied to the Food and Drug
Administration to approve the protein powder as a "medical food"
rather than a drug. That means Ventria wouldn't have to conduct long
and costly human tests. Instead, it submitted data from scientific
experts attesting to the company's powder is "generally regarded as
safe."

Earlier this month, a Peruvian scientist sponsored by Ventria
presented data at the Pediatric Academics Societies meeting in San
Francisco. It showed children hospitalized in Peru with serious
diarrhea attacks recovered quicker -- 3.67 days versus 5.21 days -- if
the dehydration solution they were fed contained the powder.

Ventria's chief executive said he hopes to have an approval this year
and envisions a $100 million annual market in the United States.
Deeter forecasts a $500 million market overseas, especially in
developing countries where diarrhea is a top killer of children under
the age of 5. The World Health Organization reports that nearly 2
million children succumb to diarrhea each year.

But overcoming consumer skepticism and regulatory concerns about
feeding babies with products derived from genetic engineering is a
tall order. This is especially true in the face of continued
opposition to biopharming from the Grocery Manufacturers Association
of America, which represents food, beverage and consumer products
companies with combined U.S. sales of $460 billion.

Ventria hopes to add its protein powder to existing infant products.
There is no requirement to label any food products in the United
States as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

The company also has ambitious plans to add its product to infant
formula, a $10 billion-a-year market, even though the major food
manufacturers have so far shown little interest in using genetically
engineered ingredients. But Deeter says Ventria can win over the
manufacturers and consumers by showing the company's products are
beneficial.

"For children who are weaning, for instance, these two proteins have
enormous potential to help their development,"

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

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