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Archive for the ‘Food Safety’ Category

Climate Change: Talking to Tim DeChristopher

‘An Interview with Tim DeChristopher, the founder of Peaceful Uprising who is widely known known for one of the more creative acts of non violent insurrection and civil disobedience in recent memory when he disrupted a government oil and gas lease auction in order to protect fragile land in southern Utah from long term damage. That story became the subject of the documentary Bidder 70, and that act resulted in DeChrispher spending 21 months in federal custody. Tim is among the organizers calling for a Global Climate Convergence for People, Planet and Peace over Profit, whose mission is “an education and direct action campaign beginning this spring, with “10 days to change course,” running from Earth Day to May Day. It provides coordinated action and collaboration across fronts of struggle and national borders to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements. These grassroots justice movements are sweeping the globe, rising up against the global assault on our shared economy, ecology, peace and democracy. The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to unravel civilization as soon as 2050, intensifies all of these struggles and creates new urgency for collaboration and unified action. The Convergence creates a unifying call for a solution as big as the crisis barreling down on us — an emergency Green Economic Transformation through a Global Green New Deal including universal jobs, health care, education, food and housing security, economic and political democracy, demilitarization, an end to deportations, and 100% clean renewable energy by 2030.” (18 Feb 2014)’.

In order to provide some context to the above interview, I would like to quote the independent journalist and climate activist a Wen Stephenson explaining in the Boston-based Phoenix that on “July 26, 2011. Inside a federal courtroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, a 30-year-old climate activist named Tim DeChristopher is sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine for disrupting a Bureau of Land Management auction of oil and gas leases back in December 2008. Registered as Bidder #70, he managed to win bids worth $1.8 million for some 22,000 acres of public land near Canyonlands National Park — bids he had no way of paying. He had acted spontaneously, on his conscience, engaged in nonviolent resistance to the heedless new extraction of fossil fuels that are catastrophically heating the planet and threatening innumerable innocent lives. Weeks before his sentencing, DeChristopher  told Rolling Stone‘s Jeff Goodell: ‘I’m a climate-justice activist. . . . We want a radically different world. We want a healthy, just world’. But first, he said,’we need to get the fossil fuel industry out of the way. First we’ve got to overthrow the corporate power that is running our government’. He understands what that requires. ‘It will involve confrontation and it will involve sacrifice’. At his sentencing, standing before the federal judge, DeChristopher concludes a long, eloquent statement that spreads across the Internet and galvanizes a growing climate-justice movement: ‘This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on'”.[1]

[1] Wen Stephensonm ” The New Abolitionists: Global warming is the great moral crisis of our time” The Phoenix (12 March 2013). http://thephoenix.com/Boston/news/151670-new-abolitionists-global-warming-is-the-great/.

Alcohol Around the World #2: The Lancet Vodka Report

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reports that a “new report detailing the devastating toll of vodka on male life expectancy in Russia has been published, just as the country marks the unofficial 149th anniversary of the spirit’s invention. The study published Friday [, 31 January 2014] in British medical journal The Lancet has found that 25 percent of Russian men die before the age of 55, compared with only 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom. Many of those deaths are thought to have been caused by Russia’s long-abiding devotion to heavy drinking. Average life expectancy for men in Russia is 64 years, compared to 78.5 for British men”.[1]

The report in question was prepared by Prof David Zaridze MD, Sarah Lewington DPhil, Alexander Boroda MD, Ghislaine Scélo PhD, Prof Rostislav Karpov and many others.[ii]  On the periodical website the following summary can be read: “Russian adults have extraordinarily high rates of premature death. Retrospective enquiries to the families of about 50 000 deceased Russians had found excess vodka use among those dying from external causes (accident, suicide, violence) and eight particular disease groupings. We now seek prospective evidence of these associations . . . In three Russian cities (Barnaul, Byisk, and Tomsk), we interviewed 200,000 adults during 1999—2008 (with 12,000 re-interviewed some years later) and followed them until 2010 for cause-specific mortality. In 151,000 with no previous disease and some follow-up at ages 35—74 years, Poisson regression (adjusted for age at risk, amount smoked, education, and city) was used to calculate the relative risks associating vodka consumption with mortality. We have combined these relative risks with age-specific death rates to get 20-year absolute risks . . . Among 57 361 male smokers with no previous disease, the estimated 20-year risks of death at ages 35—54 years were 16% (95% CI 15—17) for those who reported consuming less than a bottle of vodka per week at baseline, 20% (18—22) for those consuming 1—2·9 bottles per week, and 35% (31—39) for those consuming three or more bottles per week; trend p<0·0001. The corresponding risks of death at ages 55—74 years were 50% (48—52) for those who reported consuming less than a bottle of vodka per week at baseline, 54% (51—57) for those consuming 1—2·9 bottles per week, and 64% (59—69) for those consuming three or more bottles per week; trend p<0·0001. In both age ranges most of the excess mortality in heavier drinkers was from external causes or the eight disease groupings strongly associated with alcohol in the retrospective enquiries. Self-reported drinking fluctuated; of the men who reported drinking three or more bottles of vodka per week who were reinterviewed a few years later, about half (185 of 321) then reported drinking less than one bottle per week. Such fluctuations must have substantially attenuated the apparent hazards of heavy drinking in this study, yet self-reported vodka use at baseline still strongly predicted risk. Among male non-smokers and among females, self-reported heavy drinking was uncommon, but seemed to involve similar absolute excess risks”.[3]

The report conclusion, as reproduced on the internet, is pretty stark: “This large prospective study strongly reinforces other evidence that vodka is a major cause of the high risk of premature death in Russian adults”.[4]  The BBC’s Global health reporter Tulip Mazumdar insightfully remarks that in “1985, the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev drastically cut vodka production and did not allow it to be sold before lunch-time. Researchers say alcohol consumption fell by around a quarter when the restrictions came in, and so did overall death rates. Then, when communism collapsed, people started drinking more again and the death rates also rose. Sir [Prof Sir Richard Peto, one of the report’s many co-authors] said: ‘When President Yeltsin took over from President Gorbachev, the overall death rates in young men more than doubled. This was as society collapsed and vodka became much more freely available. There was a huge increase in drinking and they were drinking in a destructive way. They were getting drunk on spirits and then buying and drinking more, producing a big risk of death'”.[5]

The BBC’s Mazumdar continues that the ” consumption rates for women also fluctuated according to political events, but they drank less so mortality rates were also lower. Most drinkers were smokers as well which researchers say ‘aggravated’ the death rates. Russia brought in stricter alcohol control measures in 2006, including raising taxes and restricting sales. Researchers say alcohol consumption has fallen by a third since then and the proportion of men dying before they reach 55 years old has fallen from 37% to 25%. Half a litre of vodka costs around £3.00 (150 rubles). Heavy drinkers in this study were getting through at least a litre and a half of vodka a week. In 2011, each Russian adult drank on average 13 litres of pure alcohol every year, of which eight litres was in spirits, mainly vodka. In the UK the comparable figure is 10 litres per adult – but just less than two litres of that is in spirits. Researchers say the key problem driving the high death rate is the way Russians drink alcohol”.[6]

[1] “Vodka Blamed for Dismal Russian Life Expectancy Figures” RIA Novosti (31 Jan 2014). http://en.ria.ru/russia/20140131/187079194/Vodka-Blamed-For-Dismal-Russian-Life-Expectancy-Figures.html.

[2] Prof David Zaridze MD, Sarah Lewington DPhil, Alexander Boroda MD, Ghislaine Scélo PhD, Prof Rostislav Karpov, et al., “Alcohol and mortality in Russia: prospective observational study of 151 000 adults” The Lancet (31 Jan 2014). http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62247-3/fulltext.

[3] Prof David Zaridze MD, Sarah Lewington DPhil, Alexander Boroda MD, Ghislaine Scélo PhD, Prof Rostislav Karpov, et al., “Alcohol and mortality in Russia: prospective observational study of 151 000 adults”.

[4] Prof David Zaridze MD, Sarah Lewington DPhil, Alexander Boroda MD, Ghislaine Scélo PhD, Prof Rostislav Karpov, et al., “Alcohol and mortality in Russia: prospective observational study of 151 000 adults”.

[5] Tulip Mazumdar, “Vodka blamed for high death rates in Russia” BBC News (31 Jan 2014). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25961063.

[6] Tulip Mazumdar, “Vodka blamed for high death rates in Russia”.

Inequality Rising: 46% of Global Wealth owned by 86 Individuals

The UK-based USA TODAY journalist Kim Hjelmgaard reports that the “British charity Oxfam has concluded that the combined wealth of the world’s 85 richest people is equivalent to that owned by the bottom half — in wealth terms — of the world’s population”.[1]  Getting down to specifics, Hjelmgaard indicates that “the 1% richest people on the planet are rich to the tune of $110 trillion” according to the Oxfam report Working for the Few. The report, released on 17 January 2013, was authored by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Head of Research, Oxfam GB, and Nicholas Galasso, Research and Policy Advisor, Oxfam America.

Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva do not mince their words: the “past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people. This global phenomenon has led to a situation where one percent of the world’s families own almost half (46 percent) of the world’s wealth. The bottom half of the world’s population owns less than the richest 85 people in the world In the past year, 210 people have become billionaires, joining a select group of 1,426 individuals with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion. Corporate profits, chief executive officer (CEO) salaries, and stock exchanges are breaking new records daily, with no signs of slowing down. At the time of writing, the Dow Jones industrial average reached the highest mark in its 117-year history. The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half”.[2]  In this way, Oxfam gives credence to the phrase “the 99%” that was launched by the Occupy movement in 2011 — the slogan seems to go back to a Tumblr blog launched in support of the Occupy movement by the activist known only as “Chris”, as revealed by Mother Jones.[3]  The Tumblr blog ‘We Are the 99 Percent’ is still going strong today — well, more or less.[4]  And now Oxfam has made it public that the 1% trope is actually a worldwide reality . . .

Posted 14 October 2013

The authors Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva continue that “[t]his trend may seem surprising in light of the recent global financial crisis. Yet, while the crisis caused a momentary dip in the share of global wealth held by the rich, they have already gained it back, and more. In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer. The Great Recession did not change the trend in concentration of income: the share of US national income going to the top decile stands at 50.4 percent – its highest since World War I. Had the share of income going to the richest one percent stayed the same as in 1980, the rest of America would have an additional $6,000 dollars at their disposal in 2012. Global elites are increasingly becoming richer. Yet the vast majority of people around the world have been excluded from this prosperity. For instance, while stocks and corporate profits soar to new heights, wages as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) have stagnated. To give an indication of the scale of wealth concentration, the combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the European Union (EU) between 2008 and 2010 (€217bn compared with €200bn). Furthermore, post-recovery austerity policies are hitting poor people hard, while making the rich even richer. Austerity is also having an unprecedented impact on the middle classes. Rich people are pulling further away from everyone else in terms of wealth in many countries. The World Top Incomes Database covers 26 countries, with information on the share of pre-tax income going to the richest one percent since the 1980s. In all but two countries (Colombia and the Netherlands), the share of income of the richest percentile increased – and in Colombia, it stayed at around 20 percent. The richest one percent of people in China, Portugal, and the US have more than doubled their share of national income since 1980, and the situation is getting worse. Even in more egalitarian countries such as Sweden and Norway, the share of income going to the richest one percent has increased by more than 50 percent”.[5]

Taking the bull by the horns, Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva argue that “[m]arkets are not autonomous, spontaneous phenomena operating according to their own natural laws. In reality, markets are social constructions whose rules are set by institutions and regulated by governments that should be accountable to the participants and citizens. When there is growth and diminishing inequality, the rules governing markets are working [for] the middle classes and the poorest sections of society. However, when only the rich are gaining, the rules start bending towards their interests exclusively. Oxfam has spent 70 years working to fight poverty and injustice in more than 90 countries. Oxfam has fought against unsustainable debt and against tax havens. Through these experiences, Oxfam has witnessed first-hand how the wealthiest individuals and groups capture political institutions for their aggrandizement at the expense of the rest of society. Today’s unprecedented levels of economic inequality tell us that left unchecked, representative institutions will decay further, and the power disparity between the haves and have-nots may become entrenched and immutable. Strong quantitative data support Oxfam’s concerns regarding rising wealth concentration and unequal political representation. A recent study presents compelling statistical evidence that the preferences of wealthy Americans are represented in their government, compared with those of the middle classes. By contrast, the preferences of the poorest people demonstrate statistical impact on the voting patterns of their elected officials. If this trend continues, public policies will most likely reproduce the conditions that are worsening economic inequality and political marginalization. How do the rules governing national economies become subservient to elite interests? This is a problem inherent to the nature of politics. As we have seen, the influence of wealthy groups leads to imbalanced political rights and representation. The outcomes include the capture of legislative and regulatory decision-making functions by those powerful groups”.[6]

And, making the discourse personal and personable, to the Oxfam report Working for the Few singles out “Mexico’s Carlos Slim [, who] moves in and out of the world’s richest person spot, possessing a net worth estimated at $73bn. The enormity of his wealth derives from establishing an almost complete monopoly over fixed line, mobile, and broadband communications services in Mexico. Slim is the CEO and Chairman of América Móvil, which controls nearly 80 percent of fixed line services and 70 percent of mobile services in the country. A recent OECD review on telecommunications policy and regulation in Mexico concluded that the monopoly over the sector has had a significant negative effect on the economy, and a sustained welfare cost to citizens who have had to pay inflated prices for telecommunications”.[7]  The Oxfam report concludes pessimistically that “[w]ealth begets wealth, and once the political and institutional system is rigged in favor of an elite, the consolidation of their privileges cascades down through different mechanisms. This ‘privilege cascade’ affects elements that otherwise should be conducive to fair opportunities and protection for all members of society. What, by some measure, looks and sounds meritocratic is a result of rules that are biased in favor of the elite. Good quality education and other public services overwhelmingly benefit the few, providing them with more opportunities for development”.[8]

[1] Kim Hjelmgaard, “World’s 85 richest own 46% of global wealth” USA Today (20 Jan 2014). http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/20/davos-2014-oxfam-85-richest-people-half-world/4655337/.

[2] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality” Oxfam (17 Jan 2014). http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/working-for-the-few-economic-inequality.

[3] Adam Weinstein, “‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Creators Revealed” Mother Jones (07 Oct 2011). http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/we-are-the-99-percent-creators.

[5] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[6] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[7] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[8] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

Monsanto & Frankenfish: GMO FTW

‘On Tuesday, 26 March 2013, President Barack Obama signed the Agriculture Appropriations Bill into law. Within the legislation exists a provision, “The Monsanto Protection Act,” that has many speculating the future of food in American because it protects genetically modified seeds patents from litigation over health risks. Since Obama signed the bill, nearly 250,000 have signed a petition to President Obama. RT’s Margaret Howell has more on the bill and how “frankenfish” could be making their way into supermarkets across the nation oihj 0ji (28 March 2013)’.

CARTA :The Evolution of Human Nutrition

Tracing the evolution of the human diet from our earliest ancestors can lead to a better understanding of human adaptation in the past. It may also offer clues to the origin of many health problems we currently face, such as obesity and chronic disease. This fascinating series of talks focuses on the changing diets of our ancestors and what role these dietary transitions played in the evolution of humans. Leslie C. Aiello (Wenner-Gren Foundation) begins with An Overview of Diet and Evolution, followed by Richard Wrangham (Harvard Univ) on Fire, Starch, Meat, and Honey, Steven Leigh (Univ of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) on Diets and Microbes in Primates. – Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny.

Conversations w/ Great Minds – Jeffrey Smith GMOs – Seeds of Deception

Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director-Institute for Responsible Technology, leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), author of the books “Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating” and “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.” Genetically modified crops are all the rage these days – and have taken over the agriculture industries of many countries. But just how dangerous are genetically modified crops – and do we really need to be relying so heavily on them? (23 August 2012).

“Outrageous! That’s what you’ll say over and over again when you read how the biotechnology companies have manipulated the government, our food, and the media, and put an entire generation at risk.”

—Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry’s)


“This is a brilliant book which combines shrewd dissection of the true nature of GM technology, a devastating critique of the health and environmental hazards of GM crops, and scarifying examples of the manipulation of both science and the media by the biotech industry… What is so exciting about this book is that it is no dry text of scientific exegesis—it positively fizzes with the human drama of the cabals and conspiracies behind the scenes… It is meticulously documented and powerfully written, somewhere between a documentary and a thriller.”

—From the UK Edition forward by Michael Meacher, former UK environment minister


“Clear, profound, and unerringly accurate… If you care about the future of life on this dear planet… this is the book to get.”

—John Robbins, Author, The Food Revolution and Diet For A New America


“The revelations in this book are being made public at a pivotal time in the global GM debate, and could tip the scales against the biotech industry. The evidence in the book refutes U.S. science and safety claims, and undermines the basis of their WTO challenge.”

—Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety


“The best written on the subject.”

—Ronnie Cummins, Director, Organic Consumers Association[1]

[1] “What people are saying about Seeds of Deception, the world’s best-selling book critical of genetically engineered food:” Seeds of Deception. http://www.seedsofdeception.com/.

UN Earth Summit Strives for Energy for All

Nearly two billion people, about one-third of the world’s population, don’t have access to energy, according to the United Nations. So the leading goal for the upcoming 2012 United Nations Earth Summit is “energy for all” by the year 2030, mostly from renewable and sustainable resources. VOA’s Zulima Palacio reports (15 May 2012).

On the dedicated website one can read the following: ‘On 20th – 22nd, June 2012, the UNCSD will take place in Rio de Janeiro. Also referred to as the Rio+20 or the Earth Summit 2012 due to the initial conference held in Rio in 1992, the objectives of the Summit are: to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development; to assess progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable development and to address new and emerging challenges. The Summitwill also focus on two specific themes: a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and an institutional framework for sustainable development’.[1]

Another talking shop leading to another missed opportunity???  On the website Swichboard, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s staff blogpage, Jacob Scherr writes optimistically that “[y]et we believe that this Earth Summit can [nevertheless] be a success – indeed historic and transformative. But first we need to recognize that it is impossible to negotiate – let alone implement – a single business plan for the entire planet. We have tried that approach before in Rio, Johannesburg, Copenhagen, and elsewhere. We need instead to create new platforms to encourage and facilitate governments and stakeholders to take actions to meet the numerous globally-negotiated goals and to hold them accountable for their commitments. In other words, we need to crowdsource sustainability”.[ii]  Now that does sound hip and cool, “crowdsourcing sustainability” . . . but how feasible will that prove to be???  Scherr explains that during “the Rio+20 preparatory meetings, we were encouraged by the increased discussion among governments and civil society of this new approach to global summitry. Gustavo de Fonseca of the GEF recently blogged that “the dream for Rio – ‘The Future We Want’ – will most likely emerge from the realization that groups of committed people, organizations, businesses and states can indeed make a difference in the time frame that the planet and our society require,” but not from another conference text.  My colleague Michael Davidson calls it the “potluck” approach, which involves all the stakeholders bringing something worthwhile to the party and not trying to mix it up all into one dish. Finally, an environmental reporter with fresh eyes contrasted the futility of the negotiations with the potential of “individual countries, communities, companies, and nonprofit organizations” taking concrete actions to move us towards a more sustainable future”.[3]  But, really???

[1] “Earth Summit 2012” earthsummit2012. http://www.earthsummit2012.org/about-us/about-rio.

[2] Jacob Scherr, “Reflections on the Race to Rio: Crowdsourcing Sustainability at Earth Summit 2012”  Switchboard (14 May 2012). http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jscherr/reflections_on_the_race_to_rio.html.

[3] Jacob Scherr, “Reflections on the Race toRio”.