June 12, 2008
- Bhopalis start hunger strike in New Delhi
- UK accepts call for “A New Age for Ag”
- Biotech firms seek profit from climate crisis
- Bayer pushes GMOs in Africa
- Pesticides linked to diabetes risk
- DDT spraying stopped in Uganda
- Pesticides and male infertility
- Community Guide to Environmental Health
At noon on June 10, nine Bhopal activists, including supporters and survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster and victims of water contamination, began an indefinite fast in Delhi. Supporters in the U.S., France, U.K. and around the world are joining them in rolling solidarity fasts. This strike comes after numerous attempts have failed to get India’s Prime Minister to make concrete commitments to address the grave situation in Bhopal. After a 500 mile pilgrimage from Bhopal to Delhi, and more than three months of demonstrations, on May 30 the Prime Minister announced he would create a commission to look into the issues of health and clean water in Bhopal, but remains silent on details and about holding Union Carbide and Dow Chemical accountable for cleanup and compensation. On June 9, 36 Bhopali demonstrators were arrested for staging a “die-in” in front of the Prime Minister’s office. In the jail, more than 15 policepersons, including one woman and two in plain clothes, strip-searched, whipped and slapped Bhopali youth and children, sending at least one teenager to the hospital. Two of the women who remain in jail are among the hunger strikers.
On June 9, the British government formally announced it was adopting the recommendations of the UN’s International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The assessment, approved at the end of a marathon meeting in Johannesburg calls for an end to input-intensive, trade-driven agriculture and renewed support for sustainable, local, smaller-scale agroecological farming. Britain has become the 58th of 61 countries who participated in the final IAASTD report review to endorse the call for “A New Era of Agriculture.” Only the US, Canada and Australia have refused to sign the document. Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, praised the reports for offering “a valuable contribution to our understanding on agricultural knowledge, science and technology for development, and while presenting an overall consensus they also provide a diversity of views” and promised that the UK “will be considering these options in its support of agricultural knowledge, science and research for developing countries.”
“The world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more. BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on so-called ‘climate ready’ genes at patent offices around the world. In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the Gene Giants are gearing up… to re-brand themselves as climate saviours,” says a new report by the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group). If the patents are granted, these companies that already dominate biotech seed would control most of the “climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide,” reports the Washington Post. “When a market is dominated by a handful of large multinational companies, the research agenda gets biased toward proprietary products,” said Hope Shand, ETC’s research director, “Monopoly control of plant genes is a bad idea under any circumstance. During a global food crisis, it is unacceptable and has to be challenged.”
Bayer Cropsciences’ application to test eight genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties in field trials in South Africa’s Limpopo Province has been condemned by the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB). The ACB believes the applications are intended to “consolidate our agricultural system into the capitalist economy and leave small-scale farmers out in the cold.” Bayer has also applied for permission to bring GM rice into South Africa. ACB calls Bayer’s applications a scheme “designed to control the very core component of agriculture, namely seeds.” Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta already control 46% of the global seed market and growing more GM cotton in Africa “will only increase Africa’s dependency on single agricultural products.” ACB contends that GMOs “drive up food prices and contribute to climate change,” adding that it’s time for transnational corporations to stop using South Africa “as an experimental dumping ground for multinational agrochemical and seed companies” because “a new agriculture is waiting to be born.”
Exposure to chlorinated pesticides can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes according to a new report from the National Institutes of Health. NIH Agricultural Health Study researchers studied more than 31,000 licensed pesticide applicators (who are allowed to use more potent pesticide formulations that ordinary consumers) and discovered that, five years after enrolling in the study, 1,176 had developed type 2 diabetes. Half of the 50 pesticides studied were chlorinated and 7 of these — aldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, dichlorvos, trichlorfon, alachlor, and cyanazine — were tied to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. A report in the May 13 American Journal of Epidemiology says the strongest link between the seven chemicals and type 2 diabetes was seen among obese people. This may be because people with more body fat may store more of the chemicals in their bodies. The three organochlorine pesticides, aldrin, chlordane, and heptachlor, were banned from sale in the U.S. after they were found at “detectable levels” in individuals’ bodies, as well as in some food products.
On June 6, the Ugandan High Court in Kampala ruled that indoor residual spraying of DDT must stop. The country’s health ministry had begun application of DDT to prevent malaria infection in February in the Apac and Oyam districts in the country’s northern region, and was poised to expand the program across the country, reports AllAfrica.com. Groups of organic farmers, traders and conservationists had filed complaints that European buyers of organic products would refuse shipments if any traces of DDT were discovered. They claimed that the Health Ministry was not following rules for educating residents about the effects of DDT, had not followed “precautions on storage of crops, handling of utensils and farm implements,” and were not in compliance with World Health Organization guidelines for DDT spraying. The court had first halted the program on May 30, pending submission of full petitions from the complaining groups. Successful community-based programs around the world are using bed nets, improved sanitation, community education, and tracking and early treatment to effectively control malaria. Under the international Stockholm Convention — which calls for eventual phase out of all uses of DDT — the international community has committed to help countries shift away from reliance on DDT for malaria control.
The June 2008 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that “a decline in semen quality… in several Western countries… may be associated with exposure to environmental endocrine disruptors such as several frequently used pesticides.” It is suspected that pesticide exposure may decrease male fertility by reducing the quality of semen. The journal notes that these findings are similar to “the majority of studies published since 2000” which have found evidence that pesticide exposure diminishes fertility.
The Hesperian Foundation, publisher of community healthcare books best known as the distributor of Donde no hay doctor (Where there is no doctor), will publish its latest book, A Community Guide to Environmental Health, on June 18. Hesperian practices a unique collaborative process — working at the grassroots with villagers, farmers and fisherfolk in the Third World to create How-to Books that are culturally sensitive and easily accessible. The “Community Guide” — written with the help of 120 communities and specialists from more than 33 countries — contains instructions on everything from improving access to safe drinking water to organizing against oil companies polluting their water and land. Like all Hesperian books, the Community Guide is highly illustrated with easy-to-follow projects ranging from simple to complex. Topics covered include Preventing and Reducing Harm from Toxic Pollution, and Food Security and Sustainable Farming. The World Health Organization has called Hesperian’s 1977 Where There Is No Doctor, “The most widely used health education manual in the world.”
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