Climate chicken; Dept of Justice & ag antitrust; Monsanto exposed; Hasta la vista methyl iodide; Good news Kern County! | Pesticide Action Network
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Climate chicken; Dept of Justice & ag antitrust; Monsanto exposed; Hasta la vista methyl iodide; Good news Kern County!

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Dec 17, 2009 -- Andrew Olsen

Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

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Support Panups!December 18, 2009

Climate chicken: PAN report from Copenhagen

 December 17, 9 pm PST: With fewer than 16 hours to go, the official climate talks in Copenhagen remain precarious, defined by what appears to be a game of chicken between the U.S. and China, distrust between rich and poor countries, and a midweek shift to undemocratic and exclusionary process. While Copenhagen’s Bella Center has been vigorously policed from the outset, thousands of accredited civil society observers were allowed access. Beginning on Monday, that access was significantly curtailed. By Wednesday, entire delegations of NGOs critical of the proceedings, like Friends of the Earth and Via Campesina, were being expelled from the talks without explanation or means of redress. The expulsions mirror anti-democratic and heavy-handed Danish police behavior outside the Bella Center at demonstrations throughout the week, where over 1,500 people have been arrested – most without cause - to be jailed and later released without charge. Likewise, the democratic legitimacy of the UN talks has been marred by last week’s leaked “Danish Text,” which revealed backroom dealings between a few powerful countries in an attempt to scuttle the Kyoto framework, and by back channel meetings between key players leading up to and throughout the talks.

Real Deal? Much appears to have transpired in the 48 hours since critical civil society observers were kicked out of the biggest climate change gathering in history. Talks had been stalled for days, with over 100 countries – led by the small island nation of Tuvalu and African delegates – demanding a “Real Deal” that seeks to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than the 2 degrees currently on the table. (A 2-degree rise will leave many small island nations underwater entirely and wreak havoc in Africa. These and other G77 delegates had thus been refusing compromise on this point despite significant pressure, collectively advancing a position that “our survival is non-negotiable.” Many of the expelled NGOs had rallied behind the Tuvalu proposal.)

Money: Another sticking point has been transition finance. Consistent with a UN needs assessment, developing countries are asking for $400bn annually by 2020 to leapfrog carbon-intensive economic development while adapting to a climate crisis that they had next to no role in creating, and are suffering disproportionately under. Until yesterday, finance figures floated by rich countries were hovering around $10bn per year. Talks were thus at an impasse on this point as well until U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a $100bn climate finance fund from rich countries, contingent upon a deal being arrived at in Copenhagen, and upon “transparency” in verifying emissions cuts. Although widely critiqued as too vague (Clinton declined to state how much the U.S. would contribute, or whether funds would be diverted from other aid streams), the offer changed the dynamic of the talk by giving China cover and impetus to soften its stance on another point of contention: transparent verification of its emission cuts.

Kyoto preserved, with cuts that miss the mark: On Thursday developing countries appeared to have won a significant negotiating point in preserving the framework of the Kyoto protocol, and with it a premise that both recognizes rich countries’ “historical responsibility” for having generated over 70% of global greenhouse gases, and assigns “common but differentiated responsibilities” for addressing the climate crisis. Less promising and in many ways more fundamental, are the emissions cuts on the table. According to a UN analysis (PDF) leaked to the press on Thursday, current emission cut pledges will not meet the agreed-upon objective of keeping global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Rather, they put the world on “an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550 ppm [parts per million] with the related temperature raise around 3 degrees C.”

C02 speculation: Current science indicates that atmospheric concentrations of 550 ppm of CO2 will be catastrophic, resulting in a sea level rise of 2 meters before the end of the century. What’s more, the analysis underpinning this correlation of 550 ppm to current emissions cut pledges takes those pledges at their word without considering the high likelihood that offsetting and flexibility mechanisms like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and CDM (Clean Development Mechanisms) will undermine the environmental integrity of emissions reductions by setting up an elaborate and ungovernable global carbon market. Critics of "cap and trade" and the emerging carbon market contend that these mechanisms are ill-equipped to reduce emissions, both because their price signals are delinked from polluting behavior on the ground, and because carbon markets will, like other recent commodities markets, become quickly financialized into derivative instruments, thus setting the stage for yet another speculative bubble

Climate justice silenced: As PANUPS goes to press late on Thursday, it isn’t clear what the final day of Copenhagen talks will hold. Neither is the democratic mandate of these UN proceedings assured, since NGOs and G77 countries demanding climate justice and more aggressive emissions reductions appear to have been largely silenced or sidelined. China and the U.S. together account for 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions; keeping both parties seriously engaged in the talks is thus a precondition of any meaningful framework for climate change mitigation. Whether or not their game of climate chicken will yield an agreement that saves face at the ultimate expense of undermining the legitimacy of the talks and failing to meet the crisis at hand remains to be seen.

Subscribers to PAN Alerts will receive a Dec. 22 post-Copenhagen update on climate justice and the role of agriculture in the talks.

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Dept. of Justice invites comments on agribusiness competition

Corporate foodFor the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Justice is calling for public comment on how big business controls food and farming. The DOJ's Antitrust Division is collecting input in preparation for "agricultural workshops" in early 2010 that will examine the extent of abusive anticompetitive behavior by agribusiness giants. In October, tens of thousands of people signed petitions circulated by several groups, including Pesticide Action Network, Food & Water Watch, World Hunger Year, and the National Family Farm Coalition, calling on President Obama's antitrust chief, Christine Varney, to rigorously enforce antitrust law in the agricultural sector. "Start with Monsanto, the worst of the worst," said some petitioners. Members of the U.S. Working Group on the Global Food Crisis are now encouraging public comments to DOJ with stories about how corporate control of the food system affects average citizens. 
Issues of concern include how Monsanto controls the majority of soy and corn seed in the U.S.; why there are no requirements to list pesticides present in food, and the revolving door between government agencies and regulated corporations. Others are focusing on confined animal feeding operations, destruction of smaller seed companies and family farms, and food safety. Comments to DOJ are due by December 31. 


Monsanto's monopoly exposed in Iowa and Copenhagen

Monsanto cornMonsanto’s aggressive control of markets and policy was in the spotlight this week in two places of import for its business: Iowa, and the community of nations gathered in Copenhagen. First, The Des Moines Register published an Associated Press expose, saying, "confidential contracts detailing Monsanto's business practices reveal how the seed giant is squeezing competitors, controlling smaller companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops." Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network North America, noted, "Monsanto has long used aggressive bully tactics to control the terms of farming and food around the world so that as our world gets hungrier and faces the climate crisis, their monopoly and revenue grow. This kind of bad behavior is long overdue for public scrutiny."

As more of the company’s confidential licensing agreements have come to light, revealing harsh anti-competitive business practices, investigations have been launched by the U.S. Department of Justice (see story above) and at least two states’ attorneys general. The contracts give smaller companies the right to use Monsanto’s patented genes, but prohibit stacking them with genes from any of its competitors. Since 95% of U.S. soy and 80% of corn contain Monsanto’s traits, the contracts effectively lock any competitors out of the vast majority of the country's seed market. Contract restrictions include use of research done by public institutions with taxpayer dollars. “We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of [seed genetics]," said Neil Harl, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades. "This level of control is almost unbelievable.” In addition to choking out competitive research, the contracts give deep discounts to smaller seed sellers if Monsanto seeds make up at least 70% of their inventory. They also specify that any of these companies who change ownership have to destroy their inventory, effectively preventing anyone besides Monsanto from buying them out. In the last few years, Monsanto purchased over 200 companies, including a Brazilian sugarcane ethanol company, and continues to report record profits.
In Copenhagen on Tuesday, Monsanto won the "Angry Mermaid Award" for promoting its genetically engineered (GE) crops as the solution to climate change. People from around the world voted for the prize that activists bestow upon one corporation to highlight its role in either undermining the climate negotiations, or using them for corporate gain. Apparently unperturbed by the fact that GE soy plantations have been a major driver of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America, Monsanto continues to lobby for the eligibility of large-scale, plantation-style agrofuels as carbon credits to be funded under the climate agreement's Clean Development Mechanisms.

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US urged to get house in order on persistent chemicals

3 leg frogDozens of environmental health organizations delivered an urgent letter this week to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, asking the leaders to support Congressional efforts to get the U.S. house in order on persistent chemicals. As Congress begins to tackle broad reform of U.S. chemical policy for the first time in three decades, the groups are urging these key agencies to actively support provisions enabling U.S. agencies to take "decisive action at home" on pollutants that persist in the environment and build up in the food chain and our bodies. Such revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), along with similar revisions to national pesticide legislation, would allow the U.S. to finally join the 168 countries that have already adopted the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants - an international treaty targeting persistent chemicals for global elimination. "Strong TSCA reform legislation that includes EPA authority to address persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals...will empower the United States to be a leader, rather than a laggard, in phasing out global pollutants that threaten Americans every day," concludes the letter. TSCA reform legislation is expected to be introduced early next year. Meanwhile, legislation was introduced earlier this month aimed at jumpstarting the federal government's long-delayed evaluation of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Such chemicals can mimic hormones, affecting systems that regulate many bodily functions, with particular impacts on reproduction. Endocrine disruptors are known to cause a variety of long-term health effects at very low levels of exposure. The legislation was introduced by Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Jim Moran, and calls on the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences to investigate the impacts of EDCs on the human hormone system, with a particular focus on children.

Will California let the genie out of the bottle?

MEI protestState officials say they'll let the science decide, but Californians aren't convinced. At issue is California's pending decision over allowing the world's largest privately–held pesticide corporation (Arysta) to sell a new carcinogenic and extremely toxic pesticide, methyl iodide, in the lucrative California market. As reported in the Fresno Bee, on Monday strawberry workers, scientists and concerned Californians gathered at the state capitol to urge legislators and the governor to just say no. Californians are particularly incensed by Arysta's PR campaign to convince Californians that their product is safe, despite registered concern from more than 65 prominent scientists across the country, including five Nobel laureates in chemistry, who are "astonished" that a product they use with great caution to induce cancer in laboratory experiments is being considered for widespread use in food production. Scientists have also found the chemical induces miscarriages in late–term pregnancy, and is a potential groundwater contaminant. “Methyl iodide is toxic in so many ways,” said Dr. Susan Kegley, a scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. “But the effect of greatest concern is the pesticide’s ability to cause fetal deaths late in pregnancy. The Schwarzenegger administration has a very serious choice to make: are they going to allow the use of a pesticide that has a high probability of causing late-term miscarriages in women who live or work near methyl iodide applications? If they permit the use of this chemical in California’s fields, that’s the swamp they are stepping into.” Arysta has meanwhile hired a Kentucky-based private communications firm (Peritus) to attempt to sway public opinion and the CA Dept. of Pesticide Regulation their way. California's decision is expected by the end of January. Tell CA governor to say no to methyl iodide.

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Kern County, CA, approves pesticide buffer zones

Aerial shot schoolOn December 14, Kern County approved the toughest pesticide protection buffer zones in California. The Kern policy follows the 2008 decision in neighboring Tulare County that established quarter-mile buffer zones around schools and other sensitive sites for aerial applications of Restricted Use pesticides (generally the most hazardous). Kern County improved on the Tulare standards by including all applications, both ground and aerial. Unfortunately, the proposal of Kern officials to include all pesticides was blocked by the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation. The new rules aim to limit pesticide drift, and establish buffer (or protection) zones to decrease drift exposure for especially vulnerable populations including school children. Among other rules, the new regulations allow use only of pesticides that can be confined to the target area, and hold applicators responsible for utilizing buffer zones and other drift-prevention measures. In addition, no applications of "Restricted Materials" may occur within a quarter-mile of a school in session or during school-sponsored activities when children are present. Applicators must submit a notice of intent at least 24 hours prior to the use of restricted materials. The Kern campaign was led by members of the statewide coalition, Californians for Pesticide Reform, including the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Committee for a Better Arvin, the Wasco, CA, group Residentes Organizados Servidores al Ambiente Sano, and many activist residents of Kern, Tulare and surrounding counties.

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PANUPS holiday schedule: Weds. Dec. 23 & 30

Just two weeks after we moved PANUPS to Fridays, we have another schedule change for our dear readers: for the next two weeks we'll be publishing on Wednesdays to avoid holiday email. Thanks for staying with us. We wish you a peaceful season.


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