Montioring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs  Editor\Publisher

Issue #109                                                                           March 19, 2001


Canada’s Calgary Herald in a March 10 editorial has raised some interesting and provocative questions concerning the spread of mad cow disease, first diagnosed in the United Kingdom as originating in cattle being fed with scrapie, a sheep disease related to BSE (more popularly known as mad cow disease).

Some scientists believed that BSE had crossed the species barrier from sheep to cattle and subsequently to humans in the form Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD or nvCJD), although ensuing research challenged this crossover theory, the consumption of contaminated feed by cattle has become the generally accepted source of BSE.

But, as the Herald notes, other researchers have brought forth some troubling questions about where and how this sinister disease is spread, particularly questioning the eating of BSE contaminated beef as the source of nvCJD.

They note that three of the young people who contracted nvCJD in the U.K. were vegetarians, two of them because of religious beliefs  and that the British cases of nvCJD seemed to have clustered around heavily sprayed hop fields in specific parts of England, but not in heavily populated London.

Another mystery: why are there no cases of the human disease among British butchers who worked directly with BSE-infected meat?

“Even more interesting is why, under laboratory conditions, researchers found it impossible to infect a cow with BSE by feeding it infected material ---- the generally accepted source,”

A British scientist, Dr. Steven Whatley, however, was able to recreate damaged prions (the mark of all these related diseases), the editorial notes, in the laboratory when he infused animal tissues with organophosphate pesticides.

“That seems to explain why there no cases of BSE on British organic farms -- where farmers do not use organophosphates,” the Herald adds.

The last two points are the most troubling, the editorial points out, because that chemical poison is in widespread use in North America. Dr. Janice Miller, a researcher at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, has noted that organophosphates have an impact on the nervous system. She added she would like to see broader, more open-minded research into the original cause of BSE and nvCJD rather than presuming meat and bonemeal are the sole cause and carrier.

“There are also some questions closer to home,” the Herald editorial continues,  “how did wild elk and deer in Wyoming apparently spontaneously contract a related BSE disease called Chronic Wasting Disease? These animals are vegetarians and do not eat beef or commercial animal feed? Could it have anything to do with the presence in the soil of high levels of selenium produced by cement factory emissions in the area?

“Some of these questions raise concerns over the consequences from the use of certain pesticides and chemical residues from industrial production,” the Canadian paper’s editorial concludes. “Perhaps governments need to broaden their research about the origins of BSE and consider some precautionary steps regarding the widespread use of organophosphates and other chemicals. These troubling questions should not be dismissed as scientific speculation --- they will raise some legitimate doubts in the minds of the consuming public.”


In a joint statement, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that around 30% of chemical poisons marketed in developing countries, with an estimated market value of $900 million annually, do not meet internationally accepted quality standards and are posing a serious threat to human health and the environment.

“These poor-quality pesticides frequently contain hazardous substances and impurities that have already been banned or severely restricted elsewhere," said Gero Vaagt, FAO Pesticide Management Group. Such chemical poisons, he added, often contribute to the accumulation of obsolete chemical poison stocks in developing countries.

The global market value for chemical poisons was estimated at $32 billion in 2000, with the share of developing countries around $3 billion. In developing countries, chemical poisons are used primarily for agriculture, but are also used for public health, such as insecticides for controlling insects spreading malaria.

The low quality of chemical poisons can be due to both poor production and formulation and the inadequate selection of chemicals. In many chemical poison products, for example, the active ingredient concentrations are higher than internationally accepted tolerance limits. In addition, poor-quality chemical poisons may be contaminated with toxic substances or impurities.

When labeling and packaging is also taken into account, the proportion of poor-quality chemical products in developing countries is even higher. The labeling is often written in the wrong language and fails to provide data on the active ingredient, application, date of manufacture and safe handling of the chemical.

For the consumer, the label is usually the only source of product information. According to WHO, falsely declared products have continued to find their way to markets for years without quality control.

FAO and WHO said that the problem of poor-quality chemical poisons is particularly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, where quality control is generally weak. The UN agencies urged governments and international and regional organizations to adopt the world-wide accepted FAO/WHO chemical poison specifications to ensure the production and trade of good quality products. Countries should make these voluntary standards legally binding.

The FAO/WHO standards are especially important for developing countries that lack the infrastructure for proper evaluation of chemical poison products. Chemical poison industries, including producers of generic chemical poisons, should submit their products for quality assessment to FAO/WHO. FAO and WHO have agreed to cooperate in a joint program to develop specifications for chemical poisons.


Some 130 chemical poison victims have filed a $134 million lawsuit in a Managua, Nicaragua court against their former U.S. employers --- Chiquita International  and Standard Fruit (owned by Dole Fresh Fruit Co.) and Dow, Occidental and Shell Oil, the chemical companies that produced DBCP (or dibromochloropropane), which was regularly sprayed during the 1960s and 1970s to combat insects that prey on bananas,

The individual lawsuits seek compensation for such maladies as infertility, cancer, damage to the liver and kidneys, and birth defects. The 130 claimants are the first of 3,000 expect to sue the companies and are represented by Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack, the Los Angeles law firm of 100 employees that helped the renowned Erin Brockovich win the water pollution case depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie.

Within the past 25 years, 103 former plantation workers in Nicaragua and their offspring have reportedly died and 22,000 became seriously ill as a result of regular contact with the toxic fumigant DBCP, now classified as "extremely hazardous" by the World Health Organization.

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mike Lanchin reports lawyers for the claimants planned to argue that the foreign companies knew about the chemical poison’s potentially harmful effects and failed to provide adequate protection. "It would have been different if they were completely ignorant of the effects of DBCP, but they knew," said Walter Gutierrez, the victims' legal representative in Nicaragua.

Lawyers for the banana and chemical companies, Lanchin adds, “will argue that sterility in males is a common occurrence and caused by a variety of factors. They will also contend that banana workers rotate jobs with enough frequency that long- term exposure to DBCP would have been rare.

“Above all, the chemical companies will stress that all shipping invoices clearly outlined safety procedures and cautioned the user against breathing the product or getting it on the skin. Hence, it was the fruit companies' fault for not warning the workers.”

"Dow freely concedes that excessive exposure to DBCP, either through inhalation or dermal exposure, will affect male fertility," says Scot Wheeler, Dow Chemical Co.'s public affairs manager. "Unfortunately, many of the users and purchasers of DBCP failed to follow the warning labels," he adds. "In our view, Dow should not be liable for their improper conduct."

In a written statement, Shell Oil told The Chronicle that it ceased production of the pesticide in 1977 and "believes that none of its DBCP product were used at any Standard Fruit Plantation or any other plantation in Nicaragua at any time. . . . There are no scientific reports attributing death to the occupational application of DBCP."

DBCP has been described as a potentially carcinogenic agent by the U.S.      Environmental Protection Agency. The chemical poison was first manufactured by Dow and Shell in the 1950s to combat microscopic worms that attack banana plants. In 1964, it was licensed under the brand names Fumazone and Nemagon and was widely used on plantations owned by Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita and Standard Fruit. At one point, the manufacturers were exporting 24 million pounds of DBCP annually.

The Chronicle’s Lanchin noted, that according to the Pesticide Action Network in San Francisco, toxicologists noted early on that DBCP caused male sterility in rats and atrophied the testicles of rabbits and monkeys.

"Although further research should have been undertaken, there was great pressure to begin sales of DBCP," Lori Ann Thrupp, then a research fellow in the Energy and Resources Program at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote in a 1989 article. "Company directors were anxious to reap the profits, and farmers were eager to use this powerful product."


An International Women's Day demonstration in Brazil last week brought women farmers from throughout the country together to protest worldwide economic policies they say are unfair.

Some 700 women members of Brazil's Landless Rural Workers Movement occupied a McDonald's restaurant in Porto Alegre, some 1,000 miles south of Brasilia. They burned flags bearing the fast-food chain's logo, criticized economic globalization and called the Brazilian government a slave to ''world neoliberalism.''

The protest was inspired by the anti-globalization efforts of French activist Jose Bove the sheep farmer who gained international fame for ransacking a McDonald's restaurant in France and was arrested in Brazil last January after he joined the workers movement in a massive protest.

At the same time as the demonstrations in Brazil a French court in Montpellier was handing down a 10-month suspended jail sentence to Jove for destroying genetically modified rice plants during an assault on a research center. The anti-globalization campaigner was found guilty with two others of leading a raid on the publicly funded center in the southern town in June 1999.

He was also placed on probation for two years and ordered to pay substantial costs and damages in addition to a symbolic one franc to the laboratory. "The courts in Montpellier have shown yet again that they are supporters of genetically modified food," Bove said. "The justice system has not understood a thing about the dangers that face us all."

A court of appeal will rule on March 22 on a three-month jail sentence he received last year for ransacking the McDonald's diner in 1999 during a protest against "la malbouffe" (junk food) and U.S. tariffs on French cheese and foie gras. The prosecution wants the jail term doubled. Bove wants it quashed but says he is not afraid to go to jail and will march there from his sheep farm if ordered behind bars.

Meanwhile in Brazil, some 2,000 women blocked access to a supermarket in Florianopolis, 800 miles south of Brasilia, claiming it sold genetically engineered food. And in Belo Horizonte, some 380 miles southeast of Brasilia, a group of women protested in front of the local city council chambers demanding that the government speed up agrarian reform.


In a print and radio advertising blitz targeting key Midwestern states, the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture has launched a farmbelt campaign urging farmers to look at the declining export markets for genetically engineered crops before making final planting decisions this spring.

The campaign is encouraging farmers to consider the impact GE crops will have on export markets and to call 1-800-639-FARM to get more information on GE crops.  The ad campaign targets corn and soybean farmers in five states including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota.  The campaign is a grassroots effort that is intended to provide balanced information on genetic engineering from a farmer perspective.

Bill Christison, a Missouri farmer and president of the National Family Farm Coalition, said that providing farmers with a non-industry perspective on genetic engineering is critical at this time.

“Family farmers are seeing overseas markets shrink partly because of GMO seed.  Our prices are already low and these market declines can only do more harm.  The Farmer to Farmer Campaign is encouraging farmers to consider this problem when they buy their seed this spring.”

The ads highlight recent negative market developments brought on by GE crops, including:

* USDA recently lowered its forecast of corn exports for the marketing year by 90 million bushels, a cut private analysts say is largely due to the impact of the contamination of the corn crop by the genetically modified corn Starlink (Des Moines Register: February 25, 2001)

* Projected U.S. corn exports are reduced because some importers,
especially Japan, are expected to minimize purchases of varieties of corn not approved for some, or all, uses. (USDA WASDE: March 8, 2001)

* Brazil has won its first contract to supply Spain with 150,000 tons of
non-GMO corn. They sold it at a 15-cent premium. In 1999, the U.S. lost $200 million in sales of corn to Spain and Portugal alone.  A leader of a Brazilian cooperative said Brazil may export GMO-free corn to Japan.  (Reuters)

* Europe is buying non-GMO soybeans.  From 1995-2000, the US has lost 14.3% of its export market share in soybeans, while Brazil’s market share has climbed 10.7% (USDA PS&D Database)

* As of the third week in February, the combined total of accumulated
U.S. corn exports and outstanding U.S. corn export sales to Japan is 65 million bushels less then at this time last year. (USDA- FASonline, U.S. Export Sales as of 2/22/2001)

The Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture is a collaborative effort among family farm organizations to promote the farmer perspective on genetic engineering in agriculture.  The campaign works to bring the family farmer voice to development of policies related to genetic engineering in agriculture.

In November 1999, over thirty farm groups endorsed the Farmer’s Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture, an initial effort of the campaign.  Groups involved in the media effort are Dakota Rural Action, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Land Stewardship Project, and Missouri Rural Crisis Center.


On the eve of anti-genetic engineered food demonstrations in over 100 cities across the U.S. on Tuesday to coincide with the annual meeting of Starbucks Coffee Co. in Seattle, Washington, the Associated Press has reported that the company has begun efforts to serve only milk free of bovine growth hormone ingredients,

Starbucks, a coffee and specialty drink maker, is one of the largest milk users in the country, with 2,758 stores nationwide.

“If I've got 10 percent of my customer base that's concerned about this issue, I'm concerned,'' Orin Smith, Starbucks' president and chief executive said in an AP interview. While acknowledging that the Food and Drug Administration has said milk containing rBGH is safe for human  consumption Smith said his company was more concerned about public perception than health concerns.

Smith said the company was hoping customers would be given the choice of growth hormone-free milk by late this summer.

Ronnie Cummins, campaign director for the Organic Consumers Association which was among six organizations who wrote a letter to Smith in February demanding that the company take all genetically modified organisms out of its food ingredients, said Starbucks was targeted because it uses so much milk in its products and the groups are confident Starbucks customers are concerned enough to respond to their campaign.

Joining the Organic Consumers Association in its call are the Friends of the Earth, Rights Action Canada, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, and Sustain.

“It sounds like a good first step. I'd love to see that in writing,” Cummins observed in responding to the Smith interview. Stressing that his organization and others will continue to fight for all Starbucks products to be GMO-free and organic, Cummins adds, “I think Starbucks’ customers are going to demand it, and if they don't do what we're asking them to do, they're going to suffer in terms of their reputation and eventually in terms of their bottom line.”

Several thousand Starbucks outlets are still using milk coming from dairies that allow cows to be injected with Monsanto's controversial Bovine Growth Hormone, a hormone often associated with higher risks for cancer in humans. rBGH is a powerful drug, which has been shown to cruelly damage the health of dairy cows, forcing them to give more milk.

The coalition urges people who are concerned about genetically engineered products and the origins of Starbuck’s products to help leaflet a Starbucks outlet in their community. Frankenbuck$ leaflets are available from the Organic Consumers website:

Concerned consumers are also being urged to call, write, fax, or email Starbucks, telling them to send a written guarantee that they will change their policies on genetically engineered foods, Fair Trade coffee, and wages and working conditions of coffee plantation workers, or else their products will not be bought. Requests for such assurances should be sent to:

Mr. Orin Smith, CEO;
Starbucks Coffee Company;
P.O. Box 34067;
Seattle, WA 98124-1067
Telephone: 800-235-2883
Fax: 206-447-3432
email: emails can be sent from the Starbucks website:


In an industry that has historically been fiercely resistant to unionization, the United Farm Workers (UFW) last week achieve a significant victory with the announcement that it had signed a contract covering 750 Ventura County, California Coastal Berry strawberry workers.

Significant in the sense that Coastal Berry claims to own an 11% share of the U.S. strawberry market it was the union’s first major success in the  $800 million California industry.

The 38-year old union, backed by the AFL-CIO has made the unionization of strawberry workers a top priority since 1996, however, its efforts have been previous thwarted by two contentious union elections in 1998 and 1999, both won on close votes by a local non-union organization, the Coastal Farmworkers Committee, led by workers who were opponents of the UFW.

Despite the setbacks, however, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, in an unprecedented ruling, certified the Farmworkers Committee as bargaining agent for Coastal Berry's Monterey-Santa Cruz counties workers and UFW for those in Ventura County. "People thought we got a lemon, but we made lemonade," said UFW spokesman Marc Grossman.

The Ventura contract includes a 7 percent wage increase spread over three years and an immediate boost in the basic wage to $6.75 an hour, along with a piece rate formula that should raise the average wage to $8.25 to $10 an hour, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said.

Coastal Berry's Chairman David Gladstone said the contract provides "benefits unheard of in this industry." It includes free health care and a dental plan --- portable to Mexico --- a seniority system, six paid holidays, a vacation plan and job guarantees. "It gives the union a major stake in the strawberry industry," said Rodriguez, who has headed the UFW since the 1993 death of founder Cesar Chavez.

Coastal Berry also has a signed contract with the Farmworkers Committee covering about 1,000 workers and while it similar to the UFW agreement, Gladstone notes, it lacks provisions for seniority and a structured grievance procedure.


Reacting angrily to the recent actions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in cutting a back room deal with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) to nullify a 53% to 47% vote by the nation’s pork producers to end the pork checkoff tax, the Campaign for Family Farms is taking the offensive.

Announcing last week a campaign to escalate their organizing efforts, the family farm group plans to to generating phone calls and pressure on USDA Secretary Ann Veneman and George W. Bush, amassing organizational sign-ons to a strong statement, placing op-eds and letters-to-the-editor in newspapers and internet media outlets, and directly confronting Veneman and Bush to bring attention to their undemocratic action.

Stressing that they are using this opportunity to engage not only hog farmers and rural citizens, but also diverse constituencies that are concerned about Secretary Veneman’s actions against democracy, the Campaign notes that citizens of all political stripes are outraged by USDA’s action, including some pro-industry checkoff supporters who are joining their fight for democracy.

They point out that farmers voted down the pork tax because it funded the policies and programs of the National Pork Producers (NPPC), a commodity group that has been using hog farmers money against them to pay for research and media to promote factory farms and agribusiness corporations.

Yet despite the fact that after Bush appointed Veneman as his Ag Secretary, and NPPC’s chief executive --- Al Tank --- was selected as a member of the Veneman-Bush transition team and she was flooded with calls from hog farmers, in her first week in office, asking her to terminate the pork tax immediately she failed to not only respond to the calls, but refused to meet with the Campaign for Family Farms representatives.

On February 28 Veneman broke her silence on the issue and announced that USDA and NPPC to keep the pork tax in place.

Currently, the Campaign is circulating a sign-on letter to all organizations who support this fight for democracy and will release the document at a press conference on March 26th. The farm group is asking that the letter be circulated to any organizations that readers would like see included on the letter  (see below).

An open letter to President George Bush

March 26, 2001

Dear President Bush,

As President of the United States, you have the responsibility to uphold the rights of the citizens of this country.  Our most basic inalienable right, the right of democracy, has been violated by your administration.

The decision of the Bush Administration, made by your Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, to throw out the legal and binding vote of hog farmers to end the mandatory pork checkoff tax is an outrage against democracy.  Secretary Veneman agreed to a closed door deal with the National Pork Producers Council, close political allies of the Secretary, which has received 90% of the checkoff funds in recent years, at approximately $40 million per year.

More than 30,000 independent pork producers cast their ballots in the referendum conducted by USDA last fall knowing that the official rules, which are law, said the checkoff would end if a majority of producers voted to terminate it, and that’s exactly what happened.  Hog farmers voted down the pork tax by a clear margin of 53% to 47%.

Hog farmers voted to end the pork checkoff because it is an unfair and failed tax.  It has not helped independent hog farmers stay in business, hog prices to farmers have steadily fallen since the pork tax was started in 1986,  and it uses hog farmers money against them to pay for research and media to promote factory farms and agribusiness corporations.

We support the Campaign for Family Farms' demand for the immediate termination of the mandatory pork checkoff, based on the majority vote of hog farmers to end the pork tax in the nationwide referendum conducted by USDA.  The “settlement agreement” between the Bush Administration and National Pork Producers Council to continue the pork checkoff is illegitimate and should not stand.  The Campaign for Family Farms, which represents the hog farmers who called for the referendum and won it, was never consulted by USDA and U.S. Department of Justice officials about their secret negotiations with NPPC.  This lack of ethics by members of your Administration is appalling.

As President, you took an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution rests on democracy.  Secretary Veneman’s backroom deal with the National Pork Producers Council violates democracy.  It is clear that our government must abide by the hog producers' vote, end the mandatory pork checkoff tax now, and restore democracy.  Anything less is a direct blow against democracy and fairness in our land

Your Organization

To sign this letter and be included in this effort to promote democracy, contact one of the members of the Campaign for Family Farms by e-mail or phone: Missouri Rural Crisis Center--(573) 449-1336, Land Stewardship Project from Minnesota--(612) 722-6377, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement--(515) 282-0484, Illinois Stewardship Alliance (217) 498-9235


A majority of citizens believe most chemicals are already tested for safety, and that the government is protecting them against harmful chemicals. But what is the true story?

A groundbreaking investigative report on the chemical industry by Bill Moyers and award winning documentary film maker Sherry Jones uncovers how the public’s health and safety have been put at risk and why corporate powerful forces don't want the truth to be known.

TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT is currently scheduled to air on PBS on Monday, March 26 at 9 p.m. (check local listings)

This investigative report, accompanied by a PBS Web site, is based on a massive archive of secret industry documents as shocking as the "tobacco papers." In the 50 years of the chemical revolution, over 75,000 chemicals have been released into the environment. What happens as our body absorbs them? And how can we protect ourselves?

TRADE SECRETS promises to provide everyone working on toxic chemicals and environmental health issues a tremendous education and outreach opportunity.
Moyers and Jones won the Peabody Award for their last collaboration on WASHINGTON'S OTHER SCANDAL. To take advantage of this opportunity the Environmental Health Fund, the Environmental Working Group, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and Women's Voices For the Earth are launching Coming Clean.

Coming Clean is aimed at assisting groups across the country to use the opportunity of a prime time television special to boost their ongoing work. Coming Clean is also focused on doing whatever people can to ensure that after March 26, there are more people in more communities from even more diverse backgrounds working to stop the chemical contamination of the world’s food, bodies and environment.

Viewers are being asked to consider hosting a Coming Clean viewing event. For more information, contact Charlotte Brody at (703-237-2249), Bryony Schwan at (406-543-3747), Sharyle Patton at Mark Ritchie, President,  Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy 2105 First Ave. South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404  USA 612-870-3400 (phone) 612-870-4846 (fax)

News of the program has already raised the ire of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) as it reports in a recent issue of one  of its e-mail newsletters in a story headlined  "Chemical Industry may be the next TV victim" that it is concerned about the production. It characterizes the Moyers\Jones report as being "orchestrated by a group of national environmental groups" and says that the program will be used "as the centerpiece for a national anti-chemistry campaign called "Coming Clean” and that it “does not appear that any member of the crop protection or chemical industries was contacted to provide balance to the program.”

The AFBF alert makes no mention of the fact that several multi-million dollar Farm Bureau insurance conglomerates are heavily invested in various chemical/biotech companies such as Monsanto, DOW and DuPont.


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