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#870 -- Taking on the Pentagon, 31-Aug-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #870

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

Thursday, August 31, 2006...............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Taking on the Pentagon
  Fifteen years into their fight against the Army's plan to
  incinerate leftover chemical weapons, citizens are proposing safer
  alternatives for getting the job done.
Genetically Engineered Crops May Cause Human Disease
  The biotech food industry denies the possibility that genetically
  engineered crops may cause human disease, but a former Monsanto
  scientist tells a distinctly different story.
U.S. Oversight of Biotech Crops Seen Lacking
  The U.S. rice supply is widely contaminated with genetically
  modified organisms not approved for human consumption. In 2003 and
  again in 2005 the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of
  Agriculture criticized the department for allowing this to happen
  again and again. Perhaps it's time to admit that this technology
  cannot be controlled by humans, no matter how hard anyone may try.
Pesticides and Parkinson's Disease: The Evidence Grows Stronger
  "As the case for an etiological [cause-and-effect] link between
  pesticides and Parkinson's Disease gets stronger, the need to invoke
  the 'precautionary principle' will become more apparent. Physicians
  have a special responsibility to educate and provide guidance to
  colleagues, the public, and policy makers charged with regulating the
  chemicals in our environment."
Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity
  "The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent
  since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially
  notable, economists say, because productivity -- the amount that an
  average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a
  nation's living standards -- has risen steadily over the same period."
Americans Without Health Benefits May Have Set Record in 2005
  "The number of Americans without health insurance probably rose to
  a record in 2005 as medical costs increased three times as fast as
  wages, according to forecasts for a Census Bureau report today."

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #870, Aug. 31, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

TAKING ON THE PENTAGON

By Peter Montague

In Alabama, Arkansas, Oregon and Utah, the U.S. Army is preparing to
spend a decade incinerating 12,000 tons of leftover "mustard agent" --
a chemical weapon intended to immobilize enemy soldiers by producing
painful, debilitating blisters on skin and lungs. In Tooele County,
Utah, where about half the nation's mustard agent resides,
incineration began last week.[1]

The mustard agent is presently stored in aging cannisters on military
bases in the four states and the Army says it is safer to incinerate
it than to do nothing.

But this week a coalition of citizens issued a sophisticated
engineering report arguing that there's a third alternative besides
"do nothing" and incineration: chemical neutralization. The Chemical
Weapons Working Group (CWWG) in Berea, Kentucky concluded that it
seems feasible for the Army to neutralize mustard agent using warm
water.

CWWG acknowledged that it lacked sufficient information to demand that
the Army immediately shift from incineration to neutralization.
Instead, they want the Army itself to study chemical neutralization,
with citizen participation. "The purpose of the report is to try and
compel the Army to perform due diligence of the fundamental
questions," says Craig Williams the leader of CWWG.

Neither CWWG nor its constituent citizen groups oppose destruction of
the chemical warfare agents -- they just want it done as safely as
possible.

This is a classic example of citizens taking a modern approach to
community protection -- setting goals (destruction of the mustard
agent), examining available alternatives to find the least hazardous,
and creating opportunities to participate in decision-making. And, as
Elizabeth Crowe of CWWG points out, it shows that it is never too late
to pay attention to new information, to heed early warnings and invoke
the precautionary principle.

The Army announced new information recently -- it discovered the toxic
metal mercury in the mustard agent at the level of 65 parts per
million (800 pounds of mercury in 6200 tons of mustard agent). If this
level of mercury were present in all 12,000 tons, the incinerator
program would be releasing 1560 pounds of mercury into the environment
-- a very large release of a metal that is poisonous in microgram
quantities. In addition, there's a distinct possibility that the Army
has underestimated the total quantity of mercury involved.

So far, the Army's response to the mercury problem has been to say it
will burn the mustard agent more slowly than initially planned, so
that the concentration of mercury in the incinerator's smoke stack
will never exceed the air quality standards set by U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). Of course with this approach, the mercury
emitted would still total 1560 pounds -- it would just leave the stack
more slowly. On the other hand, EPA announced recently that it is
now re-evaluating controls for incinerators -- which could put the
Army's chemical weapons incinerators out of compliance and delay the
whole program. Williams says this is another reason for the Army to
abandon incineration now, to avoid an unpleasant surprise later.

History of the Program

The Army decided in 1984 to incinerate leftover chemical warfare
agents -- "mustard gas" (which is actually a liquid), plus far more
deadly agents, VX and GB, also known as sarin, which are true gases --
at eight locations: Anniston, Alabama; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Umatilla,
Oregon; Tooele County, Utah; Aberdeen, Maryland; Richmond, Kentucky;
Pueblo, Colorado; and Newport, Indiana.

By 1985, opposition was growing at each location as people began
wondering whether incinerating chemical warfare agents could be done
without accidentally releasing deadly gases. No one opposed
destruction of the chemical warfare agents -- but many questioned
whether incineration was the best option.

The Army basically stonewalled the questions, insisting that it knew
best. Citizens had reason to wonder whether the Army's programs always
made good sense.

In the mid-1980s, the Army built an experimental incinerator for
chemical weapons on Johnston Island, an atoll 700 miles southwest of
Hawaii. Congress's General Accounting Office examined the test program
and reported that "unplanned and unscheduled maintenance downtime
problems... occurred on an almost daily basis." Still the Army
insisted all was well -- a stance of denial that did not inspire
confidence in communities slated for incinerators of their own.

In 1989 it was revealed that the Army owned at least 14,000
contaminated sites -- including some of the largest and most dangerous
environmental hazards imaginable. For example, it was revealed that
over the years the Army had fired or dumped an estimated four million
rounds of ordinance into the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay near
Aberdeen. Many of these rounds were unexploded bombs and rockets
filled with mustard agent, nerve gas, chlorine gas, or tear gas.[2]
They have never been recovered. Nautical charts show the area as
"restricted -- keep out" but people fishing in a skiff don't
necessarily consult charts.

In 1991 community groups from the eight communities targeted for
chemical weapons incinerators formally launched a coalition, the
Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG), led by Craig Williams, a
Vietnam veteran in Kentucky. Since then their coalition has grown to
over 200 groups nationwide.

The same year, 1991, CWWG commissioned a study of alternative methods
for destroying chemical warfare agents. That study indicated that
chemical neutralization would work well for mustard agent. Mustard
agent contains chlorine, which -- if burned -- would produce dioxins
and furans, among the most toxic chemicals known to science.
Neutralization would avoid production of these most toxic of
byproducts.

The Army stonewalled and resisted, but CWWG and its constituent
citizen groups went to Washington and bent the ears of their
Congressional delegations. The citizens' position -- we want this
done, but we want it done as safely as possible -- resonated.
Eventually Congress ordered the Army to consider alternatives to
incineration.

As a direct result of CWWG's member groups bringing relentless
pressure on the Army at every possible opportunity, providing detailed
alternatives for the Army to consider, and getting Congressional staff
involved -- the Army eventually abandoned the incinerators planned for
Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, and Maryland,[3] where it proceeded to
neutralize 1818 tons of mustard agent at Aberdeen Proving Ground
without mishap.

Now CWWG wants the Army to consider doing the same thing with mustard
agent at all the other sites. The report released this week showed,
from an engineering perspective, that it seems feasible and affordable
to either retrofit incinerators with neutralizers, or to build new
neutralizers near each existing incinerator.

The Army now has more experience neutralizing mustard agent (1818
tons) than it has incinerating mustard agent (67 tons) -- so the Army
may have a hard time squirming out of the embarrassing position CWWG
has put it in. And of course if the Army balks, CWWG has already
demonstrated that it knows how turn the screws in Washington.

CWWG has demonstrated that a tiny group of citizens can take on a
multi-billion-dollar Pentagon program and win. By sticking to their
knitting, keeping their eye on the prize, and never, ever giving up,
Craig Williams and his seasoned band of incineration fighters across
the country have proven once again, as Margaret Mead famously said:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can
change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

[1] Patty Henetz, "Cold war's killer gas on way to extinction," Salt
Lake City (Utah) Tribune May 19, 2006.

[2] John M. Bull, "Army Site May be Too Hazardous to Clean,"
Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News Feb. 26, 1989, pg. F1. And John M. R.
Bull, Phil Galewitz, and Kenn Marshall, "Nation's military has toxic
embrace," Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News Feb. 26, 1989, pg. A1.

[3] Juliet Eilprin, "Chemical weapons disposal drawn-out," Deseret
News (Salt Lake City, Utah), July 8, 2006.

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Institute for Responsible Technology, Aug. 29, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS MAY CAUSE HUMAN DISEASE

By Jeffrey M. Smith

Monsanto was quite happy to recruit young Kirk Azevedo to sell their
genetically engineered cotton. Kirk had grown up on a California farm
and had worked in several jobs monitoring and testing pesticides and
herbicides. Kirk was bright, ambitious, handsome and idealistic -- the
perfect candidate to project the company's "Save the world through
genetic engineering" image.

It was that image, in fact, that convinced Kirk to take the job in
1996.

"When I was contacted by the headhunter from Monsanto, I began to
study the company, namely the work of their CEO, Robert Shapiro." Kirk
was thoroughly impressed with Shapiro's promise of a golden future
through genetically modified (GM) crops. "He described how we would
reduce the in-process waste from manufacturing, turn our fields into
factories and produce anything from lifesaving drugs to insect-
resistant plants. It was fascinating to me." Kirk thought, "Here we
go. I can do something to help the world and make it a better place."

He left his job and accepted a position at Monsanto, rising quickly to
become the facilitator for GM cotton sales in California and Arizona.
He would often repeat Shapiro's vision to customers, researchers, even
fellow employees. After about three months, he visited Monsanto's St.
Louis headquarters for the first time for new employee training. There
too, he took the opportunity to let his colleagues know how
enthusiastic he was about Monsanto's technology that was going to
reduce waste, decrease poverty and help the world. Soon after the
meeting, however, his world was shaken.

"A vice president pulled me aside," recalled Kirk. "He told me
something like, 'Wait a second. What Robert Shapiro says is one thing.
But what we do is something else. We are here to make money. He is the
front man who tells a story. We don't even understand what he is
saying.'"

Kirk felt let down. "I went in there with the idea of helping and
healing and came out with 'Oh, I guess it is just another profit-
oriented company.'" He returned to California, still holding out hopes
that the new technology could make a difference.

Possible Toxins in GM Plants

Kirk was developing the market in the West for two types of GM cotton.
Bt cotton was engineered with a gene from a soil bacterium, Bacillus
thuringiensis. Organic farmers use the natural form of the bacterium
as an insecticide, spraying it occasionally during times of high pest
infestation. Monsanto engineers, however, isolated and then altered
the gene that produces the Bt-toxin, and inserted it into the DNA of
the cotton plant. Now every cell of their Bt cotton produces a toxic
protein. The other variety was Roundup Ready cotton. It contains
another bacterial gene that enables the plant to survive an otherwise
toxic dose of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Since the patent on
Roundup's main active ingredient, glyphosate, was due to expire in
2000, the company was planning to sell Roundup Ready seeds that were
bundled with their Roundup herbicide, effectively extending their
brand's dominance in the herbicide market.

In the summer of 1997, Kirk spoke with a Monsanto scientist who was
doing some tests on Roundup Ready cotton. Using a "Western blot"
analysis, the scientist was able to identify different proteins by
their molecular weight. He told Kirk that the GM cotton not only
contained the intended protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene, but
also extra proteins that were not normally produced in the plant.
These unknown proteins had been created during the gene insertion
process.

Gene insertion was done using a gene gun (particle bombardment). Kirk,
who has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, understood this to be
"a kind of barbaric and messy method of genetic engineering, where you
use a gun-like apparatus to bombard the plant tissue with genes that
are wrapped around tiny gold particles." He knew that particle
bombardment can cause unpredictable changes and mutations in the DNA,
which might result in new types of proteins.

The scientist dismissed these newly created proteins in the cotton
plant as unimportant background noise, but Kirk wasn't convinced.
Proteins can have allergenic or toxic properties, but no one at
Monsanto had done a safety assessment on them. "I was afraid at that
time that some of these proteins may be toxic." He was particularly
concerned that the rogue proteins "might possibly lead to mad cow or
some other prion-type diseases."

Kirk had just been studying mad cow disease (bovine spongiform
encephalopathy) and its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
(CJD). These fatal diseases had been tracked to a class of proteins
called prions. Short for "proteinaceous infectious particles," prions
are improperly folded proteins, which cause other healthy proteins to
also become misfolded. Over time, they cause holes in the brain,
severe dysfunction and death. Prions survive cooking and are believed
to be transmittable to humans who eat meat from infected "mad" cows.
The disease may incubate undetected for about 2 to 8 years in cows and
up to 30 years in humans.

When Kirk tried to share his concerns with the scientist, he realized,
"He had no idea what I was talking about; he had not even heard of
prions. And this was at a time when Europe had a great concern about
mad cow disease and it was just before the noble prize was won by
Stanley Prusiner for his discovery of prion proteins."

Kirk said "These Monsanto scientists are very knowledgable about
traditional products, like chemicals, herbicides and pesticides, but
they don't understand the possible harmful outcomes of genetic
engineering, such as pathophysiology or prion proteins. So I am
explaining to him about the potential untoward effects of these
foreign proteins, but he just did not understand."

Endangering the Food Supply

At this time, Roundup Ready cotton varieties were just being
introduced into other regions but were still being field-tested in
California. California varieties had not yet been commercialized. But
Kirk came to find out that Monsanto was feeding the cotton plants used
in its test plots to cattle.

"I had great issue with this," he said. "I had worked for Abbot
Laboratories doing research, doing test plots using Bt sprays from
bacteria. We would never take a test plot and put into the food
supply, even with somewhat benign chemistries. We would always destroy
the test plot material and not let anything into the food supply. Now
we entered into a new era of genetic engineering. The standard was not
the same as with pesticides. It was much lower, even though it
probably should have been much higher."

Kirk complained to the Ph.D. in charge of the test plot about feeding
the experimental plants to cows. He explained that unknown proteins,
including prions, might even effect humans who consume the cow's milk
and meat. The scientist replied, "Well that's what we're doing
everywhere else and that's what we're doing here." He refused to
destroy the plants.

Kirk got a bit frantic. He started talking to others in the company.
"I approached pretty much everyone on my team in Monsanto." He was
unable to get anyone interested. In fact, he said, "Once they
understood my perspective, I was somewhat ostracized. It seemed as if
once I started questioning things, people wanted to keep their
distance from me. I lost the cooperation with other team members.
Anything that interfered with advancing the commercialization of this
technology was going to be pushed aside."

He then approached California Agriculture Commissioners. "These local
Ag commissioners are traditionally responsible for test plots and to
make sure test plot designs protect people and the environment." But
Kirk got nowhere. "Once again, even at the Ag commissioner level, they
were dealing with a new technology that was beyond their
comprehension. They did not really grasp what untoward effects might
be created by the genetic engineering process itself."

Kirk continued to try to blow the whistle on what he thought could be
devastating to the health of consumers. "I spoke to many Ag
commissioners. I spoke to people at the University of California. I
found no one who would even get it, or even get the connection that
proteins might be pathogenic, or that there might be untoward effects
associated with these foreign proteins that we knew we were producing.
They didn't even want to talk about it really. You'd kind of see a
blank stare when speaking to them on this level. That led me to say I
am not going to be part of this company anymore. I'm not going to be
part of this disaster, from a moral perspective."

Kirk gave his two-week notice. In early January 1998, he finished his
last day of work in the morning and in the afternoon started his first
day at chiropractic college. He was still determined to make a
positive difference for the world, but with a radically changed
approach.

While in school, he continued to research prion disease and its
possible connection with GM crops. What he read then and what is known
now about prions has not alleviated his concerns. He says, "The
protein that manifests as mad cow disease takes about five years. With
humans, however, that time line is anywhere from 10-30 years. We were
talking about 1997 and today is 2006. We still don't know if there is
anything going to happen to us from our being used as test subjects."

Update

It turns out that the damage done to DNA due to the process of
creating a genetically modified organism is far more extensive than
previously thought. GM crops routinely create unintended proteins,
alter existing protein levels or even change the components and shape
of the protein that is created by the inserted gene. Kirk's concerns
about a GM crop producing a harmful misfolded protein remain well-
founded, and have been echoed by scientists as one of the many
possible dangers that are not being evaluated by the biotech
industry's superficial safety assessments.

GM cotton has provided ample reports of unpredicted side-effects. In
April 2006, more than 70 Indian shepherds reported that 25% of their
herds died within 5-7 days of continuous grazing on Bt cotton plants.
Hundreds of Indian agricultural laborers reported allergic reactions
from Bt cotton. Some cotton harvesters have been hospitalized and many
laborers in cotton gin factories take antihistamines each day before
work.

The cotton's agronomic performance is also erratic. When Monsanto's GM
cotton varieties were first introduced in the US, tens of thousands of
acres suffered deformed roots and other unexpected problems. Monsanto
paid out millions in settlements. When Bt cotton was tested in
Indonesia, widespread pest infestation and drought damage forced
withdrawal of the crop, despite the fact that Monsanto had been
bribing at least 140 individuals for years, trying to gain approval.
In India, inconsistent performance has resulted in more than $80
million dollars in losses in each of two states. Thousands of indebted
Bt cotton farmers have committed suicide. In Vidarbha, in north east
Maharashtra, from June through August 2006, farmers committed suicide
at a rate of about one every eight hours. (The list of adverse
reactions reported from other GM crops, in lab animals, livestock and
humans, is considerably longer.)

Kirk's concern about GM crop test plots also continues to remain
valid. The industry has been consistently inept at controlling the
spread of unapproved varieties. On August 18, 2006, for example, the
USDA announced that unapproved GM long grain rice, which was last
field tested by Bayer CropScience in 2001, had contaminated the US
rice crop (probably for the past 5 years). Japan responded by
suspending long grain rice imports and the EU will now only accept
shipments that are tested and certified GM-free. Similarly, in March
2005, the US government admitted that an unapproved corn variety had
escaped from Syngenta's field trials four years earlier and had
contaminated US corn. By year's end, Japan had rejected at least 14
shipments containing the illegal corn. Other field trialed crops have
been mixed with commercial varieties, consumed by farmers, stolen,
even given away by government agencies and universities who had
accidentally mixed seed varieties.

Some contamination from field trials may last for centuries. That may
be the fate of a variety of unapproved Roundup Ready grass which,
according to reports made public in August 2006, had escaped into the
wild from an Oregon test plot years earlier. Pollen had crossed with
other varieties and wind had dispersed seeds. Scientists believe that
the variety will cross pollinate with other grass varieties and may
contaminate the commercial grass seed supply?70 percent of which is
grown in Oregon.

Even GM crops with known poisons are being grown outdoors without
adequate safeguards for health and the environment. A corn engineered
to produce pharmaceutical medicines, for example, contaminated corn
and soybean fields in Iowa and Nebraska in 2002. On August 10, 2006, a
federal judge ruled that the drug-producing GM crops grown in Hawaii
violated both the Endangered Species Act and the National
Environmental Policy Act.

A December 29, 2005 report by the USDA office of Inspector General,
blasted the agriculture department for its abysmal oversight of GM
field trials, particularly for the high risk drug producing crops. And
a January 2004 report by the National Research Council also called
upon the government to strengthen its oversight, but acknowledged that
there is no way to guarantee that field trialed crops will not pollute
the environment.

With the US government failing to prevent GM contamination, and with
state governments and agriculture commissioners unwilling to challenge
the dictates of the biotech industry, some California counties decided
to enact regulations of their own. California's diverse agriculture is
particularly vulnerable and thousands of field trials on not-yet-
approved GM crops have already taken place there. If contamination
were discovered, it could easily devastate an industry. Four counties
have enacted moratoria or bans on the planting of GM crops, including
both approved and unapproved varieties. This follows the actions of
more than 4500 jurisdictions in Europe and dozens of nations, states
and regions on all continents, which have sought to restrict planting
of GM crops to protect their health, environment and agriculture.

Ironically, California's assembly, which has done nothing to protect
the state from possible losses due to GM crop contamination, passed a
bill on August 24, 2006 that prohibits other counties and cities from
creating GM free zones. The senate is expected to vote on the issue by
the end of their session on August 31st. (Check further here.)

It is yet another example of how the biotech industry has been able to
push their agenda onto US consumers, without regard to health and
environmental safeguards. No doubt that their lobbyists, anxious to
have this bill pass, told legislators that GM crops are needed to stop
poverty and feed a hungry world.

-----

Jeffrey Smith's forthcoming book, Genetic Roulette, documents more
than 60 health risks of GM foods in easy-to-read two-page spreads, and
demonstrates how current safety assessments are not competent to
protect consumers from the dangers. His previous book, Seeds of
Deception, is the world's bestselling book
on the subject.

The Institute for Responsible Technology is working to end the genetic
engineering of our food supply and the outdoor release of GM crops. We
warmly welcome your donations and support.

Sign up here for the Institute's monthly newsletter, Spilling the
Beans.

Go to http://tinyurl.com/plzdu if you'd like to make a tax-
deductible donation, or go to http://tinyurl.com/nltv3 if you would
like to become a member of the Institute for Responsible Technology.
Membership to the Institute for Responsible Technology costs $25 per
year. New members receive The GMO Trilogy, a three-disc set produced
by Jeffrey Smith (see www.GMOTrilogy.com).

-----

[1] JR Latham et al., "The Mutational Consequences of Plant
Transformation," The Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Vol
2006 Article ID 25376 Pages 1-7, DOI 10.1155/JBB/2006/25376; for a
more in-depth discussion, see also Allison Wilson et al., "Genome
Scrambling -- Myth or Reality? Transformation-Induced Mutations in
Transgenic Crop Plants, Technical Report October 2004, available
from www.econexus.info.

[2] Mortality in Sheep Flocks after Grazing on Bt Cotton Fields ?
Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh. Report of the Preliminary
Assessment April 2006.

[3] Ashish Gupta, et. al., Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers' Health (in
Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh), Investigation Report,
Dec 2005.

[4] See for example, "Monsanto Cited In Crop Losses," New York Times,
June 16, 1998; and see Greenpeace web site.

[5] Antje Lorch, Monsanto Bribes in Indonesia, Monsanto Fined For
Bribing Indonesian Officials to Avoid Environmental Studies for Bt
Cotton, ifrik Sept. 1, 2005.

[6] Bt Cotton No Respite for Andhra Pradesh Farmers More than 400
crores' worth losses for Bt Cotton farmers in Kharif 2005. Centre for
Sustainable Agriculture: Press Release, March 29, 2006; see also
this article.

[7] Jaideep Hardikar, One suicide every 8 hours, Daily News &
Analysis (India), August 26, 2006.

[8] Rick Weiss, U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated, Genetically Altered
Variety Is Found in Long-Grain Rice, Washington Post, August 19,
2006

[9] Jeffrey Smith, US Government and Biotech Firm Deceive Public on
GM Corn Mix-up, Spilling the Beans, April 2005

[10] See for example, Christopher Doering, ProdiGene to spend
millions on bio-corn tainting, Reuters News Service, USA: December 9,
2002

[11] See www.centerforfoodsafety.org

[12] Office of Inspector General, USDA, Audit Report Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service Controls Over Issuance of Genetically
Engineered Organism Release Permits, December 2005

[13] Justin Gillis, Genetically Modified Organisms Not Easily
Contained; National Research Council Panel Urges More Work to Protect
Against Contamination of Food Supply, Washington Post, Jan 21, 2004

Return to Table of Contents

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From: Reuters, Aug. 29, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

US OVERSIGHT OF BIOTECH CROPS SEEN LACKING

By Carey Gillam, Reuters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Criticism is mounting over the US government's
efforts to control experimental genetically modified crops in the wake
of admissions that a discarded biotech rice has contaminated US
commercial supplies.

The disclosure of the contamination of experimental biotech rice owned
by Bayer CropScience, a unit of Bayer AG, coupled with statements by
USDA officials that they have no idea how the contamination occurred
or how extensive it may be, has outraged players up and down the food
chain.

Farmers, food and beverage makers and exporters all are positioning
themselves for a long, and likely costly, ordeal.

Already, Japan has suspended imports of US long grain rice because of
the contamination, and Europe, a major export market for US rice, has
insisted rice imports be tested and any contaminated rice excluded
from shipments to the 25-member European Union.

Other US rice customers are also reportedly reviewing their planned
purchases even as US rice prices have dropped sharply.

Meanwhile, with much of the US rice industry in turmoil because the
extent of the contamination is unknown, an official with the USDA's
Animal Health and Plant Health Inspection Service said it would likely
take two to three months before the agency had many answers.

"This is real money that farmers are losing," said Arkansas Rice
Growers Association executive director Greg Yielding, who said he has
fielded dozens of calls from frantic rice farmers. "It is a big deal.
We do not feel that USDA and APHIS have adequate funds or staff to do
this job. They can't tell you where anything is even though they get
permits for it."

HOLES IN OVERSIGHT

Over the last decade, the USDA has approved applications for more than
49,000 field site tests of GMO crops and APHIS has deregulated more
than 70 GMO crop lines, many of which have been embraced by farmers
because they are easier and/or more profitable to grow.

USDA and APHIS have touted the government's ability to oversee the
growth of biotechnology in agriculture and repeatedly assured consumer
groups and foreign governments that safety was a foremost concern for
regulators.

But an Office of Inspector General audit of APHIS' and its
biotechnology regulatory services unit found numerous holes in
oversight efforts and issued a stern warning in its December 2005
report. [A 2003 report had reached similar conclusions.--DHN
Editors]

It said APHIS lacks "basic information about the field test sites it
approves and is responsible for monitoring, including where and how
the crops are being grown and what becomes of them at the end of the
field test."

The OIG said that even though APHIS was supposed to inspect
experimental fields, it was not even requiring companies to provide
site location information. The government did not require companies to
document efforts to make sure GMO crops were segregated, and it didn't
test neighboring fields to look for contamination during or after
field trials.

The OIG also said it found widespread violations of a rule requiring
experimental crops to be shipped in metal containers, instead allowing
them to be shipped in boxes or bags.

Overall, the OIG audit found the APHIS regulatory system so weak that
it increased the risk that experimental GMO crops would "persist in
the environment."

The contaminated rice is only one example of unapproved GMO's slipping
into the mainstream. Last year, Swiss agrochemicals firm Syngenta
revealed that its unapproved, experimental strain of corn known as
Bt10, was found to have contaminated corn supplies from 2001-2004.

Also, a biotech grass resistant to weedkiller developed in part by
Monsanto Co. has been found growing in the wild, while ProdiGene Inc.
had to buy back and destroy millions of dollars of grain after
tainting crops with an experimental corn plant used to produce
medicine.

And earlier this month, a US district judge ruled that APHIS broke
environmental rules when it allowed the planting of certain biotech
corn and sugarcane between 2001 and 2003 in Hawaii.

MORATORIUM SOUGHT

Because of the government oversight concerns, Greenpeace International
has called for a ban on US GMO rice and the Center for Food Safety has
said it wants a moratorium on all field tests of genetically modified
crops until government oversight improves.

"There is all this stuff in writing to give you a sense of security
but when you look at what they're actually doing, it's nothing," said
Center for Food Safety scientist policy analyst Bill Freese.

Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for APHIS' biotechnology regulatory
services acknowledged in an interview some issues with oversight, but
said those problems were largely in the past and had been corrected or
would be soon.

"You will likely continue to see the program evolve in different ways.
As long as we're regulating this technology, we're going to have to
continue to grow and expand and respond based on the nature of the
technology," Smith said.

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From: Medicine and Global Survival, Jun. 1, 2000
[Printer-friendly version]

PESTICIDES AND PARKINSONISM

Is There a Link Between Environmental Toxins and Neurodegenerative
Disorders?

By Alan H. Lockwood, MD**

Abstract

Multiple, converging lines of evidence from epidemiological, twin, and
individual patient studies, as well as studies in animals, suggest
that there may be a link between exposure to pesticides and the
eventual development of Parkinson's disease (PD). Since PD is common
and shares some features with other neurodegenerative disorders, there
is a concern that long-term exposure to environmental factors,
particularly pesticides, may play a role in the development of this
class of disorders. Since these diseases usually develop late in life,
and since the number of old people is increasing, the number of people
affected by PD and the other neurodegenerative disorders is increasing
and will continue to increase into the foreseeable future. As the case
for an etiological link between pesticides and PD gets stronger, the
need to invoke the "precautionary principle" will become more
apparent. Physicians have a special responsibility to educate and
provide guidance to colleagues, the public, and policy makers charged
with regulating the chemicals in our environment. [M&GS 2000;6:86-90]

The publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring marked the beginning
of an era [1]. This landmark book introduced many to the idea that
there are unintended consequences associated with the use of
pesticides. While most of us are familiar with the arguments calling
for regulations to ban or limit lead, dioxins, DDT, and other
compounds that have well-described consequences, there is a lingering
concern that there may be other serious, unknown, consequences
associated with the use of pesticides. These concerns are heightened
by several recent studies that have strengthened the hypothesis that
Parkinson's disease (PD) or, more properly, parkinsonism, may be
caused by environmental toxins [2,3].

Parkinson's disease was described by James Parkinson in 1817. The
disease that bears his name is characterized by tremor, bradykinesia
(slowness), rigidity, and a loss of postural reflexes. PD is but one
of a number of conditions that are all typified by akinesia and
rigidity [4]. These conditions, which include progressive supranuclear
palsy, diffuse Lewy body disease, cortico-striatonigral degeneration,
cortical-basal ganglionic degeneration, and many others, are referred
to as forms of parkinsonism because of their resemblance to idiopathic
PD [4]. Because of the similarities in the clinical manifestations of
these disorders and an absence of clearly defined pathophysiological
mechanisms that separate them into distinct nosological entities, many
patients are diagnosed as having parkinsonism, or PD, until the
emergence of distinguishing characteristics. This may take years. For
some, a correct diagnosis may never be made or may be made only at
autopsy.

Nature and Scope of Parksinson's

Parkinson's disease affects more than 500,000 Americans and costs the
economy more than $20 billion per year [5]. It is second only to
Alzheimer's disease among the neurodegenerative diseases. Parkinson's
disease usually begins after age 50, and the incidence increases
exponentially with increasing age. Between 1.5% and 2.5% of all
Americans who reach the age of 70 have Parkinson's disease. As the
population of the nation ages, the number of people with PD is certain
to increase. Since some patients with PD have signs and symptoms that
are seen in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's
disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and others, there is some
concern that they may share common pathogenetic mechanisms.

The cause of PD is unknown. After the 1916-27 influenza pandemic,
large numbers of patients developed post- encephalitic parkinsonism.
Typically, the signs and symptoms of this condition began less than 5
years after the acute illness, with 85% of all patients developing the
syndrome within 10 years.

Speculations about environmental factors and the etiology of PD began
almost two decades ago when several patients were identified who
developed what appeared to be typical PD at an extraordinarily young
age [6]. Epidemiological studies of these patients revealed that they
were drug abusers who used so-called designer drugs--drugs usually
manufactured in illicit laboratories designed to have structural
characteristics similar to opiates. In the attempt to synthesize a
meperidine-like drug, it was found that an unintended chemical
reaction produced the compound 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-
tetrahydropyridine (MPTP). Further research showed that MPTP is a
toxin that kills the dopaminergic neurons in the brain, producing a
syndrome that is almost identical to typical PD [7,8]. It was not long
before others noted that the structure of MPTP was similar to
paraquat, a widely used herbicide registered by the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) used to treat crops, such as cotton, soybeans,
sugarcane, and sunflowers.

Risk Factors

The structural similarity between MPTP and other pesticides triggered
epidemiological studies designed to evaluate risk factors for the
development of PD. These studies received additional impetus from the
discovery that an extract from the plant cycas circinalis L. was
linked to the development of a neurodegenerative disorder referred to
as Parkinson-amyotrophic lateral sclerosis- dementia complex found in
people from Guam [9]. The affected individuals appear to have eaten
the seeds of the cycad, a traditional source of food and medicine
among the Chamorro people. With westernization and changes in eating
habits, this condition has died out.

A number of epidemiological studies have sought to define risk factors
for the development of PD. Oddly, cigarette smoking reduces the risk
of developing Parkinson's disease [10]. Since PD was not described
until the early part of the 19th century, many have suggested that PD
is related in some way to the industrial age. This hypothesis is
supported by several studies. In a 1989 case-control study in the
People's Republic of China, Tanner et al. found that occupational
exposure to industrial chemicals, printing plants, or quarries was
associated with an increased risk of PD (relative risk range
2.39-4.5), whereas raising pigs, growing wheat, and village residence
were associated with a reduced risk of PD (relative risk range .17-
.57) [11]. Since chemical use was not characteristic of the Chinese
agricultural system at that time, the authors linked industrial
processes to the development of PD. A similar conclusion was drawn by
Schoenberg et al. who found an age-adjusted prevalence ratio for PD of
341/100,000 among black residents of Copiah County, Mississippi, which
was compared to an age- adjusted prevalence ratio of 67/100,00 in
Igbo-Ora, Nigeria [12]. These studies attributed the difference to the
degree of industrialization of the two sites.

Pesticides and PD

A number of studies have focused on pesticides and have linked
exposure to an increased risk for the development of PD. In a case-
controlled study involving 120 Taiwanese patients with PD and 240
hospitalized controls, the risk for developing PD was increased by
2.04 for living in a rural environment, by 1.81 for farming, by 3.22
for use of paraquat, and by 2.89 for other herbicide-pesticide use
[13]. In an Israeli study, the incidence of PD was increased five-fold
among the residents of three adjacent kibbutzim in the Negev desert
who all drew on a common aquifer, and who were all exposed to similar
agricultural chemicals [14].

Clustering of these cases suggested strongly that an environmental
factor was responsible, such as drinking well water and/or exposure to
agricultural chemicals. Additional support for the link between
pesticides and PD came from the study of Semchuk et al., who performed
a case-control study of 130 residents of Calgary, Alberta, Canada with
neurologist-confirmed PD, and 260 age- and sex- matched controls [15].
Prior occupational herbicide use was the only consistent predictor for
the development of PD. Hubble et al. formed similar conclusions, using
different methods, in a study of rural and urban residents of Kansas
[16]. They did a principle components analysis of data regarding
residency, occupation, medical history, social history, and diet. In a
further analysis, significant predictors for the development of PD, in
order of strength, were pesticide use, family history of neurologic
disease, and depression, with a 92% predicted probability for PD if
all three were positive (odds ratio = 12.0).

Doubts have been raised in some minds due to differences in
methodology, differences in the populations studied, and differences
in the criteria used to make or confirm the diagnosis of PD.
Nevertheless, the weight of the evidence gathered a decade ago
suggests strongly that exposure to industrial chemicals, particularly
pesticides, is a significant risk factor for the development of PD.

The role of the environment as a factor in the development of PD was
given new focus by a recent twin study reported by Tanner and her
associates [2], who evaluated almost 20,000 twin pairs and identified
193 twins with PD, employing the techniques of molecular biology to
establish zygosity and comprehensive neurological evaluations by
specialists in the diagnosis of PD. These data were used to calculate
concordance rates for monozygous and dizygous pairs, stratified by
age. Among twins with PD diagnosed after age 50 years, the pairwise
concordance was 0.106 in the monozygous pairs and virtually identical
at 0.104 among the dizygous pairs. Among twins diagnosed with PD
before age 51 years, the concordance rates were 1.00 in monozygous
pairs and 0.167 among the dizygous pairs. The relative risk for
concordance for those diagnosed when younger than age 50 years was 6.0
and 1.02 for those diagnosed at age 50 or greater. Thus, among twins
with one member affected by PD before the age 50, the second twin was
6 times more likely to develop PD if they were a monozygous pair
rather than a dizygous pair. Zygosity had no effect on the risk of
developing PD in the second twin if the disease developed after age
50. This near-identity for risk after age 50 showed clearly that PD
that develops after the age of 50 is not likely to be due to genetic
factors. These data suggest strongly that non-genetic, i.e.,
environmental factors, determine the risk of developing PD after age
50, the most common time for this condition to appear [3].

Another recent publication described five patients who had developed
reversible parkinsonism after exposure to organophosphates [17]. These
patients did not have the classical form of the disease, in that they
did not improve after the administration of anti-parkinsonian drugs
(typically, PD improves after pharmacological treatment, whereas other
indistinguishable akinetic-rigid syndromes, such as striatonigral
degeneration may not respond). Three of these patients came from the
same family, suggesting a genetically determined susceptibility to
these compounds. At a recent symposium on Parkinson's disease,
researchers from Atlanta reported on the development of an animal
model of Parkinson's disease using rotenone [18]. Systemic
administration of this pesticide caused degeneration of the neural
pathways implicated in the development of PD.

Common Toxic Factor

These data demonstrate that there is increasing, credible evidence
that exposure to environmental toxins, particularly pesticides, may
lead to the development of PD. Because of similarities among
neurodegenerative diseases as a group, and particularly because of the
data implicating a common toxic factor causing the PD-demential-
amyotrophic sclerosis complex in Guam, the relationship between
pesticides and the etiology of PD may be an indication of a more
widespread problem.

We are awash in a sea of chemicals. According to the EPA, 4.5 billion
pounds of pesticides are used in the US each year. We use 77 million
pounds of organophosphates: 60 million pounds are used in agriculture
and 17 million pounds are used in homes, on lawns and golf courses,
and for other non-agricultural purposes. According to the Foundation
for Advancements in Science and Education, the US exported more than
338 million pounds of pesticides during 1995 and 1996. This total
included at least 21 million pounds of pesticides whose use is
forbidden in the US. Most of these shipments were directed to the
developing world. In the 1980s more than 200,000 deaths were
attributed to organophosphate poisonings in developing countries,
largely among agricultural workers [19]. Whether exposed workers will
develop additional health problems, including PD, remains to be seen.

In the landmark publication Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and
Children, experts from the National Academy of Sciences showed clearly
that organophosphate residues are present in easily detectible amounts
in our water supply [20]. Because children consume more water per unit
body weight than adults, they are particularly vulnerable. The report
found that children were frequently exposed to pesticide residues in
excess of a reference dose and that, for some, these exposures were
high enough to cause symptoms of acute organophosphate poisoning.

Implications for Policy

At the time of that report, pesticide tolerances were defined largely
by the industry that manufactures them. These tolerances were based on
agricultural practices and were not related to worker or consumer
health. This is changing. As a part of the Federal Insecticide
Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the EPA is reviewing pesticide
use to make more appropriate decisions concerning the use of these
compounds. The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act further requires that
uses must be "safe," in that EPA must conclude "with reasonable
certainty that no harm will come from aggregate exposure" to these
compounds. By aggregate exposure, the act intends that all exposures,
including those in food, water, and residential sources must be
considered. Cumulative effects from multiple pesticides must be
considered. Exposures must account for the special sensitivity of
children and infants. In another important departure from prior
regulatory standards, multiple end-points must be considered,
including possible endocrine effects. It will no longer be sufficient
to conclude that a pesticide is safe as long as it does not cause
cancer.

As a consequence of these findings, the National Institutes of Health
has issued a special request for applications (RFA ES-00-002, The role
of the environment in Parkinson's disease), directed at the
neuroscience community, for research studies that focus on the role of
the environment and Parkinson's disease. This call will be answered,
but proving that there is an unequivocal link between the use of
pesticides and the development of Parkinson's disease is likely to be
difficult, if not impossible. It is more likely that the weight of the
evidence will increase slowly. Since pesticide exposure begins early
in life, a lifelong avoidance of these ubiquitous compounds may be
required.

What is the responsibility of physicians? Since society as a whole
derives benefits from pesticides, the debates concerning their use are
likely to intensify. The best answers will not come easily. There is,
as yet, no smoking gun linking pesticides and neurodegenerative
disorders. Yet the evidence forging that link is getting stronger. At
the present time, there are no known cures for any of the
neurodegenerative disorders. The effective therapies, directed at the
symptoms of PD, all have side effects and limitations. The ability to
prevent PD would be welcome.

On entering into the practice of medicine, physicians subscribe to the
Hippocratic Oath and its fundamental tenet "first do no harm." This
principle is gaining acceptance in environmental law and practice in
the form of the "precautionary principle." Briefly stated, the
precautionary principle asserts that scientific proof of a causal link
between human activity and its effects is not required before
preventive actions should be taken. Physicians have a commitment to
their patients and are obligated to collect and evaluate data that can
help define the etiology of PD and other diseases linked to
environmental exposures. Converting these data into educational
programs and policies that inform and benefit all is a daunting, but
essential, task. Opposition to the precautionary principle from those
with a vested economic interest in the chemicals it would limit should
not stop us from combining good science and responsible actions.

References

1. Carson R. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.

2. Tanner CM, Ottman R, Goldman SM, Ellenberg J, Chan P, Mayeux R, et
al. Parkinson disease in twins: an etiologic study. JAMA
1999;281:341-346.

3. Cummings JL. Understanding Parkinson disease. JAMA
1999;281:376-378.

4. Neurology in Clinical Practice. Boston: Butterworth- Heineman.
2000.

5. Martilla RJ. Epidemiology. In: Koller WC (ed). Handbook of
Parkinson's disease. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Dekker. 1992. [Return to
text]

6. Langston JW, Ballard P, Tetrud JW, Irwin I. Chronic Parkinsonism in
humans due to a product of meperidine- analog synthesis. Science
1983;219:979-980.

7. Ballard PA, Tetrud JW, Langston JW. Permanent human parkinsonism
due to 1-methyl-4- phenyl-1,2,3,6- tetrahydropyridine (MPTP): seven
cases. Neurology 1985;35:949-956.

8. Tetrud JW, Langston JW, Garbe PL, Ruttenber AJ. Mild parkinsonism
in persons exposed to 1-methyl-4-phenyl- 1,2,3,6- tetrahydropyridine
(MPTP). Neurology 1989;39:1483- 1487.

9. Spencer PS, Nunn PB, Hugon J, Ludolph AC, Ross SM, Roy DN, et al.
Guam amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-parkinsonism- dementia linked to a
plant excitant neurotoxin. Science 1987;237:517-522.

10. Checkoway H, Nelson LM. Epidemiologic approaches to the study of
Parkinson's disease etiology. Epidemiology 1999;10:327-336. [Return to
text]

11. Tanner CM, Chen B, Wang W, Peng M, Liu Z, Liang X, et al.
Environmental factors and Parkinson's disease: a case- control study
in China. Neurology 1989;39:660-664.

12. Schoenberg BS, Osuntokun BO, Adeuja AO, Bademosi O, Nottidge V,
Anderson DW, et al. Comparison of the prevalence of Parkinson's
disease in black populations in the rural United States and in rural
Nigeria: door-to-door community studies. Neurology 1988;38:645-646.

13. Liou HH, Tsai MC, Chen CJ, Jeng JS, Chang YC, Chen SY, et al.
Environmental risk factors and Parkinson's disease: a case-control
study in Taiwan. Neurology 1997;48:1583- 1588.

14. Goldsmith JR, Herishanu Y, Abarbanel JM, Weinbaum Z. Clustering of
Parkinson's disease points to environmental etiology. Archives of
Environmental Health 1990;45:88-94.

15. Semchuk KM, Love EJ, Lee RG. Parkinson's disease and exposure to
agricultural work and pesticide chemicals. Neurology
1992;42:1328-1335.

16. Hubble JP, Kurth JH, Glatt SL, Kurth MC, Schellenberg GD,
Hassanein RE, et al. Gene- toxin interaction as a putative risk factor
for Parkinson's disease with dementia. Neuroepidemiology
1998;17:96-104.

17. Bhatt MH, Elias MA, Mankodi AK. Acute and reversible parkinsonism
due to organophosphate pesticide intoxication: five cases. Neurology
1999;52:1467-1471.

18. Greenamyre JT, MacKenzie G, Garcia-Osuna M, Betarbet R. A novel
model of slowly progressive Parkinson's disease: chronic pesticide
exposure (Abstract). Movement Disorders 1999;14:900.

19. Jeyaratnam J. Acute pesticide poisoning: a major global health
problem. World Health Statistics Quarterly 1990;43:139-144. [Return to
text]

20. Committee on Pesticide Residues in the Diets of Infants and
Children. Pesticides in the diets of infants and children. Washington,
DC: National Academy Press. 1993.

** Alan H. Lockwood is a physician with the Departments of Neurology
and Nuclear Medicine, VA Western New York Healthcare System and
University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY USA. Address correspondence to:
Alan H. Lockwood, MD, Center for PET (115P), VA Western NY Healthcare
System, 3495 Bailey Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14215 USA; e-mail:
alan@petnet.buffalo.edu.

Copyright 2000 Medicine & Global Survival, Inc.

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From: New York Times, Aug. 28, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

REAL WAGES FAIL TO MATCH A RISE IN PRODUCTIVITY

By Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhard

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance
to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World
War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most
workers.

That situation is adding to fears among Republicans that the economy
will hurt vulnerable incumbents in this year's midterm elections even
though overall growth has been healthy for much of the last five
years.

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent
since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially
notable, economists say, because productivity -- the amount that an
average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a
nation's living standards -- has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the
nation's gross domestic product since the government began recording
the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their
highest share since the 1960's. UBS, the investment bank, recently
described the current period as "the golden era of profitability."

Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the
rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused
overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since
last summer, however, the value of workers' benefits has also failed
to keep pace with inflation, according to government data.

At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to
receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large
enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

In a speech on Friday, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman,
did not specifically discuss wages, but he warned that the unequal
distribution of the economy's spoils could derail the trade
liberalization of recent decades. Because recent economic changes
"threaten the livelihoods of some workers and the profits of some
firms," Mr. Bernanke said, policy makers must try "to ensure that the
benefits of global economic integration are sufficiently widely
shared."

Political analysts are divided over how much the wage trends will help
Democrats this fall in their effort to take control of the House and,
in a bigger stretch, the Senate. Some see parallels to watershed
political years like 1980, 1992 and 1994, when wage growth fell behind
inflation, party alignments shifted and dozens of incumbents were
thrown out of office.

"It's a dangerous time for any party to have control of the federal
government -- the presidency, the Senate and the House," said Charles
Cook, who publishes a nonpartisan political newsletter. "It all feeds
into 'it's a time for a change' sentiment. It's a highly combustible
mixture."

But others say that war in Iraq and terrorism, not the economy, will
dominate the campaign and that Democrats have yet to offer an economic
vision that appeals to voters.

"National economic policies are more clearly in focus in presidential
campaigns," said Richard T. Curtin, director of the University of
Michigan's consumer surveys. "When you're electing your local House
members, you don't debate that on those issues as much."

Moreover, polls show that Americans are less dissatisfied with the
economy than they were in the early 1980's or early 90's. Rising house
and stock values have lifted the net worth of many families over the
last few years, and interest rates remain fairly low.

But polls show that Americans disapprove of President Bush's handling
of the economy by wide margins and that anxiety about the future is
growing. Earlier this month, the University of Michigan reported that
consumer confidence had fallen sharply in recent months, with people's
expectations for the future now as downbeat as they were in 1992 and
1993, when the job market had not yet recovered from a recession.

"Some people who aren't partisans say, 'Yes, the economy's pretty
good, so why are people so agitated and anxious?' " said Frank Luntz,
a Republican campaign consultant. "The answer is they don't feel it in
their weekly paychecks."

But Mr. Luntz predicted that the economic mood would not do
significant damage to Republicans this fall because voters blamed
corporate America, not the government, for their problems.

Economists offer various reasons for the stagnation of wages. Although
the economy continues to add jobs, global trade, immigration, layoffs
and technology -- as well as the insecurity caused by them -- appear
to have eroded workers' bargaining power.

Trade unions are much weaker than they once were, while the buying
power of the minimum wage is at a 50-year low. And health care is far
more expensive than it was a decade ago, causing companies to spend
more on benefits at the expense of wages.

Together, these forces have caused a growing share of the economy to
go to companies instead of workers' paychecks. In the first quarter of
2006, wages and salaries represented 45 percent of gross domestic
product, down from almost 50 percent in the first quarter of 2001 and
a record 53.6 percent in the first quarter of 1970, according to the
Commerce Department. Each percentage point now equals about $132
billion.

Total employee compensation -- wages plus benefits -- has fared a
little better. Its share was briefly lower than its current level of
56.1 percent in the mid-1990's and otherwise has not been so low since
1966.

Over the last year, the value of employee benefits has risen only 3.4
percent, while inflation has exceeded 4 percent, according to the
Labor Department.

In Europe and Japan, the profit share of economic output is also at or
near record levels, noted Larry Hatheway, chief economist for UBS
Investment Bank, who said that this highlighted the pressures of
globalization on wages. Many Americans, be they apparel workers or
software programmers, are facing more comptition from China and India.

In another recent report on the boom in profits, economists at Goldman
Sachs wrote, "The most important contributor to higher profit margins
over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of
national income." Low interest rates and the moderate cost of capital
goods, like computers, have also played a role, though economists note
that an economic slowdown could hurt profits in coming months.

For most of the last century, wages and productivity -- the key
measure of the economy's efficiency -- have risen together, increasing
rapidly through the 1950's and 60's and far more slowly in the 1970's
and 80's.

But in recent years, the productivity gains have continued while the
pay increases have not kept up. Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent
from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose
7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the
Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits
accounted for most of the increase.

"If I had to sum it up," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at
the institute, "it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of
ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of
growth."

Nominal wages have accelerated in the last year, but the spike in oil
costs has eaten up the gains. Now the job market appears to be
weakening, after a protracted series of interest-rate increases by the
Federal Reserve.

Unless these trends reverse, the current expansion may lack even an
extended period of modest wage growth like one that occurred in the
mid-1980's.

The most recent recession ended in late 2001. Hourly wages continued
to rise in 2002 and peaked in early 2003, largely on the lingering
strength of the 1990's boom.

Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to
advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about
the economy. But these gains are a result mainly of increases at the
top of the income spectrum that pull up the overall numbers. Even for
workers at the 90th percentile of earners -- making about $80,000 a
year -- inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three
years, according to the Labor Department.

"There are two economies out there," Mr. Cook, the political analyst,
said. "One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the
people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater
productivity and higher corporate earnings.

"And then there's the working stiffs," he added, "who just don't feel
like they're getting ahead despite the fact that they're working very
hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other
group."

In 2004, the top 1 percent of earners -- a group that includes many
chief executives -- received 11.2 percent of all wage income, up from
8.7 percent a decade earlier and less than 6 percent three decades
ago, according to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, economists who
analyzed the tax data.

With the midterm campaign expected to heat up after Labor Day,
Democrats are saying that they will help workers by making health care
more affordable and lifting the minimum wage. Democrats have
criticized Republicans for passing tax cuts mainly benefiting high-
income families at a time when most families are failing to keep up.

Republicans counter that the tax cuts passed during Mr. Bush's first
term helped lifted the economy out of recession. Unless the cuts are
extended, a move many Democrats oppose, the economy will suffer, and
so will wages, Republicans say.

But in a sign that Republicans may be growing concerned about the
public's mood, the new Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr.,
adopted a somewhat different tone from Mr. Bush in his first major
speech, delivered early this month.

"Many aren't seeing significant increases in their take-home pay," Mr.
Paulson said. "Their increases in wages are being eaten up by high
energy prices and rising health care costs, among others."

At the same time, he said that the Bush administration was not
responsible for the situation, pointing out that inequality had been
increasing for many years. "It is neither fair nor useful," Mr.
Paulson said, "to blame any political party."

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From: Bloomberg, Aug. 29, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

AMERICANS WITHOUT HEALTH BENEFITS MAY HAVE SET RECORD IN 2005

By Matthew Benjamin and Kerry Young

The number of Americans without health insurance probably rose to a
record in 2005 as medical costs increased three times as fast as
wages, according to forecasts for a Census Bureau report today.

The total has climbed every year since President George W. Bush took
office, a point Democrats are likely to seize on in this year's
congressional election. In February Bush called the 45.8 million who
didn't have insurance in 2004 "unacceptable in our country." Emory
University Professor Ken Thorpe in Atlanta says Bush has done little
to help these people.

"We've had absolutely no federal effort or interest in insuring the
uninsured since 2000," said Thorpe, who was deputy assistant secretary
for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services from 1993 to
1995. "This has not been a priority of the Bush administration."

The government also will probably report that the percentage of
Americans living in poverty dropped after reaching a six-year high in
2004, said Bob Greenstein, executive director of the Center for Budget
and Policy Priorities in Washington.

Median household income probably rose from 2004's $44,389, Greenstein
said. The news on income and poverty reflects economic growth,
economists say. The US economy expanded 3.2 percent and added 2
million jobs in 2005.

"Every year as you move away from a recession, you expect the growth
of the poverty rate to slow and eventually reverse," says Austin
Nichols, an expert on child poverty at the Urban Institute in
Washington.

Hubbard's Challenge

Al Hubbard, Bush's top economic adviser, in March called misleading
the Census Bureau's 2004 estimate of the number of people without
insurance. Of the almost 46 million, about 8 million don't have access
to insurance, he said, while 15 million others would qualify for the
state-federal Medicaid insurance program for the poor, and others are
illegal immigrants.

Without having seen the 2005 numbers, Hubbard stands by his statement
on the 2004 figures, White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said
yesterday.

Harvard University researcher Robert Blendon and Uwe Reinhardt, a
professor of health economics at Princeton University, said the number
of people without health insurance probably rose. The 2004 total was
almost one in six Americans. Surging costs are keeping the number from
falling as the economy expands, health-policy researchers say.

The average expense of providing medical care for a family of four
rose 9.6 percent to $13,382 this year, according to a survey by the
Seattle-based Milliman consulting group. The cost of insurance bought
through an employer increased 9.2 percent in 2005, according to the
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, California, as
average hourly earnings climbed 3.2 percent.

"Due to the rising cost of health care and health-care insurance, you
see a continued decline in workers accepting coverage when it's
offered and employers offering it," Emory's Thorpe says.

Health Savings Accounts

Bush's attempt to expand coverage through tax-advantaged health-
savings accounts helped the middle class more than the poor,
researchers say. The number of uninsured Americans fell by 5.6 million
during the final two years of the Clinton administration to 38.7
million in 2000.

"The media and Democrats are waiting for this kind of information, and
they'll use it" in the elections, says David Mayhew, a congressional
scholar at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

The Republicans now hold 231 seats in the House of Representatives,
where all 435 seats are up for election this year. Republicans have 55
seats in the Senate, where a third of the 100 seats are being
contested.

Massachusetts Plan

Frustrated by the lack of federal leadership on health care, states
have jumped ahead and moved toward making sure all citizens have
health insurance, said Marty Sellers, a Philadelphia-based consultant
who advised Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in designing his
state's program.

Massachusetts passed the nation's first law requiring all adults to
have health insurance by July 1, 2007. Vermont, Illinois and Rhode
Island are considering similar plans.

The fight to get more Americans insured this year united the US
Chamber of Commerce, representing 3 million businesses, with some of
the biggest unions, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees
International Union. The organizations joined the American Medical
Association and dozens of religious and nonprofit groups in a May
"Cover the Uninsured Week" campaign.

Susan Squire of Warren, Michigan, was among the thousands of people
who participated in events staged across the US. Squire filed for
bankruptcy in October because of $91,000 in medical bills from a
January 2005 heart attack and subsequent surgery.

"Daily Threats"

"I paid some off. I paid some down. I was trying to pay them off one
by one," Squire said in an interview. "Some went along with me, but
the bulk of them did not. They started with the daily calls, the daily
notices, the daily threats."

Squire, who was making about $21,000 a year with part-time bookkeeping
work, has less clout to negotiate discounts as an individual. More
than half of Americans get medical coverage through plans bought by
employers, which contract with insurance companies to work out prices
with hospitals and doctors.

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