Table of Contents...
Environmental Justice, Precaution, and Cumulative Impacts
An EPA report on "the science of environmental justice" recommends
a precautionary approach to research, including consideration of
multiple, cumulative exposures and stresses: "Achieving environmental
justice for every community requires a different scientific approach,
one that is rooted in communities and that can incorporate people's
social stressors, economic stressors, unique needs and
Foresight: A Precautionary Experiment at a School in Harlem
"Mr. Canada and his staff hope that the Promise Academy will prove
the importance of a serious school food program, much as data from the
national Head Start program was used to prove the effectiveness of
early education and support for children."
Biotech Crops Invade Latin America
A protest letter signed by numerous groups -- including co-ops,
social movements, and rural labor unions -- states that the bill
violates "the precautionary principle of the Biodiversity
Fear the Reapers
This author claims that the precautionary principle, or foresight
principle, "forces us" to ignore the full costs of all the
alternatives we consider, which of course is nonsense.
From: EPA Report: The Science of Environmental Justice, Feb. 11, 2005
PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH AND CUMULATIVE RISK ANALYSIS
[RPR introduction: This is the Executive Summary of a report titled
"Science of Environmental Justice: Participatory Research and
Cumulative Risk," published by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) February 11, 2005. Get the full report (104 pages) in PDF
format here and get EPA's Framework for Cumulative Risk Assessment
On May 24-26, 2004, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) New
England, EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) and Boston
University's School of Public Health (BUSPH) co-sponsored the Science
of Environmental Justice (SEJ) Working Conference in Boston, Mass.
The title of the conference was: Science to Action: Community-based
Participatory Research and Cumulative Risk Analysis as Tools to
Advance Environmental Justice in Urban, Suburban and Rural
Communities. The conference provided an interactive, educational forum
and joined together stakeholders from across the country to discuss
current efforts in community-based participatory research (CBPR) and
cumulative risk analysis that are helping to assess, address and
resolve environmental and public health risks in urban, suburban and
The conference presented methods and facilitated discussion regarding
needs and opportunities for EPA and other research entities to invest
in innovative scientific paradigms in order to better protect human
health and the environment in environmental justice communities.
The conference resulted from the awareness that many vulnerable
communities and populations (i.e., communities of color, low-income
communities, children, the elderly and subsistence fishers) face
higher exposures or risks to their overall health and well-being from
Traditional research and risk assessment methods have played an
important role in reducing significant environmental health risks to
the American public, but must be improved to better protect vulnerable
populations and to further reduce residual risks. Achieving
environmental justice for every community requires a different
scientific approach, one that is rooted in communities and that can
incorporate people's social stressors, economic stressors, unique
needs and vulnerabilities.
This conference proposed that community-based participatory research
and cumulative risk assessment can form the core of this new science
of environmental justice and explored, in-depth, the definitions,
successes, needs and long-term opportunities for integrating this
approach into EPA's research agenda.
The SEJ conference brought together 275 individuals, including
scientists, technical experts, community and non-profit group leaders,
academia and government representatives from 25 states, the District
of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The first day of the
conference featured a community tour of Chelsea and East Boston,
Mass., which set the stage with a real-life context for discussing
ways of better assessing cumulative risks and utilizing participatory
approaches to research. The conference sessions included plenary
panels on community-based participatory research and cumulative risk.
Breakout groups focused on ways to incorporate CBPR or cumulative risk
approaches to research on the following topics: Air Toxics, Asthma,
Children's Environmental Health, Land-based Risks and Water Quality.
Framing Themes: Community-based Participatory Research and Cumulative
Community-based Participatory Research
Community-based participatory research (CBPR) holds great potential to
improve the accuracy, precision, reliability and relevance of data
that are designed to represent real-life and to protect human health
and the environment. Traditional challenges in environmental
epidemiology, exposure assessment or environmental monitoring studies
include accurately capturing data that represents a broad range of
human activity patterns and taking precise, unbiased measurements.
CBPR is defined as research in which "scientists work in close
collaboration with community partners involved in all phases of the
research, from the inception of the research questions and study
design to the collection of data, monitoring of ethical concerns and
interpretation of the study results."
To this basic definition conference panelists added that CBPR
ultimately is about translating research, especially the most relevant
and useful science, into better environmental and human health
protection and promotion. One panelist stressed three basic principles
of the related approach of participatory action research: 1) the
participation of the community at every step; 2) equal distribution of
power and results among partners; and 3) action-oriented outcomes.
Some specific recommendations for building strong partnerships to
conduct CBPR and advance environmental protection included building
the scientific capacity of community institutions to engage in
research and encouraging long-term collaborations between academic
institutions, government agencies and community-based organizations.
A panelist from the EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD)
noted that community involvement in ORD research projects was valuable
in the design, implementation and actual conduct of studies, and in
the analysis and communication of the resulting data. Other panelists
noted that community involvement in environmental research becomes
crucial for ensuring that public policy makes sense in real life,
rather than getting lost in the minutiae of data details, and serves
as a public interest counterweight to the increasing private funding
Cumulative Risk Assessment
Traditional risk assessment methods that have been used by the EPA and
other regulatory bodies are intended to identify and reduce the
greatest risks to human health and the environment, and in many
instances these methods have been effective. However, as the
environmental justice movement has helped identify, many of these risk
assessment approaches have focused on one chemical, media or exposure
pathway at a time, or have relied on assumptions that are not
validated on a regular basis. The consequence can be approaches to
risk assessment that are not effectively protecting all groups.
Cumulative risk assessment (CRA) was defined in this conference as the
"analysis, characterization and possible quantification of the
combined risks to health and the environment from multiple agents or
stressors." Cumulative risk assessment is characterized by its focus
on place or populations and investigates the question, "What types of
stressors are affecting this population?" It differs from traditional
risk assessment methods that focus on specific, individual chemicals
or stressors and asks, "What type of threat does this agent pose to
Cumulative risk assessment is notable for its focus on multiple
exposures or stressors, its inclusion of non-chemical and nonphysical
stressors and its integration of vulnerability or susceptibility
factors. An additional development on traditional risk assessment
methods is the attempt in CRA to conduct various elements of the
assessment process simultaneously, or iteratively, rather than
The Framework for Cumulative Risk Assessment identifies the basic
elements of the cumulative risk assessment process and provides basic
guidelines for conducting cumulative risk assessment, although it does
not provide specific protocol or methodologies.
The Mississippi River Industrial Corridor has multiple point and area
sources of air and water pollution and diverse populations, many of
which are characterized by severe health burdens and characteristics
that many increase their exposures or susceptibility to environmental
health hazards, and was presented as an illustration of why cumulative
risk assessment approaches are crucial for protecting the health of
all Americans. Three case studies, of the Merrimack Valley in Mass.,
the industrial community of Chester, Pa., and the local communities of
Chelsea and East Boston, Mass., were presented to illustrate some key
lessons learned regarding cumulative risk assessment. These lessons
included: 1) the need to prioritize prevention and action and
recognize that aggregate and multiple risks may never be accurately
assessed; 2) that a better integration of quantitative and qualitative
data is needed to assess actual risks; and 3) that community
involvement and collaborative approaches provide tremendous advantages
for the accuracy and applicability of risk assessment and management.
Specific Topics: Air Toxics, Asthma, Children's Environmental Health,
Land-based Risks and Water Quality
Exposure to hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) presents significant
environmental justice and public health concerns. Hazardous air
pollutants, also known as air toxics, have been associated with many
adverse human health effects, including cancers, asthma and other
respiratory ailments and neurological problems such as learning
disabilities and hyperactivity.
Sources of air toxics include industrial emissions from chemical
manufacturing, refineries, waste incinerators and smaller stationary
facilities (e.g., dry cleaners), emissions from mobile sources (e.g.,
cars, buses and trucks) and consumer products.
This panel presented the results from the EPA's National Air Toxics
Assessment, which modeled ambient levels of major hazardous air
pollutants for every county in the United States, and the related
National Scale Assessment, which calculated resulting risks to human
health from these air toxics and characterized the contributions of
various emission sources to human exposure and risk.
This assessment identified benzene, chromium and formaldehyde as
national drivers of cancer risk, and arsenic, 1,3-butadiene,
polycyclic organic matter and coke oven emissions as regional drivers
of cancer risk in 1996. The National Scale Assessment will be used to
address residual risk, or the risk remaining to human populations
after the technology-based standards for emissions of hazardous air
pollutants have been put into place.
Diesel exhaust was presented as an air toxic of great concern to many
environmental justice communities, and the successful community-based
participatory research efforts of a community group in West Oakland,
Calif., was described in a case study illustrating best practices in
One panelist presented study findings linking residential segregation
to racial disparities in exposure to air toxics in Southern
California. This led to a discussion on the importance of including
socioeconomic and political factors, including zoning, land use and
transportation investments, in attempts to reduce residual risks. In
other words, without understanding how and why greater segregation is
linked to higher exposures to air toxics, purely regulatory and
technological approaches to reducing air toxics will never be
effective in protecting the most highly exposed communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20
million people, including 6.3 million children, have asthma. Asthma
has increased sharply across the nation in the past two and a half
decades, particularly in large cities. Asthma is particularly a public
health crisis for some communities of color and for children, making
it a classic environmental justice health challenge.
The CDC reports that African-Americans continue to have higher rates
of asthma emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths than
Caucasians. Americans with lower income levels report higher asthma
prevalence than those at higher income levels.
Examples from schools in Connecticut, public housing in Boston, Mass.
and a community-based participatory research project on asthma and air
pollution in the South Bronx, New York City, were all presented to
illustrate the various cumulative risks that might be contributing to
the increased prevalence and the opportunities presented by community-
based participatory research to reduce the harsh burden of asthma on
the health of communities of color and children. Major research needs
1) Surveillance on asthma incidence and prevalence at the community-
2) Evaluation of the impact of primary prevention of asthma on the
3) Evaluation of the impact of building intervention on the severity
and persistence of asthma in homes, daycare facilities and schools;
4) Detailed, multi-factorial exposure assessments of air pollution and
social stressors such as violence and a better understanding of how
each stressor may magnify the other; and
5) Evaluation of the efficacy of individual and bundled interventions,
including interventions on environmental factors, in reducing asthma
The value of community knowledge in asthma research was stressed.
Evidence was provided to show that engaging communities in challenging
inaccurate, and generally unstated, assumptions adds valuable
practical knowledge and helps frame research questions in a manner
that ensures the greatest chance of environmental health success.
Children's Environmental Health
Children have unique susceptibilities to environmental hazards and
often face higher exposure to environmental pollutants. Their rapidly
developing bodies, biological systems, differences in physiology and
behavior make them vulnerable to environmental insults in ways that
adults are not. At the same time, children do not have a defined role
in decision-making to protect their health.
Risk assessment methods to date have essentially cast children as
"tiny adults or big rats," without accurately assessing how
environmental agents may be affecting their growth, development and
Children of color are especially at risk for increased exposure to
pollutants such as lead and mercury. One panelist noted the importance
of looking at the intersection circles of exposure, family and
community in order to most accurately assess environmental risks to
An overview of the National Children's Study was presented describing
the Congressionally-mandated, multi-million dollar environmental
epidemiology study that will track 100,000 children for 21 years to
assess the impacts of environmental exposures on their health.
Research results from the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental
Health demonstrate that prenatal exposure to some air pollutants and
pesticides is associated with decreased birth weight and size, and
that "chronic material hardship" significantly exacerbated the effects
of environmental tobacco smoke on children's development.
This last result illustrates the ways in which nonphysical stressors
and exposures can aggravate the adverse impacts of environmental
exposures. A panelist from the Lead Action Collaborative in Boston
described a community-driven effort to eliminate childhood lead
poisoning in Boston. This best practices approach utilized community
participation and collaboration efforts to generate data on
environmental conditions at an extremely high resolution -- lot-by-lot
- with sophisticated technological tools or Geographic Information
Systems (GIS) to identify and prioritize the highest risk housing in
Boston for lead poisoning prevention efforts
Low-income and minority communities are often faced with a
multiplicity of land-based risks ranging from lead contaminated of
soils from lead paint use to pesticide contamination due to
agriculture. The cumulative risks associated with the buildup of
various chemicals have yet to be fully determined.
This panel looked at pesticide contamination in Georgia, lead
contamination in Connecticut and the health and environmental impacts
associated with industrial-scale animal agriculture in North Carolina.
The case of the Woolfolk Chemical Works Superfund site in Fort Valley,
Ga., was used to present the concept of "brown houses," which are
homes in or near a Superfund site where there is known or perceived
contamination -- in this case, by arsenic-containing dusts generated
the chemical works site.
The Connecticut case study focused on the potential of
phytoremediation to reduce accumulated lead in dust in urban soil.
Another case study from North Carolina illustrated environmental and
human health impacts of industrial animal operations and the local
political challenges that can frustrate efforts to prevent and
remediate the enormous pollution generated by these operations. A
panelist from the EPA Office of Environmental Justice presented a GIS-
based assessment and compliance tool that allowed the EPA to
incorporate environmental justice considerations into its
identification of priority sites requiring environmental enforcement
or other actions.
A detailed description of the guidelines in EPA's Cumulative Risk
Assessment Framework for conducting human health risk assessments at
specific contaminated sites was also presented, emphasizing the need
for community collaboration at those sites to generate the highest
One recommendation that emerged from this panel was the need for
collaboration between agencies, stakeholders and the community to
determine the appropriate structure of response and identify and fill
the regulatory gaps. Panelists also emphasized the importance of
sustainable solutions that take into consideration both economic and
health problems associated with contamination. Finally, they expressed
the desire to strengthen partnerships and increase educational
awareness within effected communities.
In recent years, water quality problems have become serious
environmental issues -- particularly for low-income communities and
communities of color. In urban, suburban and rural settings across the
United States, these communities have had particularly low access to
adequate drinking, surface and sewer water resources.
Many people in these communities rely on fish and other seafood as a
significant part of their diets and are therefore threatened by a
disproportionately high risk of exposure to contamination from
substances such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxin,
which have entered the aquatic habitat and have bioaccumulated in the
Panelists described the EPA's efforts to develop improved surface
water sampling methods, more rapid analysis and further health studies
to create improved surface water quality indicators.
A panelist from the Virgin Islands presented on the challenges of
maintaining high drinking water quality and how community-based
participatory research had improved drinking water quality. A panelist
from EPA's Office of Water described the revisions and improvements to
EPA's human health criteria methodology, including more accurate fish
consumption estimates and a greater reliance on site-specific
conditions rather than default values for assessing risk.
The environmental cycling and bioaccumulation of mercury in fish was
discussed, and the human health threat created by the consumption of
mercury-contaminated fish was noted as a concern for all Americans.
Lessons from Puerto Rico in community capacity-building and the
development of better communication between regulators and the public
Specific recommendations included: 1) the development of a
surveillance system to identify the factors that make various
communities vulnerable to environmental contaminants; and 2) the
creation of data banks at the community-level to provide practical
experience and information to build community capacity to engage in
water quality protection efforts.
1) Adopt a precautionary approach to research.
2) Adopt collaborative approaches to research.
3) Incorporate community involvement in all stages of research.
4) Build capacity and empower communities, academic institutions and
government agencies to assess and address environmental health risks.
5) Develop place-based, flexible approaches to research and risk
6) Incorporate socioeconomic factors into risk assessment.
7) Develop a better understanding of vulnerability that includes both
physical and nonphysical factors.
8) Create interdisciplinary, holistic approaches to risk assessment,
combining quantitative and qualitative data.
9) Promote innovative technologies and research methodologies.
10) Emphasize action to protect communities in the application of
This working conference represents the beginning of an essential
dialogue between critical stakeholders. Three days of discussion
cannot integrate all that is needed to develop a new scientific
approach to EPA's research agenda. It was evidenced by conference
participants that the need for a paradigm shift is necessary and that
the will for action is strong.
The current challenge is in finding a way to build an infrastructure
that can allow the dialogue that was begun at the conference to
continue on a national and regional level throughout the country. EPA
has done much to address the issues and concerns facing environmental
justice communities, but there is still more that the agency can and
must do to protect these vulnerable communities. The agency must
maintain a leadership role in keeping this dialogue alive and,
furthermore, must demonstrate a way to implement the recommendations
contained in this report.
One way to translate our collective will into action is to find and
support a forum where the same stakeholders that met on a national
level can meet on a regional level to focus on specific issues, needs
and opportunities for investing in appropriate science and research
that meets community needs.
As we implement these conference recommendations, community-based
participatory research and cumulative risk assessment will become a
standard practice within EPA's approach to research and will be
integrated into the research agenda and projects across the country.
 Shepard PM, Northridge ME, Prakash S, Stover G. "Advancing
Environmental Justice through Community-based Participatory Research."
Environ Health Perspect 1 10(suppl 2): 139-140 (2002).
 Framework for Cumulative Risk Assessment. U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Center
for Environmental Assessment, Washington Office, Washington, DC,
Return to Table of Contents
From: New York Times, Sept. 9, 2005
HARLEM SCHOOL INTRODUCES CHILDREN TO SWISS CHARD
By Kim Severson
Ebony Richards, a confirmed hamburger and Tater Tots girl, knows the
rules of the lunch line at her school, the Promise Academy in Harlem.
When confronted with whole-wheat penne covered with sauteed peppers
and local squash, she does not blurt out "That's nasty." If she does,
she goes to the end of the line.
Although seconds on main courses are not allowed -- someone has to
show children what a reasonable portion is -- Ebony can fill her tray
with a dozen helpings of vegetables or bowls of Romaine lettuce from
the salad bar. Any time in the school day, she can wander into the
cafeteria for a New York apple.
Ebony, 12, had never seen Swiss chard until a month ago. She ate three
helpings. "I was like, 'I don't want to eat that," " she said of her
first few months of meals at the Promise Academy. "But I had to,
because there was nothing else. Then it was like, 'This is good." "
Now she demands that her father, Darryl Richards, pick up chard at the
makeshift farmers' market held once a month in the school cafeteria.
They may even take one of the school's cooking classes together.
As this school year begins, it is a rare administrator who is not
reconsidering at least some aspect of lunch, as a way to confront
increasing obesity and poor eating habits. Some steps are as simple as
shutting off soda machines. Others involve writing new, comprehensive
But perhaps no school is taking a more wide-ranging approach in a more
hard-pressed area than the Promise Academy, a charter school at 125th
Street and Madison Avenue where food is as important as homework. Last
year, officials took control of the students' diets, dictating a
regimen of unprocessed, regionally grown food both at school and, as
much as possible, at home.
Experts see the program as a Petri dish in which the effects of good
food and exercise on students' health and school performance can be
measured and, perhaps, eventually replicated.
"The Promise Academy model is probably the most intensive anybody is
working with," said Janet Poppendieck, a professor of sociology at
Hunter College who is working on a book about school food for the
University of California Press.
Almost 90 percent of the students at the school come from families
poor enough to qualify for free government lunches, and 44 percent are
overweight. Most had never tasted a fresh raspberry or eaten a peach
that wasn't canned in sugar syrup before they picked up a cafeteria
tray at the school.
"Our challenge is to create an environment where young people actually
eat healthy and learn to do it for the rest of their lives," said
Geoffrey Canada, the teacher and author from the South Bronx who
developed the Promise Academy. Mr. Canada created his school kitchen
as part of the larger Harlem Children's Zone, an assault on poverty
being watched by social service experts and policy makers across the
Promise was one of nine charter schools opened in the city last year.
The Bloomberg administration has pledged to open 50 such schools,
including 15 that are opening for this school year.
Mr. Canada, who has a master's in education from Harvard, drew a
circle around a 60-block area in central Harlem to create the
children's zone, a tight web of social, health and educational
programs that start with a "baby college" for new parents and will
end, he hopes, with the well-fed collegebound graduates of the Promise
The school has longer hours than most public schools and runs through
most of the summer because the founders believe that its students need
help catching up with those born into better circumstances.
School officials regularly measure the children's weight and fitness
along with their academic progress. Mr. Canada and his staff hope that
the Promise Academy will prove the importance of a serious school food
program, much as data from the national Head Start program was used to
prove the effectiveness of early education and support for children.
That will take time. When the Promise Academy opened last year,
kindergartners and sixth graders were the only students. This year
they are moving up a grade, and another batch of kindergartners and
sixth graders is starting. In five years, when every grade level is
filled, 1,300 students will be eating two meals and two snacks a day
from the Promise Academy kitchen.
"We want the children to get to a point where they're looking forward
to that apple, and the parents provide it for them," Mr. Canada said.
"Now we say, 'Eat fruits and vegetables," and we have kids who come
back and say, 'My moms ain't buying that." "
The team at the school uses strict guidelines, education and a little
psychology to change young palates. One key is to teach resistance to
marketing come-ons from fast-food and candy manufacturers.
"They've got to hear they're being conned," Mr. Canada said, "or
they're not going to be open to this."
Eating at the Promise Academy is about more than just the food.
Children learn to respect where it comes from and who serves it, as
well as whom they eat with. They must use tongs to pick up their
morning bagels. They may not bang their trays down on the cloth-
covered cafeteria tables. No one is allowed to toss out whole peaches
or to cut in line.
To make it all work, Mr. Canada relies on Andrew Benson, a young chef
with a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales University. Mr. Benson,
a veteran of three public school cafeterias in Harlem, said he was
defeated by the city's school food bureaucracy. (Actual cooking from
scratch is done in less than half of the city's 1,356 schools.)
The new kitchen at the academy rivals many in good New York
restaurants. Mr. Benson does not use foods like processed cheese and
peanut butter from the commodities program, choosing to spend part of
his budget on fresher food.
He feeds the children breakfast, lunch and an array of after-school
and Saturday snacks at a daily cost of about $5.87 per student. The
amount, almost twice what some public schools spend, comes from a mix
of government reimbursements and a school budget pumped up by grants
and other private donations.
To get things rolling, Mr. Canada first turned to Ann Cooper, the chef
who gained a national platform reworking the lunch program at the
private Ross School in East Hampton. She helped stock the kitchen,
find food purveyors and plan menus. But the Promise Academy program is
much less fancy than Ross's, in both food and financing.
The Promise menu and the per-pupil budget are the envy of Jorge Leon
Collazo, who was hired last year as the first executive chef of the
New York City public schools, in one of several efforts to improve the
860,000 meals that are pumped out each day in the school system.
"I can't put turkey lasagna with fresh zucchini on the menu for all
the schools in the city," Mr. Collazo said. "I'd get killed. No one
would eat it. If I did something esoteric like that -- esoteric for a
public school -- you'd also have to have something like pizza."
Even at the Promise Academy, getting students to embrace healthy
eating has been a struggle. At first, they went home complaining that
they had not had enough to eat or that the food was terrible, so Mr.
Benson brought parents in for a meal.
The food impressed Jacqueline Warner, whose son, Chuck Cherry, 11,
used to come home from school complaining that he was hungry. "It's
just that he wasn't used to eating healthy portions," she said.
Ms. Warner, 40, has diabetes. She grew up in Harlem, eating what her
mother could afford and knew how to cook. Often that meant fried
foods, macaroni and cheese and lots of rice and potatoes. She loved
it, but attributes her disease, in part, to that diet.
"I'm just glad he has a chance now to know the difference between the
food we grew up on," she said, "and the healthy kind of food they
serve in this school."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Return to Table of Contents
From: Environment News Service, Mar. 23, 2005
BIOTECH CROPS INVADE LATIN AMERICA
By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
SILVER CITY, New Mexico, March 23, 2005 (ENS) -- Latin America is
being invaded by genetically engineered (GE) crops. The promoters of
these crops say they will help fight hunger, reduce agrochemical use,
and bring prosperity to farmers and rural communities in Latin
America. But so far experience has demonstrated that these novel crops
do not fight hunger, do not reduce agrochemical use, do not benefit
small farmers, and also create new forms of economic dependence.
Argentina: Soy Republic
No Latin American country has embraced GE crops as wholeheartedly as
Argentina. Recent years have witnessed an explosive growth in
Argentine farmland devoted to soybeans. Soybean production has risen
from 9,500 hectares in the early 1970s to 5.9 million hectares in
1996. The introduction of GE soy in the late 1990s sparked a further
expansion of soy production, which now surpasses 14 million hectares.
At least 95 percent of all this soy is genetically engineered. All GE
soy grown in Argentina is of the Roundup Ready variety, a product of
the U.S. based biotechnology corporation Monsanto.
Neoliberal ideologues and agribusiness people consider soy to be a
complete success and an economic boon for Argentina. They point out
that this crop brings large sums of badly needed foreign exchange to
pay the foreign debt. But the consequences of this "success" have been
wrenching for the environment and for the lives of the majority of
Other agricultural production is being displaced and pushed to
extinction as the country's farmland converts to soy monoculture.
Fields of lentils, yams, cotton, wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, leafy
greens, vegetables, fruit, dairy farms, and even the country's world-
famous cattle ranches are disappearing before the advance of soy.
This country, that once could feed itself and export prime-quality
beef, now imports basic food staples. Imported food is more expensive
and out of reach for much of the large, poor population. From 1970 to
1980 the percentage of Argentines living below the poverty line rose
from 5 percent to 12 percent. After the implementation of neoliberal
structural adjustment policies, the percentage went up to 30 percent
in 1998, and reached 51 percent in 2002. Today 20 million Argentines
live in poverty and 10 million of them go hungry.
More than 99 percent of Argentina's soy is exported to Asian and
European markets to feed cattle. The country has in effect sacrificed
its own beef production, prized all over the world for its singular
quality, for the benefit of its European competitors. From 1998 to
2003 the number of dairy farms decreased from 30,000 to 15,000.
In the words of agronomist and geneticist Alberto Lapolla, "The
Argentine nation has metamorphosed from being the world's breadbasket
to transform itself into a soy republic, a producer of forage crops,
so that countries with serious development policies can feed their
cattle and don't have to import it from other countries like ours."
Farmers and landowners switch to soybeans in response to a number of
economic pressures. First, local producers cannot compete against
massive and cheap agricultural imports that result from free trade
policies. Moreover, the structure of government incentives and
subsidies favors soybean growers. To further tip the balance, Monsanto
provides producers with expert advisers, seeding machinery for mass
soy production, and herbicide--all on credit.
The Roundup-Ready GE soy is modified to be immune to glyphosate, the
active ingredient of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. The environmental
effect of this new agriculture has been devastating.
"The direct seeding system, with its high use of agrochemicals
(Roundup), has already produced in the monoculture zone a noticeable
biological desertification, with the disappearance of birds, rabbits,
crustaceans, mollusks, insects, etc... particularly affecting the
soil's microflora and microfauna, altering the microbiology of the
soil responsible for the processes that develop and recover the soil's
natural fertility by exterminating bacteria and other microorganisms,
allowing their replacement by fungi," warned Lapolla.
The expansion of soy has come at the expense not only of other crops
but also of forests and wilderness areas. To expand the monoculture,
land owners and agribusinesses are deforesting broad swaths of the
forested mountains at the foot of the Andes, known as the Yungas, and
of the Chaco, on the border with Bolivia and Paraguay.
In the province of Entre Rios, north of Buenos Aires and bordering
Uruguay, over one million hectares were deforested between 1994 and
2003 to make way for soy. This deforestation has caused disastrous and
unprecedented floods, especially in the province of Santa Fe.
The economic effect has been no less devastating. The direct seeding
of Roundup Ready soy monocultures creates unemployment since it hardly
requires any labor. While a hectare of apricots or a lemon grove of
the same extent require from 70 to 80 farm workers, soy employs two
people at most.
Those who have turned their backs on the soy model to engage in
traditional subsistence agriculture have found it nearly impossible
since the clouds of airplane sprayed glyphosate travel great
distances, leaving trails of death and destruction in their wake.
In Colonia Los Senes, in the province of Formosa, families that grew
peanuts, beets, and plantains, and had chickens, ducks, and hogs, saw
their lives changed in 2003 when they were flown over by airplanes
spraying herbicide on nearby soy fields. The inhabitants suffered
nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pains, allergies, and skin
eruptions. Painful spots and sores appeared on the children, sometimes
so painful they could not get up. Plantain plants grew abnormally,
animals died or gave birth to deformed offspring, and there were
reports of lakes filled with dead fish.
Facundo Arrizabalaga and Ann Scholl, lawyer and social anthropologist
respectively, note, "Soy is causing disintegration not only of the
very essence of the land but also of society. Shanty towns are
expanding on the outskirts of major cities with farmers displaced by
airplanes loaded with glyphosate, while agroindustrial giants take
over the land. Soy does not generate jobs, it is an agriculture with
no people, no culture. The rural exodus in recent years has increased
at an alarming rate: 300,000 farmers abandoned the countryside and
almost 500 towns have been left deserted. As a consequence, crime and
violence are increasing day by day, and with that, marginalization
Brazil: Lula's Pragmatism
The Roundup Ready soy monoculture is crossing Argentina's borders and
penetrating neighboring countries. In recent years, Brazil, the
grain's second worldwide producer, has experienced widespread
smuggling of RR soy seed from Argentina to the Brazilian state of Rio
Grande do Sul, where soy production is concentrated.
This illegal seed contraband has enjoyed the complicity, at least
passive, of agribusinesses and land owners, although importation is
clandestine and does not go through the normal procedure of government
Civil society groups like the Landless Workers Movement hold that GE
crops should be submitted to an environmental evaluation, as required
by the Brazilian Constitution. They also point out that Brazil is
obligated to carry out such assessments since it signed the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement that addresses the
possible risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Another concern is that this GE crop invasion could spoil the
competitive advantage of Brazilian produce in international markets,
since GMO-free products command higher prices.
During his electoral campaign, President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva
promised to address the concerns of sectors that denounced the illegal
entry of GMOs into the country. Once in power, however, he leaned in
favor of pragmatism, and in October 2004 signed a bill that civil
society organizations claim favors the biotech industry and
legitimizes the violations of law committed by smugglers and illegal
users of Roundup Ready soy.
A protest letter signed by numerous groups -- including co-ops, social
movements like the Landless Workers Movement, rural labor unions like
the Family Farm Workers Federation, the Consumer Defense Institute,
ActionAid Brazil, and Pastoral Commission of the Earth -- states that
the bill violates "the precautionary principle of the Biodiversity
Convention" by liberating GE crops "with no previous study of the
environmental impact and risk to the health of consumers."
According to the letter's signatories, the clandestine introduction of
Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed "prevented the Brazilian population from
having the opportunity to choose whether or not it wanted to consume
GMOs and expose them to the environment. It also prevented measures to
guarantee the segregation an labeling of GE products and in that way
protect farmers who want to plant conventional seeds or promote
Landless Workers Movement leader Joao Pedro Stedile describes the
conflict, "On the one hand we have the profit and control motives of
the multinational companies' seed monopolies, like Monsanto, Cargill,
Bung, Du Pont, Syngenta, and Bayer. On the other we have the interests
of honest farmers and of the Brazilian people. That is the true
confrontation that brews in the matter of GMOs."
"If we can feed our people with products from other, safer and
healthier seeds, why take a risk with GMOs? Just to guarantee
Paraguay: The Invasion of the Brasiguayans
Paraguay, the world's fourth exporter of soy, is already suffering
from the onslaught of GE monoculture, in spite of the fact that to
this day its government has not legalized such plantings.
This country has two million hectares planted in soybeans, of which
over half belong to the so-called "brasiguayans," as the tens of
thousands of medium and large landlords who migrated illegally from
Brazil are referred to. They break the law not only by settling
illegally in the country and setting up commercial farming operations,
but also by planting GMOs, which in Paraguay are illegal.
With the soy monoculture came intensive glyphosate sprayings,
repeating the experience of deforestation, contamination, and
poisoning that Argentina is living.
Particularly dramatic is the case of the colony of Kaaty Miro, an
indigenous hamlet of 16 families in the department of San Pedro
practically surrounded by soybean fields.
The National Coordinator of Indigenous and Rural Women Workers accuse
that in 2004, glyphosate sprayings resulted in the deaths of three
children and have also caused stomach and lung problems, headaches and
throat aches, diarrhea and skin eruptions among its inhabitants.
Premature births and babies born with various illnesses have also been
reported. The colony also lacks access to clean water because the
creek they used to get the liquid is now poisoned with glyphosate.
The newsletter of the organization Rel-UITA describes a trip to Kaaty
Miro, "As we moved toward the colonies, the landscape changed
drastically. There are hardly any more forests or areas with trees,
only endless hectares planted with GE soy.
The small plants [cotton, cassava, and wheat] struggle to survive and
not die, destroyed by the highly poisonous effect of toxic
agrochemicals, while the [soy] crop enjoys good health. It was pitiful
to see how some of the cotton leaves were 'burnt," wilted and dry
because of the poison's action. Meanwhile, the growth of cassava
plants stopped and now are no larger than 10 to 15 centimeters, when
what is normal in that season is over 35 centimeters, according to the
Mexico: Illegal Immigrants from the North
In Mexico the GMO invasion is manifesting itself in a different way.
The furtive arrival of GE corn from the United States to local farm
fields has been documented since 2001. Farmers used samples of the
imported grain as seed without knowing what it was, and now it is
spreading uncontrolled, crossing with native and criollo maize
Peasant, environmental, progressive, civil society sectors, and
indigenous organizations warn that the consequences of this genetic
pollution for the environment, human health, and global food security
could be dire.
Previous IRC Americas reports have described the impacts of GE corn in
Mexico and civil society responses. Here we present an update. In
December 2004 the Mexican Senate passed a biosafety bill that, like
the one signed by the Brazilian president, is highly favorable to the
biotechnology industry and legalizes genetic contamination, according
to Mexican civil society sectors.
The bill "is an aberration because it does not create a framework of
security for biological diversity, food sovereignty, or protect the
crops and plants of which Mexico is center of origin and diversity and
that form the basis of nourishment of the campesino and indigenous
cultures that created them. Instead, it offers security to the five
transnational corporations that control GMOs worldwide, of which
Monsanto has 90 percent," accuses Silvia Ribeiro of the Action Group
on Erosion, Technology and Concentration.
Critics also point out that the approved law does not provide for
public hearings and yet gives corporations the right to appeal if
their applications for GE crop authorization are not approved. It also
exempts companies from any liability for the genetic pollution caused
by their seeds. "It does not even consider notifying those who could
be contaminated and, in fact, holds the victims responsible with no
safeguard," according to a report in the magazine Biodiversidad,
Sustento y Culturas.
In June 2004 the North American Commission for Environmental
Cooperation, an entity created by the North American Free Trade
Agreement, finished a scientific report on the contamination of
Mexican corn. The report, titled "Maize and Biodiversity: The effects
of genetically engineered corn in Mexico," proposes strengthening the
moratorium on the commercial planting of GE corn in Mexico and keeping
U.S. corn imports to a minimum, as well as strengthening a monitoring
system of traditional crops and labeling GE products.
It also recommended improvements on the methods for detecting and
monitoring the advance of genetic contamination of corn and its wild
relatives; that U.S. GE corn be labeled as such; and that those grains
that cannot be guaranteed as GMO-free be ground up so that they cannot
be used as seed.
Puerto Rico: Good Political Climate
Puerto Rico is one of the biotechnology industry's favorite sites for
GE crop experiments. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data,
the island hosted 2,957 GE crop field tests between 1987 and 2002.
This figure is surpassed only by the states of Iowa (3,831), Illinois
(4,104), and Hawaii (4,566).
The enormous size difference must be taken in account: Illinois and
Iowa each measure over 50,000 square miles while Puerto Rico has less
than 4,000 sq. miles. Experiments with GMOs in Puerto Rico are higher
in number than those carried out in California, which had 1,709
experiments, although it is 40 times larger than Puerto Rico and has a
much bigger agricultural output.
"These are outdoor, uncontrolled experiments," affirmed Bill Freese of
the environmental group Friends of the Earth, commenting on the
situation in Puerto Rico. "These experimental GE traits are almost
certainly contaminating conventional crops just as the commercialized
GE traits are. And the experimental GE crops aren't even subject to
the cursory rubber-stamp 'approval' process that commercialized GE
crops go through, so I think the high concentration of experimental GE
crop trials in Puerto Rico is definitely cause for concern."
Why Puerto Rico? Various answers to this question were offered in a
symposium organized by the Agricultural Extension Service on
biotechnology held in the town of San German in 2002. According to
"Claridad," a local newspaper, several symposium participants stated
that the island's friendly tropical climate allows up to four harvests
a year, which makes it ideal for agronomists and biotechnology
corporations like Dow, Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto. These four
companies joined together in 1996 to found the Puerto Rico Seed
One of the participants gave a much more provocative reason -- he said
that Puerto Rico has a "good political climate." The island's general
population is ignorant of the existence of GE crops and foods in its
diets and fields, which contributes to the "good political climate"
that the speaker alluded to.
Resistance and Alternatives
Resistance against GMO agriculture is manifesting in almost all Latin
American countries from diverse sectors: from indigenous peoples who
work to preserve their millenarian farming traditions and protect
their seeds from genetic contamination, from environmental sectors
that warn about the environmental impacts of GMOs and industrial
agriculture, from farmers who seek to practice a truly ecological
agriculture, and from progressive organizations and agrarian reform
These voices of protest are integrated into the movement of opposition
to the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the neoliberal agenda.
Ecological or organic agriculture is positioning itself as an
alternative to GMOs and to the whole industrial monoculture
agriculture model controlled by transnational agribusinesses. Brazil
in particular has carved out a lucrative niche in the international
market for organic tropical produce, becoming a veritable export
Agribusiness corporations and their spokespeople allege that organic
farming is perfectly compatible with GE crops and that therefore both
can be employed. But organic producers and GMO opponents believe that
the two models of agricultural production cannot coexist and that as
the GE monoculture and agroecological production grow, the moment will
come when Latin America will have to choose between one of the two
[Published in cooperation with the Americas Program at the
International Relations Center, formerly Interhemispheric Resource
Center, online at www.irc-online.org.]
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is an analyst on biodiversity issues for the IRC
Americas Program. He is a Puerto Rican journalist, senior fellow of
the Environmental Leadership Program, a research associate of the
Institute for Social Ecology, and founding director of the Puerto Rico
Project on Biosafety.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Tech Central Station, Sept. 27, 2005
FEAR THE REAPERS
By Xavier Mera
[RPR comment: Tech Central Station, or TCS, hosted by James K.
Glassman, routinely attacks the precautionary principle, or foresight
principle. Here TCS claims that the principle "forces us" to ignore
the full costs of all the alternatives we consider -- which of course
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have a notoriously bad
reputation in France. In such a hostile environment, some people have
not hesitated to destroy the few authorized fields of genetically
modified plants in the name of the precautionary principle. This
summer, three attacks occurred in the Puy-de-Dome department, and
responsibility for some of them claimed by the Collectif des faucheurs
volontaires (or, "the volunteer reapers"). The company Meristem,
French leader in the development of medicines made from genetically
modified plants, was the target of this last wave of anti-GMO
violence, without much media coverage.
But one group that did object to the anti-GMO vandalism was the
organization Defeating Cystic Fibrosis. It turns out that the plants
destroyed were meant to be used to develop drugs to relieve secondary
effects of cystic fibrosis and to produce anti-cancer antibodies.
First of all, this is an obvious illustration of the dangers of the
precautionary principle. By focusing only on the possible risks of GMO
production, this principle also forces us to ignore the costs of
abandoning it. Every choice has a cost, even if it is guided by this
principle. In this case it is the availability of such medicines and
the income they would represent for their producers -- which have to
be abandoned if the naysayers have their way. This is what
"precaution" means for patients and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Obviously, GMO opponents refuse to be seen as neglecting the interests
of patients. They claim that such interests do not require the
production of genetically modified plants. They claim that alternative
techniques exist and that the only reason why GMOs are chosen is for
greater profit. They are probably right: most of the time there are
various technologies available for reaching a same result, and the
choice of one or the other is generally not based on humanitarian
reasons. So what? What is so sinister about financial considerations?
When a cheaper technique is found for using the soil more
productively, as is typically the case with GMOs, it is good news for
consumers because competition, if we let it do its job, will bring the
prices down. Producing more by spending less means a more profitable
investment. When investors come to understand such an opportunity for
making money, they tend to turn towards the sector concerned by
choosing this technique, thus increasing the production and lowering
the price of the product. The choice of technique is thus not
unconnected to the well being of patients. As long as free competition
works, it is such financial considerations that guarantee patients
wider access to treatments.
What about risks linked to GMOs? Perhaps we might agree with a
statement made by the "voluntary reapers" claiming that "no scientific
or therapeutic reason can justify the use of farmers' fields as
laboratory fodder". Then the group referred to the risk of genetically
modified cornfields "contaminating" the neighboring crops. According
to Meristem, their plants are sterile and do not expose the
neighboring properties to a change in the nature of their production.
Even if we imagine that such deterioration is possible, this does not
lead directly to the conclusion that GMOs should be banned, contrary
to critics' claims. In reality this argument has nothing to do with
GMOs, but rather with trespassing on other people's property. Owners
of genetically modified plants "contaminated" by neighboring fields
could just as well use it. And it would have to be proved that such
trespassing had occurred, unlike self-appointed "reapers" who do not
wait before acting.
In fact, it is not necessary to ban GMOs to prevent farmers' fields
being turned into laboratory fodder. Instead of resorting to
vandalism, these reapers could fight for the government to take more
seriously article 2 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the
Citizen, enshrining the right to own property. If acts of pollution
like "contamination" of fields were considered by lawyers as what they
really are, trespassing on private property, GMO producers would tend
to settle far away from possible plaintiffs or would invest in means
of protection, such as greenhouses. In any case, the possibility of
legal proceedings would push investors to better estimate the real
risk of GMOs. Defending farmers does not call for banning GMOs, and
destroying plants can only put a halt to the process of discovery
about the risks linked to them.
Xavier Mera is an associate researcher at the Molinari Economic
Institute in France.
Copyright 2005 Tech Central Station
Return to Table of Contents
Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
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