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Substantial Regulatory Relief

by afew Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 03:20:49 AM EST

As the FAO summit on the "food crisis" deliberated in Rome, I went to a projection of Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto).

I'd already seen it when Arte showed it last March, and found it impressive. But what drew me on Monday evening was that the film's maker, Marie-Monique Robin, was to be present.

Robin is an experienced maker of documentaries, and a true investigative journalist. There's something of the Michael Moore in her question-and-answer tenacity, except that she doesn't adopt Moore's Joe Six-Pack stance. She's an accredited and award-winning journalist (she won the Prix Albert Londres, the French Pulitzer). That doesn't necessarily show when she's interviewing Very Serious People™ in the film. Some of them tend to take her condescendingly for a sort of fluffy French lady, then start wondering why they agreed to the interview as she wrongfoots them and pins them down.

In real life, facing a packed (admittedly not hostile) house, she was focussed and energetic (though she'd just returned from Canada). She answered questions with relevance and at length, and some of the lines of force of the film became clearer. It's not, in any case, a standard hit job, nor a piece of journalistic conspiracy-and-doom porn. It's an historical investigation, and its sequences are lean and chosen with care.


Still and all, it worried me (the first time I watched it) to see this (well, school-teacherly) woman sitting at a desk and typing "Monsanto" into Google. Then waiting for the revelation. Aaaarggh. But in fact no. The point of the googling is to bang home that all the documents she used in building the film are freely available to the public on Internet. The second good thing is that she doesn't waste time wandering around the internets : from Google she cuts to the real world. It may only be archive film footage when she covers Mon$anto's supply of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T to the US military (defoliants known together as Agent Orange), but mostly it's meeting with real protagonists, like the sufferers from PCB exposure in Anniston, Alabama, for example. The documentary also covers Mon$anto's recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH) product and its drawbacks (see some examples of the corporation's aggressiveness in defending the product here and here). The portrait of ruthlessness in search of power, influence, and profit goes on to handle, above all, Mon$anto's move into genetically-engineered crops and its buy-out of seed companies to become a global gatekeeper (the "Micro$oft of agriculture").

Substantial Equivalence

This roll-out is what struck me most in Robin's documentary. She goes back to the 1980s and the beginnings of GMOs. There's a priceless sequence from the archives where V-P Pappy Bush, in 1987, visits Mon$anto's laboratories, tries his hand at inserting a transgene, and promises the administration's backing and help. And Bush is president when, in 1992, Mon$anto is greatly aided by the FDA's adoption of the principle of substantial equivalence as the rule for determining (almost by default) the safety of GM crops for public health.

Substantial equivalence is a principle whereby:

Substantial equivalence - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

biochemical profiles of a new food are deemed to be substantially equivalent to an existing food if they fall within the range of natural variation already exhibited by biochemical profiles of existing foods or crops

Practically, this means that a company wishing to put a novel genetically-engineered life-form on the market (where it will enter the human food chain either directly as a foodstuff or indirectly as animal feed) just has some simple lab work to do comparing the chemical profile of the GE form with a similar but non-GE form. Unless there are major discrepancies, the company will get automatic authorisation from the FDA.

At the same time, the company will be claiming to the US Patent Office that the form is entirely novel and not to be assimilated to pre-existing life-forms. And will be getting a patent (which it will enforce with the greatest vigour).

A cogent brief critique of substantial equivalence (Beyond substantial equivalence, Millstone et al, Nature, 1999), says this:

the industry wanted to argue both that GM foods were sufficiently novel to require new legislation -- and a major overhaul of the rules governing intellectual property rights -- to allow them to be patented, yet not so novel that they could introduce new risks to public or environmental health.

Looking at the options the industry (Mon$anto mostly) wished to avoid :

One obvious solution at that time would have been for legislators to have treated GM foods in the same way as novel chemical compounds, such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, and to have required companies to conduct a range of toxicological tests, the evidence from which could be used to set `acceptable daily intakes' (ADIs). Regulations could then have been introduced to ensure that ADIs are never, or rarely, exceeded.

From the point of view of the biotechnology industry, this approach would have had two main drawbacks. First, companies did not want to have to conduct toxicological experiments, which would delay access to the marketplace by at least five years, and would add approximately US$25 million per product to the cost of research and development. Second, by definition, using ADIs would have restricted the use of GM foods to a marginal role in the diet.

The authors conclude:

Substantial equivalence is a pseudo-scientific concept because it is a commercial and political judgement masquerading as if it were scientific. It is, moreover, inherently anti-scientific because it was created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests. It therefore serves to discourage and inhibit potentially informative scientific research.

Substantial equivalence is given, however, broad backing among official experts. The origins of the doctrine are generally ascribed to an OECD report in 1993, validated by a later FAO/WHO report. In fact, as Robin makes clear, the FDA promulgated the principle (for the USA) before it was rolled out internationally by these, let's say, reliably Washington-Consensus organizations. A name that comes up often (in FAO/WHO literature, for example) is that of the Biotechnology Coordinator of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, James Maryanski. He it was who guided substantial equivalence into official doctrinehood in 1992. Robin interviews him at length in her documentary (this is probably the strongest single aspect of the film), and he rather candidly admits that the decision was political, inspired by the White House.

Regulatory Relief

Digging around the net about that 1992 FDA decision, I found some interesting material. FDA officials were far from agreeing with the process that Maryanski was driving through. There are links to internal FDA documents on this Biointegrity.org page that explains:

These documents became available through the Alliance for Bio-Integrity's lawsuit (Alliance for Bio-Integrity et al., vs. Shalala, et al.) to gain mandatory safety testing and labeling of these foods.

There are (typewritten) internal notes that date to the prepatory stages of the announcement in May 1992. From Dr Linda Kahl to Maryanski in January:

From the Director of Toxicological Review and Evaluation to Maryanski, January 1992:

From Dr Louis J Pribyl, March 1992:

From the Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) to Maryanski in February 1992 (the CVM's interest is in the use of GM crops in animal feed):

There are more, it's worth taking a look through.

Spooking people with scare stories of Frankenfoods seems to me counter-productive. However, the more I learn about GM crops, the more concerned I am that adequate testing for possible public health problems has been simply swept aside. And that has largely happened by political choice, in order to set the American biotech industry, and Monsanto in particular, in a dominating global position. It's the usual two-way process: less regulation that businesses don't want (in this case, safety precaution costs), more regulation they do (intellectual property rules).

It's part of the great Reaganian roll-out of the US as sole world superpower: the FDA pilots the rules that will be accepted elsewhere (little by little), the administration protects and supports a major corporation (that has major lobbying clout and government revolving-door infiltration). And also part of the "drown government in a bathtub" movement, since it's about dogmatic refusal to legislate or write correct regulation.

Robin's film shows a clip of Dan Quayle regurgitating something he was told to say about this. The concern, says Quayle, is regulatory relief. Oh boy. "Relief" is a word like "reform" that the free-market right has stolen. Can you remember "famine relief"? "Pain relief"? Well, two things hurt in the neoliberal's world: taxes and regulation. So we have "tax relief", and, wonder of wonders, "regulatory relief". Unsurprisingly, the current administration has gone ahead with regulatory relief all around (2006 Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act, anyone?).

And it's the reason why genetically-engineered crops can be sold with little or no pre-market testing - why the precautionary principle is not respected.

Display:
Very interesting and detailed diary, afew.  Thanks.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 10:26:14 AM EST
Monsanto's history as a corporate citizen is a long, sad and sorry spectacle of insidious behavior to which  most of the Robber Barrons of 100 years ago can be compared favorably.  The only remedy I can imagine that would curb such deliberate, arrogant and contemptuous disregard for the lives and health of innocent bystanders by Monsanto and others like it is to remove the corporate immunity of officers and employees so that they can be held personally liable for both civil and criminal charges appropriate to the damages they knowingly commit.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 03:22:59 PM EST
Kofi Annan give a speech yesterday where he said that his initiative to make Africa able to feed itself would require the help of private companies like Monsanto and Cargill because "governments can't do it alone".

In other words private firms now have more economic power than many poor countries. I think people will have to adjust to this reality and figure out how to work in this environment. Calling the big agribusinesses "evil" isn't going to produce meaningful solutions.

If a firm like Monsanto spends a billion dollars developing new plant varieties and then uses the power of patents and monopolies to extract maximum profits from this investment what are the alternatives? One either pays the piper or does without. Weak states can't afford the time or effort to develop their own varieties.

I'd like to hear some concrete suggestions on how to operate in a privatized, monopolistic economic environment.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 04:20:22 PM EST
You can do without. Your comment assumes these varieties are necessary, that without GM there is no solution.

There are plenty of adequate varieties. What's needed is support for farmers so they can get back (since a combination of Washington Consensus policies with subsidised dumping by rich-world producers has debilitated farming in many poorer countries) to growing subsistence crops for themselves and their country, and cash crops to get national and regional markets working and bring farmers some money to prime the pump. This is perfectly possible without Monsanto's pesticide GMs that are in fact conceived to offer advantages to intensive rich-country agriculture.

And no, we're not in a privatised, monopolistic economic environment, not yet.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 04:43:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The world has been inadequately feeding 6 billion people, by 2050 there will be about 9 billion. What "worked" in the past won't work in the future.

Subsistence farming is inadequate to deal with the rising population and there is also a need to get yields up as land is taking out of agricultural production and used for something else, or ruined by overuse.

There is also a worldwide trend away from the land and into cities. The remaining farmers will have to produce more to feed all those no longer engaging in agriculture. I'm not suggesting any specific course of action, just pointing out that condemning the monopolies isn't a plan, just a reaction.

I have no strong opinions on GM foods, but I suspect that those who oppose them as a matter of principle are not looking into the issue deeply enough.

I do agree that "patenting" life is obscene.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 07:01:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We're producing enough grains to turn everyone obese, at the current pace. The problem of famine is not one of Malthusian underproduction but bad distribution. The EU was destroying food in the 90's. We're using grain to feed huge amounts of cattle. The market distributes, and when the bottom sixth of the population has less buying power as the top thousandth, the distribution is going to be very unequal.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 08:35:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the limit of caloric and distribution efficiency is 1.

The distribution issue, while very real, is akin to blaming the price of oil on speculators and environmentalists when considering food production as a whole.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Jun 7th, 2008 at 04:51:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't talk about subsistence farming. Please read what I said.

The "trend" to the cities happens because peasant farmers cannot make a living on the land, for reasons I outline above. The trend needs to be reversed by making it possible to live from farming. Why do you accept it as seemingly inevitable, as something that is just "happening"?

You have no strong opinion, you say, but your own ideas appear to be based on an a priori belief that widescale industrial farming must be the only way to feed the world. But widescale industrial farming in poorer or developing countries lends itself to colonial exploitation by large corporations in a free-trade environment, which in turn means plantation-type monocultures that are agronomically fragile and environmentally unsustainable. The counter-project is to support and empower smaller-scale farming carried out by those who (still) have practical knowledge of local conditions. There are immense gains in yields to be made simply by the use of existing well-adapted varieties along with better farming practice in an environment in which farming pays the farmer (not currently the case in the countries we are discussing).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 01:55:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 02:26:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... Monsanto is investing in (in both the commercial and economic sense of the word "investing") is the ability to translate intellectual property into a stream of income.

The claim that the activity is the last, best hope to improve the agricultural productivity of the world is very bold, given that it has not even been shown to be a hope in improving agricultural productivity.

It might be conceivable that Monsanto could use this technology to produce GM seeds that can be used in a progressive agricultural system in, say, the eastern DRC ... the former "breadbasket of Central Africa" ... should political stability return to the area.

But the fact is that to date Monsanto has done no such thing. The streams of income come from having seeds that cannot be saved and re-used and from crops that encourage more intensive use of artificial inputs. So whether or not GM could be used as a technology to contribute to a more sustainable agricultural for developing nations, in both the sense of ecological sustainability and in the sense of being self-propagating within developing economies ...

... its not doing that now, and its not clear that there is any reason why a commercial corporation would ever put their attention to the task of doing so.

This is a case of "you know, if Junior ever set his mind to it, he could make a big contribution to the local team with that cricket/baseball bat" ... when in reality what Junior does with the bat is go around the neighborhood beating people upside the head.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 11:13:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That final paragraph sounds right to me.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 11:21:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... it makes it sound like Junior could be having anger management issues instead of being a psychopath looking to make some money.

This is a case of "you know, if Junior ever set his mind to it, he could make a big contribution to the local team with that cricket/baseball bat" ... when in reality what Junior does with the bat is go around the neighborhood beating people upside the head, if they don't pay protection money.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 11:38:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Junior also has a patent on the bat and an agreement with regulatory authorities that the bat is substantially equivalent to a pencil. The victims sign contracts obliging them to come back for more next year.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:12:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... a description of the actual process. How boring.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:14:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't accept that environment so you don't have to bring up harmful suggestions.

What's needed is to ban all patents on life. It's also a form of regulatory relief.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 05:35:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

What's needed is to ban all patents on life.

What we need is to revise all patent law in view of the societal cost/benefit of each patent to society.  In Stuart England patents were awarded to royal cronies on such things as the sale of salt.  This was done primarily to provide the Crown with revenue and was an example of royal parasitism.

In the USA patents are justified as encouraging innovation, but the whole manner in which patents are handled has become more a bulwark of the privileges of the powerful than a benefit to society. It does provides lots of employment for attorneys. Corporations will just cross-license each other to get around problems.  But the system discourages the emergence of new players in existing fields.  Small players will often publish their inventions, rather than patent them, so that they can retain the rights to their own inventions as part of the "public domain" rather than having to pay to have the invention patented and then having to pay attorneys to sue infringers--or worse, having them patented by a wealthier rival.

With regard to patented lifeforms, we may be presented with the spectacle of having aspects of our own DNA patented by others.  Some company might "patent your ass" and then "sue your ass" for infringing on their patent!  Then you could have some patent attorney arguing in court that your existence violates their patent rights.  And you probably think I am only joking.

This is an area where a useful alliance might be made with traditional faith based groups.  If "life is sacred" how can it be patented for the exclusive economic benefit of a specific human entity?  Properly framed, "patenting the staff of life" could be problematic for many of the genuinely religious.

But it is complex.  What if prohibiting patents on lifeforms prevented development of recombinant versions  of microbes that never would or could be found in nature, but which could process cellulose into propane, ethane, pentane octane or long chain hydrocarbons?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:16:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hypothetical.  The harm is real and already occurring.  

The original idea of patents was that by rewarding inventors, society would get worthwhile benefits.  The justification was never cash-cows for big corporations.  

When society quits benefiting patents should go.  

Patents on life forms is already a negative.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 03:27:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

hypothetical.  The harm is real and already occurring.

Agreed. And the incentives for that harm are real and occurring in the form of existing patent law and practice.

The original idea of patents was that by rewarding inventors, society would get worthwhile benefits.  The justification was never cash-cows for big corporations.

Agreed. I favor either greatly dialing back the scope of patents or abolishing them.  If they are retained the process needs reform so that it does not so heavily favor socio-economic stasis.    

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:46:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Read an interesting study of the distribution of research, the cost, and the outcomes a while back. Somewhere in the wreckage of beer-sodden neurons is the link.
Over the last century, the preponderance of world-changing research and development breakthroughs--the world-altering ideas--have come from wholly or partially  government sponsored projects, in universities, or, secondarily, from research conducted directly by government itself.
The shift to private development divorced from the university environment or government lab is therefore another face of "privatization"--and one that I suspect has worked about as well as most other privatization. Another device to relocate cash.  

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 02:12:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... would be a big step forward. "A successful patent claim on a new crop is accepted as proof that the new crop is not substantially equivalent to existing crops".


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 11:16:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep. But that would really put the kibosh on it, wouldn't it? ;)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:08:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... and nail. But an administration who wanted to have a high profile fight on this issue might pick it for that very same reason ... because from the bully pulpit it would sound like a quite reasonable proposition ... "if its a big enough invention to merit a patent, it can't be that close to what's already out there."

Ah, well, another "might have been" moment ... unless the next head of the FDA wants to pick the fight on his own.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:13:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that governments are powerless agaisnt corporations. Governments have all the power, they've just chosen to (or have been convinced to) not use it because it would be harmful to the interest of some, and that this harm has been dezcribed as harmful to society as a whole rather than just to a few.

Once you move past that point, you see that government have the power; they just don't use it. That can be changed. By political action (in the widest meaning of the word).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 04:36:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess that is the difference between the optimists and the pessimists. When Kofi Annan starts talking about needing the help of multinational corporations to solve world food problems because governments can't (not won't) do it, then I think the optimists need to bolster their case with practical plans.

The reason governments aren't working for the benefit of the people is because they are not sufficiently democratic. This is something I've written about many times. We are in a situation which parallels the first Gilded Age. That ended in a world war and massive depression.

I've already posted a diary about the possibility that we are in the early stages of WWIII:
Has WWIII Already Started? so I won't repeat my arguments.

What I haven't seen from anyone who dislikes my negative outlook are discussions of my points.

  1. Overpopulation
  2. Migration to cities
  3. Lack of democratic governments
  4. Uncontrolled (uncontrollable?) multi-national corporations
  5. Resource shortages

The young should be optimistic, but they also should be realistic. Let's hear some solutions.

Just for reference there is an ongoing debate among those specializing in economic development as to what course to take. On one side are the critics like Joseph Stiglitz, William Easterly and Paul Collier and on the other are the optimists like Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs. Not only can't they agree on what steps to take in the future they can't even agree on what worked or failed to work in the past and why. Unlike us they are all professional economists who specialize in this area. I think this proves that the problems are daunting and not getting the kind of innovative ideas needed. If you are interested in this area they all have books out and Dani Rodrik has a blog as well.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 10:01:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't want to come off as totally negative, so here's my latest little diary on a hopeful sign from the economic community:

First crack in the wall

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 10:57:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... economic growth. This is a point that is made in the negative in most Economic Principles texts ... by listing what is required for economic growth, and financial capital is not there.

This is, indeed, a point that was made much more clearly by Institutionalists working in the field of Development Economics in the 1950's and 1960's.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 11:47:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Negative for negative, I'll say this: if governments (and multilateral governmental/non-governmental orgs) can't do it, neither most certainly can corporations with their narrow focus on profit. Can anyone imagine the ruthless ethics of Monsanto doing anybody any good? And its vision of agriculture being sustainable?

There is an alternative, as I sketched out above, and it involves empowering peasant farmers so they can make a living (provide food staples, earn money) from the land while not destroying it. Half the world's active population are farmers, most of them small peasants. These people have skills and locally-adapted knowledge that can be harnessed to provide much more food than is currently the case in many poorer countries. This would keep population in the country areas and help halt the flight to the towns. (Another of your points I responded to).

Of course, if you step back and say, we haven't got democratic governments so we're screwed anyway... You know, OK, so let's all go hang ourselves.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:04:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Look, I'm not trying to pick a fight, I agree with your premise, but it's not enough.

For example you say "involves empowering peasant farmers " and all I say is how?

What's the plan? We know what the goals are. Where are the implementation plans?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 12:45:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forgive me if I haven't got implementation plans right here to set out. (It wasn't really what the diary was about anyway). But I will come back to this, and develop the topic over time.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 01:09:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't build new nuclear plants within 100m of sea level.

I overheard a conversation about oil prices on the train the other day that sums up the current American zeitgeist, I think. I might write about it.

On second thought, I'm current reading The Road by Cormack McCarthy, so maybe I'll refrain from comment for a while.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Jun 7th, 2008 at 05:01:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that governments are powerless agaisnt corporations.

In other words, all of the powers of corporations come from charters granted by governments.  What has been granted can be changed.  

In the USA there is a common saying about company officers: Vice Presidents are empowered to sign contracts and to go to jail on behalf of the company.

Making corporate officers personally liable for acts of "gross negligence", including many things now considered "externalities" and sending them to jail could have a most salutary effect on corporate behavior, as would awarding whistle-blowers a portion of corporate fines and a civil claim against the personal wealth of responsible officers.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 01:21:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One either pays the piper or does without.

A false choice, rdf.
Monsanto has come to represent the perfect example of a corporation that has internalized the neolib princiople that costs necessary to insure human welfare are an obstacle that can be "dealt with" by the proper tactical "Partnering" with government. They used to jail you for their brand of "partnering".
Over  perhaps a half-century, the relative importance of people has declined to the point that it is almost not on the radar screen-except as an obstacle, an inconvenience.
Few corporations have a product line that more directly impinges on human health and safety.
It aint Monsanto that's inherently evil, rdf, it's --this.
Disposable people.

Subordinating human health and welfare to profits is evil.

If not, there is no evil. It's all just a matter of-well,--learning to operate in a privatized, monopolistic environment.  

It's also stupid- a disastrous social mistake, because the externalized cost of the people repair/treatment/incarceration/reeducation/replacement are socially ruinous.
But it's profitable. For  Monsanto.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 01:27:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not defending Monsanto. My original point was based upon something that Kofi Annan said. I've found a partial quote:

"This collaborative initiative is part of AGRA's strategic vision to build partnerships that pool the strengths and resources of the public and private sectors, civil society, farmers organizations, donors, scientists and entrepreneurs across the agricultural value chain," said Mr. Kofi A. Annan, Chairman of the Board of AGRA. "We must implement immediate solutions for today's crisis and do so in the context of a long-term concerted effort to transform smallholder agriculture, to increase productivity and sustainability, and to end poverty and hunger.

I'll I'm saying is that if someone like Annan can yield to big business and if governments have failed to take the initiative then all that is left is big business. Since they have invested the money they can be expected to set the agenda. If people don't like the agenda then it us up to them to not only set a new agenda, but to explain how it will be implemented given present realities.

Are you going to get patent laws changed? Are you going to set up rival R&D labs funded by governments? Are you going to change the subsidy policies of governments for big producers? Are you going to change international trade agreements? Are you going to persuade youngster that staying in rural areas is better than the buzz and potential of big cities? How?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 03:25:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of these issues have been covered by others in the comments, rdf. With suggested actions.

My point is that it is counterproductive to absorb the talking points that corporations have used to forward their agenda, and use them as a departure point for our planning, because once you do that, you have ceeded the framework to them.
If they set the terms of discourse, however false (and they are false), the outcome is largely determined.
And the outcome is, as we can now see, --evil.
There is such a thing, you know.

"We need their research to progress"--false.

"They deserve huge returns for their huge necessary investment in research"---false (investment), and false (just returns).

We don't need to solve these problems, because they are corporate fabrications.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sat Jun 7th, 2008 at 03:19:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sustantial and fascinating. Investigative journalism as its best, putting together disparate strands of information into one coherent story.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 04:37:58 AM EST
Thanks.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 05:22:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And thanks to Marie-Monique Robin.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 04:31:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very interesting, but frustrating story. Reminds me of the tobacco industrie and some stuff I read about health care.

Though the Reagan-area might have been important to strenghten the greed of business, it was there all along and what Montsanto is doing is nothing new.

During a training of mine, I had to read the following two books:

  1. "When healing becomes a crime" this is about how AMA treaded unconventional healers and doctors, even if or maybe because they were successful. I do not know about AMA today, but in the middle of the last century seems to have resemble more the mafia.

  2. "The Politics of Cancer" a report by the US Senate about cancer and cancer-therapies. All I can say sickening.

It is amazing how much scientific research exists about ill-effects of therapies and how much is just ignored or even suppressed. And I assume it is the same with agro-business. This is one reason, why I do not have much confidence in the 'available' research. I would prefere to see the research that is not made available.
by Fran on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 10:27:22 AM EST
Those descriptions sounded rather ominous, so I put them through a quick google search. Turns out that the first one is shilling for Hoxsey Treatment.

The second one I wasn't able to get anything much on. It appears to be a book by one Samuel S. Epstein, not a congressional report. S. S. Epstein's google record raises a number of little red flags (or little black ducks, if you will...). A lot of snake-oil peddlers seem to like him. That's not conclusive, of course, but it should give pause for thought.

To ward off misunderstanding, let me emphasise that I don't think Big Pharma is particularly squeaky clean (although my impression is that it is subject to rather firmer regulation than the agribiz). But quacks and snake-oil peddlers are not the right people to ask if you want a measure of the level of corruption in Big Pharma. For much the same reason that Enron executives are not the right people to ask if you want a measure of the level of corruption in the IRS.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 02:19:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, went in to my cellar to dig out the book. Sorry, you are right it was not a Congress report, but very influential on the US congress.

The introduction to the second edition of the book was written by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. and the foreword by Congressman David Obey.

Conyers writes in the Introduction in 1998:

The work has served as a treatise for us in the Congress as we fought in the 1980s for the enactment of a half dozen landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, The Toxic Substances Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and much else.

Samuel S. Epstein, is or was Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois Medical School Center at Chicago. Further he was consultant to the US Senate commitee of Public Works and many more.

by Fran on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 02:40:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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