Big $$ and Media Madness — It’s a Global War Against Activism, Grassroots Movements, Civil Society

So, in Washington, the defeat of I-522, the genetically modified organisms, i.e. food, labeling initiative has been aided and abetted  by, well, they call it a “war in the media” with the armies of the corporations launching frontal, rear, aerial, underground, cyber and Madison Avenue assaults. So, the “media” are the balancers and arbiters of justice. When the GMO-GE activists — armed with science and grassroots ground-truthing and logic on their side — set up a system that is precautionary principle-perfect — LABEL ingredients that are not Mother Nature’s and let the citizen eater decide — and then have the big bucks of the multinational thugs come pouring into Amazon-Boeing-Gates-Mircosoft-Genetics Washington State, who would have thunk that the people supporting common sense, labeling, who were polled in August as leading the Initiative’s support, who would have guessed “reversed course” by the electorate in a NO on labeling cognitive dissonance,   because of thousands of robo-calls, bus side advertising, radio spots, TV mush and editorial boards of various neoliberal, conservative news organs (sic) attacking common sense and labeling the toxins in foods and products that the GMO pigs of Midas have pushed through with the help of technocrats, Little Eichmann fellows and ladies, and the scientists of the mad, greedy Wall Street licking kind? With slick TV ads, twenty-something marketing campaigns, and massive unleashing of media bunker-busting bombs, they did that — defeat a righteous food labeling bill. Oh, as of 1 p.m. PST Nov. 7, ballots — mailed in — are still being tallied, but . . . . Holding out for a win, some sort of false hope.

“When you’re outspent 3-to-1 — or 5-to-1 as we were in California — you cannot win the media war,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, and a member of the I-522 steering committee.

The playing field is likely to be more level in legislatures, she said.

Oh, hell, you think those slick geneticists and agri-Frankensteins listen? To the people of the land?

“10 Years of Failure, Farmers Deceived by GM corn” which shows the dire situation of corn farmers in the Philippines who have adopted GM corn. Amidst protests from farmers, scientists, consumers and basic sectors, GM corn was commercialized in the Philippines in 2003. At present, there are about 8 varieties of single, stacked-trait and pyramided GM corn approved by the government for direct planting. It is now planted in about 685,317 hectares of agricultural land allotted for corn.

The film documentary is based on the study done by MASIPAG (Farmers and Scientist for the Development of Agriculture) on the socio-economic impacts of GM corn on farmers’ lives and livelihood after more than 10 years of commercialization. In the film, GM corn farmers relate how they became indebted because of the rising cost of GM corn seeds and increasing cost and quantity of inputs being used. The film also shared the farmers account on the effect of GM corn farming such as emergence of new pests, soil erosion, corn contamination and human and animal health impacts. Farmers also shared the difficulty to go back to traditional or organic corn farming because of the loss of traditional seeds and practices replaced by GM corn farming and the effects of neighboring GM corn plantations. The film documentary covers the islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The film was released online on the observance of World Food Day on 16th October now dubbed “World Hunger Day” by farmers.

MASIPAG is a network of the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC).

And, yes, more than “just” documentaries disseminate the massive problems with Bt Corn and Monsanto on the Philippine culture:

“A vicious cycle of poverty” may sound clichéd, but in the case of Filipino farmers, planting genetically modified corn, no statement is more apt and true. Small-holder farmers who were lured by promises of good yields and sure markets pay as much as 20-40% interest per cropping season to financers and traders who also buy the produce at a much cheaper price. But as the promised resistance to pests and tolerance to herbicides have decreased over time — as well as natural disasters and calamities – farmers found themselves with poor harvests and incomes. Thinking that they could probably recover by the next cropping season, they borrowed loans, once again, incurring compounded interests to their unpaid debts.

These are uncovered by a new research study/paper,  Socio-economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines by MASIPAG which was formally launched on Monday, September 16. MASIPAG is a network of farmers’ groups, scientists and non‐government organizations in the Philippines seeking to improve the farmers’ quality of life through their control over genetic resources, agricultural technology and associated knowledge.

Now let’s look at Africa and GE foods (sic):

GM Maize Cartels Gorge Profits on SA’s Poor, Eye African Markets

Press Release from the African Centre for Biosafety 6 November  2013

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released its new research report titled,  GM Maize: Lessons For Africa-Cartels, Collusion And Control Of South Africa’s Staple Food, showing how a select group of companies, including Tiger Brands, Pioneer and Premier Foods who have previously fixed the price of bread and maize meal, commandeer the entire maize value chain and continue to squeeze the poorest South Africans. The ACB has recently shown that the entire maize meal market is saturated with GM maize.

The report shows that the South African government, through the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) is the largest investor in Tiger Brands, and that over 50% of the company’s shares are held outside South Africa. Pioneer Foods’ largest shareholder is Zeder, the agribusiness investment arm of PSG Konsult Group, a private financial services company. Premier Foods is 80% owned by private equity firm Braite, listed on the Euro MTF market in Luxemburg but domiciled in Malta, both jurisdictions being notorious tax havens. ‘These ownership patterns have increased the distance between food producers and consumers, and are lucrative avenues for capital accumulation by actors far removed from these firms’ locales,’ said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.

According to Gareth Jones, researcher at the ACB, ‘It appears as if South Africa’s major millers and retailers are making healthy profits from our staple food and certainly not passing falling maize prices onto consumers.’ The report shows that from April 2007 to April 2013, the average cost of a 5 kg bag of maize meal increased by 43.7% in rural areas, and 51.8% in urban areas. ‘These sharp price increases aggravate the already appalling conditions that millions of South Africans live under. This is particularly significant for the poor, who spend 41% of their income on an average “food basket” ‘, said Jones.

Further findings of the report include:

  • Two companies Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred control the maize seed market;
  • Maize handling and storage is dominated by three companies Senwes, NWK and Afgri, all former co-ops;
  • Louis Dreyfus and Cargill, international grain traders, dominate the maize trade on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange;
  • A highly concentrated value chain feeds into an equally concentrated food retail sector, with four major retailers: Shoprite/   Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths dominating the market.

Rest of Continent at risk

According to the report, Premier and Pioneer have all expanded their operations on the continent. Tiger Brands already operates in 22 countries on the continent and is a key player in establishing maize value chains in Southern Africa. ‘Having already gorged their profit margins on the poorest of the poor in South Africa, these corporate giants are now glancing covetously to the vast African market north of the Limpopo. Experiences from South Africa should serve as stark warnings,’ said Mayet.

Urgent Change Needed

The ACB report calls for an urgent reversal of this economic concentration and for mechanisms to be put in place to develop small players throughout the maize value chain, from farmers to millers and retailers. This should include the promotion of agro-ecological production methods, decentralised value chains and public maize breeding programmes that provide access to seed that can be freely shared and exchanged.

Thanks, Gareth Jones 081 493 4323 &  Mariam Mayet 083 269 4309

Jason Redmond/Reuters

Christian Science Monitor: Quote —

Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Bayer Cropscience, Dow Agrisciences, Pepsico, General Mills, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and another 30 major food manufacturers have funded their anti-522 campaign with three times the money raised by the initiative’s supporters. Monsanto alone kicked in $5.3 million. With a week remaining before the election, the Vote No on 522 campaigners had raised $21.9 million, a state record for a ballot measure, nearly all from out of state. The campaign lists six individual donors.

The Yes on 522 forces has banked $8.4 million. Its supporters include 15,000 individual contributions, plus several hundred natural food companies, including Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods, Nature’s Path Foods USA, and Clif Bar. The campaign’s biggest donor is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps: $2.2 million.

Voter approval would be a significant setback for the alliance of large seed companies and mass-market food producers that have opposed such “right to know” legislation elsewhere. Last November, for example, many of the same opponents fighting Initiative 522 spent $46 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, a measure similar to Washington’s.

Although both campaigns expect the vote to be close, polls by a local research firm show the “no” campaign gaining: Six weeks ago, 66 percent of likely voters supported Initiative 522. Now, support has dropped to 46 percent, with 42 percent opposed and 12 percent undecided.

Yet absent this initiative and nearly $22 million spent on persuasion, Americans appear to want GE labels on their food, according to polls. “Over the past 25 years, surveys have repeatedly shown that 90 percent of people in the US want GE foods to be labeled,” says Philip Bereano, professor emeritus of technology and public policy at the University of Washington. “Because the surveys go on to show that over two-thirds of people would not buy GE foods, the industry knows the vote in Washington State will be a critical turning point in the profitability of GE food.”

David Cameron with Barack Obama at a state dinner in Cameron's honour in 2012 at the White House. (photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Ahh, check out the TPP, too  — trans-Pacific Partnership, AKA, Cartel, Mafia, Continuing Criminal Enterprise.

Over 600 official corporate advisors have negotiated a secret pact—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). While President Obama has sought to ensure this “free-trade” agreement, little of the TPP has been revealed to the U.S. public.

The lack of transparency speaks to the current conditions of how the U.S. government is handling security—through secrecy.

This secrecy applies itself to how corporate elites and their supported governmental allies in the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam have sought to pass this “free-trade” agreement. This pact, also known as NAFTA on Steroids as well as a “corporate Trojan Horse”, encourages and implements corporate interests in the reshaping of domestic policies.

For Obama, the TPP would allow the U.S. to double its exports but little has been said about its impact on domestic policies. The negotiations have not been made to the public but what we do know is that it seeks to diminish labor standards, solidify corporate interests in regards to intellectual property, deregulate environmental standards as well as cripple government abilities to regulate food safety and health insurance.

Supporters of the TPP have called for its implementation as it would increase “new drugs and improve access to medicines” except its desire to call for more patents on medicine would have the opposite effect.

Anti-TPP NGOS in Japan and Mexico ensure that this “pro-business” measure actually hurts the welfare and health of the poor and working classes of their respective countries.

Thus, instead of “new drugs” the TPP will see more privatization of healthcare and increase costs for patients in need of generic drugs.

The Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) among other free trade pacts throughout the world have actually taken low-cost generic drugs off the market in Guatemala and as Emilio Godoy, has reported, in Jordan, similar initiatives have increased medicine prices by 20 percent, which according to Oxfam, leads to the eroding of public health services for the people who actually need access to them.

That trade agreement, like NAFTA, TTIP and others, ties directly into the food and farming justice movement: George Monbiot, Guardian newspaper, on the TTIP and UK’s role . . . .

The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.

The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It’s already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.

The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.

During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people’s energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.

In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada’s patent laws are changed.

Sort of along the lines of our Supreme Court ruling on arbitration — signing away our collective and individual rights  to sue corporations for damages, thanks to the black robed justices (sic) and thuggery in the political cesspool of corporate domination. Thanks to Mother Jones for this article:

In a little-known case called American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, the Supreme Court today issued yet another decision making it easier for big corporations to use their market power to screw over consumers and small businesses. Thursday’s 5-3 decision affirmed the right of big corporations to use mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts to force small businesses to challenge monopolistic practices in private arbitration rather than through class actions in court. The case shows once again that the conservative majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has no problem with judicial activism when it comes to bolstering corporate power.

The 2nd Circuit repeatedly voted in favor of the merchants. It heard the case at least three times, including once after the high court reversed its original decision in favor of the restaurants, and it seemed fairly united in its belief that the Amex contract was unenforceable. But the Roberts Court has been no friend of small businesses or consumers, particularly those seeking to bring class actions against big companies. The court’s conservative majority has made class action litigation much harder to bring, mostly notably in 2011 when it struck down a huge sex discrimination case brought by 1.5 million women working at Walmart.

That’s one reason public interest lawyers have sounded the alarm about the Amex case for a year, noting that, given the court’s current makeup, the case had potentially awful implications for anyone ripped off while using a credit card or cellphone and for small businesses trying to fend off corporate monopolies.

In an amicus brief submitted in this case on the side of the small businesses, lawyers forAARP, Public Justice, and the American Association for Justice warned that if the court sided with Amex, “statutes intended by Congress to protect weaker parties against stronger parties will essentially be gutted. Small businesses might as well move to a different country where they no longer enjoy the protection of the antitrust laws. At the whim of an employer, workers could be required to prospectively waive their Title VII [anti-discrimination] rights. Consumer protection laws such as the Truth in Lending Act could be silently, but inescapably, repealed by corporations with the stroke of a pen.”

Indeed, if the court ruled that Amex could use an arbitration clause in a contract with a much less powerful party to escape punishment under the Sherman Antitrust Act, there’s no reason why a big company couldn’t create contracts that prevent people from filing sex discrimination, consumer fraud, or other similar claims in any venue. Laws that Congress passed to protect the public could simply be voided through artfully written arbitration clauses that create expensive hurdles to pressing a claim.

You sort of can put together the rather elegantly-linking puzzle pieces in this master board of transnational charters, transnational finance, and multi-national companies and their very reach into the smallest of villages in developing countries, underdeveloping countries like the USA and in developed countries.

Look for a piece coming up in DV from Kevin Coleman. Adios.

Paul Kirk has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. Read other articles by Paul.