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GM news escalates: ‘whitewashing’ glyphosate, Monsanto papers, Michael Gove persuadable?

12 Nov

Der Spiegel reports that a court in San Francisco ordered U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto to provide internal emails as evidence after about 2,000 plaintiffs demanded compensation from Monsanto in class-action suits. They claim that Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer, in them or members of their family.

More than 100 documents have revealed that Monsanto’s strategies for ‘whitewashing glyphosate’ have been revealed in internal e-mails, presentations and memos. They suggest the company concealed risks, making their publication a disaster for the company. The matter is also likely to be a topic of discussion at Bayer, the German chemical company in the process of acquiring Monsanto.

“The Monsanto Papers tell an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation and the withholding of information,” says Michael Baum, a partner in the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, which is bringing one of the US class actions. According to Baum, Monsanto used the same strategies as the tobacco industry: “creating doubt, attacking people, doing ghostwriting.”

On October 11th, the European Parliament’s Environment and Agriculture committee held a public hearing on The Monsanto Papers. 

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Despite this, the BBC reports that an EU vote has failed to resolve a controversy over the use of glyphosate, the world’s biggest-selling weedkiller. Glyphosate was introduced by US agrochemical giant Monsanto in 1974, but its patent expired in 2000, and now the chemical is sold by various manufacturers.

The European Commission said the vote fell short of the majority needed to renew the license for five years when it expires December 15, as only half of the 28 member states voted for its proposal. “Given that a qualified majority could not be reached … the result of the vote is ‘no opinion,'” said the commission, the EU’s executive and regulatory arm. An EU appeal committee will now try to rule on the issue. A qualified majority requires that 55% of EU countries vote in favour, and that the proposal is supported by countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population.

The UK was among the 14 states backing the Commission position on glyphosate. Nine voted against – including France and Italy. Germany was among the five who abstained.

But a reader sends the information that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, now says the UK will back a total ban on insect-harming pesticides in fields across Europe . . . Perhaps he can be persuaded to ban human-harming, resistance-forming glyphosate as well.

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Encouraging lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at China’s national congress

21 Oct

Those who totally oppose all GM adoption in China because of concerns about the damage caused by the herbicides and pesticides used with the crops and a loose coalition of left-wingers, environmentalists and retired officials will be encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at this week’s national congress of China’s Communist Party.

Lucy Hornby in Beijing, writing in the FT, says that Mr Xi has ‘historically fudged’ his position on GM — urging advocates to be “bold in research, careful in promotion”.

Ms Hornby notes that the coalition had written letters to the top leadership last year opposing ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss seeds and agrochemicals group Syngenta. Reuters put the number of signatories at 400.

Currently – despite US Dow Chemicals’ persistent and energetic lobbying – only GM papaya is planted on a small scale in China, due to domestic fears that foreign GM technology poses a security threat. In addition, at present (June 17th report) GM cotton is grown in China and GM animal feed is imported. Very few genetically modified foods are allowed on the market in China and labelling GM foods is strictly enforced there.

The safety of GMOs is widely debated in China through traditional media and the emerging online social media, where the public expresses deep concerns about the safety of GMO foods.

In 2015, there was a report of a conference on “GMOs and National Security” in Beijing, where scholars warned that the issues relating to GMOs were not just about science or technology, but also about food security, ecological security, and even national security.

A study of a GM grain carried out in China in 2012 caused great concern to the public; a US researcher and her team were accused of feeding Chinese children a GM grain, golden rice, and measuring the effects without telling their parents.

Chinese researchers are vying to promote new plant strains they have developed, while not revealing whether they are genetically modified or developed using traditional breeding practices. Many are grown in demonstration fields but have not been commercialised.

Frank Ning is the head of ChemChina’s rival Sinochem, which markets some Monsanto products. He said that the future direction of Chinese agriculture is the gradual improvement of seed quality and more targeted application of fertiliser and pesticides, which are big sources of soil and water pollution in China:

“Sinochem has transformed. We used to be just a sales operation: selling seeds, selling fertiliser. Now we are a modern agricultural platform: service oriented, promoting better seeds and teaching people to use less fertiliser.”

So far, so good.

 

 

 

 

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Forty-six farmers spraying Monsanto’s GM Bt cotton died after inhaling the pesticide

14 Oct

Pradip MaitraHindustan Times, reports that in Vidharba, 46 farmers growing Monsanto’s Bt cotton died after inhaling poisonous pesticide whilst spraying the crop.. As pests had become resistant to pesticides formerly used, stronger formulations were being used with little or no protection – as Devinder Sharma points out in an earlier post.  

Most of the deaths were reported from Yavatmal, a major cotton-growing district that has often been in the news for farmers’ suicides.

More than 500 others have inhaled the poisonous spray and fallen sick, and are admitted in various hospitals. A few have already lost their vision, hearing or speech. More may die during treatment. As the death toll continues to rise, the chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered an inquiry under a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter.

The Quality Control of the state’s agriculture department on Wednesday raided 12 different godowns of pesticide companies and sealed those stocked to prevent further sales, seizing pesticides worth Rs 14.31-crore from Akola in western Vidarbha.

The Maharashtra State Agriculture Mission chairman Kishore Tiwari demanded a ban on chemical farming and encourage organic farming in the region. Tiwari, who is camping in Yavatmal after the incident, dubbed the entire episode as “genocide” and demanded to book the concerned multi-national manufacturers and concerned department, in this regard.

Tiwari has appealed to the state government to stop the use of harmful products to put an end to farmer fatalities and give compensation of Rs 5-lakh to the victims’ families. He alleges that the deaths are due to the vested interests of the regulatory officials in the agriculture department and administration’s negligence.

 

 

 

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Valproate: rely on self-regulation?

29 Sep

The advisory European Medicines Agency – which has no legal power – is examining the effectiveness of Valproate warnings

Valproate is an anti-epilepsy drug first licensed in the UK in 1975. Taking the drug during pregnancy had – for some years – been suspected by epilepsy experts to have a strong link with the development of ‘dysmorphic features’ – such as eyes set wider apart and a thinned upper lip – in children born subsequently. They also suspected that valproate use in pregnant mothers might lead to longer term developmental problems – but the evidence for this was anecdotal at the time. More evidence emerged throughout the 1990s. In 2005, UK patient information leaflets included concerns about delayed development in children.

In 2004 the New Scientist reported that a study (BMJ reference: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (vol 75, p 1575), led by Dr Naghme Adab from the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Liverpool, UK, showed that children born to mothers who were on valproate when pregnant were eleven times more likely to have a verbal IQ score of 69 or below, compared with children born in the general population. To read the statistics and percentages click on the link above.

The researchers added that their results could have been partly skewed because only 40% of the mothers contacted for the study actually responded – mothers who cooperated might be more likely to believe their children were harmed by anti-epilepsy drugs. They added, however, that even if it is assumed the other 60% of children all had normal IQs, the children of valproate users would still be twice as likely to have a low IQ (below 79) than the general population.

“Epilepsy is the second most common cause of maternal deaths,” Tim Betts, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Birmingham UK, told New Scientist. He warns that women should not stop taking prescribed anti-epilepsy drugs during pregnancy without consultation, and adds that safe alternatives are available. “When we see women before pregnancy we invariably try to get them off valproate,” he says.

Instructions for doctors – and, more recently, patient leaflets – say valproate should not be used during pregnancy unless there is no safer alternative and only after a careful discussion of the risks. The medicines regulator said warnings had been updated as more information had become available. Many women whose babies were affected say nobody warned them of the extent of the dangers. Warnings were only added to the outside of valproate pill packets in Britain last year.

Humane French politicians put Britain’s business friendly government to shame

In France, 1,200 families are preparing to sue the drug manufacturer, accusing it of failing to sufficiently inform women of the risks. The French government is supporting the legal action and has put aside about £9m (€10m) to compensate the families.

By contrast in 2010, families in England and Wales had to abandon a court case when their legal aid was withdrawn three weeks before the case was due to begin. They signed letters promising never to sue again, and in return were not billed for Sanofi’s multi-million pound legal costs. They are now calling for a judge-led public enquiry. An article on a BBC website this month adds that about 20,000 babies in the UK alone have been left with disabilities since valproate was introduced in the 1970s.

It also reports that women whose children have been harmed by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate are giving evidence to a European-wide safety review in London. The European Medicines Agency will examine whether warnings about risks to unborn babies are strong enough. Reuters reports that a  final recommendation is expected in December.

 

 

 

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Long, tragic sagas: infected blood transfusions, OP poisoning and Gulf War Syndrome, denial and delay, pending death

29 Jul

The Haemophilia Society has blown the whistle and called for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians. More here.

Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used – just as OP sheep dips were.

The lives of British haemophiliacs and other patients in need  of a blood transfusion were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 7,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. Read more in The Journal.

Last week in The Times, Margarette Driscoll recalls that in 2015, following the Penrose report into contaminated blood products in Scotland (which many victims denounced as a whitewash), David Cameron apologised to those who were infected by HIV and hepatitis C.

Weasel words

References to “compensation” have been changed to “payments” – to avoid admitting the liability which is already common knowledge? The sums received by victims of the contaminated blood scandal are known as ex gratia payments.

In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has been campaigning on the issue since she met one of her constituents, a mild haemophiliac who was given factor VIII in 1983 to prevent excessive bleeding when he had a tooth removed in hospital. He discovered he was infected with hepatitis C in 1995, when it showed up on blood tests for an unrelated illness.

As Theresa May had set up the Hillsborough inquiry when she was home secretary, Johnson was hopeful she would do the same for contaminated blood.

May refused. Johnson requested an urgent Commons debate, which was due to be held on Tuesday. She then got the six leaders of the opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry, and this is to be set up.

Adding insult to injury? Payment to many victims of NHS blood contamination is to be cut

In March this year a scheme to pay the victims of NHS blood contamination is to be scaled back under government plans announced on Monday. Ministers believe the reforms are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.

The government has proposed measures that would cut predicted costs, including limiting the availability of the higher level of financial support under the scheme

Will an enquiry compensate these victims for the cuts?

 

 

 

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Links between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and the onset of diabetes

26 Jan

As the government’s Food Agency is diligently warning the public of possible harm from burnt toast, will it heed a new concern raised by Indian scientists?  

British governments have a poor record when there is a conflict of interest between public health and large arms related/chemical/pharmaceutical companies.

Successive governments resisted acknowledging the harm done by early nuclear tests, Gulf War medication, thalidomide, mercury in infant vaccines and infected imported blood products – even, in the 70s and 80s compelling farmers to use organophosphate-based sheep dip and to this day encouraging the addition of a toxic chemical to drinking water.  

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The number of diabetes cases in Britain is causing concern; the Medical Research Council (above, a publicly funded government agency) reported in 2015 that there are 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK and quotes estimates that more than one in 16 people in the UK has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).

Richard Bruce sends a link to a report from India by Pallava Bagla published on Tuesday. It records that scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu have found links between the use of pesticides and the high prevalence of diabetes in India (65 million people, second only to China).

They found the prevalence of diabetes in people regularly exposed to insecticides was three-fold higher (18.3 per cent) than in unexposed people (6.2 per cent).

Their results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology. They also conducted experiments on mice, in which they found that exposure to pesticides upsets the micro-flora of the gut, leading to the onset of diabetes. Read quite a detailed account here: http://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-016-1134-6

The team – which had been conducting the research in rural areas of South India – suggests that if people are continuously exposed to common OP pesticides like Malathion and Chlorpyrifos, they can get diabetes even when they do not have the other risk factors – obesity and high cholesterol.

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This was a departure from traditional findings: the 3,080 people surveyed were physically active and did not have the better known risk factors for diabetes like obesity and high cholesterol.

OP pesticides are widely used in agriculture. Malathion is used even in urban areas to control mosquitoes and termites. They are known to affect memory and concentration, cause depression, headache and speech difficulties. The US Environmental Protection Agency (at risk under the new president?) publishes findings that these are amongst several classes of toxic chemicals that can harm children; researchers say OPs could be a contributing factor in learning disability and behavioural problems in children.

The scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University suggested that, in view of the high occurrence of diabetes in India, the use of OP (organophosphate) pesticides should be reconsidered.

 

 

 

Pesticide concerns – but better news from France and America

6 Jan

Some time ago Richard Bruce, whose health has been profoundly damaged by pesticides, highlighted the lack of reference to “the poisons that are added to the wheat AFTER harvest, in the food grain stores and during processing”.

He continues: “Here in the UK tons of the poisons have been admixed with wheat, barley, oats and other food crops every year for decades, often with no withholding times after treatment at all. The EU intervention stores demanded that the grains were protected from insect infestation by these products for at least 5 years in store … Bakers have refused delivery of clean wheat unless it is treated with the poisons”.

peschemhealthRichard pointed out that though the British Medical Association stated in the publication ‘Pesticides, Chemicals and Health’ * (use link below) that wholemeal bread contained the highest residues of the poison – 24 years later it is still approved for use in our food and NEVER appears on the food content labels because it does not have to be declared.

The official reason? Because it is classed as a pesticide and not a food additive. 

Recently he wrote that science is not true science now. It is controlled by vested interests. Corporate pseudo-science rules over all. Dangers are played down, or even totally dismissed, so as to ensure greater profitability. He continued:

“Over the years, I had to contact various “experts’ at universities and even had some insects I found eating barley roots sent to the British Museum to discover what they were. I don’t know much but I was astounded by how little those “experts” really knew and I have been very wary of experts ever since. I once asked a veterinary surgeon if he could test to see what poison had been injected into an egg which had obviously been left in a row of soon to be baled straw to tempt a predator. He actually told me that I would need to know the name of the poison before he could test it – and left me with that poisoned egg! I was angry about it at the time – a completely illegal act ignored – a portent of what was to happen to me!”

mark-purdeyHe recalled speaking with the late Mark Purdey (right). The Guardian recorded that Mark’s life changed one day in 1984 when an official from the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF, as it then was) told him he had to comply with a warble fly eradication order and treat his herd of Jersey cows with an organophosphate (OP) pesticide. “When she arrived, it was as if my whole life became focused,” he explained. “Prior to that, I knew what was happening in farming, and I was concerned, but I hadn’t been actively campaigning.”

Purdey refused, arguing that the suggested dose was far too high and in any case his natural treatment for warble fly was perfectly effective. The battle lines with the agricultural bureaucracy were drawn; before they had a chance to prosecute him, Purdey took MAFF to court and shook administrative complacency by winning his case.

He suggested to Richard that modern farmers have been treated rather like the Hitler Youth – indoctrinated into dependence on chemical inputs and forcing the land into submission from birth. They know no different and are reluctant to change. This coupled with the induced fear of crop and livestock losses through disease convinces them never to change.

Richard ends: “If my efforts to gain justice and truth through the courts taught me anything it is that none of the experts can be trusted. It appears to me that too many of them simply repeat what they are taught and told without ever checking the facts for accuracy. We see it all the time, even when the claims made have been proven to be false”.

Better practice

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Above: Beer Sheva Park in Washington State: read more here, http://www.beautifulwashington.com/king-county/parks/seattle/south-seattle/273-beer-sheva-park.html

Seattle (Washington State USA) is one of 17 American states to have “pesticide free parks”. It has fourteen, maintained by Seattle Parks and Recreation department without the use of any pesticides since 2001. IPM practices are used and their parks are not overrun with fire ants or other pests. Read in more detail here. The program is now being expanded to include eight more parks and about 25 more acres, making a total of 22 parks and about 50 acres distributed geographically throughout the city which provide citizens with an opportunity to use these facilities with the knowledge that no pesticides are used.

And in France on 29th December it was reported that pesticides will be banned in all France’s public green spaces and non-professional gardeners will no longer be able to buy pesticides over the counter. The pesticide ban covers public forests, parks and gardens, though local authorities are still allowed to use pesticides in cemeteries. The new law also stipulates that pesticides will be prohibited in private gardens from 2019.

 

*https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19922316043