Fracking kills newborn babies – polluted water likely cause

A new study of Pennsylvania counties published today in the Journal of Environmental Protection shows for the first time that contamination from fracking kills babies.

The Marcellus shale area of Pennsylvania was one of the first regions where novel gas drilling involving hydraulic fracturing of sub-surface rock, now termed ‘fracking’, was carried out.

The epidemiological study by Christopher Busby and Joseph Mangano examines early infant deaths 0-28 days before and after the drilling of fracking wells, using official data from the US Centre for Disease Control to compare the immediate post-fracking four year period 2007-2010 with the pre-fracking four-year period 2003-2006.

Results showed a statistically significant 29% excess risk of dying age 0-28 days in the ten heavily fracked counties of Pennsylvania during the four-year period following the development of fracking gas wells. Over the same period, the State rate declined by 2%. They conclude:

“There were about 50 more babies died in these 10 counties than would have been predicted if the rate had been the same over the period as all of Pennsylvania, where the incidence rate fell over the same period.”

Radioactive water pollution to blame?

The Marcellus shale beneath Pennsylvania was one of the first areas where fracking began. Only 44 fracking wells were drilled before 2007, while 2,864 were drilled in 2007-2010.

The cause of the excess mortality is not proven in the study, however the authors point out that the fracking production process releases naturally occurring radioactive materials from shale strata which then contaminate groundwater.

These include radium, uranium, thorium and radon, an intensely radioactive gas which decays into radioactive ‘daughters’ with a half life of under four days. And as the authors write, fracking “involves the explosive destruction of large volumes of underground gas and oil retaining rocks and the pumping down of large amounts of what is termed ‘produced water’ which initially contains various chemical and sand additives.

“This produced water and backflow returns to the surface with a high load of dissolved and suspended solids including naturally occurring radioactive elements … The contaminated water has to be safely disposed of but this is often associated with violations of legal disposal constraints.”

Baby mortality related to exposure through water wells

In the five heavily-fracked counties in the northeast part of the state (Susquehanna, Bradford, Wyoming, Lycoming and Tioga), the number of deaths from 2003-2006 vs. 2007-2010 climbed from 36 to 60, a statistically significant rate increase of 66%.

The rate in the five counties in southwest Pennsylvania (Washington, Westmoreland, Greene, Butler and Fayette) rose 18%, from 157 to 178 deaths, though this increase was not statistically significant.

This divergence in relative risk between the heavily fracked NE and SW counties was initially perplexing, however the authors noticed the higher dependence on private water wells (potentially contaminated with frackiing fluids) for drinking water and other needs in the first region compared to the second.

In the NE group of counties , the number of water wells per birth ranged from 4.9 to 13.5, compared to 1.1 to 3 in the SW group of countries. Their chart of Relative Risk for early infant mortality after fracking (see image above right) plotted against ‘exposure’ defined as ‘water wells per birth’ on a county by county basis produced a straight-line graph – indicated a strong relation to increased mortality and exposure to groundwater.

Table: Water wells per birth and violations per annual birth in highly fracked Pennsylvania Counties.

They conclude: “The results therefore seem to support the suggestion that the vector for the effect is exposure to drinking water from private wells. This is a mechanistically plausible explanation. However the findings do not prove such a suggestion. We may examine other possible explanations for possible health effects which have been advanced.”

While radioactive pollution is carefully examined, the authors acknowledge alternatives including “the existence of chemical contaminants in the produced water” which they consider a “possible but unknown factor.”

Serious questions raised over health hazards of fracking

“A major component of early infant mortality is congenital malformation, e.g., heart, neurological, and kidney defects. These are known to be caused by exposures to Radium and Uranium in drinking water”, said Christopher Busby.

“Infant death rates were significantly high in highly-fracked counties in northeast Pennsylvania, those with the greatest density of private water wells, suggesting it is drinking water contamination driving the effect.”

Joseph Mangano added: “These results raise serious questions about potential health hazards of fracking, especially since the fetus and infant are most susceptible to environmental pollutants. This is a public health issue which should be investigated wherever fracking is being carried out or proposed.”

The result is expected to have significant insurance, investment, economic and downstream political implications in the US and other countries.

 


 

The study:There’s a world going on underground-infant mortality and fracking in Pennsylvania‘ is by Busby C C and Mangano J J and published in the Journal of Environmental Protection 8(4) 2017. doi: 10.4236/jep.2017.84028

Dr Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk www.ecrr.eu and is Scientific Director of Environmental Research SIA, based in the Latvian National Academy of Sciences, Riga, Latvia. Busby’s CV can be found here.

 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn’t feeding the world – it’s undermining food security

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help ‘feed the world’.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto’s activities have “negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities.”

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto’s products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

“Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

“Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food.”

Aims and scope of the Monsanto Tribunal

The verdicts of opinion tribunals such as the Monsanto Tribunal are not legally binding. Such tribunals are tasked with examining the rules of law applicable to problematic events or situations that directly affect and are of serious concern to individuals, groups, or society as a whole.

Their objective is twofold: to alert public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; and to contribute to the advancement of national and international law.

The Tribunal judges stated that they had no reason to doubt the sincerity or veracity of those who volunteered to testify before it. But, because their testimony was not given under oath or tested by cross-examination, and because Monsanto declined to participate in the proceedings, the Tribunal was not in a position to make findings of fact concerning the allegations of various company misdeeds.

Rather, for the purpose of answering the questions posed for the Tribunal’s consideration, the Tribunal assumed that the facts and circumstances described by the witnesses would be proven in a court of law.

Furthermore, the judges said that Monsanto is interfering with the right to food by denying peasant farmers access to seeds.

Farmers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seed choices restricted. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to a decreased choice of seeds.

The judges added that “use of GMOs all around the world is undermining the ability of farmers to access seeds and damaging agricultural production by communities. This situation is also affecting food sovereignty, which implies priority of people’s right to food and food production, rather than corporate interests.”

Under threat: biodiversity and fundamental human rights

Monsanto’s activities also threaten biodiversity, the judges said, as an increasing number of farmers use the same GMO seeds to grow the same monocrops: “By reducing crop biodiversity and local plants, Monsanto has interfered with the right to food and is moreover aggravating the risks of food security and undermining the resilience of local food production systems.”

Another dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses was the impact of GMO seeds on farmers’ property rights. For example, farmers who have not bought or intentionally used Monsanto’ seeds have had their fields or crops contaminated by GMOs.

In some cases, the judges added, farmers have been forced to pay royalties to Monsanto and have been unable to sell their products as organic or free from GMOs: “Monsanto has aggressively pursued intimidation tactics that have damaged the fabric of communities and caused great anxiety and mental affliction.”

In a blistering condemnation of patents on seeds, the judges said that these “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist. Intellectual property rights should be rightfully respected, but when companies are taking hold of sources of nutrition, [this should be] under closer scrutiny.

Seed saving threatened by aggressive marketing of GMO seeds

The judges noted that the “aggressive marketing of GMO seeds” has “interfered with the right to food by forcing farming methods that do not respect traditional cultural practices.”

They explained, “Farmers that have fallen prey to Monsanto’s aggressive and misleading tactics have been forced to buy seeds every year and have lost the ability to save seeds. Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers have been saving seeds for cultivation the next season.

“This cultural practice has allowed for diversity and resilience in periods of drought or against pests. But the spread of GMO seeds by Monsanto has denied farmers the ability to practice agriculture according to their traditional cultural practices. A non-commercial seeds system must exist and expand, ensuring that farmers have the ability to preserve their traditional knowledge.”

Widening the perspective beyond Monsanto alone, the judges stated, “Today’s dominant agro-industrial model is highly problematic, not only because it is dependent on dangerous chemicals, but also due to its negative effects on climate change, its impact on the loss of biodiversity, and its inability to ensure food sovereignty.”

Monsanto’s activities could constitute ecocide

The judges considered whether Monsanto could be held liable for the crime of ecocide – defined as causing substantive and lasting damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, affecting the life and the health of human populations – if it were recognized in international criminal law.

They decided that the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide, based on (among other actions):

  • the company’s introduction of large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture;
  • the production and release of genetically engineered crops, which expose communities and individuals to the risks of increased pesticide and herbicide use;
  • and severe contamination of plant diversity, soils, and water.


Another future is possible!

The judges pointed out that an alternative farming future to the agro-industrial model is not only desirable but also practical. Referring to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored IAASTD report on the future of farming, the judges said:

“A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less, or without, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that people are adequately nourished.”

In conclusion, the five eminent judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto has:

  • interfered with people’s right to feed themselves from the land;
  • contaminated soil and water, thus reducing the potential for the production of food;
  • undermined farmer access to seeds by genetically modifying and patenting seeds, which cannot be saved but which have to be bought anew each year;
  • promoted the growth of GMO monocultures, which damage biodiversity and undermine the resilience of local food production systems;
  • introduced the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals along with the GM crops that depend on them, thus exposing people and the environment to increased amounts of health-threatening pesticides.

Most damning of all is the judges’ conclusion that none of these tragic developments are necessary, as the world can feed itself using agroecological methods.

 


 

Claire Robinson is managing editor at GMWatch, a public news and information service on issues surrounding GM crops and foods.

This article was originally published by GMWatch.

 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn’t feeding the world – it’s undermining food security

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help ‘feed the world’.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto’s activities have “negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities.”

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto’s products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

“Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

“Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food.”

Aims and scope of the Monsanto Tribunal

The verdicts of opinion tribunals such as the Monsanto Tribunal are not legally binding. Such tribunals are tasked with examining the rules of law applicable to problematic events or situations that directly affect and are of serious concern to individuals, groups, or society as a whole.

Their objective is twofold: to alert public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; and to contribute to the advancement of national and international law.

The Tribunal judges stated that they had no reason to doubt the sincerity or veracity of those who volunteered to testify before it. But, because their testimony was not given under oath or tested by cross-examination, and because Monsanto declined to participate in the proceedings, the Tribunal was not in a position to make findings of fact concerning the allegations of various company misdeeds.

Rather, for the purpose of answering the questions posed for the Tribunal’s consideration, the Tribunal assumed that the facts and circumstances described by the witnesses would be proven in a court of law.

Furthermore, the judges said that Monsanto is interfering with the right to food by denying peasant farmers access to seeds.

Farmers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seed choices restricted. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to a decreased choice of seeds.

The judges added that “use of GMOs all around the world is undermining the ability of farmers to access seeds and damaging agricultural production by communities. This situation is also affecting food sovereignty, which implies priority of people’s right to food and food production, rather than corporate interests.”

Under threat: biodiversity and fundamental human rights

Monsanto’s activities also threaten biodiversity, the judges said, as an increasing number of farmers use the same GMO seeds to grow the same monocrops: “By reducing crop biodiversity and local plants, Monsanto has interfered with the right to food and is moreover aggravating the risks of food security and undermining the resilience of local food production systems.”

Another dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses was the impact of GMO seeds on farmers’ property rights. For example, farmers who have not bought or intentionally used Monsanto’ seeds have had their fields or crops contaminated by GMOs.

In some cases, the judges added, farmers have been forced to pay royalties to Monsanto and have been unable to sell their products as organic or free from GMOs: “Monsanto has aggressively pursued intimidation tactics that have damaged the fabric of communities and caused great anxiety and mental affliction.”

In a blistering condemnation of patents on seeds, the judges said that these “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist. Intellectual property rights should be rightfully respected, but when companies are taking hold of sources of nutrition, [this should be] under closer scrutiny.

Seed saving threatened by aggressive marketing of GMO seeds

The judges noted that the “aggressive marketing of GMO seeds” has “interfered with the right to food by forcing farming methods that do not respect traditional cultural practices.”

They explained, “Farmers that have fallen prey to Monsanto’s aggressive and misleading tactics have been forced to buy seeds every year and have lost the ability to save seeds. Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers have been saving seeds for cultivation the next season.

“This cultural practice has allowed for diversity and resilience in periods of drought or against pests. But the spread of GMO seeds by Monsanto has denied farmers the ability to practice agriculture according to their traditional cultural practices. A non-commercial seeds system must exist and expand, ensuring that farmers have the ability to preserve their traditional knowledge.”

Widening the perspective beyond Monsanto alone, the judges stated, “Today’s dominant agro-industrial model is highly problematic, not only because it is dependent on dangerous chemicals, but also due to its negative effects on climate change, its impact on the loss of biodiversity, and its inability to ensure food sovereignty.”

Monsanto’s activities could constitute ecocide

The judges considered whether Monsanto could be held liable for the crime of ecocide – defined as causing substantive and lasting damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, affecting the life and the health of human populations – if it were recognized in international criminal law.

They decided that the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide, based on (among other actions):

  • the company’s introduction of large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture;
  • the production and release of genetically engineered crops, which expose communities and individuals to the risks of increased pesticide and herbicide use;
  • and severe contamination of plant diversity, soils, and water.


Another future is possible!

The judges pointed out that an alternative farming future to the agro-industrial model is not only desirable but also practical. Referring to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored IAASTD report on the future of farming, the judges said:

“A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less, or without, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that people are adequately nourished.”

In conclusion, the five eminent judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto has:

  • interfered with people’s right to feed themselves from the land;
  • contaminated soil and water, thus reducing the potential for the production of food;
  • undermined farmer access to seeds by genetically modifying and patenting seeds, which cannot be saved but which have to be bought anew each year;
  • promoted the growth of GMO monocultures, which damage biodiversity and undermine the resilience of local food production systems;
  • introduced the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals along with the GM crops that depend on them, thus exposing people and the environment to increased amounts of health-threatening pesticides.

Most damning of all is the judges’ conclusion that none of these tragic developments are necessary, as the world can feed itself using agroecological methods.

 


 

Claire Robinson is managing editor at GMWatch, a public news and information service on issues surrounding GM crops and foods.

This article was originally published by GMWatch.

 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn’t feeding the world – it’s undermining food security

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help ‘feed the world’.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto’s activities have “negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities.”

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto’s products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

“Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

“Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food.”

Aims and scope of the Monsanto Tribunal

The verdicts of opinion tribunals such as the Monsanto Tribunal are not legally binding. Such tribunals are tasked with examining the rules of law applicable to problematic events or situations that directly affect and are of serious concern to individuals, groups, or society as a whole.

Their objective is twofold: to alert public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; and to contribute to the advancement of national and international law.

The Tribunal judges stated that they had no reason to doubt the sincerity or veracity of those who volunteered to testify before it. But, because their testimony was not given under oath or tested by cross-examination, and because Monsanto declined to participate in the proceedings, the Tribunal was not in a position to make findings of fact concerning the allegations of various company misdeeds.

Rather, for the purpose of answering the questions posed for the Tribunal’s consideration, the Tribunal assumed that the facts and circumstances described by the witnesses would be proven in a court of law.

Furthermore, the judges said that Monsanto is interfering with the right to food by denying peasant farmers access to seeds.

Farmers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seed choices restricted. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to a decreased choice of seeds.

The judges added that “use of GMOs all around the world is undermining the ability of farmers to access seeds and damaging agricultural production by communities. This situation is also affecting food sovereignty, which implies priority of people’s right to food and food production, rather than corporate interests.”

Under threat: biodiversity and fundamental human rights

Monsanto’s activities also threaten biodiversity, the judges said, as an increasing number of farmers use the same GMO seeds to grow the same monocrops: “By reducing crop biodiversity and local plants, Monsanto has interfered with the right to food and is moreover aggravating the risks of food security and undermining the resilience of local food production systems.”

Another dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses was the impact of GMO seeds on farmers’ property rights. For example, farmers who have not bought or intentionally used Monsanto’ seeds have had their fields or crops contaminated by GMOs.

In some cases, the judges added, farmers have been forced to pay royalties to Monsanto and have been unable to sell their products as organic or free from GMOs: “Monsanto has aggressively pursued intimidation tactics that have damaged the fabric of communities and caused great anxiety and mental affliction.”

In a blistering condemnation of patents on seeds, the judges said that these “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist. Intellectual property rights should be rightfully respected, but when companies are taking hold of sources of nutrition, [this should be] under closer scrutiny.

Seed saving threatened by aggressive marketing of GMO seeds

The judges noted that the “aggressive marketing of GMO seeds” has “interfered with the right to food by forcing farming methods that do not respect traditional cultural practices.”

They explained, “Farmers that have fallen prey to Monsanto’s aggressive and misleading tactics have been forced to buy seeds every year and have lost the ability to save seeds. Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers have been saving seeds for cultivation the next season.

“This cultural practice has allowed for diversity and resilience in periods of drought or against pests. But the spread of GMO seeds by Monsanto has denied farmers the ability to practice agriculture according to their traditional cultural practices. A non-commercial seeds system must exist and expand, ensuring that farmers have the ability to preserve their traditional knowledge.”

Widening the perspective beyond Monsanto alone, the judges stated, “Today’s dominant agro-industrial model is highly problematic, not only because it is dependent on dangerous chemicals, but also due to its negative effects on climate change, its impact on the loss of biodiversity, and its inability to ensure food sovereignty.”

Monsanto’s activities could constitute ecocide

The judges considered whether Monsanto could be held liable for the crime of ecocide – defined as causing substantive and lasting damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, affecting the life and the health of human populations – if it were recognized in international criminal law.

They decided that the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide, based on (among other actions):

  • the company’s introduction of large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture;
  • the production and release of genetically engineered crops, which expose communities and individuals to the risks of increased pesticide and herbicide use;
  • and severe contamination of plant diversity, soils, and water.


Another future is possible!

The judges pointed out that an alternative farming future to the agro-industrial model is not only desirable but also practical. Referring to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored IAASTD report on the future of farming, the judges said:

“A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less, or without, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that people are adequately nourished.”

In conclusion, the five eminent judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto has:

  • interfered with people’s right to feed themselves from the land;
  • contaminated soil and water, thus reducing the potential for the production of food;
  • undermined farmer access to seeds by genetically modifying and patenting seeds, which cannot be saved but which have to be bought anew each year;
  • promoted the growth of GMO monocultures, which damage biodiversity and undermine the resilience of local food production systems;
  • introduced the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals along with the GM crops that depend on them, thus exposing people and the environment to increased amounts of health-threatening pesticides.

Most damning of all is the judges’ conclusion that none of these tragic developments are necessary, as the world can feed itself using agroecological methods.

 


 

Claire Robinson is managing editor at GMWatch, a public news and information service on issues surrounding GM crops and foods.

This article was originally published by GMWatch.

 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn’t feeding the world – it’s undermining food security

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help ‘feed the world’.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto’s activities have “negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities.”

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto’s products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

“Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

“Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food.”

Aims and scope of the Monsanto Tribunal

The verdicts of opinion tribunals such as the Monsanto Tribunal are not legally binding. Such tribunals are tasked with examining the rules of law applicable to problematic events or situations that directly affect and are of serious concern to individuals, groups, or society as a whole.

Their objective is twofold: to alert public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; and to contribute to the advancement of national and international law.

The Tribunal judges stated that they had no reason to doubt the sincerity or veracity of those who volunteered to testify before it. But, because their testimony was not given under oath or tested by cross-examination, and because Monsanto declined to participate in the proceedings, the Tribunal was not in a position to make findings of fact concerning the allegations of various company misdeeds.

Rather, for the purpose of answering the questions posed for the Tribunal’s consideration, the Tribunal assumed that the facts and circumstances described by the witnesses would be proven in a court of law.

Furthermore, the judges said that Monsanto is interfering with the right to food by denying peasant farmers access to seeds.

Farmers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seed choices restricted. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to a decreased choice of seeds.

The judges added that “use of GMOs all around the world is undermining the ability of farmers to access seeds and damaging agricultural production by communities. This situation is also affecting food sovereignty, which implies priority of people’s right to food and food production, rather than corporate interests.”

Under threat: biodiversity and fundamental human rights

Monsanto’s activities also threaten biodiversity, the judges said, as an increasing number of farmers use the same GMO seeds to grow the same monocrops: “By reducing crop biodiversity and local plants, Monsanto has interfered with the right to food and is moreover aggravating the risks of food security and undermining the resilience of local food production systems.”

Another dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses was the impact of GMO seeds on farmers’ property rights. For example, farmers who have not bought or intentionally used Monsanto’ seeds have had their fields or crops contaminated by GMOs.

In some cases, the judges added, farmers have been forced to pay royalties to Monsanto and have been unable to sell their products as organic or free from GMOs: “Monsanto has aggressively pursued intimidation tactics that have damaged the fabric of communities and caused great anxiety and mental affliction.”

In a blistering condemnation of patents on seeds, the judges said that these “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist. Intellectual property rights should be rightfully respected, but when companies are taking hold of sources of nutrition, [this should be] under closer scrutiny.

Seed saving threatened by aggressive marketing of GMO seeds

The judges noted that the “aggressive marketing of GMO seeds” has “interfered with the right to food by forcing farming methods that do not respect traditional cultural practices.”

They explained, “Farmers that have fallen prey to Monsanto’s aggressive and misleading tactics have been forced to buy seeds every year and have lost the ability to save seeds. Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers have been saving seeds for cultivation the next season.

“This cultural practice has allowed for diversity and resilience in periods of drought or against pests. But the spread of GMO seeds by Monsanto has denied farmers the ability to practice agriculture according to their traditional cultural practices. A non-commercial seeds system must exist and expand, ensuring that farmers have the ability to preserve their traditional knowledge.”

Widening the perspective beyond Monsanto alone, the judges stated, “Today’s dominant agro-industrial model is highly problematic, not only because it is dependent on dangerous chemicals, but also due to its negative effects on climate change, its impact on the loss of biodiversity, and its inability to ensure food sovereignty.”

Monsanto’s activities could constitute ecocide

The judges considered whether Monsanto could be held liable for the crime of ecocide – defined as causing substantive and lasting damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, affecting the life and the health of human populations – if it were recognized in international criminal law.

They decided that the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide, based on (among other actions):

  • the company’s introduction of large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture;
  • the production and release of genetically engineered crops, which expose communities and individuals to the risks of increased pesticide and herbicide use;
  • and severe contamination of plant diversity, soils, and water.


Another future is possible!

The judges pointed out that an alternative farming future to the agro-industrial model is not only desirable but also practical. Referring to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored IAASTD report on the future of farming, the judges said:

“A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less, or without, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that people are adequately nourished.”

In conclusion, the five eminent judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto has:

  • interfered with people’s right to feed themselves from the land;
  • contaminated soil and water, thus reducing the potential for the production of food;
  • undermined farmer access to seeds by genetically modifying and patenting seeds, which cannot be saved but which have to be bought anew each year;
  • promoted the growth of GMO monocultures, which damage biodiversity and undermine the resilience of local food production systems;
  • introduced the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals along with the GM crops that depend on them, thus exposing people and the environment to increased amounts of health-threatening pesticides.

Most damning of all is the judges’ conclusion that none of these tragic developments are necessary, as the world can feed itself using agroecological methods.

 


 

Claire Robinson is managing editor at GMWatch, a public news and information service on issues surrounding GM crops and foods.

This article was originally published by GMWatch.

 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn’t feeding the world – it’s undermining food security

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help ‘feed the world’.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto’s activities have “negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities.”

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto’s products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

“Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

“Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food.”

Aims and scope of the Monsanto Tribunal

The verdicts of opinion tribunals such as the Monsanto Tribunal are not legally binding. Such tribunals are tasked with examining the rules of law applicable to problematic events or situations that directly affect and are of serious concern to individuals, groups, or society as a whole.

Their objective is twofold: to alert public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; and to contribute to the advancement of national and international law.

The Tribunal judges stated that they had no reason to doubt the sincerity or veracity of those who volunteered to testify before it. But, because their testimony was not given under oath or tested by cross-examination, and because Monsanto declined to participate in the proceedings, the Tribunal was not in a position to make findings of fact concerning the allegations of various company misdeeds.

Rather, for the purpose of answering the questions posed for the Tribunal’s consideration, the Tribunal assumed that the facts and circumstances described by the witnesses would be proven in a court of law.

Furthermore, the judges said that Monsanto is interfering with the right to food by denying peasant farmers access to seeds.

Farmers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seed choices restricted. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to a decreased choice of seeds.

The judges added that “use of GMOs all around the world is undermining the ability of farmers to access seeds and damaging agricultural production by communities. This situation is also affecting food sovereignty, which implies priority of people’s right to food and food production, rather than corporate interests.”

Under threat: biodiversity and fundamental human rights

Monsanto’s activities also threaten biodiversity, the judges said, as an increasing number of farmers use the same GMO seeds to grow the same monocrops: “By reducing crop biodiversity and local plants, Monsanto has interfered with the right to food and is moreover aggravating the risks of food security and undermining the resilience of local food production systems.”

Another dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses was the impact of GMO seeds on farmers’ property rights. For example, farmers who have not bought or intentionally used Monsanto’ seeds have had their fields or crops contaminated by GMOs.

In some cases, the judges added, farmers have been forced to pay royalties to Monsanto and have been unable to sell their products as organic or free from GMOs: “Monsanto has aggressively pursued intimidation tactics that have damaged the fabric of communities and caused great anxiety and mental affliction.”

In a blistering condemnation of patents on seeds, the judges said that these “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist. Intellectual property rights should be rightfully respected, but when companies are taking hold of sources of nutrition, [this should be] under closer scrutiny.

Seed saving threatened by aggressive marketing of GMO seeds

The judges noted that the “aggressive marketing of GMO seeds” has “interfered with the right to food by forcing farming methods that do not respect traditional cultural practices.”

They explained, “Farmers that have fallen prey to Monsanto’s aggressive and misleading tactics have been forced to buy seeds every year and have lost the ability to save seeds. Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers have been saving seeds for cultivation the next season.

“This cultural practice has allowed for diversity and resilience in periods of drought or against pests. But the spread of GMO seeds by Monsanto has denied farmers the ability to practice agriculture according to their traditional cultural practices. A non-commercial seeds system must exist and expand, ensuring that farmers have the ability to preserve their traditional knowledge.”

Widening the perspective beyond Monsanto alone, the judges stated, “Today’s dominant agro-industrial model is highly problematic, not only because it is dependent on dangerous chemicals, but also due to its negative effects on climate change, its impact on the loss of biodiversity, and its inability to ensure food sovereignty.”

Monsanto’s activities could constitute ecocide

The judges considered whether Monsanto could be held liable for the crime of ecocide – defined as causing substantive and lasting damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, affecting the life and the health of human populations – if it were recognized in international criminal law.

They decided that the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide, based on (among other actions):

  • the company’s introduction of large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture;
  • the production and release of genetically engineered crops, which expose communities and individuals to the risks of increased pesticide and herbicide use;
  • and severe contamination of plant diversity, soils, and water.


Another future is possible!

The judges pointed out that an alternative farming future to the agro-industrial model is not only desirable but also practical. Referring to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored IAASTD report on the future of farming, the judges said:

“A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less, or without, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that people are adequately nourished.”

In conclusion, the five eminent judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto has:

  • interfered with people’s right to feed themselves from the land;
  • contaminated soil and water, thus reducing the potential for the production of food;
  • undermined farmer access to seeds by genetically modifying and patenting seeds, which cannot be saved but which have to be bought anew each year;
  • promoted the growth of GMO monocultures, which damage biodiversity and undermine the resilience of local food production systems;
  • introduced the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals along with the GM crops that depend on them, thus exposing people and the environment to increased amounts of health-threatening pesticides.

Most damning of all is the judges’ conclusion that none of these tragic developments are necessary, as the world can feed itself using agroecological methods.

 


 

Claire Robinson is managing editor at GMWatch, a public news and information service on issues surrounding GM crops and foods.

This article was originally published by GMWatch.

 

Tribunal judges: Monsanto isn’t feeding the world – it’s undermining food security

Monsanto promotes its genetically modified (GM) crops and associated pesticides on the claimed grounds that they are needed to help ‘feed the world’.

But the five judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that far from contributing to food security, Monsanto’s activities have “negatively affected food availability for individuals and communities.”

The judges of the Tribunal, held last October in The Hague, listened to the testimony of 28 witnesses from around the world whose health and livelihoods had suffered as a result of Monsanto’s products and activities.

The judges are all renowned for their expertise in human rights and international law issues. They were led by the Belgian Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week the Monsanto Tribunal judges announced their damning verdict, based on a number of considerations. First, the judges found that Monsanto had interfered with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly from productive land:

“Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food.

“Communal agricultural activities as well as forests that provide food resources are being devastated by the spread of genetically engineered seeds that use large amounts of herbicides like glyphosate. These activities by Monsanto are interfering with the right to produce food.”

Aims and scope of the Monsanto Tribunal

The verdicts of opinion tribunals such as the Monsanto Tribunal are not legally binding. Such tribunals are tasked with examining the rules of law applicable to problematic events or situations that directly affect and are of serious concern to individuals, groups, or society as a whole.

Their objective is twofold: to alert public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; and to contribute to the advancement of national and international law.

The Tribunal judges stated that they had no reason to doubt the sincerity or veracity of those who volunteered to testify before it. But, because their testimony was not given under oath or tested by cross-examination, and because Monsanto declined to participate in the proceedings, the Tribunal was not in a position to make findings of fact concerning the allegations of various company misdeeds.

Rather, for the purpose of answering the questions posed for the Tribunal’s consideration, the Tribunal assumed that the facts and circumstances described by the witnesses would be proven in a court of law.

Furthermore, the judges said that Monsanto is interfering with the right to food by denying peasant farmers access to seeds.

Farmers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seed choices restricted. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to a decreased choice of seeds.

The judges added that “use of GMOs all around the world is undermining the ability of farmers to access seeds and damaging agricultural production by communities. This situation is also affecting food sovereignty, which implies priority of people’s right to food and food production, rather than corporate interests.”

Under threat: biodiversity and fundamental human rights

Monsanto’s activities also threaten biodiversity, the judges said, as an increasing number of farmers use the same GMO seeds to grow the same monocrops: “By reducing crop biodiversity and local plants, Monsanto has interfered with the right to food and is moreover aggravating the risks of food security and undermining the resilience of local food production systems.”

Another dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses was the impact of GMO seeds on farmers’ property rights. For example, farmers who have not bought or intentionally used Monsanto’ seeds have had their fields or crops contaminated by GMOs.

In some cases, the judges added, farmers have been forced to pay royalties to Monsanto and have been unable to sell their products as organic or free from GMOs: “Monsanto has aggressively pursued intimidation tactics that have damaged the fabric of communities and caused great anxiety and mental affliction.”

In a blistering condemnation of patents on seeds, the judges said that these “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist. Intellectual property rights should be rightfully respected, but when companies are taking hold of sources of nutrition, [this should be] under closer scrutiny.

Seed saving threatened by aggressive marketing of GMO seeds

The judges noted that the “aggressive marketing of GMO seeds” has “interfered with the right to food by forcing farming methods that do not respect traditional cultural practices.”

They explained, “Farmers that have fallen prey to Monsanto’s aggressive and misleading tactics have been forced to buy seeds every year and have lost the ability to save seeds. Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers have been saving seeds for cultivation the next season.

“This cultural practice has allowed for diversity and resilience in periods of drought or against pests. But the spread of GMO seeds by Monsanto has denied farmers the ability to practice agriculture according to their traditional cultural practices. A non-commercial seeds system must exist and expand, ensuring that farmers have the ability to preserve their traditional knowledge.”

Widening the perspective beyond Monsanto alone, the judges stated, “Today’s dominant agro-industrial model is highly problematic, not only because it is dependent on dangerous chemicals, but also due to its negative effects on climate change, its impact on the loss of biodiversity, and its inability to ensure food sovereignty.”

Monsanto’s activities could constitute ecocide

The judges considered whether Monsanto could be held liable for the crime of ecocide – defined as causing substantive and lasting damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, affecting the life and the health of human populations – if it were recognized in international criminal law.

They decided that the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide, based on (among other actions):

  • the company’s introduction of large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture;
  • the production and release of genetically engineered crops, which expose communities and individuals to the risks of increased pesticide and herbicide use;
  • and severe contamination of plant diversity, soils, and water.


Another future is possible!

The judges pointed out that an alternative farming future to the agro-industrial model is not only desirable but also practical. Referring to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored IAASTD report on the future of farming, the judges said:

“A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less, or without, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that people are adequately nourished.”

In conclusion, the five eminent judges of the Monsanto Tribunal found that Monsanto has:

  • interfered with people’s right to feed themselves from the land;
  • contaminated soil and water, thus reducing the potential for the production of food;
  • undermined farmer access to seeds by genetically modifying and patenting seeds, which cannot be saved but which have to be bought anew each year;
  • promoted the growth of GMO monocultures, which damage biodiversity and undermine the resilience of local food production systems;
  • introduced the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals along with the GM crops that depend on them, thus exposing people and the environment to increased amounts of health-threatening pesticides.

Most damning of all is the judges’ conclusion that none of these tragic developments are necessary, as the world can feed itself using agroecological methods.

 


 

Claire Robinson is managing editor at GMWatch, a public news and information service on issues surrounding GM crops and foods.

This article was originally published by GMWatch.

 

Ecologist Special Report: From fish to forests and conflicts to coffee…how humans are affected by climate-driven species shifts

Shifts in the distribution of land, marine and freshwater species caused by climate change are a growing cause of species extinction, conflict, and major economic uncertainty, says a major new study that highlights the extent of these species shifts.

Published in the prestigious journal, Science, the study recognises the crucial role knowledge held by the world’s indigenous peoples has to play in conservation and ecological restoration efforts that help build resilience to climate change

“Previous studies have shown that land-based species are moving polewards by an average of 17 km per decade, and marine species by 72 km per decade. Our study demonstrates how these changes are affecting worldwide ecosystems and human health and culture in the process,” says Associate Professor Gretta Pecl, lead author of the report, from IMAS and the Centre for Marine Socioecology, Tasmania.

“While some species favour a warmer climate and are becoming more abundant, many others that humans exploit or interact with face depletion or extinction. Human survival depends on other life on earth so the redistribution of the planet’s living organisms is a substantial challenge for people worldwide,” she adds.

Extinction, disease and conflict

The depletion and extinction of species as a result of climate change forms part of a wider pattern. Scientists are broadly in agreement that Earth is currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction event that it could take 10 to 30 million years for Earth to recover from.  

Due to human-induced environmental impacts, globally, species are going extinct at 1-10,000 times the ecologically normal ‘back ground rate’. These drastic losses in biodiversity are reducing the resilience of ecosystems and their ability to cope with ecological shocks, like increasingly frequent extreme weather events caused by climate change.

According to the study, other challenges posed by shifts in species distribution include escalating conflicts over species moving from one ‘economic zone’ to another, as in the case of Iceland’s ‘mackerel wars.’

Livelihoods, employment and profitability in industries such as marine tourism and coffee growing are being jeopardised as primary growing zones shift, corals die, jellyfish infest waters used for recreation, and urchins destroy fish habitats in kelp forests.

Climate change-related species shifts will also have profound consequences for human health. Rising temperatures are encouraging the poleward spread of mosquitos capable of carrying malaria, placing new regions at greater risk of this and other illnesses.

Changes in the distribution of species are also directly impacting the food security and traditional knowledge systems of Indigenous Peoples who rely on subsistence herding, hunting and fishing activities for their physical, cultural and spiritual wellbeing.

Arctic in focus

The Arctic is an area of particular concern in the study. With Arctic temperatures recently at 20°C above average and sea ice at its lowest recorded extent, in 2016 the authors of the comprehensive Arctic Resilience Report warned that the rapid melting of Arctic ice could trigger polar ‘tipping points’ with catastrophic consequences worldwide.

Indigenous Peoples who still retain close, subsistence relationships with Arctic ecosystems have been the first to notice the biological ‘indicators’ and ‘subtle signs’ of these drastic climate impacts. The authors of the Science study have documented these observations in collaboration with Arctic Indigenous Peoples, making them visible through the study.

One such example comes from the Näätämö River, one of Europe’s last free-flowing rivers to host wild populations of Atlantic salmon. Located in Finland’s far Arctic North, for thousands of years, Näätämö and her salmon have been at the heart of the Skolt Sami People’s subsistence and culture.  This relationship has endured despite the forcible relocations suffered by the Skolt Saami during the 20th Century.

Climate change is endangering Näätämö’s salmon populations and the Skolt way of life, whilst mining, aquaculture and tourism are potential future drivers of change. Increased temperatures and rainfall variability are causing the salmon’s aquatic habitat to become less optimal for the fish, with drought endangering salmon spawning. If water levels become too low, salmon migrating to upriver spawning sites from the Atlantic are not able to swim in the river. Such stressors are what can cause a species to shift their range in search of more favourable conditions.

Another case study comes from Kolyma in Russian Siberia where the Chukchi People’s physical, cultural and spiritual wellbeing relies primarily on reindeer herding. Climate change is causing irregular freeze-thaw events that lock-up the reindeer’s principal winter food, lichen, beneath a layer of ice, as well as the melting of permafrost and other impacts that are causing changes in reindeer migration patterns. Maintaining the transhumance way of life that the Chukchi People have traditionally operated is becoming more and more challenging.

Indigenous knowledge crucial for climate resilience

However, as well as being a region of global concern, in a Science first, the study highlights the work of indigenous Arctic communities as major inspirations in the global effort to curb and build resilience to climate change.

In climate circles, resilience is defined as the capacity of interrelated human and natural systems to “buffer and adapt to stress and shocks, and thus navigate and even shape change”.

The Skolt Sami are using their traditional knowledge and working hand-in-hand with scientists to guide efforts to restore the Näätämö River, building back the water system’s resilience and in turn their own.

As part of the pioneering Näätämö River Co-Management Initiative, the Skolt Saami have developed locally devised indicators of environmental change that are more sensitive than Finland’s nationally mandated regulatory parameters. Based on traditional knowledge transmitted and updated down the generations, these indicators systems are helping the Skolt Saami and partner scientists to detect and address ecological changes in a pre-emptive fashion.

The Skolt Saami have already identified and begun to restore key salmon spawning sites, helping the embattled fish to reproduce. They have also begun to adapt their own fishing practices and encourage other local subsistence fishers to do the same. Changes include using one net during the salmon season, rather than three and shifting fishing practices to focus on other species that inhabit the river, including fish that prey on young salmon.

The innovative co-management structure of the project is giving the Skolt Saami a louder voice in matter concerning the Näätämö River, opening spaces for them to share observations and recommendations based on traditional knowledge. ‘Co-managers’ in the process include scientists and local authorities, brought together in a structure first pioneered in North Karelia, Finland.

‘Our best chance for survival’

Showcasing the efforts of the Skolt Saami and other Indigenous Peoples like the Chukchi, the Science article is an important recognition of the vital role indigenous knowledge and its holders have to play in leading efforts to respond to climate change. 

“Most of the things we hear and learn are narratives of how serious the northern climate change is getting”, says Pauliina Feodoroff, President of the Saa’mi Nue’tt cultural organization.

“This article (the Science study) and the work connected with it through the Näätämö Collaborative Management Project has allowed us to partner in new ways with scientists to detect changes. Most importantly, this new dialogue contains elements of restoring some of the damages that have already happened, helping to build our resilience. The project and the article demonstrate how exact and relevant our Indigenous Sámi knowledge is in assessing and responding to climate change, in partnership with science.”

Dr Tero Mustonen, co-author of both this article and the new Science study and Director of the Snowchange Cooperative, an Arctic-wide network of indigenous and traditional peoples, says the new study is a call to action for more Indigenous knowledge-led ecosystem restoration.

“For many Indigenous communities, the climate change of today results from the past decades, even centuries of industrial uses of lands in their homelands that has caused environmentally negative consequences. Present resilience can be built, as has been demonstrated by the Skolt Sámi in Finland, through locally led efforts of ecological restoration in those areas where it makes sense. Indigenous knowledge has also proven to be a viable method of detecting change, such as arrival of new species to northern locations”, says Mustonen.

In light of the new study’s findings, Mustonen is calling for a moratorium on destructive and extractive development activities in Arctic environments and territories, where the preservation of carbon sinks can help slow the impacts of climate change.

“Permafrost melt is a global event. Industries, like oil and gas have no role in these regions anymore. This is about global climate risk and climate security. Preservation of these marshmires, old-growth forests and tundra habitats, which have been governed for millennia sustainably by the Sámi and other Indigenous peoples, are our best bet for survival as the Arctic warms. They also contain the endemic species of the North, whose preservation has inherent value,” says Mustonen.

These Authors

Dr Tero Mustonen – a passionate defender of traditional worldview and cosmology of his people, is a Finn and head of the village of Selkie in North Karelia, Finland. He has worked as the traditional knowledge coordinator for Eurasia for the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. Professionally, he works for the award-winning Snowchange Cooperative, which is a non-profit organization based in Finland with members across the Arctic, including the communities of Eastern Sámi, Chukchi, Yukaghir, Sakha, Evenk, Even, Inuit, Inuvialuit, Gwitchin and many more. Mustonen is well-known scholar of Arctic biodiversity, climate change and indigenous issues; he has won several human rights and environmental awards for the work with Snowchange and indigenous peoples of the Arctic

Hannibal Rhoades is Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at The Gaia Foundation, a UK-based organisation working internationally to support indigenous and local communities to revive their knowledge, livelihoods and healthy ecosystems. Hannibal is a contributing writer at Intercontinental Cry and has covered stories of indigenous and local communities working for environmental and social justice for many publications

 

 

Special Investigation: How bullying and intimidation in abattoirs threatens food safety checks

Food safety and animal welfare checks in abattoirs are being hampered because of bullying and harassment of inspection staff, The Ecologist can reveal.

Data obtained by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism highlights how meat hygiene inspectors and vets working for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) endure regular abuse and intimidation – and in some cases physical violence – in slaughterhouses across England and Wales, with 180 incidents recorded over a 36-month period.

On more than 20 occasions between January 2013 and July 2016, the data reveals, the FSA was forced to withdraw inspection staff from abattoirs completely because of concerns for their physical safety and welfare – a measure regarded as a last resort.

Unions say the problem is more widespread than the figures suggest, with incidents going unreported. A Unison survey of meat hygiene inspectors found that, last year, 51% of respondents had been the victim of bullying and harassment. One inspector said the situation was so bad he had considered suicide, according to the Union.

Although many of the abattoirs where incidents have taken place are smaller facilities supplying butchers shops or wholesale markets, plants operated by large meat processing companies also appear in the FSA data.

The FSA told the Bureau that the bullying and harassment “can seriously impact on or even prevent [inspectors] from carrying out our regulatory role”. There are around 850 meat hygiene inspectors and official veterinarians working in abattoirs in England and Wales.

The situation was described as “wholly unacceptable” by one leading food industry expert: “The public buys food expecting it to be safe, yet here we see levels of inappropriate management and poor work culture which help explain why food poisoning statistics stubbornly fail to come down”, said Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University. “The Food Standards Agency has been weakened by cuts but it must be held to account.”

Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, said: “There seems to be an endemic general abuse problem with some of the abattoir sector – [affecting] both food standards staff and livestock – and [this] highlights even more the case for compulsory independent CCTV monitoring of their activities. Such offensive behaviour is both a risk to public health and animal welfare standards.”

And campaigners expressed concern over the potential impact on animal welfare and food hygiene standards.

“These incidents show just how bad tensions between the regulator and those being regulated have become. Many slaughterhouse operators and those that represent them resent all oversight,” said Isobel Hutchinson of Animal Aid. “The FSA must stand up for its vets and should prosecute anyone who threatens, intimidates or physically attacks them as they try to do their job.”

The official FSA records reveal that between January 2013 and July 2016 there were 180 incidents reported to the agency’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing Team , including 106 instances of verbal abuse, 51 incidents involving aggressive behaviour, 7 physical assaults and 15 acts of intimidation, amongst others.

The regulator classifies aggressive behaviour as an incident “where the individual was subject to an episode of aggression, verbal or non-verbal.” Intimidation is viewed as an incident “where behaviour or language resulted in an individual feeling threatened.”

Physical assault involves “unwelcome physical contact, including an actual physical attack or where a person genuinely believed they were going to be attacked” and verbal abuse covers other incidents “including those that relate to the use of sexist or racist remarks.”

In most instances, the data reveals, abuses were dealt with by a letter to the Food Business Operator (FBO), a mix of formal and informal meetings or other – unspecified or unrecorded – action. Mediation was used in 16 cases.

Formal investigations were launched on seven occasions, the records show, and six cases – including three involving aggressive behaviour, one incident of intimidation, one of verbal abuse and one assault – were referred to the police. On 21 occasions, the FSA was forced to take the most drastic action and withdraw inspection staff from the premises concerned.

The agency told The Bureau that due to the significant effect this can have on the commercial operation of an approved premises, the withdrawal of service “would be a measure of last resort and where other options would be insufficient to protect the health and safety of FSA staff.”

“It will only be considered where a single incident is considered to be of a sufficiently serious nature, or where there is evidence of continued or persistent bullying and harassment have been established to an extent which may pose a risk to health and safety”, it said.

Although the FSA said it was impossible to quantify the number of non-reported incidents, one industry source said the figures “were only the instances that get reported, there will be plenty of day to day abuse that is just accepted as part of the culture and environment.”

A Unison survey of its meat hygiene inspector members found that 62% of respondents had witnessed bullying and harassment in the past year, and that 51% had themselves experienced it. Most – 68 % – said those responsible were either meat plant owners or workers. Intimidation was the most commonly cited form of bullying – 39% – according to the survey, followed by shouting – 36% – and abuse, at 24%.

“Our annual survey is the real picture and it shows that our members who serve the public and protect our meat supplies are being bullied out of the job”, said Paul Bell of Unison. “Even administrators are being bullied. One respondent has said they feel like committing suicide because of the bullying they receive and the lack of action to tackle industry from their manager.”

The FSA said: “We adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards workplace bullying and harassment. Individuals are encouraged to report incidents of harassment or bullying at work, whether they are the recipient or witness to an incident. All allegations of bullying and harassment will be investigated and, if appropriate, action will be taken.

“We have put in place a programme of training and support for our managers to ensure that in the first instance we can support our inspectors and work collaboratively with food businesses to uphold the standards of expected behaviour. We also continue to communicate to food businesses and their representative organisations the importance of upholding these standards.”

Earlier this year serious hygiene failures in UK abattoirs were uncovered by a Bureau investigation which found 1 in 4 meat plants had failed a key food safety test during official audits.

 


 

Andrew Wasley is food and agriculture reporter at the Bureau of Investigative journalism An investigative journalist specialising in food issues, he’s also co-founder of the award-winning investigative agency Ecostorm and a previous editor of the Ecologist magazine. His book, ‘The Ecologist Guide to Food‘, was published in 2014.

Follow him on Twitter: @Andrew_Wasley

 

 

Lies, damned lies and twisted statistics – fake science set to kill 100,000 English badgers

Some people will insist that the English badger cull is completely political.

Yet in some senses, everything in society that is large-scale, expensive, complex and at the heart of a national industry is bound to be political to some extent.

Priorities, such as who gets the money and decisions on what success or failure may look like are political decisions.

It is easy to ‘blame’ hidden agendas and dark forces, and they may to some extent exist. But quite often the answers are simpler, and rooted in the frailties and fallibility of humans – the human factor. And science with all its inner secrets and complexities is not immune at all to that.

There is no shortage of science in bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and badger studies. Whether, it is the molecular biology of bTB strains, the intricacies of bTB testing, badger vaccination, cattle vaccination and the’ DIVA’ test, the hands-on pathology of disease investigation. Or perhaps population size estimation and trend analysis or the modelling of hypothetical disease pathways.

The list seems endless, and is a mind-boggling arena for the non-scientist. Understanding the inter-relationships of these disciplines requires simultaneous insight into such areas of expertise and uncertainty.

So, before we blame politicians too quickly, there is a need to look through the microscope at the science that is involved. After all, get two experts on any issue in front of you, any politician will say, and they are bound to disagree.

No meaningful contribution?

From 2013 onwards, the rallying cry of the ‘anti-badger cull’ movement was that badger culling could offer “no meaningful contribution to cattle bTB control in Britain.” This was based upon the final (ISG 2007) report on the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) that took place between 1998 and 2005 in England.

And that was also my understanding at the time, based on summaries of the published findings. The main conclusion from culling 70%+ of badgers over a six week period was that any reduced bTB transmission from badgers to cattle is offset by a ‘perturbation effect’, whereby increased movements of surviving badgers, causes an increased transmission of bTB to cattle, in particular around a culling zone.

But by 2015, with Natural England approving badger culling for the first time in Dorset, it was clear that the animal conservation and welfare charities and aligned RBCT scientists, had completely failed to convince government that the culling policy was wrong, and not based on scientific advice. Checking the scientific detail became the last remaining option to try to make sense of the situation.

As an applied ecologist who has co-managed a large wildlife disease investigation with the Institute of Zoology at ZSL, London, I had some relevant background for reviewing the RBCT.

To start with, the science relating to badgers moving around more extensively during and after culling looked reasonably straight forward field study and well documented. The change in number of foxes, expanding into empty badger setts though predator release effects; literally the empty niches left by depleted badger populations, seemed well recorded.

So where did they go wrong?

Moving onto the guts of the main 2007 Independent Scientific Group (ISG) report and the published statistical papers of 2005-2007 and beyond to 2013 was next.

This was trickier. It took four months of evening and weekend reading to get fully into the near 300 page summary of the £50 million research project, and a further period with help from senior statisticians to get better grip on what had been done. Along the way, checking with biologists studying mammals, diseases, or natural processes, there were few who had studied it closely, as opposed to just parts of it and most were just generally aware of the various conclusions.

The RBCT distinguished two types of badger culling – ‘reactive’ and ‘proactive’ – each planned in ten areas of around 100 square km in size. Reactive culling is where badgers are killed only on land within a few km of a new bTB cattle herd breakdown and not widely over a large area, as in proactive culling.

But from 1998, reactive badger culling experiments had a faltering start, further hampered by the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001, restricting access to farms. The result was a depleted dataset due to these unforeseen circumstances. The ISG report nevertheless had come up with its hypothesis that badgers were giving bTB to cows rapidly, by catching and passing it on via a ‘perturbation effect’.

Yet for many, the speed of bTB transmission from badger to cattle involved looks unrealistically rapid for it to be a genuine phenomenon. The work did not seem to have taken into account when the data on cattle TB incidence was taken – which was immediately after the first proactive badger removals.

The sequence of events proposed after badgers killings would be:

  • increased badger mobility and transmission of TB amongst badgers. Newly infected badgers becoming infectious (a process taking months or longer),

  • then infectious badgers making contact with cattle somehow in a mechanism that is unknown,

  • cows establishing new bTB infection in vulnerable individuals, over months or longer, sufficiently to trigger responsiveness to the tuberculin test

  • detection at slaughter / post mortem culture / microscopy; breakdowns might need to wait six months on average and up to a year for the next testing period to be detected, during which there was a 20-50% chance per cow of it being missed and possibly picked up after a further year or longer.

  • on testing, checking for non-visible disease by culture will then take several months.

Notably, this entire sequence of events requires a considerable time to play through.

Safe science? Growing doubts …

Reviewing the literature on BTB and badgers, there was a group of six academics including Professor Simon More from the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis in Dublin who had studied the ISG and published an immediate critique of several aspects.

In addition, the record showed Sir David King (Chief Scientist at the time) set up his own expert group that effectively challenged the strength of the statistics concerning reactive badger culling increasing cattle breakdowns via a badger / bTB perturbation effect.

More recently, the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales has drawn similar conclusions as those before her (see video after 34 minutes and BBC report). So now there are three separate expert appraisals suggesting independently that reactive culling and its related badger / bTB perturbation effect are not safe science.

All in all, the suggested increased bTB transmission would have been likely to take years, if indeed it was real at all. The cold fact is that the reactive culling studies were too interrupted to prove increased bTB herd breakdowns resulting from reactive culling.

This was a fatal blow to the ISG conclusions in 2007 and in fact to badgers, because the other main finding of the RBCT in relation to proactive badger culling was that killing badgers reduces bTB herd breakdowns by around 23%.

So by 2010, during the preparations of the 2011 Government Policy on bovine TB eradication, it was only the proactive cull ‘benefit’ that was foremost in the minds of the cull designers. This too was the message to the politicians and the farming industry at the time.

A Catch 22 that snared the scientists, campaigners and celebrities

The irony of this situation is that in 2012, the anti-cull movement of charities, voluntary bodies and celebrities got behind the 2007 ISG report findings, and the statements by scientists associated more closely with the research, perhaps not realising or recognising its flaws.

They used the ‘no meaningful contribution’ and ‘government ignoring science’ as their campaign headline. But in doing so they were in fact saying: “we agree that it is badgers spreading bTB significantly and with the perturbation effects increased bTB spread by badgers to cattle, and that badger culling can work.”

And so those scientists involved were trapped in a Catch 22 of either: agreeing their bTB perturbation hypothesis was unproven, and that proactive culling works to reduce bTB; or trying to prop-up the perturbation effect story, as a balance to the proactive cull bTB reduction.

In the end, most of the anti-cull movement campaigned, unaware of this paradox and without really knowing the details of the real scientific uncertainty underneath.

Checking the science of proactive badger culling

Slightly taken aback, it seemed important next to turn to the aspect of the RBCT that had been suggested was more robust; the proactive badger cull ‘benefit’ of reducing bTB from mass badger culling across a wide area. This involved looking at the methods and analysis of proactive culling.

The first, and rather shocking thing to notice is that the raw data shows that in four of the ten proactive culling zones, bTB actually went up and not down when compared with its control area. There was no ‘benefit’ nearly half of the time in terms of what the farmer and veterinarian might see ‘on the ground’.

How could that be? To find the answer I next had to tackle mathematical modelling and the assumptions and adjustments made to the raw data that had turned this into a ‘significant’ result. After a lot of hard work by a statistician who had volunteered to retrace the analysis, there was nothing in the analysis that actually looked ‘wrong’ in terms of the mechanics of what had been done.

However a number of serious problems began gradually to emerge. Using an alternative but equally valid model on the RBCT data indicated a lack of statistical significance from the proactive cull data. This was simply using, for each comparison between cull and control area the years over which proactive culling was actually carried out, rather than the average number of years, as used in the ISG analysis.

This was a very simple adjustment, using the time that each set of herds had actually been exposed to change rather than the average. As such it was an equally valid, if not more valid approach, to that used in the study.

Confounding variables and unjustified exclusions of data

Other issues cropped up, such as the wide range of confounding variables such as changes to testing and cattle movements that were likely to have been uneven within and between study areas and controls. The RBCT had not been a double-blind trial and landowners had known whether badger culling was taking place or not in the cull and control areas.

However, without proof of variables causing statistical skew within and between triplets, it is hard to prove the relevance without tracking down new data from the RBCT period. There was no time to do that – something for the future, perhaps government would take an interest.

It also became clearer that the RBCT had actually been a study in a period during which bTB was very rapidly increasing, not declining. Many of the study areas were very heavily infected before the study had started. What was being concluded upon was not an actual decline but a slower rate of increase.

However, perhaps the biggest shock of all was that the RBCT analysis had only used ‘confirmed’ herd breakdown rather than ‘all’ cattle breakdown data in its final 2007 presentation. This is highly significant because our understanding of disease prevalence has improved since the 2007 ISG report.

The lack of visible lung lesions or laboratory ‘culture test positive’ made during cattle slaughter and post mortem checks, is no longer viewed as meaning that the animal is free of bTB.

Furthermore, whilst the tuberculin skin test misses many infected cows, it very rarely gives false positives. Those RBCT reactor cows with no visible lesions at post-mortem had, all along, been infected with bTB.

The fatal RBCT / ISG proactive culling oversight

This dilemma comes up in the 2007 ISG report (see pages 93-96). It points towards difficulties with post-mortem culturing of bTB as the reason that the disease would be overlooked in unconfirmed reactors.

In hindsight, and what may be seen now as the disastrous move, the ISG analysis decided just to use ‘confirmed’ breakdown-only data as opposed to ‘all’ breakdown (confirmed and unconfirmed). Simon More in Dublin had also spotted this.

What happens when you add all the unconfirmed test results back into the model as being correctly identified as having bTB is that there is no statistically significant effect of proactive culling of badgers on new herd bTB breakdown.

Here was a lethal blow to the ISG proactive cull analysis and conclusions. The ISG should have concluded that the RBCT had failed to find a link between proactive badger culling and a reduction in bTB herd breakdowns – the exact opposite of its finding.

Instead it concluded that badgers do pass bTB to cattle at a significant rate. It also said badger culling was not worth doing because of a balancing effect resulting from perturbation effect causing herd breakdown. That was a story that the public and government of the day embraced – but one that extended way beyond the limits of safe scientific conclusion, and one that the government kicked into the long grass.

An inconvenient truth becomes increasingly obvious

The strength of the RCBT had slowly crumbled to bits over my year of study. Several scientists along the way advised me that the RBCT was ‘not strong science’. But busy with their own issues, they had tended to see the ‘pro-badger’ ISG conclusion that the advice not to cull badgers was possibly ‘right for the wrong reason’ and so fairly harmless – not realising what a change of government might then do.

Others had entertained doubts but felt no need to comment over the bTB ‘hot potato’, especially as much of their funding was provided by government.

By August 2016, as more badger killing was announced, the awful truth was becoming ever more obvious. The badger protection movement, with few exceptions had joined with the ISG scientists to uphold ‘the ISG science’, based upon badgers giving bTB to cattle with significant frequency.

They were supported by several Oxford University related academics, although I noted this was often cautiously on more general terms than the ISG specific findings. Speaking out were some who were behind the scenes of the 1997 Krebs review and its RBCT.

On checking and double checking, and testing the frailties, many closest to the issue did not want to talk about it, which just seemed suspicious. Some wanted it covered up for tactical reasons. The phrase ‘reputational damage’ was used.

A lack of mutual understanding between veterinarians and modellers?

Looking back to the RBCT design, it does seem odd that John Krebs and Roy Anderson at Oxford University had concluded the need for a trial of the kind undertaken, given the clear uncertainties at the time over the disease and the role of wildlife.

Robert May (Oxford and Imperial) who was Chief Scientific Adviser (1995-2000) at its origination, and who worked closely with Krebs, has acknowledged that (see page 302) the use of mathematical models during the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic had created controversy based on a “lack of mutual understanding between veterinarians and modellers.”

It looks perhaps as if the RBCT may have been a prelude to such problems, but this time involving zoologists. Krebs was recently quoted at the Royal Society as saying “We must acknowledge as scientists that we don’t always get it right. Models make assumptions, labels slip in freezers.”

Was this perhaps a message regarding the trials that bear his name? Now is the time to find out – before £100 million that would be better spent helping cattle farmers is used to kill and injure 100,000 or more English badgers, all because weak science, and weaker statistics, failed the farmer, cow and badger.

 


 

Tom Langton is a consulting ecologist to government, business and industry who provides advocacy support to charities and pressure groups seeking justice where environmental damage is being caused to species and habitats.

This article is co-published with the Badger Trust. It is scheduled for publication in the next edition of Badger News.

Other articles by Tom Langton