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Tribunal Judges: Monsanto Violates Basic Human Rights to a Healthy Environment

The five international judges for the Monsanto Tribunal presented their legal opinion Tuesday, which includes key conclusions on the conduct of Monsanto and the need for important changes to international laws governing multinational corporations.

The judges concluded that Monsanto has engaged in practices that have impinged on the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. Additionally, Monsanto's conduct has a negative impact on the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.

The judges also concluded that despite the development of regulations intended to protect the environment, a gap remains between commitments and the reality of environmental protection. International law should now precisely and clearly assert the protection of the environment and establish the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concluded that if ecocide were formally recognized as a crime in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide.

In the third part of the advisory opinion, the Tribunal focused on the widening gap between international human rights law and corporate accountability.

It called for the need to assert the primacy of international human and environmental rights law. A set of legal rules is in place to protect investors' rights in the frame of the World Trade Organization and in bilateral investment treaties and in clauses in free-trade agreements. These provisions tend to undermine the capacity of nations to maintain policies, laws and practices protecting human and environmental rights. United Nations bodies urgently need to take action. Otherwise, key questions of human and environmental rights violations will be resolved by private tribunals operating entirely outside the United Nations framework.

The Tribunal also urged to hold non-state actors responsible within international human rights law. The Tribunal reiterated that multinational enterprises should be recognized as responsible actors and should be subjected to the International Criminal Court jurisdiction in case of infringement of fundamental rights. The Tribunal clearly identified and denounced a severe disparity between the rights of multinational corporations and their obligations. Therefore, the advisory opinion encouraged authoritative bodies to protect the effectiveness of international human rights and environmental law against the conduct of multinational corporations.

The very clear conclusions will be of interest to both the critics of Monsanto and industrial agriculture and to the shareholders of chemical companies and especially Bayer. The reputation of Monsanto—and Bayer in case of a merger—will not exactly improve with these conclusions by the judges of the Tribunal. The advisory opinion is a strong signal to those involved in international law, but also to the victims of toxic chemicals.

The Tribunal has created links and shared important information between lawyers and organizations that represent the victims. Therefore, it is likely that the conclusions will lead to more liability cases against Monsanto and similar companies. This will shine a light on the true cost of production and will affect Monsanto (Bayer) shareholder value in the long run. Companies that cause damage to health, food and healthy environment should and will be held accountable for their actions.

Organizing groups behind the Monsanto Tribunal include the Organic Consumers Association, Navdanya, IFOAM Organics International, Biovision Foundation and Regeneration International.

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Jane Goodall: How Can We Believe It Is a Good Idea to Grow Our Food With Poisons?

By Katherine Paul

"Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?" —Dr. Jane Goodall

Two new reports published in recent weeks add to the already large and convincing body of evidence, accumulated over more than half a century, that agricultural pesticides and other toxic chemicals are poisoning us.

Both reports issue scathing indictments of U.S. and global regulatory systems that collude with chemical companies to hide the truth from the public, while they fill their coffers with ill-gotten profits.

According to the World Health Organization, whose report focused on a range of environmental risks, the cost of a polluted environment adds up to the deaths of 1.7 million children every year.

A report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, focused more narrowly on agricultural chemicals. The UN report states unequivocally that the storyline perpetuated by companies like Monsanto—the one that says we need pesticides to feed the world—is a myth. And a catastrophic one at that.

The fact that both these reports made headlines, in mainstream outlets like the Washington Post and the Guardian, is on one hand, good news. On the other, it's a sad and discouraging commentary on our inability to control corporate greed.

Ever since Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring, so eloquently outlined the insanity of poisoning our environment, rational thinkers have warned that at the least, we ought to follow the precautionary principle when it comes to allowing the widespread use of poisons to be unleashed into the environment.

And yet, here we are, in 2017, facing the prospect under the most corporate-friendly administration in history, of dismantling what little remains of the government's ability to stop the rampant poisoning of our soils, food, water and air—the very resources upon which all life depends.

In his book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, published in 2014, E. G. Vallianatos, who worked for the EPA for 25 years, wrote:

"It is simply not possible to understand why the EPA behaves the way it does without appreciating the enormous power of American's industrial farmers and their allies in the chemical pesticide industries, which currently do about $40 billion per in year business. For decades, industry lobbyists have preached the gospel of unregulated capitalism and Americans have bought it. Today, it seems the entire government is at the service of the private interests of America's corporate class."

That was three years ago. And yet, as public opinion shifts toward condemnation of the widespread use of toxic chemicals on our food, here in the U.S., government officials entrusted with public health and safety appear more determined than ever to uphold the "rights" of corporations to poison everything in sight—including our children.

UN Experts Denounce "Myth" Pesticides Are Necessary to Feed the World

The headline in the Guardian's story on the report delivered this week to the UN Human Rights Council said it all.

From the Guardian:

A new report, being presented to the UN human rights council on Wednesday, is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the "systematic denial of harms," "aggressive, unethical marketing tactics" and heavy lobbying of governments which has "obstructed reforms and paralyzed global pesticide restrictions."

The report says pesticides have "catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole," including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: "It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production."

The UN report was authored by Hilal Elver, special rapporteur on the right to food and Baskut Tuncak, special rapporteur on toxics. The report stated that chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. It said the populations most at risk are farmers and agricultural workers, communities living near plantations, indigenous communities and pregnant women and children, who are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections.

The Crop Protection Association, a lobbying group representing the $50-billion agri-chemical industry, fired back at the report with its standard false claim that pesticides "play a key role in ensuring we have access to a healthy, safe, affordable and reliable food supply." But Elver told the Guardian:

"It is a myth. Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution."

Sustainable Pulse also reported on the story, noting that the report warns that some pesticides can persist in the environment for decades:

The excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, destroying the natural enemies of pests and reducing the nutritional value of food. The impact of such overuse also imposes staggering costs on national economies around the world.

The UN report, which mentioned (page 15, no. 68) the efforts of the Monsanto Tribunal to raise global awareness about the dangers of pesticides, included a long list of recommendations for moving away from chemical-based agriculture. At the top of the list was a call out to the international community to work on a comprehensive, binding treaty to regulate hazardous pesticides throughout their life cycle, taking into account human rights principles. Such a treaty should:

  • Aim to remove existing double standards among countries that are particularly detrimental to countries with weaker regulatory systems.
  • Generate policies to reduce pesticide use worldwide and develop a framework for the banning and phasing-out of highly hazardous pesticides.
  • Promote agroecology.
  • Place strict liability on pesticide producers.

Exposure to Pollution Kills Millions of Children, WHO Reports Find

In a March 5 story, the Washington Post reported on two World Health Organization (WHO) reports how exposure to polluted environments is linked to more than one in four deaths among children under the age of five.

Worldwide, 1.7 million children's deaths are attributable to environmental hazards, such as exposure to contaminated water, indoor and outdoor pollution and other unsanitary conditions, the reports found.

Weaker immune systems make children's health more vulnerable to harmful effects of polluted environments, the report says.

According to the WHO reports, which focused on a wide range of chemicals, including those found in food, electronics, contaminated water supplies, second-hand tobacco smoke and others, one-fourth of all children's deaths and diseases in 2012 could have been prevented by reducing environmental risks. From the WHO press release:

Children are also exposed to harmful chemicals through food, water, air and products around them. Chemicals, such as fluoride, lead and mercury pesticides, persistent organic pollutants and others in manufactured goods, eventually find their way into the food chain. And, while leaded petrol has been phased out almost entirely in all countries, lead is still widespread in paints, affecting brain development.

Authors of the WHO report recommended:

  • Housing: Ensure clean fuel for heating and cooking, no mould or pests and remove unsafe building materials and lead paint.
  • Schools: Provide safe sanitation and hygiene, free of noise, pollution and promote good nutrition.
  • Health facilities: Ensure safe water, sanitation and hygiene and reliable electricity.
  • Urban planning: Create more green spaces, safe walking and cycling paths.
  • Transport: Reduce emissions and increase public transport.
  • Agriculture: Reduce the use of hazardous pesticides and no child labor.
  • Industry: Manage hazardous waste and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
  • Health sector: Monitor health outcomes and educate about environmental health effects and prevention.

What Will it Take?

If you find yourself unsurprised by the findings of these reports or the recommendations that follow, it's no wonder. Many organizations, including ours, have for decades been calling for reforms.

But we can't let our lack of surprise translate into complacency. In an op-ed published this week in The Hill, Devra Lee Davis, president of the Environmental Health Trust and author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer, draws the parallel between our failure to regulate the tobacco industry with our failure to regulate the chemicals that today are largely responsible for two sad statistics:

1. One in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes; and

2. The rate of childhood cancer has increased by 50 percent since President Nixon declared a war on cancer, 40 years ago.

Davis, who says we're fixated on "the wrong enemies, with the wrong weapons," said we should ask ourselves this:

Why did we wait until nearly forty years after tobacco was understood to cause cancer and other diseases before mounting a major effort to curtail its production and use? What took us so long to reduce the amount of benzene in gasoline or toxic flame retardants in our waters, food, furniture, bedding, fabrics and breast milk?

Unfortunately, we know why—corporate control of our regulatory system. Perhaps the better question is, having failed to rein in Congress' loyalty to a handful of ruthless, emboldened corporations, can we elect new people, at every level of our government, who will work for us? More critically, can we do it in time to save ourselves?

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

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Regenerative Agriculture Will Feed the World and Cool the Planet

"World governments spend $486 billion a year to subsidize an industrial food and farming model that the United Nations estimates, contributes 43-57 percent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions," said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

"It's time to stop subsidizing agricultural practices that contribute to global warming, and start subsidizing food, farming and land-use practices that restore the soil's capacity to draw down and re-sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil."

"Our best hope to avert a climate disaster, restore public health and revitalize rural economies must include a plan that not only achieves zero emissions, but also draws down the billions of tons of excess carbon already in the atmosphere."

Speaking to a panel hosted by the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum in conjunction with the COP22 Climate Summit, Cummins told participants that "Climate-Smart Agriculture," is a clever term used to describe a limited approach to adapting to climate change and to addressing global food insecurity through agricultural practices that fail to meet the standard of regeneration.

"Scientists tell us that even if we achieve zero emissions tomorrow, the planet would continue to heat up for another thousand years," Cummins said. "Our best hope to avert a climate disaster, restore public health and revitalize rural economies must include a plan that not only achieves zero emissions, but also draws down the billions of tons of excess carbon already in the atmosphere. That plan exists. It's call regenerative agriculture or agroecology."

The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank coined the term "Climate-Smart Agriculture" at the 2010 Hague Conference on Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change. The Food and Agriculture Organization floated the concept as a "triple win" for a type of agriculture that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help crops adapt to changing climate conditions and increase yields.

Last year, more than 350 national and international civil society groups, including the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, signed a letter urging decision-makers to reject what the groups called the "growing influence and agenda of so-called 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture." The groups criticized the lack of criteria for deciding what can or cannot be called "Climate Smart" and pointed to the potential for agribusiness corporations that promote synthetic fertilizers, industrial meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture—big contributors to global warming—to co-opt the term.

In the U.S., fossil-fuel-intensive agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, who are members of the North American chapter of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, claim to be practitioners of "Climate-Smart Agriculture."

Bayer-Monsanto Merger a '5-Alarm Threat to Our Food Supply'

By Katherine Paul

It's been about a week since Monsanto and Bayer confirmed their intention to say "I do"—ample time for media, lawmakers, consumer and farmer advocacy groups, and of course the happy couple themselves, to weigh in on the pros and cons.

Reactions poured in from all the usual suspects.

Groups like the Farmers Union, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and others didn't mince words when it came to condemning the deal. (Organic Consumers Association tagged it a "Marriage Made in Hell" back in May, pre-announcement, when the two mega-corporations were still doing their mating dance.)

Predictably, the corporate heads of state last week promoted the proposed $66 billion deal as an altruistic plan to improve "the lives of growers and people around the world." Last week, they told Senate Judiciary Committee members that the merger "is needed to meet a rising food demand."

Is anyone out there still buying the line that Monsanto and Bayer are in the business of feeding the world? When the evidence says otherwise?

Even if that claim weren't ludicrous, who thinks it's a good idea to entrust the job of "feeding the world" to the likes of Bayer, a company that—as part of the I.G. Farben cartel in the 1940s—produced the poison gas for the Nazi concentration camps, and more recently sold HIV-infected drugs to parents of haemophiliacs in foreign countries, causing thousands of children to die of AIDS?

The sordid, unethical, greedy, monopolizing and downright criminal histories of both Monsanto and Bayer have been well documented. Does allowing them to merge into the world's largest seed and pesticide company pose what two former Justice Department officials call "a five-alarm threat to our food supply and to farmers around the world?"

In a press release, Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman said:

Just six corporations already dominate worldwide seed and pesticide markets. Additional consolidation will increase prices and further limit choices for farmers, while allowing Monsanto and friends to continue pushing a model of agriculture that has given us superweeds, superbugs and health-harming pesticides. Instead, we need to invest in agroecological, resilient and productive farming.

Without question, this deal, which strengthens the ties between Big Pharma, Big Food and Big Biotech, will hurt farmers and consumers—not to mention an ecosystem already on the brink.

But for those of us committed to ridding the world of toxic pesticides and hideous factory farms, to restoring biodiversity, to cleaning up our waterways, to revitalizing local economies, to helping small farmers thrive, to reclaiming and regenerating the world's soils so they can do their job—produce nutrient-dense food while drawing down and sequestering carbon—the marriage of Bayer and Monsanto doesn't change much.

As we wrote when the deal was announced, Monsanto will probably pack up its headquarters and head overseas. The much-maligned Monsanto name will be retired.

But a corporate criminal by any other name—or size—is still a corporate criminal.

Merger or no merger, our job remains the same: to expose the crimes and end the toxic tyranny of a failed agricultural experiment. #MillionsAgainstMonsanto will simply morph into #BillionsAgainstBayer.

a katz / Shutterstock.com

Feed the world? Or feed the lobbyists?

Bayer and Monsanto had plenty of time to perfect their spin on the merger before the big announcement. Yet even some of the most conservative media outlets saw through it.

A Bloomberg headline read: "Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year."

From the article:

Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals.

Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It's famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.

A skeptical Wall Street Journal reporter suggested that the merger, one of three in the works in the agricultural industry, is a sign of trouble. "The dominance of genetically modified crops is under threat," wrote Jacob Bunge on Sept. 14.

Bunge interviewed Ohio farmer Joe Logan who told him, "The price we are paying for biotech seed now, we're not able to capture the returns."

This spring, Mr. Logan loaded up his planter with soybean seeds costing $85 a bag, nearly five times what he paid two decades ago. Next spring, he says, he plans to sow many of his corn and soybean fields with non-biotech seeds to save money.

Nasdaq took the merger announcement as an opportunity to highlight numbers published by OpenSecrets.org showing that Monsanto and Bayer are not only the two largest agrichemical corporations in the world, they're also two of the biggest spenders when it comes to lobbying.

Together, according to OpenSecrets, Bayer and Monsanto have spent about $120 million on lobbying in the last decade. Monsanto's spending has been largely focused on the agricultural industry, while Bayer has spent heavily in the pharmaceutical arena.

Both Monsanto and Bayer forked over millions to keep labels off of foods that contain GMOs, according to OpenSecrets.

A big issue for both companies has been labeling of genetically modified foods, which both companies oppose. That put them in support of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599), which was signed into law this summer. The law permits corporations to identify products made with genetically modified organisms in ways that critics argue will be hard for consumers to interpret, while superseding state laws that are sometimes tougher, like the one in Vermont.

To be clear, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act was just an intentionally misleading description of a bill intended to protect corporations from having to reveal the GMO ingredients in their products.

A criminal by any other name

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague made a big announcement of its own. For the first time in history, the ICC will "prioritize crimes that result in the 'destruction of the environment,' 'exploitation of natural resources' and the 'illegal dispossession' of land," according to a report in The Guardian.

The announcement came within the same two-week period as three new reports on the sad state of our ecosystem, all of which implicate industrial agriculture:

  • Researchers at the University of Virginia University of Virginia reported that widespread adoption of GMO crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant, leading to "serious environmental damage."
  • Mother Jones magazine reported that "A Massive Sinkhole Just Dumped Radioactive Waste Into Florida Water. The cause? A fertilizer company deep in the heart of phosphate country."
  • NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that when it comes to global warming, "even the records themselves are breaking records now" after reporting that Earth just experienced its hottest August on record. What's that got to do with Bayer and Monsanto? Industrial, chemical, degenerative agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Organic regenerative agriculture, by contrast, holds the greatest promise for drawing down and sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Whether or not regulators approve the Bayer-Monsanto merger, these companies will continue their rampage against nature. Governments and courts have a lousy track record when it comes to holding these, and other, corporations accountable for the damage they've inflicted, over decades, on human health and the environment.

The ICC has signaled that this may change. In the meantime, frustrated with the lack of action and fed up with paying the price for making corporations like Bayer and Monsanto filthy rich, the grassroots are fighting back.

On Oct. 15-16, a panel of distinguished international judges will hear testimony from 30 witnesses and scientific and legal experts from five continents who have been injured by Monsanto's products. This grassroots-led international citizens' tribunal and People's Assembly (Oct. 14-16) will culminate in November with the release of advisory opinions prepared by the judges. The tribunal's work, which includes making the case for corporations to be prosecuted for ecocide, is made all the more relevant by the ICC's announcement.

The International Monsanto Tribunal is named for Monsanto, the perfect poster child. But the advisory opinions, which will form the basis for future legal action, will be applicable to all agrichemical companies—including Bayer.

In the meantime, we encourage citizens around the world who cannot participate in the official tribunal and People's Assembly, to show solidarity by organizing their own World Food Day "March Against Monsanto."

Monsanto. Bayer. The name doesn't matter, and though size does matter when it comes to throwing weight around, the crimes perpetrated by the companies remain the same. It's time to stop them.

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