Daily Archives: May 11, 2011

GM soy: The invisible ingredient poisoning children

The home of Petrona Villasboa is surrounded by genetically modified (GM) soy fields. The golden crop looks like a bumper harvest but for her it is a symbol of death.

Every single supermarket in Britain stocks meat and dairy from animals fed GM soy.

Telegraph | May 2, 2011

By Louise Gray

“Soy destroys people’s lives,” she says. “It is a poison. It is no way to live. Soy is deadly to us”.

Sitting outside her painted green shack in rural Paraguay, the mother of eight describes the day in January 2003 when her 11-year-old son Silvino Talavera came home from cycling to the shops.

“I was washing clothes down by the river and he came to tell me he had been sprayed by one of the mosquitoes (the spraying machines behind a tractor),” she says.

“He smelt so bad that he took his clothes off and jumped straight in the water.”

The busy mum did not think much more about it. For people living around GM soy fields spraying with chemicals is a common occurrence.

But later that day the whole family was ill after eating the food that was carried through the heavily-sprayed fields.

Petrona rushed her youngest child to hospital and by the time she was back Silvino was in bed rigid with pain.

Now in a blind panic, she begged local farmers to take her to hospital.

“He was violently sick, he said mummy, my bones ache, his skin went black,” she says.

By the time they arrived in the city Silvino was paralysed, all the doctors could do was administer pain killers, while his mother wiped the foam from his mouth. In a few hours he was dead.

To the family it was clear this horrific death was caused by chemical intoxication but in their grief no autopsy was ever carried out. It was only after years of campaigning that Petrona managed to get the case to court. Eventually two local farmers were convicted of causing the death, though it is unclear whether they have ever been sent to prison.

Like many court cases in Paraguay there are serious unanswered questions. But Petrona is sure of one thing, that her son’s death was caused by GM soy and we should listen to her because we are eating it.

Daily Telegraph investigations have found that every single supermarket in Britain stocks meat and dairy from animals fed GM soy. Leading brands including Cadbury, Unilever and Dairycrest, also use products from livestock fed GM.

In fact the new technology is so widespread that it is likely at least one item of food you eat today will have come from an animal fed GM soy, whether it was the milk on your cereal or the bacon in your sandwich.

But what effect is our growing reliance on soy having on the countries supplying Britain with this ‘invisible ingredient’?

Paraguay, a landlocked country in the heart of South America, is on the front line of the new craze for growing ‘green gold’.

In many ways it is the perfect place to grow unsustainable soy. Ruled by despotic dictators for centuries, the country is famous for being a hot bed of drug smugglers, Nazi war criminals and even al-Qaeda. Even now, with a new democratically government in place, corruption is rife and regulations to protect the people are lax to say the least.

In the last year the amount of land planted with soy has grown to a record 2.6 million hectares, most of which is GM, leading to claims of deforestation, violent land disputes and the ‘poisoning’ of local communities.

Already it is estimated that 90 per cent of the Atlantic Rainforest in Paraguay has been lost to make way for crops, taking with it thousands of unique plants species, hundreds of rare birds and endangered animals like the jaguar.

There is evidence that soy production is now moving into the vast ‘Gran Chaco’ in the north of the country, the home of some of the last uncontracted tribes on Earth. The Natural History Museum are currently planning an expedition to the area in the hope of finding hundreds of undiscovered species before it is too late.

Its not just animals that suffer, the forests were also home to humans. Groups of Guarani people claim they have been driven from their land by the soy farmers. They can be seen camping in pathetic tarpaulin shacks in the town squares or on the road side. ‘Campesinos’, the small farmers who have traditionally worked the land, also claim they have been displaced. Since the first soy boom of 1990 it is estimated 100,000 farmers in Paraguay have been forced to migrate to urban slums. Like the ‘wild west’, as soy production moves into new areas there have been violent clashes between land owners and peasants occupying the land. Many of the ‘invaders’ are from Brazil or the even more alien Mennonites, a religious sect from Germany. Amnesty International say fights over land has led to several deaths, thousands of arrests and hundreds of injuries. In some areas there are reportedly armed guards protecting the soy fields 24 hours a day.

Those peasants who have clung to their land claim, like Petrona, that they are being “poisoned” by the ‘mosquitoes’. Most of the crop in Paraguay is GM and requires spraying with agrochemicals. Just as in the UK, farmers are expected to follow certain regulations when spraying fields such as leaving a space between homes or school playgrounds. ‘Live’ barriers of trees should be planted to protect communities and spraying is not allowed in strong winds or hot conditions.

However growing evidence of contamination, poisonings and even deaths suggest the rules are not being followed.

Farmers are also reported to be using compounds that are outlawed in Europe such as the 2,4-D or combinations of chemicals that could be dangerous.

Dr Stela Benítez, a paediatrician at Asuncion University, carried out a study in 2006 summarised in a respected American paediatrics journal, that found women living within 1km of sprayed fields were twice as likely to have a child with deformities.

She is quite certain that there is a risk and the regulations should be applied when spraying close to people’s homes, after all there are rules in Europe, so why not protect people in poorer countries?

“I am worried about a lack of control in an industry that does not apply the principle of protection over all our children,” she says.

The flouting of the law seems to be the main problem in a tour of Paraguay with Friends of the Earth to meet some of the victims of pesticides spraying.

The most recent case happened this January in the rolling hills of Colonia Yeruti, where a few families plant maize amid the growing fields of soy. Isabella Portillo, 26, describes how both her husband Reuben Caceras, 28, and her 2-year-old son Diego became sick after the fields were sprayed with a heavy dose of chemicals. The baby survived but she says her husband died of “intoxication” a few days later. “It is hard without him,” she says. “I feel completely alone.”

In Itakyru a whole community was affected when poisons “rained from the sky” and Guarani women and children were rushed to hospital. The chief says Giralda Gauto Vera, 18, and her daughter Giseli, 18 months, were in hospital for four days after the planes came. Later the authorities confirm that aerial spraying should not even be allowed in an area dotted with the dwellings of indigenous people.

Dr Angie Duarte, who has treated dozens of patients at the public hospital in Curuguaty for what she believes is “intoxication”, admits that many of the worse affected communities are already suffering from malnutrition, immune deficiency and perhaps even using dangerous chemicals themselves on crops.

But isn’t that all the more reason to ensure they are protected?

“How much is it costing to get this so wrong?” she asks. “I fear this will become a problem for the future because more people are getting sick and it impacts on health system. It is in everyone’s interests to act.”

Soy has certainly been in Paraguay’s economic interest over the last year, driving unprecedented growth of 14.5 per cent, ahead of even China.

Sweeping his hand across the shimmering fields, Breno Batista Bianchi is confident that it is soy farmers like him that the country has to thank.

Using new machinery and GM, he is reporting record yields while using less pesticides and water

Of course there are some problems with ‘super weeds’, that build up resistance to chemicals, and outbreaks of disease, but these can easily be solved.

“They will invent new seeds, new chemicals,” he says.

But this blind faith in progress is not shared by everyone.

Paraguay might be providing the soil, water and labour but a tiny percentage of the population see the profits. Soy is not even taxed and most of it leaves South America labelled as ‘Brazilian’ as shipments are mixed in together at the sea ports.

Oskar Rivas, the Environment Minister in a new socialist government, says the growth of soy must not be at the expense of the people.

“It is false development. Who foots the bill? The countryside, the people and the ecosystems and who keeps the profit? The corporations.”

Sr Rivas said it is up to the British consumer to demand change.

While he accepts it is too late to stop GM being grown in Paraguay, he insists more non-GM could be grown, just as in Brazil where whole states have insisted on a more sustainable system, or at least a more sustainable crop.

“You have the right to demand cheap milk and meat but you also have the right to demand milk and meat from environmentally sound sources,” he adds.

New initiatives such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTSS), backed by WWF, hope to encourage this sort of production by producing a new label for soy, including GM soy, produced in a sustainable way. Already it has been taken up by major supermarkets in the UK including Waitrose, Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s although many environmental groups are against a scheme that endorses GM.

Sitting in his new office complex, that is currently been dug up to make an organic garden, Sr Rivas sketches out his vision for a country that uses some of the best growing conditions in the world to produce healthy sustainable food.

Already Friends of the Earth International are working with local charity Sobrevivencia to teach communities environmental law so they can fight back when communities are sprayed and organic farming techniques so they can make their own food.

“At the moment we all lose out,” says the minister. “With a different structural process we could all win.”

Vatican-appointed panel warns of global warming

Associated Press | May 10, 2011

by Nicole Winfield

VATICAN CITY – A Vatican-appointed panel of scientists has reported what climate change experts have been warning for years: the Earth is getting warmer, glaciers are melting, and urgent measures are necessary to stem the damage.

The scientists called for urgent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and reductions in methane and other pollutants that warm the air, and for improved observation of mountain glaciers to better track their changes.


Melbournians endure record cold

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a Vatican advisory panel, hosted a conference last month on the causes and consequences of retreating mountain glaciers. Its final report, dated May 5 and signed by independent glaciologists, climate scientists, meteorologists and chemists, was posted on the Vatican website Tuesday.

“We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home,” the report said.

“We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us.”

The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the document was “important” but is not a piece of the church’s key teachings and merely reflects the conclusions of the independent scientists involved.

That said, he noted that it was a “significant scientific contribution” to the concerns that Pope Benedict XVI has voiced in both his encyclicals and public statements.

Benedict has been dubbed the “green pope” for his environmental concerns: In 2008, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium. A year later it installed a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria. The Vatican has also joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

Brenda Ekwurzel, the assistant director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Massachusettss-based think tank, said the report was a “straightforward recap of major known findings about glaciers,” that was penned by high-caliber scientists. She highlighted one significant point in the report’s title and throughout; it refers to the new geologic “era” of human modification of the world, known as “Anthropocene.”

“Perhaps the reality that the Vatican recognizes this fact, as the report indicates, is worth mentioning to those who remain unconvinced of human-induced climate change,” Ekwurzel said in an email.

7/7 inquest: We still have no real answers, say the victims’ relatives

Bereaved relatives of 7/7 bombing victims. Some of the families have expressed criticism of the security services. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Coroner critical of MI5, but clears them of blame as families of 7/7 bombing victims call for overhaul of security services

guardian.co.uk | May 6, 2011

by Esther Addley and Richard Norton-Taylor

Families of the victims of the 7 July attacks have called on the government to overhaul Britain’s security services after the inquest coroner yesterday described their handling of a critical piece of intelligence as “dreadful” and suggested another failure could have had “dire consequences”.

Returning verdicts of unlawful killing on each of the 52 victims of the attacks, Lady Justice Hallett also expressed concerns about MI5’s recordkeeping and about “confusion” in its system of assessing targets at the time of the attacks.

But, crucially, she exonerated the domestic intelligence service of any blame in failing to prevent the 2005 bombings, stressing that the evidence she had heard over 75 days at the high court in London “does not justify the conclusion that any failings on the part of any organisation or individual caused or contributed to any of the deaths”.

The coroner also found that the emergency services’ response to the bombings, which has been heavily criticised for being too slow at several of the sites, had not contributed to any of the deaths. “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that each of [the victims] would have died whenever the emergency services reached them,” she said.

She saw no grounds for any future public inquiry, she indicated. “I am not aware of our having left any reasonable stone unturned,” she said. “One would hope, therefore, that these proceedings will be an end to the investigation of what happened on 7/7.”

Speaking after the verdicts, however, Graham Foulkes, whose son David was killed in the Edgware Road bombing, said the inquest “causes a lot more questions to be asked than it answers”. “It really must compel [the Home Secretary] Theresa May to review the whole operation of the security services in the UK, not just MI5.”

He called for an independent inquiry into the killings, with a broader remit than the tightly constrained inquest.

At an emotional press conference after the verdicts were returned, Ros Morley, widow of Edgware Road victim Colin Morley, called for an apology from MI5, saying: “In any other organisation, if huge mistakes were made and lives were lost, people feel there’s a duty to look into that, to have a degree of humility, which I feel has been lost.”

June Taylor, the mother of Carrie Taylor, who died at Aldgate, was overcome by emotion and collapsed at the press conference after declaring that the family “still have no positive answers”.

But other family members said they felt the conclusion of the inquest, which opened in October, should represent the end of the investigation into the events of 7 July, when four suicide bombers detonated devices on the London transport network.

Grahame Russell, whose son Philip died in the bus bombing at Tavistock Square, said: “There are still issues. The problem I have is that if I continue to hold concerns about issues, then my life would become very bitter.” The coroner’s recommendations “can help people in the future, one would hope,” he said. “But they help me not at all. They do not bring my son back.”

The coroner made nine recommendations which she believed could help prevent future deaths, encompassing improvements in training and communication for paramedics and other emergency responders, and a suggestion that Transport for London look at putting first aid equipment on underground trains. Two of the recommendations related directly to the security services.

Hallett said MI5 must review its procedures on showing photographs to informants after poorly edited images of two of the bombers — “they were dreadful” — were shown by intelligence officers to a key Islamist informant in US custody.

“Given the confusion that reigned within the Security Service about these photographs,” she added, “it was not clear to me what records were kept of the procedure.”

Similarly, she was troubled, she said, that the MI5 spokesman Witness G gave evidence that it was not normal practice to revisit photographs when new sources became available. So poor were the records from the time of the investigation, she said, “Witness G himself had to visit retired desk officers at their homes to discover as best he could what they had done, and why.”

She instructed the MI5 director general Sir Jonathan Evans to investigate the service’s documentary procedures, “given the possibly dire consequences of a flawed decision which cannot be properly supervised”.

The coroner also expressed concern about MI5’s failure to investigate the 7 July ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan in detail after undercover teams observed him repeatedly meeting the fertiliser bomb plot mastermind Omar Khyam more than a year before the atrocities.

“I am concerned about the fact that the Security Service’s other commitments prevented a more intense investigation of a possible terrorist, who made long and suspicious journeys to meet known terrorists at a time when they were obviously planning an attack.”

The coroner also identified weaknesses involving the Intelligence and Security Committee of MPs and peers, which was shown to have been misled, albeit “inadvertently”, by MI5.

She repeatedly emphasised there was no evidence that the attacks could have been prevented. Even the badly cropped photo, in the end, had “played no causative part in the failure to identify Khan or [Shehzad] Tanweer”.

In a statement, the home secretary, Theresa May, said the inquest process had been “vitally important” and said she would “carefully consider” its recommendations.

“I am pleased that the coroner has made clear there is simply no evidence that the Security Service knew of, and therefore failed to prevent, the bombings on 7/7.” The government and security services were “always looking to learn lessons”, she said. “This includes learning from the 7 July attacks and from other incidents, and there have been a considerable number of improvements put in place since 2005.”

Her Labour opposite number, Yvette Cooper, said the ongoing terrorist threat that Britain faced “makes the lessons from the past even more important”.

London 7/7 bombers ‘were innocent patsies’

A man sent a DVD to bereaved families from the July 7 attacks claiming the bombers were innocent patsies, court told

belfasttelegraph.co.uk | May 10, 2011

A man sent a DVD to bereaved families from the July 7 attacks claiming the four London suicide bombers were “innocent patsies”, a court has been told.

One of the packages included a letter to John Hyman telling him his daughter Miriam did not die in the Tavistock Square bus blast but was murdered by the security services at Canary Wharf in London, Southwark Crown Court was told.

John Hill, 63, denied two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice by posting six copies of the DVD to the foreman of the jury and one to the judge, Mr Justice Gross presiding over a 2008 trial at Kingston Crown Court linked to the suicide bombings.

Both packages were intercepted by court staff before they reached the intended targets, the court was told. They were later traced by DNA and fingerprinting to Mr Hill, who was living in Carrick Street, Kells, County Meath in the Irish Republic.

The court heard Mr Hill had sent copies of the same DVD to six of the bereaved families between 2007 and 2008.

Annabel Darlow, prosecuting, told the jury: “The video which you will watch as part of the evidence in this case was one which stated that the bombings which took place in London on July 7 2005 were in fact the product of a government conspiracy.

“The four Muslim men identified following extensive police investigation as the bombers were in fact no such thing, claimed this DVD.

“They were innocent patsies set up by the powers that be in order to take responsibility for the atrocities on that day and the deaths of 52 innocent people which ensued.”

She said the letter addressed to Mr Hyman had said: “I do not believe Miriam was on the number 30 bus. I don’t think you believe that either. I believe she went to Canary Wharf, witnessed and photographed the murder of the Muslim patsies and was murdered by the security services to silence her.”

CIA Will Show Deceased Bin Laden Photos to Select U.S. Lawmakers

Fox | May 10, 2011

WASHINGTON — The CIA will show photographs of Usama bin Laden’s body to select U.S. lawmakers, though they must travel to the agency’s headquarters to see the images, Fox News Channel reported Tuesday.

The White House announced last week that it would not release graphic images of bin Laden’s corpse, with President Barack Obama telling CBS there was no reason to “spike the football.”

“That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Obama told CBS in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday.

According to Fox, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will be able to travel to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to view the photographs, which have been described by White House press secretary Jay Carney as “gruesome.”

A senior U.S. official told Fox last week that a large, open gunshot wound to bin Laden’s forehead — revealing brain matter — can be seen in the photos. The official added that one of bin Laden’s eyes is open while the other eye is “completely gone.”

Last week, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) told several television interviewers that he had seen an authentic picture of the slain Al Qaeda chief as part of an official briefing, but he later admitted he had been duped.

“Listen, I’ve seen the picture,” Brown said in one of the interviews. “He’s definitely dead. And if there’s any conspiracy theories out there, you should put them to rest.”

Brown later put out a one-sentence statement saying, “The photo that I saw and that a lot of other people saw is not authentic.”

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), also claimed to have seen photos of the body, but they, too, later appeared to backtrack.

“While I was shown a photo by another senator of what appeared to be a deceased Usama bin Laden, I do not know if it was authentic,” Ayotte said in a statement. “However, I do believe a photo of the dead Al Qaeda leader should be released.”

Chambliss would not say who showed him the digital photo that he viewed, FoxNews.com reported.

“The photo I saw was shown to me by somebody who represented it to me as bin Laden after he was shot,” he said. “It looked like it was official.”

Toll from mass graves in northern Mexico at 180

A Mexican policeman inspects the scene where a member of the Tijuana Police was killed on April 15. The United States and Mexico have begun building a new police academy in the central Mexican state of Puebla as part of the Merida joint anti-drug effort, the head of the initiative said.(AFP/File/Francisco Vega)

AP | May 10, 2011

MEXICO CITY – A Mexican security official says 180 bodies have been unearthed over the past month during excavations of clandestine graves discovered in a northern Mexico state besieged by drug-gang violence.

Durango state Deputy Public Safety Secretary Juan Rosales says the victims include 12 women.

He told Milenio television on Tuesday that the bodies have been recovered at several sites around Durango city, the state capital.

The state Attorney General’s Office said in statement Monday night that 22 bodies had been recovered over the weekend, bringing the toll to 179. It is unclear when the 180th body was found. Phones rang unanswered Tuesday at the Attorney General’s Office.

Aussie Parents Warned Over GM-laced Baby Formula

scoop.co.nz | May 11, 2011

Press Release: GE Free NZ

Parents may want to avoid Nestle and Heinz infant formula made in Australia, and to stock up on organic New Zealand-made products, after the companies announced they will accept GM contaminants in their products.(1)

The shock announcement by the manufacturers through the Infant Nutrition Council (INC) puts them at loggerheads with consumers seeking safe, organic and GM-free foods. It also signals the risk of novel gene constructs overwhelming the integrity of segregation and tracking systems vital for food safety.

The decision to accept GM contamination rather than maintain a GM-Free policy and best-practice to purge GM-derived ingredients, also puts Nestle and Heinz in line for future lawsuits, just as companies faced with the unexpected long-term harm from asbestos.(2)

Some approved GM ingredients are known to cause harm in animal feeding experiments (3). GE-derived ingredients could have lifelong effects in infants as signalled in recent research on epigenetic effects by Professor Peter Gluckman from The University of Auckland, and his colleagues at University of Southampton.(4)

Dr Gluckman’s work shows the complex cascade of genetic effects impacted by diet, including long-term effects of the maternal diet even from the moment of conception.The epigenetic effects of genetically modified contaminants in the diet of neonatals is completely unknown.

The announcement by Nestle and Heinz say it is impractical to supply GM-free products from Australia but it does not say:

– if Heinz will cease to produce organic baby food products

– if the companies will monitor and withdraw products when illegal GM ingredients are found in the product or when a GM ingredient is found to be harmful

– if they will provide advice for consumers to diagnose potential effects from GM

– if they have insurance against unintended harm resulting from their decision to accept GM-derived ingredients

“This is an alarming decision. These companies are choosing not to keep GM contaminants out of baby formula because it’s too hard,” says Jon Carapiet from GE-Free NZ In food and environment.

“Not maintaining segregation in the supply chain for baby food is totally unacceptable.”

Officially-approved ingredients like maize MON 863 are entering the food supply yet have been shown to cause harm in feeding studies. It is beholden on the manufacturers to stop it from entering their products, especially in nutrition for infants.

According to the report by Food News, New Zealand’s Fonterra is sitting on the fence about whether it will aim to keep GM contamination out of any infant nutrition formula it produces.

“Fonterra has to commit to providing a secure and safe supply of GM-free ingredients for infant formula that kiwi parents can trust,” says Jon Carapiet. “Many millions of parents around the world will also want those products.”

It would be an act of deliberate self-sabotage if Fonterra refuses to maximise the integrity of its supply chain and protect the reputation of New Zealand-made products as clean, green, GM-free, natural and 100% safe.

*1) Food producers operating in Australia admit GM free is impossible *

Transnational food corporations headed by Nestlé, Heinz and New Zealand-based Fonterra have announced through their lobby organisation, the Infant Nutrition Council (INC), that it is impossible to produce, in Australia, infant formula that is free of genetically modified ingredients