Stanford Organics Study A “Fraud” – Linked to Cargill & Tobacco Money
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on September 13th, 2012
|Food labeling campaign image courtesy Yes on 37 |
A new study, issued by scientists at the Freeman Spogli institute at Stanford university in California, that suggests that organic food has no medical or health values is deeply flawed, say outraged activists.
Media coverage of the scientific paper that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last week was mostly supportive, as is customary for studies
from famous universities. "Organic Food 'Not Any Healthier," wrote a BBC journalist, while the New York Times published an article titled "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce."
NGOs immediately questioned the conclusions of
the study. "There was just no way that truly independent scientists with the expertise required to adequately answer such an important question would ignore the vast and growing body of scientific literature pointing to serious health risks from eating foods produced with synthetic chemicals," says Charlotte Vallaeys, food and farm policy director at the Cornucopia Institute Institute, an organic farm policy organization in Wisconsin.
"Make no mistake, the Stanford organics study is a fraud," says Mike Adams of Naturalnews.com and Anthony Gucciardi of Naturalsociety.org. "The mainstream media has fallen for an elaborate scientific hoax that sought to destroy the credibility of organic foods by claiming they are "no healthier" than conventional foods (grown with pesticides and genetically modified organisms).”
Adams and Gucciardi note that Dr. Ingram Olkin, a co-author of the organics study and a professor emeritus in statistics at Stanford, has deep financial ties to Cargill, the agribusiness multinational which sells genetically engineered foods. Olkin also accepted money from the tobacco industry’s Council for Tobacco Research, according to letters dating back to 1976.
“I learned, in visiting with Dr. Olkin, that he would like to examine the theoretical structure of the "multivariate logistic risk function." This particular statistical technique has been employed in the analysis of the Framingham study of heart disease,” wrote William W. Shinn, a lawyer with Shook Hardy & Bacon who represented the tobacco industry's Committee of Counsel at the time. “He is asking for two years of support at the rate of $6,000 per year … We believe that a modest effort now may stimulate, a broader interest in such questions especially among theoretical statisticians at Stanford and elsewhere. Dr. Gardner has reviewed and approved the proposal.”
“To say that conventional foods are safe is like saying that cigarettes are safe,” adds Adams. “Both can be propagandized with fraudulent science funded by corporate donations to universities, and we’re seeing the same scientist who helped Big Tobacco now helping Big Biotech in their attempt to defraud the public."
Stanford University has reacted to the controversy in a defensive manner: “This paper was published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal, and the researchers received no funding for the study from any outside company. We stand by the work and the study authors,” the university is quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. “Stanford Center for Health Policy (where the study was conducted) has never received research money from Cargill.”
One of the reasons that the Stanford study has become a lightning rod is a ballot initiative that California voters will be asked to vote on in November. Proposition 37 will require labeling on raw or processed food “if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways” and also “prohibit labeling or advertising such food as ‘natural.’”
See “The Devil is in the Details” for a good technical review of the Stanford study, authored by Dr Charles Benbrook, former executive director of the subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture in the U.S. Congress, that explains the scientific errors.
Iowa Company Linked to Refugee Abuses In Tanzania
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on July 10th, 2012
|Local fisherman in Rukwa province. Image courtesy Oakland Institute.|
AgriSol, an Iowa company, has been linked to plans to evict 160,000 Burundian refugees from Katumba and Mishamo in western Tanzania, according to “Lives on Hold,” a new report by the Oakland Institute.
Kilimo Kwanza which translates as “Agriculture First” is a recent Tanzanian government initiative to promote a “greener revolution” through agricultural modernization and commercialization via public-private partnerships. The program was launched in August 2009 by Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete.
Enter Agrisol Energy LLC's - an Iowa-based investment company that specializes in agribusiness. The company’s goal is to find “underdeveloped global locations that have attractive natural resources but lack best-in-class agricultural technology, farming techniques, equipment and management.” The company opened talks with the government to start large-scale crop cultivation, beef and poultry production, and biofuel production in three “abandoned refugee camps” - Lugufu in Kigoma province (25,000 hectares) and Katumba (80,317 hectares) and Mishamo (219,800 hectares), according to company business plans.
A 2011 investigation by the Oakland Institute, a California based NGO, revealed that the refugee camps were not abandoned but very much occupied by Burundian refugees who have lived in the area for 40 years.
Agrisol does not deny this. Henry Akona, AgriSol Tanzania's director of communications, says that the company officials were initially told that plans had been made to move the refugees from the settlements. "We were considering those areas a few years ago, but we have suspended any plans because the land is occupied," Akona told the Daily Iowan. "We should have done better homework."
Oakland Institute profiled Sembuli Masasa, the father of seven children, who had been farming in Katumba for 39 years who told researchers: “They are giving us $200, ask us to dismantle our own house and to move to a place we have never seen before.”
"Initially promised citizenship, the residents still await their papers, conditional on them vacating their homes and lands in order to make way for the foreign investor,” says Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute. “The residents have been banned from cultivating crops including perennial crops such as cassava or building new homes and businesses, leaving them with no other option but to consider moving.”
The new report alleges human rights abuses of the refugees “which range from the burning down of houses and crops and violation of their freedom of speech to inequities in social services.”
Akona disputes charges that the company is responsible for the fate of the Burundians. “AgriSol has absolutely nothing to do with the refugees in Katumba and Mishamo,” he told the Daily Iowan.
The Oakland Institute report has created a storm in Iowa, notably for Bruce Rastetter, CEO of AgriSol Energy who worked with Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Ames, Iowa, to get support for the deal.
Faced with growing questions, the university pulled out in February 2012
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community group in Des Moines, Iowa, has filed an official conflict of interest complaint against Rastetter with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, and are lobbying for Bruce Rastetter to be removed as Iowa Board of Regents President Pro Tem.
The Tanzania project is part of a new phenomenon that activists are calling “land grabbing.” GRAIN, a global agricultural think tank based in Barcelona, estimates that at least 50 million hectares of good agricultural land – enough to feed 5 million families in India – have been transferred from farmers to corporations in the last few years alone.
Economists say that governments have to be very careful about inviting corporations to manage vast swathes of land in poor countries. “If it’s done properly, and if African governments take care of their countries and their populations, this can be a big benefit,” says Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University told Dan Rather reports. “If they in effect give away these valuable resources, then what happens is these scarce resources benefit some other part of the world. And Africa is left even worse off than it was before.”
Beef from Brazil: JBS Faces Allegations of Amazon Deforestation
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on June 6th, 2012
|Broken Promises video footage from Todd Southgate, Greenpeace.|
The Xavante tribe in western Brazil and the Parakana tribe in the north-east are separated by a thousand miles of the Amazon basin but they face a common threat: the sprawling global beef export empire controlled by the Batista family from the state of Goiás.
JBS S.A. was founded in 1953 by Jose Batista Sobrinho as a small slaughterhouse in the town of Anapolis. In the last decade, JBS expanded to Argentina, acquired Smithfield and Swift Foods in the U.S. and Tasman in Australia, to make it a $33 billion multinational. Today JBS slaughters 90,000 head of cattle a day, employs 125,000 workers and exports to 150 countries, according to company statistics.
The company has benefited from loans from the World Bank and generous support from the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who helped turn the country into the world’s largest beef exporter. Much of this has come at the expense of the environment: One out of three of the 200 million cattle in Brazil graze on land cleared from the Amazon rainforest.
In an admiring article describing how the company now supplies beef from “farm to fork” to “feed ... the middle class” a Washington Post reporter described the efficiency of company operations in Lins, Brazil, in April 2011: “(T)he animal is rendered unconscious by a captive bolt pistol. It is hoisted up by its hind legs. A worker then slices the carotid artery and jugular vein, and the steer bleeds to death in seconds.”
“A processing line of workers, all in hard hats and white aprons, then skin, debone, slice, can and package the meat … The final product: rump roasts or tenderloins, corned beef or beef jerky, to be exported as far away as London.”
But behind this tale is another story tracked by environmental researchers from Greenpeace who uncovered “numerous new cases of JBS purchasing cattle directly and indirectly from farms involved in illegal deforestation, invasion of protected areas and indigenous lands, and also of farms using slave labour.”
Over a couple of months in 2011, Greenpeace researchers traced 834 cattle raised on illegal farms with names like Panorama and Fortoleza (fortress) inside the Maraiwatsede reserve that were sent for slaughter to the Água Boa plant in Mato Grosso (financed by the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank). The reserve is the home of the Xavante people.
“The Xavantes can no longer fish because the rivers have run dry or are contaminated due to the destruction of forests, landfills invading river systems in an effort to expand pastoral areas, plus extensive use of agrochemicals. Now 85 percent of the forest has been cut down and the Xavante people’s reports to the authorities describe substantial conflict with farmers accused of attempted murder and destruction of property,” write the authors of JBS Scorecard, the new Greenpeace report.
The situation is similar for the Parakana tribe in the Apyterewa Indigenous Reserve. In 2009, a Reuters reporter told the story of Tamakware, a tribal elder daubed in black pigment who brandished an arrow, and “made a plaintive appeal to foreign visitors to tell President Lula to move the farmers out.”
Two years later, Greenpeace found that a JBS unit in Tucuma, Para was still buying animals from a farm located within the Apyterewa indigenous land.
The beef from these operations were exported by JBS to the UK where activists were able to identify them by serial numbers on “100 tins of beef chunks, mince and corned beef” at outlets run by Tesco, Britain’s biggest grocery chain.
The new Greenpeace report has had an immediate effect on JBS sales. Tesco announced today that it would stop buying JBS beef. “We started to cut back our supplies from JBS a year ago and have now ceased sourcing any canned beef products from JBS. Ethics and sustainability remain an important part of our dialogue with suppliers,” a spokesman told the Telegraph newspaper.
For its part, JBS wrote to Greenpeace claiming that it was "fully committed to sourcing livestock from farms that are not involved in any illegal activities, including illegal deforestation, the invasion of indigenous lands or the use of any form of slavery.” It did not confirm or deny the NGO’s research.
Budweiser's Buddies in Brussels
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on May 16th, 2012
|Jean-Luc Deheane. Photo: European Movement Belgium. Used under Creative Commons license|
“This Bud’s for you,” is a popular Budweiser ad jingle. Apparently Jean-Luc Dehaene, a Member of the European Parliament from Belgium, takes it personally, since he recently accepted shares worth $4.2 million in the company that makes the beer. What’s remarkable is that he forgot to mention this as a potential conflict of interest.
Dehaene is a former prime minister of Belgium and now a Member of the European Parliament. In this position, he has the ability to vote on regulations on the European food and drink industry, including the brewery sector.
When Dehaene served on the board of Anheuser Busch InBev – a Belgian company which manufactured and sold $39 billion worth of goods last year including Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s beer – he was given stock options worth as much as €3 million. He left the board in March 2011 and as of April 30th is now able to cash in.
Yet Dehaene has failed to mention the shares in his official declaration of interests which he filed on February 12 of this year, despite the official rules that state that “a conflict of interest exists where a Member of the European Parliament has a personal interest that could improperly influence the performance of his or her duties as a Member.”
In a letter issued Tuesday and addressed to Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, four activist groups – Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, Lobby Control and SpinWatch – drew attention to this discrepancy. They write: “How will the parliamentary authorities guarantee that proper safeguards are put in place to avoid potential situations of conflict of interest in this particular case?”
Dehaene has come under scrutiny in the past as chairman of Dexia bank, which was bought up by the Belgian government for €4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) last October when it was on the verge of collapse because of its purchases of Greek government bonds and U.S. sub-prime mortgages. Dehaene refunded his compensation from the company to prevent any appearance of impropriety although he “signaled” that he did not wish to resign from his position.
“Jean-Luc Dehaene and Pierre Mariani, the chief executive officer, are responsible for the fiasco at Dexia,” Paul de Grauwe, a member of the economic advisory group to Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, told the Mail on Sunday. “It is dangerous to speculate, to gamble with the money of ordinary citizens. The big problem is that Dexia abandoned traditional banking and started speculating to earn more. That ended miserably.”
“Known as ‘the plumber’ during his time as Prime Minister of Belgium, due to his ability to resolve crises, this time he appears to have drilled through the main standpipe,” commented the Mail.
Dehaene was also heavily criticized as prime minister for ordering the retreat of Belgian troops in Rwanda in 1993 just prior to the mass slaughter of the minority Tutsis.
A number of MEPs have recently come under close scrutiny for conflicts of interest after four of their number agreed to put forward “amendments” for fictitous clients in exchange for cash, by a team of reporters at the Sunday Times newspaper.
“You send me the amendment and what your client wants to change. Yes?” Ernst Strasser, former Austrian interior minister, told the reporters. “Of course I’m a lobbyist, yes, and I’m open for that, yes?” Strasser was forced to resign after the report was published.
Under a new code of conduct, approved last December, the politicians are now expected to list potential conflicts of interest that amount to over €5,000 a year. There is no law against such conflicts, however, and several have been discovered.
For example EuroPolitics notes that Klaus-Heiner Lehne, earns over €10,000 as a lawyer and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing, while he chairs the Committee on Legal Affairs. Elmar Brok, who earns between €5,001 and €10,000 per month as an advisor at Bertelsmann AG, the media conglomerate, is chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
That’s small beer compared to what Dehaene might make from selling his Anheuser Busch InBev stock.
Middle Eastern Investors “Grab” Sudan Farmland
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 30th, 2012
|Salah, Sudanese farmer. Photo: Al Jazeera TV|
Dalla Al Baraka, a Saudi conglomerate with an estimated $5 billion in annual revenue, has acquired two million acres of farmland in eastern Sudan, to produce food for export to the Middle Eastern kingdom. While the investors are hoping to wean Saudi Arabia off imports from South America, such agreements have also caused concern among local Sudanese farmers.
Sporadic protests have occurred in Jazira state where much of best land is being bid on by foreign investors. "The farmers are complaining, because the price they are being offered for their land is not fair," Majdi Selim, a local lawyer and political activist told Agence France Press last year. Their concerns are part of a trend that is accelerating around the world according to multiple reports tracked by farmlandgrab.org, a website run by GRAIN, an international NGO.
Sudan, which was divided into two countries in 2011, is expecting a sharp downturn in its export income because most of its oil deposits became part of the new nation of South Sudan. This has served as an impetus for Khartoum to seek other forms of income. Ali Mahmood Abdel-Rasool, the finance and national economy minister, led a delegation to Saudi Arabia in March to seek foreign investment.
Sheikh Saleh Kamel, the founder of Dalla Al Baraka, told the Sudan Tribune that the two million hectares that he has obtained will be considered a “free trade” zone: that is to say his company would neither have to pay taxes nor follow Sudanese laws. He is not the only outside investor - Essa Abdullah Al Ghurair of Al Ghurair Foods in the United Arab Emirates has just leased 100,000 hectares of farmland in Sudan. And Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, says this government is also considering investment in Sudanese land.
Local farmers in Sudan are say they have not been consulted on the plans to lease off the country’s land. “The whole process is not clear to me because part of it is the sale of land, part is rent and part is lending,” Salah of the Al Jazira Land Owners Group told Mohamed Vall of Al Jazeera television in an interview about the subject this past January. “Agricultural land is the basic source of living for most people here, so if all the arable land is given to big companies, what are those people going to live on?” (the word “jazeera” means peninsula, and is a common business title)
Others think the new investors can help. “There is vast area of empty fertile (land) with plenty of water. This land has remained empty for hundreds, if not thousands of years and it will remain (that way) It needs mechanization, it needs capital,” Mamoun, Salah’s cousin, who is also a local farmer, told Al Jazeera TV.
Sudan is not the only country to be targeted for export agriculture. Indeed a new “gold rush” on farmland has begun in the Third World, say studies by GRAIN, a global think tank based in Barcelona, the International Land Coalition (ILC), based in Italy, and Oxfam in the UK. ILC and Oxfam have created a ‘Land Matrix’ of deals which suggest that 71 million hectares have been “grabbed” by international investors. Africa accounts for almost half at 34 million hectares, followed by Asia with some 29 million hectares and South America with about 6 million hectares.
These investments or “landgrabs” have fomented anger and even violence, on occasion. In neighboring Ethiopia, Saudi Star, a similar Saudi Arabian project in Gambella province, the extremely fertile southwestern region of the country, was attacked on April 28 evening. Ten people, most of whom were agricultural experts from Pakistan, were allegedly killed at the 10,000 hectare agricultural rice farm owned by the billionaire Al Amoudi.
Lobbyists Pose Conflicts of Interest At European Food Agency
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 19th, 2012
|EFSA Cartoon. Source: Corporate Europe Observatory|
Should lobbyists for biotech and food companies be allowed to make the rules on scientifically questionable products sold in the supermarket and - by default - your kitchen? The companies like the idea because they stand to make a huge profit. Yet the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) appears to have failed to properly regulate such conflicts
EFSA, based in Parma, Italy, investigates food and feed safety, nutrition, animal welfare, plant protection and health. The agency’s assessments – which are conducted by expert panels - are used by the European Commission in Brussels to decide whether to authorize products on the European market.
Meet Mella Frewen, our exhibit #1. She was a food lobbyist for Monsanto, the U.S. biotechnology giant and Cerestar, then Europe’s biggest starch producer. Then she moved to become director general of the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU and now EFSA wants to appoint her to their management board.
Would that be a conflict of interest? Nina Holland from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) thinks so. “The EU Commission is not doing ESFA any favours by nominating a food lobbyist as candidate for the agency’s management board. If EFSA is to regain its independence in the future, people with ties to industry should be excluded from the (expert) panels as well as from the management board,” she says.
This revolving door works both ways. The men and woman at EFSA know that they can get good jobs in industry if they quit, to help lobby their former colleagues to weaken regulations.
Meet exhibit #2: Suzy Renckens, who ran EFSA´s GMO (genetically modified organisms) unit from 2003 to 2008. In 2008, Suzy Renckens was hired by biotechnology corporation Syngenta, which produces and markets genetically engineered plants, to become a lobbying for the company in Brussels.
Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, the executive director of EFSA, recently admitted to European Union Ombudsman in Strasbourg that the agency had “regrettably” made a mistake by not properly examining the potential conflicst of interest. “Before leaving EFSA, Ms Renckens did not provide substantial details about her new employment. EFSA was still unfamiliar with this kind of occurrences and no specific processes were in place at the time,” wrote Geslain-Lanéelle in a letter that was released to the public yesterday.
Now for exhibit #3: Harry Kuiper was the chair of the so-called GMO panel at EFSA for nearly ten years. In that time, EFSA moved from a ban on genetically modified organisms, to approving two and eventually 38. Throughout that period, Kuiper had strong ties with the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is funded by agrochemical companies and the food industry.
“We urgently need more clarity. Harry Kuiper has been involved in each and every case of risk assessment of genetically engineered plants since the start of EFSA,” says Christoph Then of Testbiotech in Munich, Germany, who brought a complaint against Kuiper to the EU Ombudsman in March. “The public has a right to know if consumers and the environment were really protected in the best possible way.”
Testbiotech and CEO says the Renckens case also want further action by EFSA to show that they are serious about banning conflicts of interests. “EFSA should have admitted its problems much earlier. (I)t is still not clear if EFSA will stop such a move to industry in the future,” says Then.
(Full disclosure: This writer serves on the advisory board of the Corporate Europe Observatory)
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on April 18th, 2012
|Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price movie poster|
Is Walmart going green? Mike Duke, the company’s CEO, says in a new 126 page report that the company is becoming more sustainable and responsible while “building meaningful, long-term change.” Activists disagree. Walmart’s “environmental impact has only grown over the last seven years” they say in a counter-report.
Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, runs giant discount retail stores that sell consumer goods at rock bottom prices. It has grown to become the world’s largest private employer with 2011 sales of $421.85 billion. The company has been a major target for union activists like United Food and Commercial Workers which started the Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign and the Service Employees International Union which started Walmart Watch (The two unions have since merged and so has the campaign) It was also the subject of a critical film: “The High Cost of Low Price” produced by Robert Greenwald in 2005.
Walmart responded by hiring public relations advisers and teaming up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in 2005. It was an easy solution - EDF has a history of working with big business: For example, in 1990 EDF signed a partnership with McDonald’s to begin a recycling program, one of the first instances of “greenwashing” – a tactic by which companies “preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and enemies of poverty.” (as defined by Kenny Bruno in the Greenpeace Book On Greenwash issued in 1992) The New York-based NGO has since signed agreements with the Carlyle Group, Citibank and FedEx.
On Monday, Walmart released a list of top ten “sustainability” achievements which included such notables as the design of a new icon “Great for You” to encourage consumers to identify “healthy food options.”
The company also touted some numbers such as the claim that it had kept “80.9 percent of all waste generated by our U.S. operations out of landfills. This has the potential to prevent 11.8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.”
Not everyone is convinced that the numbers add up. Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have issued a new report titled Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability.
“No amount of greenwash can conceal the fact that Walmart perpetuates an industrialized food system that diminishes our natural resources, causes excessive pollution, and forces smaller farmers and companies to get big or get out of business,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
The two groups note that barely one percent of Walmart’s Chinese suppliers have actually implemented waste reduction programs; that most of its products are so shoddy that they actually increase waste; that the company only sources four percent of its energy from renewable sources (other retailers like Whole Foods are already at 100 percent) and in fact the company’s energy use has increased greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent since 2005.
The activists contend that the company has added 1,100 new stores since 2005, sometimes paving over land with endangered species. The company’s “organic” milk comes from cows are housed in factory farms and fed grain (as opposed to grass)
“Once again, Walmart is using sustainability as a marketing tool to improve its public image and propel its growth," said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at ILSR.
Unsticking Food Lobbyists in Europe
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on March 6th, 2012
|EFSA Cartoon. Source: Corporate Europe Observatory|
How do you get rid of sticky chewing gum from city streets and lobbyists who want to promote dangerous foods in Europe? The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based in Parma, Italy, has approved two new proposals this week that proponents claim will get rid of these two menaces to society.
EFSA investigates food and feed safety, nutrition, animal welfare, plant protection and health. The agency’s assessments are used by the European Commission to decide whether to authorize products on the European market – from new types of chewing gum to pesticides and genetically engineered crops. A favorable assessment could generate millions or even billions of Euros in profit for manufacturers.
On Monday EFSA introduced new rules that will ban industry experts from serving on EFSA scientific panels related to their work. The new rules will affect the agency’s scientific committee and eight expert panels, whose terms expire in July.
The new rules were prompted by a series of reports from Corporate Europe Observatory and the Earth Open Source, which documented cases where EFSA used industry scientists and employees to conduct risk assessment, despite conflicts of interest. (full disclosure: I am a board member of the Corporate Europe Observatory)
For example, a health claim by Kraft Foods was approved by the nutrition panel of EFSA under the chairmanship of by Albert Flynn, who is also happens to be a member of an advisory board at Kraft Foods, according to an October 2011 investigation conducted by Suddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper. A December 2011 report by Pesticide Action Network showed that 10 out of 13 experts on an EFSA working group on toxicology had conflicts of interest.
The food industry is not unique in attempting to influence European rule making. Indeed, some 90 percent of the 15,000 lobbyists who work in Brussels are employed by industry, with civil society groups such as environmentalists and trade unions making up less than ten percent. These corporate lobbyists are estimated to spend 750 million euros a year to influence these European bureaucrats.
One of the key ways these lobbyists influence legislation is via the 1,000 plus “Expert Groups” or advisory bodies to the European Commission who often determine the framework of most legislation. Until recently the membership of these groups was secret. Today even though some information has been made available in the last two years, the minutes, agendas, contributions of their meetings remain unavailable to the public.
Quite a few of these Expert Groups have been exposed to be dominated by industry. For example some 191 banking lobbyists on eight expert groups dealing with financial regulation claim to be working in a ‘personal capacity.’
Activists are waiting to see if the new EFSA rules will be strong enough. Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory, notes that not all conflicts of interest are banned with the new system which she believes is still a cause of concern. “This month the membership of eight expert panels will be renewed, and this process will be closely watched by many critics.”
And the chewing gum? It’s a product that claims to be removable and degradable, according to Professor Terence Cosgrove at the University of Bristol who invented it. Rev7 Gum, which was just approved by EFSA, claims to be easy to remove from clothing as well as city streets.
CorpWatch is taking bets on which one Europe will be able to eliminate first – the chewing gum or the food lobbyists.
(For more on this subject – see An Insider in Brussels: Lobbyists Reshape the European Union by Elke Cronenberg and Sunshine Laws to Track European Lobbyists by yours truly)
Still Learning Nothing
Posted by Mark Floegel on September 24th, 2009
Originally posted at http://markfloegel.org/
The best time to announce the worst news is late on Friday. The
federal government and public relations firms have known this for
years. So it was that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
scheduled its press conference last Friday for 3 p.m., Pacific Daylight
Time or (even better!) 6 p.m. in the east.
As planned, the news that stocks of Bering Sea pollock – America’s
largest fishery – have declined to a 30-year-low was reported only in
the fishing trade press and the Seattle and Anchorage papers. Mission accomplished.
Every summer, NMFS technicians survey pollock. The amount of fish
allowed to be caught in 2009 was based on the 2008 summer survey. The
2010 quota will be based on the 2009 survey and so on. On one hand,
these surveys are about “environmental protection.” (Alas, we must us
the dreaded quotation marks, because the environment has not
been protected.) On the other hand, the surveys are a
government-subsidized service for the industrial trawler fleet that
pulls the pollock from the sea.
On the other, other hand (we’re playing three hands today), most
people don’t know what a pollock is, but we eat enough of it. (As I
mentioned two paragraphs ago, it’s America’s largest fishery.) All that
imitation crabmeat in the supermarket wet case? Pollock. (And why must
pollock imitate crabmeat? American fisheries management.)
Pollock is the whitefish in all those
disgusting frozen fish sticks. Pollock is, or was, the fish in the
sandwiches at the fast food restaurants. Now that pollock is in severe
decline, McDonald’s is considering switching to hoki. This has nothing
to do with environmental awareness; McDonald’s requires a steady supply
of a consistent product at a predictable price. Hoki, a whitefish
that’s overfished by industrial trawlers in New Zealand waters, will be
a temporary fix, a few years at best. Thanks, Ronald.
Where was I? Oh right, severe decline. Three years ago, NMFS
allowed the trawlers to take 1.5 million metric tons of pollock out of
the Bering Sea. This year, because the decline was already evident in
last year’s survey, the quota was set at 815,000 metric tons. The
industry trade press headlines news like this as: “Pollock prices
likely to rise.”
The At-Sea Processors Association, the trade group that represents
the industrial trawlers, will try to convince the feds to keep the
quota high and if the past is any evidence, they’ll do it. That’s why
the fish population is crashing. What’s worse, they may bully the feds
into continuing the pollock roe season. Roe, of course, is fish talk
for eggs. The trawlers deliberately target the pregnant females, strip
the eggs out of their bellies and sell them for big bucks on the Asian
What the Epicureans of Korea and Japan eat for dinner is what
doesn’t become a fish in the Bering Sea, with tragic consequences for
the sea and the other animals that live there. Pollock have
traditionally been mighty breeders, the rabbits of the northern seas
(one reason we fish them so hard). As such, they’ve provided much of
the food for the rest of the animals in the ocean, like Steller sea
lions and Pribilof fur seals. Because we humans got greedy with the
trawlers and the roe, now those species (and more) are in trouble.
Yes, eating the eggs is a great way to deplete a population of fish
(or any other wild creature) and yes, there’s more to it than that.
Global warming plays a role, with warm water moving north into the
Bering Sea, making conditions for pollock love less favorable than
they’ve been in decades past. The pollock don’t cause global warming,
though, nor do sea lions or fur seals. So yeah, we should stop burning
so many fossil fuels, but until we do, we have to back off with the
trawlers and give the pollock time to rebuild their numbers.
An irony here (not the irony, there’s too much irony for
that) is that Bering Sea pollock are often referred to (by the
industrial trawling people) as “the best-managed fishery in the world.”
Sadder still is that the statement is not far from accurate. Look at
Atlantic cod, that population crashed 15 years ago and has yet to come
And we learned nothing from it.
Corporations and the Amazon
Posted by Philip Mattera on August 16th, 2009
Originally posted on August 13, 2009 at http://dirtdiggersdigest.org/archives/746
These days just about every large corporation would have us believe
that it is in the vanguard of the fight to reverse global warming.
Companies mount expensive ad campaigns to brag about raising their
energy efficiency and shrinking their carbon footprint.
Yet a bold article in the latest issue of business-friendly Bloomberg Markets
magazine documents how some large U.S.-based transnationals are
complicit in a process that does more to exacerbate the climate crisis
than anything else: the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rain forest.
While deforestation is usually blamed on local ranchers and loggers, Bloomberg
points the finger at companies such as Alcoa and Cargill, which the
magazine charges have used their power to get authorities in Brazil to
approve large projects that violate the spirit of the country’s
Alcoa is constructing a huge bauxite mine that will chew up more
than 25,000 acres of virgin jungle in an area, the magazine says, “is
supposed to be preserved unharmed forever for local residents.” Bloomberg
cites Brazilian prosecutors who have been waging a four-year legal
battle against an Alcoa subsidiary that is said to have circumvented
the country’s national policies by obtaining a state rather than a
federal permit for the project.
Bloomberg also focuses on the widely criticized grain port
that Cargill built on the Amazon River. Cargill claims to be
discouraging deforestation by the farmers supplying the soybeans that
pass through the port, but the Brazilian prosecutors interviewed by Bloomberg expressed skepticism that the effort was having much effect.
Apart from the big on-site projects, Bloomberg looks at
major corporations that it says purchase beef and leather from
Amazonian ranchers who engage in illegal deforestation. Citing
Brazilian export records, the magazine identifies Wal-Mart, McDonald’s,
Kraft Foods and Carrefour as purchasers of the beef and General Motors,
Ford and Mercedes-Benz as purchasers of leather.
The impact of the Amazon cattle ranchers was also the focus of a Greenpeace report published in June. That report put heat on major shoe companies that are using leather produced by those ranchers.
Nike and Timberland
responded to the study by pledging to end their use of leather hides
from deforested areas in the Amazon basin. Greenpeace is trying to get
other shoe companies to follow suit.
Think of the Amazon the next time a company such as Wal-Mart tells
us what wonderful things it is doing to address the climate crisis.
Posted by Denver Fair Food on July 31st, 2009
Originally posted on July 23 at http://denverfairfood.blogspot.com/2009/07/chipotle-grilled.html.
is getting burned by the very scheme it cooked up as what it thought
was a great public relations opportunity - sponsoring free screenings
of Food, Inc. - is becoming a PR fiasco.
Food, Inc. director
Robert Kenner and co-producer Eric Schlosser speak out and Chipotle has
to answer tough questions in Tom Philpott's must-read article on Grist.org
: Burrito chain’s Food, Inc. sponsorship generates off-screen drama over farm-worker issues."
explains that while many of Chipotle's efforts are great, he
nonetheless "cares more about human rights than any of those things."
He continues: "If Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, and McDonald’s can
reach agreement with the CIW
, I don’t see why Chipotle can’t."
likewise, the article states, "made clear that he disagreed with the
company’s position on the CIW" even if he agrees with other things
Chipotle is doing. Kenner explains: "I was hopeful that by associating
itself with a film that promotes workers’ rights, [Chipotle] might be
inclined to sign with the Coalition . . . And now I’m not confident
in this unfolding fiasco is also noted: "Chipotle clearly resents such
critical statements at events designed to demonstrate its
sustainability cred. At one of its screenings in Denver, Chipotle
employees barred people
from the Campaign for Fair Food to speak after the
screening—overturning an arrangement that had been made with Food,
Inc’s public-education campaign. " After investigating the incident,
the article decides: "In other words, people wanting to discuss the CIW
issue aren’t to be given stage time at the Chipotle-sponsored Food,
of Chipotle's eagerness to shut up members of Denver Fair Food has
really made a splash on the internet, appearing on the websites of the Organic Cosumers Association
, the Coporate Ethics Network
, US Indymedia
, and others.
course Denver wasn't the only city where Chipotle got heat from Fair
Food activists while trying to bask in Food, Inc.'s glory. All over the
of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers took to the movies to deflate Chipotle's hot air about "food with integrity" with some sharp truths
about farm labor in Chipotle's supply chain. See the great photo report
from the nationwide "Battle of the Burrito" on the CIW website.
References to this PR fiasco are popping up in unforseen places such as thedailygreen
or even more surprising the mainstream investor blog The Motely Fool
. And the bed which Chipotle made for itself in which it now must lie can't be feeling any more comfortable.
The lesson for Chipotle to learn from its bungled Food, Inc. PR experiment? The ecorazzi
blog has these fitting words: "you can’t have your 1000+ calorie burrito and eat it too."
The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008
Posted by on January 9th, 2009
What a year for corporate criminality and malfeasance!
As we compiled the Multinational Monitor list of the 10 Worst Corporations of 2008, it would have been easy to restrict the awardees to Wall Street firms.
But the rest of the corporate sector was not on good behavior during
2008 either, and we didn't want them to escape justified scrutiny.
So, in keeping with our tradition of highlighting diverse forms of
corporate wrongdoing, we included only one financial company on the 10
Here, presented in alphabetical order, are the 10 Worst Corporations of 2008.
AIG: Money for Nothing
There's surely no one party responsible for the ongoing global
financial crisis. But if you had to pick a single responsible
corporation, there's a very strong case to make for American
International Group (AIG), which has already sucked up more than $150
billion in taxpayer supports. Through "credit default swaps," AIG
basically collected insurance premiums while making the ridiculous
assumption that it would never pay out on a failure -- let alone a
collapse of the entire market it was insuring. When reality set in, the
roof caved in.
Cargill: Food Profiteers
When food prices spiked in late 2007 and through the beginning of 2008,
countries and poor consumers found themselves at the mercy of the
global market and the giant trading companies that dominate it. As
hunger rose and food riots broke out around the world, Cargill saw
profits soar, tallying more than $1 billion in the second quarter of
In a competitive market, would a grain-trading middleman make
super-profits? Or would rising prices crimp the middleman's profit
margin? Well, the global grain trade is not competitive, and the legal
rules of the global economy-- devised at the behest of Cargill and
friends -- ensure that poor countries will be dependent on, and at the
mercy of, the global grain traders.
Chevron: "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies"
In 2001, Chevron swallowed up Texaco. It was happy to absorb the
revenue streams. It has been less willing to take responsibility for
Texaco's ecological and human rights abuses.
In 1993, 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians filed a class action suit in
U.S. courts, alleging that Texaco over a 20-year period had poisoned
the land where they live and the waterways on which they rely, allowing
billions of gallons of oil to spill and leaving hundreds of waste pits
unlined and uncovered. Chevron had the case thrown out of U.S. courts,
on the grounds that it should be litigated in Ecuador, closer to where
the alleged harms occurred. But now the case is going badly for Chevron
in Ecuador -- Chevron may be liable for more than $7 billion. So, the
company is lobbying the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to
impose trade sanctions on Ecuador if the Ecuadorian government does not
make the case go away.
"We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like
this -- companies that have made big investments around the world," a
Chevron lobbyist said to Newsweek in August. (Chevron subsequently
stated that the comments were not approved.)
Constellation Energy: Nuclear Operators
Although it is too dangerous, too expensive and too centralized to make
sense as an energy source, nuclear power won't go away, thanks to
equipment makers and utilities that find ways to make the public pay
Constellation Energy Group, the operator of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear
plant in Maryland -- a company recently involved in a startling,
partially derailed scheme to price gouge Maryland consumers -- plans to
build a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs, potentially the first new
reactor built in the United States since the near-meltdown at Three
Mile Island in 1979.
It has lined up to take advantage of U.S. government-guaranteed loans
for new nuclear construction, available under the terms of the 2005
Energy Act. The company acknowledges it could not proceed with
construction without the government guarantee.
CNPC: Fueling Violence in Darfur
Sudan has been able to laugh off existing and threatened sanctions for
the slaughter it has perpetrated in Darfur because of the huge support
it receives from China, channeled above all through the Sudanese
relationship with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).
"The relationship between CNPC and Sudan is symbiotic," notes the
Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights First, in a March 2008 report,
"Investing in Tragedy." "Not only is CNPC the largest investor in the
Sudanese oil sector, but Sudan is CNPC's largest market for overseas
Oil money has fueled violence in Darfur. "The profitability of Sudan's
oil sector has developed in close chronological step with the violence
in Darfur," notes Human Rights First.
Dole: The Sour Taste of Pineapple
A 1988 Filipino land reform effort has proven a fraud. Plantation
owners helped draft the law and invented ways to circumvent its
purported purpose. Dole pineapple workers are among those paying the
Under the land reform, Dole's land was divided among its workers and
others who had claims on the land prior to the pineapple giant.
However, wealthy landlords maneuvered to gain control of the labor
cooperatives the workers were required to form, Washington, D.C.-based
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) explains in an October report.
Dole has slashed it regular workforce and replaced them with contract
Contract workers are paid under a quota system, and earn about $1.85 a day, according to ILRF.
GE: Creative Accounting
In June, former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston reported on
internal General Electric documents that appeared to show the company
had engaged in a long-running effort to evade taxes in Brazil. In a
lengthy report in Tax Notes International, Johnston reported on a GE
subsidiary's scheme to invoice suspiciously high sales volume for
lighting equipment in lightly populated Amazon regions of the country.
These sales would avoid higher value added taxes (VAT) in urban states,
where sales would be expected to be greater.
Johnston wrote that the state-level VAT at issue, based on the internal
documents he reviewed, appeared to be less than $100 million. But, he
speculated, the overall scheme could have involved much more.
Johnston did not identify the source that gave him the internal GE
documents, but GE has alleged it was a former company attorney, Adriana
Koeck. GE fired Koeck in January 2007 for what it says were
Imperial Sugar: 14 Dead
On February 7, an explosion rocked the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port
Wentworth, Georgia, near Savannah. Days later, when the fire was
finally extinguished and search-and-rescue operations completed, the
horrible human toll was finally known: 14 dead, dozens badly burned and
As with almost every industrial disaster, it turns out the tragedy was
preventable. The cause was accumulated sugar dust, which like other
forms of dust, is highly combustible.
A month after the Port Wentworth explosion, Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors investigated another Imperial
Sugar plant, in Gramercy, Louisiana. They found 1/4- to 2-inch
accumulations of dust on electrical wiring and machinery. They found as
much as 48-inch accumulations on workroom floors.
Imperial Sugar obviously knew of the conditions in its plants. It had
in fact taken some measures to clean up operations prior to the
explosion. The company brought in a new vice president to clean up
operations in November 2007, and he took some important measures to
improve conditions. But it wasn't enough. The vice president told a
Congressional committee that top-level management had told him to tone
down his demands for immediate action.
Philip Morris International: Unshackled
The old Philip Morris no longer exists. In March, the company formally
divided itself into two separate entities: Philip Morris USA, which
remains a part of the parent company Altria, and Philip Morris
International. Philip Morris USA sells Marlboro and other cigarettes in
the United States. Philip Morris International tramples the rest of the
Philip Morris International has already signaled its initial plans to
subvert the most important policies to reduce smoking and the toll from
tobacco-related disease (now at 5 million lives a year). The company
has announced plans to inflict on the world an array of new products,
packages and marketing efforts. These are designed to undermine
smoke-free workplace rules, defeat tobacco taxes, segment markets with
specially flavored products, offer flavored cigarettes sure to appeal
to youth and overcome marketing restrictions.
Roche: "Saving lives is not our business"
The Swiss company Roche makes a range of HIV-related drugs. One of them
is enfuvirtid, sold under the brand-name Fuzeon. Fuzeon brought in $266
million to Roche in 2007, though sales are declining.
Roche charges $25,000 a year for Fuzeon. It does not offer a discount price for developing countries.
Like most industrialized countries, Korea maintains a form of price
controls -- the national health insurance program sets prices for
medicines. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs listed
Fuzeon at $18,000 a year. Korea's per capita income is roughly half
that of the United States. Instead of providing Fuzeon, for a profit,
at Korea's listed level, Roche refuses to make the drug available in
Korean activists report that the head of Roche Korea told them, "We are
not in business to save lives, but to make money. Saving lives is not
Originally posted on December 29, 2008, at:
Robert Weissman is managing director of the Multinational Monitor.
James Bond Takes on the Corporate Water Privateers
Posted by Jeff Conant on December 10th, 2008
Back in the good old days of the Cold War, everybody’s favorite secret agent, James Bond, fought villains like Dr. No, an evil scientist out to sabotage U.S. missile tests, and Mr. Big, a Soviet agent using pirate treasure to finance espionage in America. But as Bond’s friend Mathis tells him in Quantum of Solace, released this month, “When one is young, it’s easy to tell the difference between right and wrong. As one gets older, the villains and heroes get all mixed up.”
The reference is to a shady new Bond villain, agent of the Quantum organization – one Dominic Greene. In public, Greene is a leading environmentalist whose organization, Greene Planet, buys up large tracts of land for ecological preserves. But behind the scenes, Greene has another agenda. As he says to his co-conspirators, “This is the most valuable resource in the world and we need to control as much of it as we can.”
The film makes a number of plays on the assumption that the resource in question is oil – but oil is so…twentieth century.
By the time Bond has pursued Greene from Italy to Haiti, from Haiti to Austria, and crash-landed his plane in a sinkhole in the high, barren desert of Bolivia, we make the discovery that this vital resource is – surprise! – water.
Colluding with Greene is a cast of evil characters taken straight from the history books. We have General Medrano, the ex-dictator of Bolivia, to whom Greene says, “You want your country back? My organization can give it to you.” We have the U.S. Ambassador, myopically sticking to the familiar program: “Okay, we do nothing to stop a coup, and you give us a lease to any oil you find.” And we have the British foreign office, continually wrangling with M15, Bond’s spy agency. When Bond’s boss, M, tells him that Greene is not an environmentalist but a villain, the Foreign Minister says, “If we refused to do business with villains, we’d have almost no one to trade with.” Ain’t it the truth.
The fact that Quantum of Solace makes water the villain’s object of greed, replacing oil, gold, diamonds, and mutually assured destruction, is telling of the point we’ve reached. More telling still is the fact that our villain’s cover has him acting as an environmentalist, the ultimate corporate greenwasher. The fact that the action winds up in Bolivia – the country where, in real life, both Bechtel and Suez have tried and failed to take control of community water resources during and shortly after the reign of former-dictator-turned-neoliberal President Hugo Banzer – brings the plot frighteningly close to reality. The privatization of water in Bolivia back in 2000, and the massive popular response that turned out rural water stewards and urban ratepayers to riot for months until the multinational transgressor was ousted, was the spark that set social movements worldwide on red alert. Since then, numerous private water companies have been refused contracts on the grounds that popular movements, and, increasingly, governments, recognize the need to treat water as a human right and a public good – not a commodity.
If only the water movement had a few organizers with the physique, the gadgets, and the, er, style of Bond.
While we have many great documentaries telling the story of the global water wars, including this year’s Flow and Blue Gold, one is forced to wonder if 007 does a greater service to the water movement than even our most highly talented documentarians. After all, who better than Hollywood to characterize the greenwashing corporate water profiteers as straight up evil, sans the need to justify the hyperbole?
Matieu Amalric, the actor who played Dominic Greene, wanted to wear make-up for the role, but director Marc Forster “wanted Greene not to look grotesque, but to symbolize the hidden evils in society.” Similarly, the original screenplay had Greene having some “hidden power.” But in the final cut, the director seems to have decided that corporate power was power enough.
One wonders if Dominic Greene – had he not died drinking motor oil to quench his thirst in the Bolivian desert – might give the keynote speech at the upcoming World Water Forum in Istanbul (WWF). After all, the World Water Council (WWC) that puts on the forum is presided over by Loïc Fauchon, a former executive at one of the French subsidiaries of Suez, the world’s largest private water corporation.
As we learn from the WWF website, “One of the benefits of joining the WWC is the Council's ability to influence decisions related to world water management that affect organizations, business, and communities.” Perhaps their secret meetings will also be attended by executives of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, whose recent partnership with Coca-Cola aims to help the global soft-drink giant become “the most efficient company in the world in terms of water use,” with “every drop of water it uses…returned to the earth or compensated for through conservation and recycling programs.” And, with this blending of fact and fiction, it would hardly be surprising to find Greene’s signature on the CEO Water Mandate, which has companies with such devastating environmental track records as Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, Unilever, and Nestlé pledging to “help address the water challenge faced by the world today.”
When M, Bond’s overweening boss at M15, finds out about Quantum, she demands, “What the hell is this organization, Bond? How can they be everywhere and we know nothing about them?”
Well, my darling M, the answer is simple: like transnational corporations, and like the large NGO’s that work with the private sector to reform its practices and green its reputation, and like the International Finance Institutions whose interests are increasingly endangering the United Nations’ mandate to defend and protect human rights, they can be everywhere because their particular form of villainy works best when hidden in plain sight.
Thankfully, the world’s water is safe, because, behind the scenes, secret agent 007 is on the job.
Well, not true. But countless people and organizations worldwide, from the Red Vida to the African Water Network, from the People’s Health Movement to the Reclaiming Public Water Network, are vigilant in the defense of the human right to water. With the recent placement of water warrior Father Miguel D’Escoto, a Nicaraguan liberation theologian, in the presidential seat at the UN General Assembly, and his selection of Maude Barlow as a senior advisor on water, we are witnessing a tidal change in the highest levels of international cooperation.
They may not have the brutal take-no-prisoners attitude or the classy cocktail swagger of Mister Bond, but they represent a lot of people, and they’re on the right side.
So, corporate evil-doers, and your greenwashing NGO henchmen, beware. The forces of good are on the loose.
Originally posted at Food & Water Watch:
McDonald's gets F grade in Florida
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on January 18th, 2008
Fast food giant McDonald's was just forced to withdraw a controversial program to sponsor report cards in Seminole County, central Florida, in exchange for a Happy Meal coupon on the cover that features an image of Ronald McDonald. (Children with A and B grades, with two or fewer absences or who exhibit good behavior were entitled to pick up a free Happy Meal at their local McDonald's, as long as they presented their report cards. The company paid the $1,600 cost of printing the report cards.)
The promotional campaign by the Illinois-based company was defeated by a small, but feisty, activist coalition named the Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood, which is based out of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston.
In early December last year, CCFC launched a campaign against McDonald's when outraged parents contacted them. "My daughter worked so hard to get good grades this term and now she believes she is entitled to a prize from McDonald's," Susan Pagan, an Orlando parent, told CCFC. "And now I'm the "bad guy" because I had to explain that our family does not eat at fast food chains. I'm outraged that McDonald's is trying to exploit my daughter's achievement -- and that the Seminole County School Board would help facilitate this exploitation."
It's not the first time that McDonald's has tried to directly influence the eating habits of young children (nor, probably the last, unfortunately). Three years ago the company dropped a national campaign in the UK of providing educational material and teaching assistants to primary schools after a public backlash against the program by groups like McLibel.
And in the 1990s there was a hue and cry by groups like UNPLUG! of Oakland, California, after McDonald's and other companies provided "sponsored educational materials" on subjects like nutrition to teachers to supplement or take the place of approved curriculum in the U.S. The company was also protested for sponsoring McTeacher's Night in southern California, which involved teachers working at local McDonald's restaurants to raise funds for schools by selling burgers to their own students!
Yet perhaps the most devastating blow to McDonald's advertising to school-children was done by documentarian Morgan Spurlock with his film: SuperSize Me (the entire film can be watched for free online at http://freedocumentaries.org/film.php?id=98 ). In the film, Spurlock documents the impact of dining exclusively on McDonald's products for a 30-day time period. The film also explores the fast food industry's corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit. (An edited DVD version of the film designed to be integrated into a high school health curriculum is available from Arts Allliance America.)
NB: Full disclosure: This writer is a former fast food food industry employee with almost two years experience working fulltime in the business including stints at Burger King, McDonald's and Pizza Hut which allowed him to finance a diploma course in journalism school.
2008 Public Eye Awards
Posted by Pratap Chatterjee on September 27th, 2007
Which are the world's worst multinationals? Which are the best? These are questions CorpWatch gets asked practically everyday. Just to clarify, we do not rank good corporations or endorse any of them, for several reasons: today's idols sometimes turn out to have feet of clay. And we see our job as investigators of malfeasance. For those who want to do the opposite, there are plenty of groups out there who promote "socially responsible" businesses, and we encourage you to look them up. (We don't have a list of these groups for the aforementioned reasons, but we do have a guide to the principles that we believe good businesses should follow -- and we leave it to you, our gentle readers, to apply this criteria to evaluate corporations.)
(We strongly believe that it is very important not to take corporate claims at face value, because sometimes these companies are not telling the whole truth. This is known as "greenwash" and to see a history of this phenomenon, we urge you to check out our short history of the subject, in this handy guide written by Josh Karliner, the founder of CorpWatch.)
Today, there is an opportunity for you to get your favorite (or maybe, least favorite) multinational nominated for an award for corporate malfeasance -- the Berne Declaration and Friends of the Earth Switzerland are holding its fourth annual award ceremony in January 2008, to coincide with the annual gathering of Fortune 500 chieftains in Davos. You can take part in this contest by clicking here.
(Previous winners from 2005, 2006 and 2007 are available online.)
If you have questions, contact Oliver Classen who is coordinating the awards ceremony.
In case you are wondering, how do you find out whether companies are telling the truth? Well, here's a tip -- there's a group in the Netherlands that collects these reports: the Global Reporting Intitiative. You can even search their database to look up your favorite/least favorite company. GRI is about to launch a tool on October 1st, 2007 that will allow you to rank these reports -- if you are so inclined.
Read the reports, search our website and that of Multinational Monitor, and then contact groups on the ground to see if these companies are telling the truth or not.
Remember the deadline to nominate a company for the Public Eye on Davos award is September 30th, 2007!
Michael Pollan and your Industrialized Lunch
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on May 8th, 2006
I could try cool, professional detachment, but it would be dishonest: I'm elated to see Michael Pollan now blogging over at The New York Times. As an idealist, a foodie, an amateur cook, and a guilty liberal, my passions and my ethics often collide over a corn-fed steak, an osso bucco or a prawn ceviche. But there are so many choices ... there is very little to defend a corn-fed, industry-raised and slaughtered beef meal, other than the fact it tastes really good. (And vegetarians, trust me, I've heard your arguements and I have felt the requisite guilt - I am simply weak-willed when it come to culinary self-indulgence. Although the movie "Babe" did end my consumption of most pork products, and I haven't bought veal in two decades.)
I have taken small steps - having locally-grown organic produce delivered weekly at ridiculously inflated prices; I hit farmer's markets when possible; I shop at Trader Joe's; I buy free-range, cage-free, antibiotic-free whatever; I buy organic at my local supermarket; I buy artisanal foods when I can afford them (which, in honesty, is pretty much never, but that's what credit is for). But is this really changing anything?
Pollan helps answer the questions tortured gourmands like me wrestle with daily. And not all of his answers make me feel any better. For example, your suspicions are correct if you think "free-range" is essentially meaningless in practice. The truth is, industrial agriculture is busily co-opting the organic and ethical foods market because suckas like me will pay more just to assuage our guilt. I'd rather believe the chicken on my plate lived a long happy life romping in the grass and sun. I'll pay to have the lie told me.
Anyway, Pollan's new book is out, which I'll buy of course (from Powell's!), but more happily, I will have his blog to tempt and torture me. Don't miss it if you are a food sensualist and a thinker about ethics.
Monsanto's Old Plantation Days
Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 28th, 2006
Stay Free! Magazine is always worth a read, and the current issue caught our eye with this ad. We forget that Monsanto was a chemical giant long before Round-Up and genetically modified crops.
Allison Xantha Miller's article on the history of plastics the current Stay Free! notes:
Plastics from cotton? The industry didn't always show
plastics futuristically. In some cases, like this 1939 ad from Monsanto,
it reassuringly tied plastics to nostalgia for America's agricultural
heritage and for a racial order in which African-Americans worked on farms
in the South. The ad speaks condescendingly of mysterious processes that
"create new materials from nature's crops," juxtaposing its knowingness
with the innocence and ignorance of children cavorting in the soft white