WHAT’S WRONG WITH DIOXINE IN
EGGS, “STUTTGART 21,” AND LEAKING BARRELS FILLED WITH NUCLEAR WASTES
No one familiar with the matter
can really ignore the fact that the European Commission and the governments
in Europe have been favoring neoliberal policies, especially deregulation,
for many years.
And even today, when we are faced
with the consequences of these policies (such as bankrupt banks, and an
inescapable necessity, from a capitalist point of view, to step in by extending
loans and giving “guarantees” to creditors of failing banks; guarantees
that are already worth more than a hundred billion Euros, in the case of
major European countries), we see that efforts to return to a slightly
more regulated capitalism are not made in the energetic and decisive way
one could expect.
The so-called constitution of
the EU, which was not subject to a referendum in most member countries
for fear that the population would vote “NO” and which never was adopted
in the intended manner but supplanted by a treaty or an agreement between
European governments, attempted quite clearly to enshrine (neoliberal)
capitalism as the sole legal social order of Europe.
This is in strange contrast to
the political convictions of large parts of the population. In some member
states of the EU, a majority of the electorate expressed and continues
to express choices that are not amounting to an endorsement of neo-liberalism.
It also contradicts the constitution
of such member states as Germany which leaves it to the (will of the) population
whether capitalist social relations or relations based on common, or shared
property of the means of production or of certain sectors of industry should
Historically, public property
is nothing that was uncommon in post-WWII Europe.
In France, we know, the banking
sector was owned by the public for several decades after World War II.
Renault, a principal car-maker, was state-owned and so was ELF-Aquitaine,
a large oil corporation that dominated the French gasoline market. Utilities
like EDF and the French railroads (SNCF) were unquestionably public and
it's only recently that they became targets of neo-liberal privatization
efforts stepped up by the Sarkozy administration.
As a consequence of 19th century
efforts by left liberals and adherents of “municipal socialism,” the electricity,
water, and sewage treatment sector were municipally owned in a number of
countries; the same was true of municipal public transport (bus companies,
tramway lines, subways). In Germany, for instance, this was certainly the
case. As far as the national railroad system was concerned which
also encompassed the rapid transit system in the capital and other major
cities or conurbations like the Ruhr district, it was publicly owned, i.e.
owned by the state. Similarly, a large percentage of the housing stock
constructed in post-war West Germany in the form of tenement housing was
owned by the public. The same is true of France and Britain.(1)
Add to that the hospitals; they are still overwhelmingly owned by the public.
All of this has come under attack
by the neo-liberal policies championed by the European Commission and Conservative
governments in Europe.
Much that was considered an
elementary part of the public sector has been dismantled, in spite of the
needs of the population to safeguard the public interest and place it above
the profit motive of private corporations.
If the public initially did not
oppose privatization vigorously, it was because both cash-squeezed city
administrations and national governments had already betrayed their obligation
to be good stewards of public property and operate it in the public interest.
Prices of services had shot up, when management of public companies made
the most questionable use of their administrative prerogatives by considering
these companies like an equivalent of private, profit-oriented corporations
enjoying a near-monopolistic control of their particular market.
In a clever attempt to secure
a positive public echo to privatization, the European Commission most notably
forced the telecommunications sector in Germany to lower rates.
Rates of utilities (water, electricity,
heating gas; sewage treatment etc.) went up when these sectors were privatized
and we note that investment by privatized companies in the maintainance
and modernization of heretofore public infrastructure went down. Profits
were not channeled back into infrastructural investment as before but paid
out, as dividends, or used to buy up other companies.
This development can only be
considered detrimental to the public interest but it is favored by both
shareholders and executive managers (who receive large bonus payments when
the company is realizing hefty increases of its profitability). It is exactly
these strata whose interests the European Commission, and thus the European
Union has above all represented in the last few decades.
The extent to which the European
Commission is a willing tool of European corporations came to light quite
clearly in the conflict about REACH, a quasi-legislative administrative
act concerning chemical substances that can poison employees working in
the chemical industry, “consumers” and thus, the public at large, and of
course the environment.(2)
The risks posed by some of the
substances and certain production processes are considerable indeed. It
is not only when large accidents occur, as in Seveso or Toulouse, that
these risks cease to be merely potential and become real. The long-term
combined effects of largely unregulated chemical industry driven merely
by market forces and thus, the profit motive, can be compared with
the effects of the Chernobyl disaster in certain respects. Experts still
know very little about the long-term effects of many new chemical substances.
Sometimes, new substance meant to replace dangerous and legally forbidden
substances may turn out to be more dangerous than those they replace. Also,
we know too little about the effects of the interaction between chemical
substances on human health, animal health, soils, air and water.
If it is strange indeed for any
one who has the public interest at heart that the European Commission,
on behalf of and due to pressure exerted by MNCs active in the chemical
industry, diluted the provisions of REACH as formulated already,
it cannot surprise those who eye with suspicion the strong presence of
lobbyists in contact with European institution who have their headquarters
or main official location in Brussel.
There are those critics today
who, perhaps somewhat polemically, speak of the European Union as an expression
of corporate “feudalism”; for it is in fact the voice of MNCs or big business
that seems to be heard, most of all. And it is this voice that seems to
exert the deepest influence on many political decisions and the main directions
of general policies pursued by the Commission and national governments.
The general defense of this is the well-known, but rather inane saying
that “there is no alternative” to doing the bidding of capitalists because,
otherwise, “they might invest elsewhere.” Which is of course nonsense because
they want to do business here, in Europe.
The neo-liberal deregulation
trend has many nasty consequences for the public. Not only does too close
a link between politicians and big business further graft and corruption,
in its open and more veiled forms, such as “revolving door” practices (politicians
and high-ranking public servants “helpful” to corporations are switching
to top managerial positions, then, in certain cases, back to public office).
Something of the sort could
be observed, for instance, in a few high-profile cases of high-ranking
CDU, SPD and Green politicians in Germany. In these cases, the benefitting
politicians were awarded highly lucrative jobs after their term in office
Related to this is the profiting
of politicians due to veiled insider trading or due to special VIP fonds
to which important politicians are invited and which guarantee high returns
while possible losses are shifted to the public. (In the case of the publicly-owned
Berliner Landesbank and an affiliated company active in the property sector,
politicians of two major parties seem to have profited from such a deal.)
There are lesser and more serious
forms of complicity between business and top politicians holding such positions
as may be potentially useful to their “sponsors”. Illegal and legal donations
by big business that help finance election campaigns are a case in
point. Kickbacks paid out to political parties or personally profiting
politicians have been noted again and again: especially in the case of
the property sector when companies are coveting public contracts. And in
the case of arms-makers. According to some newspaper reports, undue links
between politicians and/or spouses of politicians may have existed in the
case of the “Stuttgart 21” project which was ‘sold’ initially to the population
by its champions and the dominant media as a public rail infrastructure
project and which then turned out to be above all an urban renewal project
offering a lucrative chance to drive up the ground rent of future prime
downtown sites that are as yet occupied by railroad tracks and some 300
trees of a public park that has become a nuisance to aspiring investors.
The entire project, favored by CDU and FDP politicians in Germany, would
be heavily subsidized by the public (as a supposed public infrastructure
process) while making considerable private gain possible.
Of course, if the examples given
relate to the German context, this does not mean that the situation is
worse in Germany than, for instance, in France or Italy. It merely is characteristic
of the ties that bind the top echelons, on the national level (and sometimes
also the top regional echelons) of the classe politique to private business.
Sometimes in dubious if not clearly illegal ways: it is enough to
think of the Thyssen-Schreiber case which implicitly touched the role of
Kohl and Schaeuble. And sometimes in ways considered (strangely enough)
entirely legal. For instance when the prime minister of Hesse quits and
is awarded a well-paid position by the construction firm which previously
was awarded the important and highly lucrative contract for the expansion
of Frankfurt/Main International Airport. For we must not forget that the
airport corporation is a corporation which counts the state of Hesse among
its most important shareholders: this placed the prime minister of Hesse
quite obviously in an influential position.
The press has revealed some time
ago that in the case of the reform of the public health sector that is
pursued in Germany by the conservatives presently in power, “Big Pharma”
had its people working inside the respective department of the Federal
Government. And practically, we may assume, “Big Pharma” was thus writing
the law to be introduced in parliament for approval by the CDU/CSU-FDP
majority. In Germany, a high-ranking member of the government had the crust
to publicly say that the government needed their expertise.
In the U.S., health reform,
in the compromised form that finally found approval in Congress, will not
only profit some of those who were still, sadly enough, without health
insurance. “Big Pharma” stands to profit a lot. And a Democratic senator
from South Dakota who had previously deserved our respect because of his
anti-war position, was discovered to be pretty close to “Big Pharma” lobbyism.
One of the nice characteristics
of our increasingly post-democratic representative democracy is that, in
Germany, for instance, members of parliament may be handed, by the majority
whip, the text of a act comprising, say, 200 pages, an hour before they
are expected to vote on it. Discipline is expected. Disloyalty is punished.
Dissenters within a party may well expect not to be nominated again when
the next elections are due. After all party bosses know how to pull the
Corporations are keen to influence
the composition of both the majority and the opposition by giving all kinds
of material and other support to promising candidates. This is true in
all Western countries. In Germany, the case of former chancellor Helmut
Kohl may not be atypical. He was an employee of the BASF chemical giant
and was “encouraged,” we could read in the press, by his employer to pursue
a political career. Like other politicians of the “business-friendly” CDU,
he was involved in a notorious scandal related to “black” money handed
over to his party. From the times of the Flick scandal to the Schreiber
scandal, nothing seems to have changed. The mildly left-leaning SPD notoriously
got less financial help as a rule, but when the Kohl government was utterly
discredited and German industry must have feared a landslide SPD/Green
Party victory, more money than usual may have been made available to the
SPD. We may assume that it secured the influence of donors. The situation
is probably comparable to the situation in the U.S. where, as a rule, the
Republican Party gets more financial support from big business than the
Democratic Party (though there may be exceptional cases). Still, big business
and its mid-sized cousins always bet on two horses, and no matter which
horse wins, they always come in first.
In the U.S., the catastrophic
pollution of parts of the sea and of the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi,
Alabama and West Florida coast of the Gulf of Mexico, due to what some
consider criminal neglect by BP, also sheds light on relations between
big business, in this case, “Big Oil” and the Federal Government as well
as state governments.
The main reason for this castrophic
event (which led to the avoidable death of BP-employed workers, to the
death of innumerable birds and fish,as well as the long-term pollution
of the sea by oil and, worse even, chemical additives) was thirst for maximum
profits on the part of BP’s management and shareholders. BP was “saving”
about half a million dollars when it decided that a certain item adding
to the safety of the operation on this ‘platform’ wasn’t necessary, after
all. It probably was considered unnecessary on other ‘platforms’ as well.
The accident that took lives and wiped out the livelihood of thousands
of ordinary Americans, from motel and restaurant owners along the coast
to fishermen unable suddenly to market poisoned fish, would have been avoided
if BP had invested half a million more in that particular operation and
if it had thus taken proper precautions. Instead reports about sex and
drug parties in the office of the Department of the Interior charged with
oversight of BP’s operations seem to indicate that “Big Oil” knows how
to bribe those whom we, the people, expect to check and thus make sure
that the relevant laws (and the safety regulations thereby prescribed)
are in fact respected.
Now, after the sad event occured,
the Federal Government shows itself prepared to let deep-sea oil exploration
and production in the Gulf go on without first undertaking the checks concerning
the actual safety of every drilling operation that the Obama administration
had initially announced as a necessary measure it would undertake before
giving the go ahead signal to the oil companies (including BP) that are
active within the U.S. economic zone that extends far into the Gulf of
Promises of government leaders
given to us, the people, are not worth much when sufficient pressure by
big business is exerted.
Another case in point is popular
opposition in the state of New York to chemical “fracking,” in the context
of new exploration for gas that is considered by many as a plausible alternative
to coal as an energy source. Chemical “fracking” risks polluting ground
water, thus posing a severe hazard to the health of populations affected
in the region where it is applied. The legislative assembly of the state
of New York passed a state law that reflected majority opinion in this
regard. But the pro-business governor of the state, giving in to industry
pressure in favor of “fracking,” vetoed the law.
Let’s come back to the
German case. Much popular resistance has been put up in the Ruhr District
against a CO pipeline favored by BAYER, a chemical industry giant. Elsewhere
in Germany, people resist the storage of vast amounts of CO in caverns
and salt mines etc. that are found in their region.
It seems unlikely at the moment
that the people will win. The CO pipeline would cross densely populated
areas. Every leak would mean the death of thousands of citizens. There
are few hospitals in the region that are specializing in the treatment
of CO poisoning and they have at most sufficient capacity for the treatment
of about a dozen patients suffering from such poisoning. Incidentally,
the pipeline runs through areas heavily bombed in WWII and it is a well-known
fact that again and again, in this district, during ordinary construction
work, bombs are unearthed. The law prescribes that the route of the pipeline
should have been checked for bombs that may still explode. It has not happened.
It is in fact a scandal that
the pipeline is already under construction. As so often, quite a few people
became only aware of it when the work crews appeared in their backyard.
Planning regulations typically foresee that citizens can object to plans
during a certain period ahead of construction. But reports in the press
often are lacking, so citizens are usually surprised by a fait accompli.
If they get wind of the project in time, despite the factual secrecy of
planners who hide the announcement in small print in some official bulletin
no one sees, they have to take a day off from work in order to check planning
papers in city hall between, say 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.. Usually, they may not
obtain photocopies. The planning papers may comprise two or three thick
folders containing hundreds of pages in legal and technical jargon that
many citizens don’t easily understand. If they do and want to file their
opposition, they can’t do it online or by letter but have to appear at
a public hearing. This takes place, again, during working hours, so they
have to take another day off. There, experts and company people and local
as well as regional public servants (or politicians) will offer the intimidating
sight of a phalanx in favor of the project which has long since been okayed
behind the scenes, before any public hearings take place and before the
project can legally take off. In other words, citizen’ participation in
planning processes is largely a farce.
The illegal construction of a
coal burning power plant, in violation of an existing master plan
and planning regulations that form part thereof, has caused citizens’ opposition
in the city of Datteln (Germany). The corporation nevertheless is proceeding
with illegal construction, and this despite a court order, it seems. Apparently
it has been pressuring the outgoing CDU/FDP state government and the city
administration of Datteln, demanding a revision of the plan so as to make
illegal construction legal because some 750 million Euros have been already
invested illegally. The apparent reason for the selection of the illegal
site is that the legal site foreseen by the present master plan would not
be quite as close to a barge canal, making it necessary to transport coal
to the plant from the canal via a conveyor belt. The choice of the actual
illegal site has moved the plant unreasonably close to an existing residential
neighborhood but in this way, the extra-cost of transporting the coal via
conveyor-belt can be eliminated. Profit motive against human health and
well-being: it’s the old, familiar opposition. More recently, a new state
government, formed by largely pro-industry Social Democrats and the Green
Party, has to deal with the problem. They are strangely quiet about it
and seem to hope that the city administration will revise the master plan
and thus legalize what was constructed illegally. In an interview broadcast
by public radio, the new boss of the Department for the Protection of the
Ecology, a member of the Green Party, was asked about the Datteln plant,
especially because coal is such an outmoded and anti-ecological source
of energy, and also because the citizen protest in Datteln gets much popular
support, not only in that city. He was rather wishy-washy, thinking probably
above all about his career. Even a “Minister” (as they call the secretary
of a department of a state government or the federal government in Germany)
can ruin his career if he doesn’t dance to the tune prescribed by those
powerful big shots within the classe politique who entertain close relations
to “the private sector,” especially to big business.
The most scandalous collusion
that recently took place between the private sector and government in Germany,
apart from the decision to spend billions of Euros in order to save the
speculation-prone banking sector from its self-inflicted pain, is the deal
reached with a small number of major utilities operating nuclear power
plants in Germany.
The deal ignores rejection,
by about 70 per cent of the population, of continued and prolonged operation
of nuclear power plants. The present deal also overrides a deal reached
by the previous SPD/Green government with nuclear power plant operators
to shut down plants after an agreed-upon number of years. The public overwhelmingly
supports this previous compromise.
The new deal (dictated, it seems,
by nuclear industry to the Merkel government) is extremely profitable to
nuclear power plant operating corporations. Many plants are practically
written-off in the books. Prolonged operation means extra profits. The
public, largely, shoulders the risks and the cost of looking after nuclear
wastes; that is, it is burdened with the unsolved storage problems. Simultaneouly,
as the new, extremely profitable deal went through, reports appeared in
the papers that at the Asse storage site for medium-level radioactive waste,
leaking barrels have to be evacuating from a salt mine finally found unfit
for storage of nuclear material. At great risk to work crews and at a cost
of several billion Euros, a large quantity of nuclear material has to be
taken from the mine. Radioactive water is taken from the mine in containers
and dumped in other discarded salt mines in Northern Germany, despite a
globally accepted rule that taboos diluting nuclear wastes. Ground water
will be affected in all likelihood. In the Asse area the regional public
health authorities have measured unusual and atypical high cancer rates.
Politicians see no connection with the intrusion of water in the Asse salt
mine and rotting containers filled with nuclear wastes that were dumped
in that mine, in quantities not even properly recorded.
The typical sound track of public
officials is predictable. “There exists no danger to the public.”
More recently, this could be
heard again in the context of another German dioxine scandal. A company
producing fat-enriched ingredients for other producers who make and sell
chicken feed to chicken (and, more generally) poultry farms, aquired industrial,
dioxine polluted oil and mixed it with fat obtained from the stockyards.
In the end, 3,000 tons of dioxine-rich fat were mixed by producers further
down the line with 150,000 tons of other ingredients that ended up as chicken
feed, or food for pigs, cows, etc. As a result, dioxine levels up to 78
times above what is set as a legal limit by the European Commission have
now been found.
These things happen again and
again, not only in Germany.
When the public learns about
it, it is described as a sad, exceptional case.
In this case, politicians and
public health official told the population once again that there is no
reason for concern and no risk involved.
Farms were closed and temporarily
barred from selling eggs, chicken, and turkeys. But the laboratory that
found dioxine levels far above what is the legal maximum, according to
EU-wide standards, did not warn authorities. A year or so passed and then,
suddenly, the company involved informed the authorities when it apparently
could no longer avoid it, seemingly intent to make the whole thing look
like an accidental mishap. And finally, the authorities, at least in one
state, were rather slow in acting, as if they wanted to see most affected
products (that were already on the shelves) to be sold before headlines
about the new dioxine scandal appeared in the papers.
Now eggs produced on the premises
of chicken farms are finally tested. And now, after some time has already
elapsed since the dioxine-poisoned chicken feed was last used by farmers
feeding their animals, the maximum levels of dioxine allowed in eggs
perhaps will not be reached any more.
The government said initially
that they would try to reach an agreement with farmers not to sell eggs
with dioxine levels slightly below what is legally permissible according
to the European Commission, which is notoriously pro-industry and all but
strict when it comes to setting stringent maximum levels. We also must
keep in mind that in the case of dioxine, setting certain limits makes
no sense. The slightest bit of this cancer-causing substance is too much;
the body stores it for good during a life time and adds little bit to little
At any rate, now, after some
time has passed and some public excitement waned, the farmers are paying
for tests and freely selling eggs and poultry with dioxine levels that
should worry us but that are still considered admissible by the EU.
The media hardly take note that
dioxine-enriched fatty fodder has been marketed to farms all over Germany,
as well as abroad and has been consumed not only by chicken and turkeys
but by pigs, as well. And even by cows and thus, animals that should not
be fed with substances stemming from carcasses of slaughtered animals,
in the wake of the BSE crisis.
It is naïve to assume that
what went wrong was a mishap, or a rare and exceptional criminal act by
a culprit who is not a typical embodiment of today’s “industrialized” food
production. The profit motive, and competition, thus the market, are the
decisive factors. Talk about “an exception” is aimed at a public that politicians
and business want to convince that it must not refrain from buying these
questionable products because such a strike or boycott would be bad for
business. In view of the turn-over of the industry that would be affected,
public health is a quantité negligable. It is quite clear why companies
like the one now making the headlines mix dangerous, dioxine-polluted industrial
oil and fat obtained from the discarded, commercially less valuable parts
of slaughtered animals. They don’t pay, normally, for polluted industrial
oil that they obtain. They get paid for finding a way to make highly dangerous
wastes “disappear” in what is apparently thought of as an elegant fashion.
Some time ago a killer fed the pieces of the body of his victim to pigs.
And he also must have thought that this was a very clever way. In Belgium,
just a few years ago, a producer of fodder for pigs mixed discarded oil
from a garage into nourishment destined for the animals that were in turn
destined to be consumed by people. The old, discarded oil was polluted
by dioxine, as well. After some time had elapsed, an accidental test of
meat sold in a supermarket led to the discovery of the scandal.
Not quite in line with the present
dioxine scandal, a renowned wholesaler of meat-products from the Bordeaux
region was discovered some time ago to take back meat to be consumed before
such and such a date, after that date had expired. The meat was put into
basins containing a cancer-causing fluid, to make it look red and fresh
again. It was then packed again, with a new expiration date, and returned
to the supermarkets.
In Germany consumers contacted
the public health authorities because roastbeef they bought in several
supermarkets in the area smelled so bad that even their pets (cats,
dogs) wouldn’t eat it. The authorities would not test the meat handed over
to them. They visited the supermarkets, following the complaint, and forced
them to add the information, on the packaging label, that this meat had
been treated with O²: a recently developed process that lets rancid
meat look red and fresh. Customer protection, in deed! The more critical
observers among the public, by the way, seem to have the impression that
visits by inspectors are not unannounced surprise visits, that such visits
occur very infrequently, and that the main accent is placed on “not hurting
In Germany, entrepreneurs in
the chicken feed, fodder, and livestock “industry” as well as stockyards
and meat packing plants run a statistical risk of being inspected once
every twenty-two years.
A prosecuting attorney from Lower
Saxony (Northern Germany) who had obtained information on an important
but seemingly rather suspicion private stockyard operator and meat packer
in North Rhine Westphalia alerted colleagues in a Ruhr District city so
they might take up the case because the colleagues in the district of the
meat packer were rumored to entertain good relations with the company boss.
It is not unlikely that the political contacts of the company boss were
decisive in hurting the career of this “overly” concerned public attorney.
His intervention at least came to naught.(4)
The meat packer in question made headlines again when he relied on so-called
subcontractors who employed Romanian immigrant laborers as butchers. These
immigrant workers were paid scandalous wages and provided with just as
On the other hand, some customers
of the products that were sold by supermarkets were under the impression
that parts of slaughtered animals that were not sold to humans some years
ago, were now included in packaged meat, even of the high-quality and expensive
It is pointless to take such
meat samples and show them to public inspectors. You have to travel to
the county seat and then, the inspectors tell you that the meat,
expensive roastbeef, for instance, is indeed smelly and doesn’t look good,
but “there is no risk involved” if you consume it.
No action is taken against the
supermarket or the wholesaler. It seems that the samples brought and left
in the office are not tested. At least, as a consumer, in all likelihood
you will get no feed-back. You are free to test a piece of rotten meat
bought at a price of 20 Euros per kilo or more, at a private laboratory.
It will cost you perhaps 600 Euros. If harmful substances are found, or
if too many bacteria per kilo are found, or the lacking freshness of the
product that makes it unfit for consumption is ascertained, it will be
difficult to prove that this piece of meat was in such a bad condition
at the moment you bought it. It will be difficult to convince an inspector
to obtain and immediately test another piece of meat. He may phone the
company that he is coming, which will enable the supermarket to remove
dated meat from the shelves. Should rotten meat be found, the penalty is
so ridiculous that it will keep no one in the industry from putting questionable
products on the shelves. If you prefer to buy meat from your local butcher,
the chance to obtain meat that is reasonably fresh is even slighter than
at big supermarkets. This is so because turnover is slower and because
meat lacking in quality, due to much too long refrigerated storage,
is delivered by wholesalers.
The main critique we must level
at the public authorities is of course that they usually don’t take action.
And that, if action would be taken, it would probably be no more than a
ridiculous sum to be paid, for instance, because of insufficient refrigeration.
The really dangerous flaws are
not discovered because they involve costly tests in a laboratory, and the
city is short of money nowadays, anyway.
The policy of the European Commission,
in line with its pro-industry stance, has carried deregulation so far that
public control has been effectively dismantled. Industry is expected to
control itelf. That is like expecting the mafia to police itself. If the
EU sets admissable dioxine levels in chicken feed, in fodder, in eggs,
poultry, meat, milk etc., the temptation exists, to mix, for the good of
your profit, as much dioxine into your feed or fodder as will allow you
to remain just under the limit.
Chicken feed and fodder producers
with sufficient criminal energy become in fact, at the same time, disposers
of hazardous wastes, and such “waste management” can be a lucrative business.
What happened in Germany and
what became public in the case of the present “dioxine scandal” is hardly
a surprise and it is more than likely that the culprit discovered now is
not an exemption but was doing what others do, as well. Others who perhaps
remain below the legal limit for dioxine because they or their customers
mix less dioxine-polluted oil into their commodities, thus achieving a
dilution deemed “tolerable” by the authorities. But nevertheless, it is
scandalous that a producer of such products as we talk about here
buys industrial oils and operates equipment that allows mixing. And the
excuse given now that a worker accidentally opened the wrong valve, simply
highlights the fact that different valves for different containers or vessels
with different substances, among them a dioxine-polluted industrial oil,
were in place and that all substances could reach the product destined
for consumption by animals that will end up as human food. The media told
us that this has been going on for years. No one can be surprised. No one
should expect that the practice, exposed though it is, every now and then,
will be stopped. What we see, each time a scandal is exposed, is
always the same politically professed trust in the self-regulatory qualities
of industry, a political choice which mixes strangely with the facts of
life, with competition, the hunger for profit, the lack of personnel and
resources of public departments that should, in theory, conduct surprise
visits and control an industry the actions of which again and again affect
public health in a negative way.
It is clear that we are told
a lie when we are told there is no risk involved.
We are told a lie when we are
told that what happened is a mere exception in an otherwise healthy and
sane industry. In Italy, they mixed shredded plastics into mozarella cheese.
In China they mixed, repeatedly, a dangerous cancerogenous chemical into
milk and milk powder, into animal food, etc. The milk products, consumed
locally, caused the death of babies. Products were also sold abroad. In
the United States, hormones are customarily fed to cattle; it makes for
good, tasty beefsteaks, and cancer in humans, on top of it. No crime of
this sort is impossible when the market and the compulsion to attain maximum
profits are unchecked.
In the European Union, just as
in the United States, or in many present-day “developing” countries, we
should not be surprised when we, the disempowered populace, find ourselves
betrayed by a classe politique that, with few exceptions, is more concerned
about the well-being of big business and generally, private enterprise
(with the noteworthy exception of the politically despised pop-and-mum
store, the small family farm, the artisan’s workhop) than they are about
the health and well-being of the people.
Perhaps it is up to us to say,
“Yes, we can change that”: for change is possible if we open our eyes,
recognize problems, engage in deliberation and then decide and act, as
(1) In France, public housing is known
as HLM (habitation à loyer modéré). In the banlieues,
has largely been neglected, offering a depressing sight.
In Germany, public housing existed mainly
in the form of Gemeinnuetzige Wohnungsbaugesellschaften. Following the
example set by the US, Germany has “liquidated” much of the public housing
(2) Since June 2007, the European Community
Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (for short, REACH ) is applied.
The website of the European Commission notes that “[t]he aim of REACH
is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through
the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical
substances.” The debate about REACH was controversial from the beginning,
as chemical industry was opposed to ‘too much’ oversight and environmentalists
saw REACH as defective and said that regulators were caving in to
industry lobbyists. The European Commission website explicitly states that
REACH not only intents to protect human health and the environment but
at “the same time, REACH aims to enhance innovation and competitiveness
of the EU chemicals industry. […]”
(See: European Commission (ed.), “REACH”,
The German environmentalist organization BUND
notes that previous legal provisions (up to June 1, 2007) stipulated that
only chemicals introduced on the market since 1981 must be tested for their
potentially hamful effects. Most of the approximately 100,000 different
chemicals used in the European Union were never tested. Many are suspected
to cause cancer, to damage genes or to affect the hormonal system.Industry
was compelled to give information on 30,000 substances. By the end of 2010,
two thirds of the “dossiers” that industry was bound to supply were
found to be incomplete. Substances delivered to the market in quantities
of less than 1,000 metric tons per annum were not subject to supervision
at all.” Insofar, REACH was seen as a step in the right direction.
The carefully worded statement of BUND avoided harsh explicit criticism
but the figures given with regard to incomplete “dossiers” are causing
grave concern. At the same, disregard for “low levels” of highly toxic
substances is not condoned by BUND.
(See: BUND, „REACH: Das neue Chemikaliengesetz
für Europa“, in: http://www.bund.net/themen_und_projekte/chemie/reach/
The position of the European Commission is
that continued use of many toxic chemicals is sometimes justified because
“at very low levels they are not a concern to health.”
(See: “REACH”, in: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registration,_Evaluation,_Authorisation_and
The BUND environmentalist group seem to disagree.
They note for instance that BISPHENOL A, which damages the hormonal system,
is highly dangerous even in small quantities. Until June 1, 2011
it was used legally in plastic bottles needed to feed babies. Listing it
as a substance that must not be present in such bottles was mainly due
to prolonged intervention by organizations such as BUND. But the substance
is still found in dust both in apartments and kindergartens. The minister
for the environment in Germany has so far refused to take action , according
(See BUND, „Schreiben Sie Bundestagsabgeordneten:
'eine Zukunft ohne Gift einsetzen!“,
In Britain, according to a BBC report, “[n]early
a third of […] food and drink, including fruit and vegetables, contains
pesticide”, as a government advisory body, the Pesticide Residues
Committee, is compelled to admit. “The committee said the levels
were not a health concern” - a typical placebo statement that environmentalists
and food watch groups disagree with. According to the same BBC report,
the British Pesticide Residues Committee actually found more food
containing amounts of pesticides that exceeded “legal limits “ in
the year reviewed than in the preceding year. And “[o]f the 166 samples
tested which were destined for school children, 132 contained chemical
traces at or below the maximum permitted levels.”
(See: BBC, “Pesticides 'in a third of foods'
In the US, an environmentalist group, SURVIVE2THRIVE,
published European findings that document the presence of pesticides in
food. Of ”[m]ore than 700 apple samples [that] were tested [...],
98% […] contained traces of pesticides and 92% contained at least 2 different
types of pesticide. Along with peaches, apples are one of the most highly
pesticide treated fruits, with not less than 56 different chemical substances
being employed.” “96% of the celery samples tested positive for pesticides
and nearly 90% contained a number of different types of pesticide.” “On
one sample of grapes imported from the US, 14 different pesticides were
detected” and “a study of European non-organic grapes showed that 99.2%
of the samples were contaminated with pesticides.”“85.6% of the tested
peaches contained traces of at least two different types of pesticide.”
With their thin skins, peaches are more receptive to absorbing pesticides.”
“On a single sample of strawberries, some 13 different types of pesticides
were detected.” “During this [same] study, one sample of peppers contained
more than 13 different chemical substances. During the European study,
the pepper shone as the vegetable containing the highest number of pesticide
traces – 21 in total. […] [R]ed and yellow peppers” contained higher
amounts than green peppers as they have “more exposure time to the pesticides.”
“Like all vegetables that grow directly in the earth, potatoes are more
exposed to pesticides than […] [many] above ground vegetables. […]
[T]heir skin is so thin, that they easily absorb a number of pesticides
and fungicides. According to the […] study, 91.4% of potatoes contained
(See: “FDA Establishes Foodborne Illness Outbreak
Response Network”, in: Survive 2 thrive, September 14, 2011 http://www.survive2thrive.net/category/food_watch/page/2/)
A discussion site of another watch-dog group
emphasizes that link between health as well as environmental hazards and
fertilizers: “The recycling of hazardous industrial wastes into fertilizers
introduces several dozen toxic metals and chemicals into the nation’s farm,
lawn and garden soils, including such well-known toxic substances as lead
and mercury. […]
Between 1990 and 1995, 600 companies from
44 different states sent 270 million pounds of toxic waste to farms and
fertilizer companies across the country. The steel industry provided 30%
of this waste. Used for its high levels of zinc, which is an essential
nutrient for plant growth, steel industry wastes can include lead, arsenic,
cadmium, chromium, nickel and dioxin, among other toxic substances. […]
CALPIRG […] tested 29 fertilizers from 12
states for 22 toxic metals. This report documents the results […]
Twenty-nine tested fertilizers contained twenty-two
toxic heavy metals. These metals are linked to either ecological or human
health hazards. Twenty fertilizers tested higher than levels of concern.
[…] The metals found in these fertilizers are known or suspected carcinogens,
reproductive and developmental, liver, and blood toxicants. For example,
beryllium is a suspected carcinogen, chromium and arsenic are known to
cause cancer and barium can cause kidney and lung damage. Children are
most susceptible to the toxic effects […]”
(See: Billings Bees, “The End of Food", in:
THE TOXIDITY & HEAVY METALS WATCHGROUP’s discussion site of I
DIG MY GARDEN,
(3) According to a member of the German
parliament, Baerbel Hoehn (Green Party), we have to ask ourselves whether
the authorities on the county level (Kreisebene) that should carry
out inspections are sufficiently qualified. (“Dioxin-Futter in acht Bundeslaendern“,
in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 6, 2011, p.1) Is this view
typical of the determination of many top-ranking members of the Green Party
not to alienate small and big business?
Other critics think that insufficient controls
are not caused by insufficient qualifications. The impression prevails
that people in charge of inspection teams take great care “not to
hurt business:” And they seem to know instinctively that a different course
of action would be detrimental to their careers, as higher echolons in
the public service and especially state governments seem to expect exacly
such a policy of “not rocking the boat.” Of course, a local head of an
inspection team is also in trouble when a big scandal explodes because
food poisoining has been going on for years, and there has been no inspection
at all. In this case, it is however easy to emphasize a “lack of qualified
personnel.” The fact that Germany employs one inpector for every
1,200 firms in the food processing sector that must be inspected is really
a scandal. It is a clear expression of the pro-business stance advocated
by all German governments (whether Conservative or not) and especially
by the European Commission.
(4) In this case, the suspicion remains that
a “whistleblower” revoked his testimony, perhaps involuntarily. Generally
speaking, an industry customarily referred to by critics as the “meat mafia”
is known for rude methods. In Bavaria, inspectors have been threatened,
the press reported. If threats or bodily harm proves ineffective, payments
made “under the table” may prove more effective. Too much is at stake,
turnover and the money involved are considerable, and still the meat sector
is plagued by overproduction, high output of meat-packing plants and the
need to store output longer than is good for the quality of meat that reaches
the shelves. Since the “BSE crisis”, many customers have turned their back
on meat. Sagging real wages and the reduction of the number of workers
holding regular jobs have added to the problem of overproduction, while
prices of meat are kept at levels too high for many consumers.
Interestingly, in the wake of many “food scandals”,
Green party functionaries like Baerbel Hoehn tell consumers that they share
a responsibility for the unacceptable situation because mass-produced meat,
eggs, vegetables etc. are "really too cheap." Obviously, to recommend high-end
products is no solution for millions of unemployed people and for the working
poor. And on top of it we kid ourselves if we think that expensive products
are not subject to malpractice.
Occupy Wall Street
We Are Change
decentralized solidarity movements
Occupy Wall Street protests
Z Communications AND Z mag
of the U.S. Left", in: Z Communications
Occupy Wall Street Entreaty &
Spanish Anarchists Interview
(Z Communications, Sept.2011)
Local to global.org
Schneider, "From Occupy
Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere"
(The Nation, Oct. 31, 2011)
GERMAN LANGUAGE SITES
of the world, rise up"
Aufruf von K21 zur Demo am 15.Okt.
Echte Demokratie jetzt
Echte Demokratie jetzt
Aufruf zur Demo
am 15. Okt.
zur Demo am 15.Okt.2011
15 October Net
Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen
Die Gruenen [Green Party, Germany]
Demo am 15.Okt
Die Linke (Left Party, Germany)
DIE LINKE unterstützt die weltweiten
Proteste gegen die Diktatur der Finanzmaerkte und für mehr Demokratie
We Are Change Austria
We Are Change - CH
IN ENGLISH (ON SPAIN)
Democracy real YA!
Democracia real YA!
'Indignant' Protests Heat Up Election Campaign"
(IPS news net, Oct.4,2011)
Demonstrators Marching to
Brussels to Protest Effects
of Crisis" (IPS news net, July 30, 2011)
Drago, "Spain: Streets Paved
with Evicted Families" (IPS, Oct.7, 2011)
GREEK SITES (HELLAS)
the general strike (Oct.19-20,2011)
on the general strike
Athens (Greece) indymedia
POESY'S CALL TO JOIN
THE GENERAL STRIKE
Argyros on the general strike
Real.gr, Oct.20, 2011)
Students in Chile are protesting against
the privatization of higher education that took place
under Pinochet, and against the underfinanced
public education system
net, Oct.20, 2011)
Al Ahram Weekly
Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite"
Azouz, Egypt govt mulls
raising workers' incentives
in bid to thwart labor strikes
Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"
Speech before U.S. Congress, March 31, 2011
(The Nation; April 4, 2011)
Hayden, "The Defunding
of the Peace Movement"
Not in our name
US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"
Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace
ECOLOGIST AND FOOD-WATCH SITES
I DIG MY GARDEN
SURVIVE 2 THRIVE
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