Carmen Lorraine / Hans Hollaender / Thomas C. Rawlings


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 prevail.

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 expired. 
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 strings. 
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 Mexico.
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 bit.

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 business.”(3)

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 scandalous accommodation. 
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 kind. 

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 concerned citizens.


(1)  In France, public housing is known as HLM (habitation à loyer modéré). In the banlieues, it 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 stock.

(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”, in:

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: )

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,_Evaluation,_Authorisation_and
_Restriction_of_Chemicals )

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 to BUND.
(See BUND, „Schreiben Sie Bundestagsabgeordneten: für 
'eine Zukunft ohne Gift einsetzen!“, 
in: )

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 pesticide traces.” 
(See: “FDA Establishes Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Network”, in: Survive 2 thrive,  September 14, 2011

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!/OccupyYoutube

We Are Change

Chomskyon decentralized solidarity movements

Noam Chomskyon Occupy Wall Street protests 

Z Communications  AND Z mag

M.Albert/Wilpert, "The State 
of the U.S. Left", in: Z Communications (backup copy)

Michael Albert,
Occupy Wall Street Entreaty &
Spanish Anarchists Interview 
(Z Communications, Sept.2011)
[backup copy]

Left Forum

Local to

Nathan Schneider, "From Occupy 
Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere"
(The Nation, Oct. 31, 2011)


Deutschsprachige Web-Seiten


K21 (Stuttgart)

backup copy

"people of the world, rise up"
Aufruf von K21 zur Demo am 15.Okt.
(backup copy)

Echte Demokratie jetzt

Echte Demokratie jetzt
Aufruf zur Demo am 15. Okt.

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Attac Deutschland

attac Aufruf zur Demo am 15.Okt.2011

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Occupy Frankfurt

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15 October Net

Aufruf (backup copy)

Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen

Die Gruenen [Green Party, Germany] 
zur Demo am 15.Okt

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Die Linke (Left Party, Germany)

DIE LINKE unterstützt die weltweiten Proteste gegen die Diktatur der Finanzmaerkte und für mehr Demokratie backup copy


We Are Change Austria



We Are Change - CH


Democracy real YA!

Manifesto of Democracia real YA!

backup  copy

Inés Benítez, "Spain:
'Indignant' Protests Heat Up Election Campaign" (IPS news net, Oct.4,2011)

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Tito Drago,"'Indignant' 
Demonstrators Marching to 
Brussels to Protest Effects 
of Crisis" (IPS news net, July 30, 2011) 

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Tito Drago, "Spain: Streets Paved 
with Evicted Families" (IPS, Oct.7, 2011)

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To VIMAon the general strike (Oct.19-20,2011)

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ELEFTHEROTYPIA on the general strike 

Athens (Greece) indymedia

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Mavroulis Argyros on the general strike 
(in:, Oct.20, 2011)

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Students in Chile are protesting against the privatization of higher education that took place
under Pinochet, and against the underfinanced public education system
(xinhua net, Oct.20, 2011)

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Al Ahram Weekly

Galal Nassar, "The Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite" 

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Mohamed Azouz, Egypt govt mulls 
raising workers' incentives in bid to thwart labor strikes 

Ahmad Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"

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The Nation

Kucinich, Speech before U.S. Congress, March 31, 2011
(The Nation; April 4, 2011)

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Tom Hayden, "The Defunding 
of the Peace Movement" 

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Not in our name

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disarm now

"Former US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"

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Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace Coalition)






Support Julian Assange

Forum Social Mundial
Retos anticapitalistas

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                                                                                                 go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue  # 7