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Poisoning Peruvian kids

(Friday, Sept. 06, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The following items come courtesy of the Agribusiness Examiner.


    CBG NETWORK: Following a nine-month investigation, a Peruvian Congressional Subcommittee has issued its final report on the poisoning deaths by the organophosphate pesticide methyl parathion of 24 children in the remote village of Tauccamarca in October 1999.

    The Subcommittee concluded that there is significant evidence of administrative and criminal responsibility on the part of Ministry of Agriculture, and of criminal responsibility on the part of the agrochemical company Bayer. Headquartered in Germany, Bayer has been a principle Peruvian importer and distributor of both methyl and ethyl parathion.

    The report recommends that the government and Bayer indemnify the families of the dead children. The Commission was formed in response to an appeal made by the parents of the deceased children and of eighteen other children who were also poisoned but survived.

    Initial medical analysis indicates that several of these children will suffer significant long-term health and developmental problems as a result of the poisoning. Bayer widely promoted its methyl parathion formulation, know as "Folidol," throughout Peru, targeting its marketing on use in Andean crops cultivated primarily by small farmers, the great majority of whom speak Quechua only and are illiterate.

    Bayer packaged Folidol, a white powder that resembles powdered milk and has no strong chemical odor, in small plastic bags, labeled in Spanish and displaying a picture of vegetables. The labels provided no understandable safety information, such as pictograms, for the majority of users in these remote villages, and little indication of the danger of the product.

    The families had previously brought suit against Bayer asserting that the company should have taken steps to prevent the foreseeable misuse of this extremely toxic product, given the severe health risks presented by methyl parathion and the well known socio-economic conditions in the Peruvian countryside.

    The suit seeks justice for the children that perished, guarantees of medical monitoring for the surviving children, and regulatory reforms to prevent future tragedies. It also names the Ministry of Agriculture for failure to enforce pesticide regulations: uncontrolled sales of "restricted use" pesticides including parathion are common throughout Peru.

    The suit was filed on October 22, 2001. In a uncharacteristically fast judicial turnaround, two days later the judge of the Superior Court of Lima issued a resolution finding the case inadmissible on procedural grounds, and concluding summarily and illegally --- that the plaintiffs had not adequately made out the underlying substantive case.

    Under Peruvian law, in the initial stage of litigation the judge is authorized only to review the completeness of the filing papers, and may not decide substantive matters of law. The families successfully appealed the resolution, and are currently waiting for a hearing date to be set for later this year.

    The efforts of the Tauccamarca families and allied Peruvian nongovernmental organizations have been backed by a wave of public support over the poisonings, and have won important regulatory changes. On February 18, 2002, the Peruvian National Agrarian Health Service issued a resolution (RJ 039 2002) suspending the imports of all pesticides classified by the World Health Organization as Ia (extremely hazardous) or Ib (highly hazardous).

    The families have also written to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requesting that he exclude Bayer from the UN Global Compact, a UN partnership with corporations who pledge to abide by human rights and environmental principles, based on Bayer's actions and inactions with regard to the children's deaths and poisonings in Peru.


    DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: Nearly three decades after lead paint was banned in the U.S., eight companies [went] on trial Wednesday in the first attempt by a state hold manufacturers accountable for lead poisoning in children.

    The companies named in the lawsuit are American Cyanamid Co.; BP PLC's Atlantic Richfield unit; ConAgra Foods Inc. ; Cytec Industries Inc.; DuPont Co.; Millenium Inorganic; NL Industries Inc.; and Sherwin-Williams Co.

    Other states are watching the potentially multimillion-dollar case closely and may bring lawsuits of their own if Rhode Island prevails.

    Opening statements before a six-member civil jury will be held in state court in the landmark lawsuit brought by Rhode Island's attorney general on behalf of thousands of children who may have swallowed or inhaled paint chips or dust.

    First, prosecutors must prove that lead paint makers created a public health hazard. If they win that round, the case will move to another phase that will decide if the paint companies should pay millions in damages. "We are looking at both present and threatened harm," said Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, also a Democratic candidate for governor. "Even lead paint that's not yet exposed is still potentially subject to such litigation."

    Lead paint was banned nationally in 1978, after studies showed it can cause neurological damage and even death to children. The paint companies deny they are directly responsible for the chipping and flaking of lead paint. They argue that landlords should be held responsible for allowing the properties to deteriorate.

    They also say the lead paint in most homes cited by the attorney general is buried under several coats of paint and isn't a threat. The attorney general estimates that 330,000 properties --- from the gilded, early 20th century mansions in Newport to deteriorating triple-decker apartment houses in poor neighborhoods --- have lead paint.

    Rhode Island children routinely test above the national average for blood-lead levels. A state Health Department study showed 8.1% of children under age six statewide had elevated blood-lead levels in 2001.

    Forty to 50 lawsuits have been filed since 1989 by individuals and communities against lead paint companies. All have failed. Connecticut and West Virginia are almost certain to take legal action if Rhode Island wins, while Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Ohio are contemplating lawsuits, said Eileen Quinn, deputy director of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. Cities such as San Francisco, Milwaukee, New York and Newark, New Jersey, have already filed lawsuits.


    STEVEN PEARLSTEIN, WASHINGTON POST: A Pennsylvania judge [Wednesday] issued a temporary restraining order barring any sale of Hershey Foods Corp. by the charitable trust that controls it --- at least until after the court has considered the harm a sale might cause to the Hershey community.

    The order was issued by Senior Judge Warren G. Morgan of Dauphin County Orphans Court, which has jurisdiction over the Milton Hershey School Trust. The trust, which controls 77% of the voting shares of the nation's largest and most famous candy company, announced in July that it was exploring a sale as a way of diversifying its holdings.

    A spokesman for the trust expressed disappointment with the decision and said it will be appealed. The trust had argued that the orphans court had no jurisdiction to interfere in the sale of a public company incorporated in Delaware.

    Morgan issued his brief order despite testimony earlier in the week from Hershey's investment bankers that any delay could cool the interest of potential bidders, which include chocolate rivals Nestle SA and Cadbury Schweppes PLC as well as the Kraft Foods Inc. division of Philip Morris Cos. Final bids had been expected by the end of the month.

    After the court order, Hershey stock fell $3.09, to $72.51 --- below its recent high but still 15% above where it was before news of the possible sale leaked out.

    Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher had requested the injunction, arguing that a sale of the candy company could cause irreparable harm to the economic and social vitality of the community that has revolved around it for nearly a century.

    Lawyers for the trust had argued its only legal obligation was to its sole beneficiary, the Milton Hershey School, a residential facility that serves 1,200 students from low-income homes who might otherwise require foster care. With Hershey stock representing more than half of its portfolio, the trust had a fiduciary responsibility to protect its $5.4 billion endowment by diversifying its holdings in a manner that maximizes the value of its controlling stake in Hershey Foods, the lawyers told Judge Morgan.

    Morgan did not rule on the merits of that argument. But in issuing yesterday's order he assumed jurisdiction in the case and agreed that the attorney general had standing to sue on behalf of the public.

    The proposed sale has turned into a public relations disaster for the trust ever since word of it leaked out in July as media from across the globe descended on the small Pennsylvania town that had become synonymous with chocolate.

    The sale is opposed by the town's board of supervisors, the Hershey School alumni association, the chocolate workers union, several former chief executives of Hershey Foods, an association of Hershey family members and nearly everyone else in town.

    The incident has also threatened to become a political embarrassment for Attorney General Fisher, now a Republican candidate for governor, whose office had originally pushed the trust to diversify its holdings and cut its traditional ties to the chocolate company to avoid possible conflicts of interest. On Tuesday, however, Fisher sat through a day-long hearing at the orphans court to make clear to angry voters that he never intended or anticipated that such advice would lead to sale of the company.

    "This was a good day," said Dick Zimmerman, a former Hershey Foods chief executive who opposes the sale. "We've won the first skirmish in a battle of a war being fought on many fronts. But we still got a long way to go."


    ASSOCIATED PRESS: A coalition of Mexican immigrants has called for a boycott of Wells Fargo banks to support Mexican laborers who claim money is owed to them for working on U.S. farms and railroads more than 50 years ago.

    Members of the Council of Presidents of Mexican Federations of Los Angeles also protested in front of a bank in downtown Los Angeles . . . . They urged people not to sign up for new accounts with the bank, and to close accounts.

    Wells Fargo, which was responsible for transferring workers' withheld wages to a Mexican bank, could owe the workers millions in back wages, said Guadalupe Gomez, president of the council. "They need to tell the people where their money went," said Martha Jimenez, a spokeswoman for one of the groups, the Zacatecas Federation. "We need to get the documentation."

    "We believe we completely fulfilled our responsibility to transfer the money," Wells Fargo spokesman Larry Haeg said. The workers include more than 300,000 Mexicans who came to the United States between 1942 and 1949 to harvest crops and maintain railroad tracks as guest workers.

    Called "braceros," after the Spanish word for arm, they came to this country under an agreement between the United States and Mexico to fill labor shortages during World War II. Under the agreement, ten percent of each worker's wage was to be withheld and transferred, via U.S. and Mexican banks, to individual savings funds set up for each bracero. But many braceros said they never received that money when they returned to Mexico.

    The workers filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco in March 2001 seeking repayment of the money deducted from their paychecks, plus interest. They did not specify the amount owed but advocates estimated it at $500 million.


    MICHAEL MCHUGH, DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: Minnesota Corn Processors LLC shareholders on Thursday approved a $396 million merger with agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), linking the top two players in the U.S. ethanol market, a spokesman from Archer Daniels said.

    "They have approved it," said Larry Cunningham. While he did not know the final tally of shareholders, he said it exceeded the two-thirds majority needed to seal the deal. Cunningham expects the transaction to close in the next few days. He said Archer Daniels hopes to cut costs and improve efficiency by incorporating MCP's operations with Archer Daniels'. But he said the company has to study MCP's business further before determining if any job cuts are ahead.

    In July, the MCP board accepted Archer Daniels' offer of $2.90 a share for the 136.6 million shares outstanding, or 70% of the company, Archer Daniels didn't already own. The Decatur, Illinois, corn and soybean processor bought 30% of MCP in 1997.

    The combined company will have about 50% of the ethanol market, according to some industry analysts. Cunningham said the share is a little less than that figure, and that it will fall as more ethanol capacity comes on stream in the coming years. In fact, he said about 60 new plants are being built --- none of them by Archer Daniels.

    Concentration in the ethanol market has been a topic of discussion in Washington. The antitrust division of the Department of Justice is reviewing the Archer Daniels-MCP merger. In recent months, Archer Daniels executives have expressed confidence that the deal will be approved. "Both companies have thoroughly reviewed everything with Justice, and I don't think there are any red flags at this moment," said Cunningham.


    BJORN LOMBORG, NEW YORK TIMES: With the opening [August 26] of the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we will be hearing a great deal about both concepts: sustainability and development. Traditionally, the developed nations of the West have shown greater concern for environmental sustainability, while the third world countries have a stronger desire for economic development. At big environmental gatherings, it is usually the priorities of the first world that carry the day.

    The challenge in Johannesburg will be whether we are ready to put development ahead of sustainability. If the United States leads the way, the world may finally find the courage to do so.

    Why does the developed world worry so much about sustainability? Because we constantly hear a litany of how the environment is in poor shape. Natural resources are running out. Population is growing, leaving less and less to eat. Species are becoming extinct in vast numbers. Forests are disappearing. The planet's air and water are getting ever more polluted. Human activity is, in short, defiling the earth --- and as it does so, humanity may end up killing itself.

    There is, however, one problem: this litany is not supported by the evidence. Energy and other natural resources have become more abundant, not less so. More food is now produced per capita than at any time in the world's history. Fewer people are starving. Species are, it is true, becoming extinct. But only about 0.7 percent of them are expected to disappear in the next 50 years, not the 20% to 50% that some have predicted. Most forms of environmental pollution look as though they have either been exaggerated or are transient --- associated with the early phases of industrialization. They are best cured not by restricting economic growth but by accelerating it.

    That we in the West are so prone to believe the litany despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary results in an excessive focus on sustainability. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the discussion on global warming.

    There is no doubt that pumping out carbon dioxide from fossil fuels has increased the global temperature. Yet too much of the debate is fixated on reducing emissions without regard to cost. With its agreement to the 1997 Kyoto climate treaty, Europe has set itself the goal of cutting its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. This is more than 30% below what they would have been in 2012.

    Even with renewable sources of energy taking over, the United Nations Climate Panel still estimates a temperature increase of four degrees to five degrees fahrenheit by the year 2100. Such a rise is projected to have less impact in the industrialized world than in the developing world, which tends to be in warmer regions and has an infrastructure less able to withstand the inevitable problems.

    Despite our intuition that we need to do something drastic about global warming, economic analyses show that it will be far more expensive to cut carbon dioxide emissions radically than to pay the costs of adapting to the increased temperatures. Moreover, all current models show that the Kyoto Protocol will have surprisingly little impact on the climate: temperature levels projected for 2100 will be postponed for all of six years.

    Yet the cost of the Kyoto Protocol will be $150 billion to $350 billion annually (compared to $50 billion in global annual development aid). With global warming disproportionately affecting third world countries, we have to ask if Kyoto is the best way to help them. The answer is no. For the cost of Kyoto for just one year we could solve the world's biggest problem: we could provide every person in the world with clean water.

    This alone would save two million lives each year and prevent 500 million from severe disease. In fact, for the same amount Kyoto would have cost just the United States every year, the United Nations estimates that we could provide every person in the world with access to basic health, education, family planning and water and sanitation services. Isn't this a better way of serving the world?

    The focus should be on development, not sustainability. Development is not simply valuable in itself, but in the long run it will lead the third world to become more concerned about the environment. Only when people are rich enough to feed themselves do they begin to think about the effect of their actions on the world around them and on future generations. With its focus on sustainability, the developed world ends up prioritizing the future at the expense of the present. This is backward. In contrast, a focus on development helps people today while creating the foundation for an even better tomorrow.

    The United States has a unique opportunity in Johannesburg to call attention to development. Many Europeans chastized the the Bush administration for not caring enough about sustainability, especially in its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. They are probably correct that the United States decision was made on the basis of economic self-interest rather than out of some principled belief in world development. But in Johannesburg the administration can recast its decision as an attempt to focus on the most important and fundamental issues on the global agenda: clean drinking water, better sanitation and health care and the fight against poverty.

    Such move would regain for the United States the moral high ground. When United States rejected the Kyoto treaty last year, Europeans talked endlessly about how it was left to them to "save the world." But if the United States is willing to commit the resources to ensure development, it could emerge as the savior.

    Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Environmental Assessment Institute in Denmark and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.


    * To the Editor:

    Re "The Environmentalists Are Wrong," by Bjorn Lomborg (Op-Ed, August 26):

    As the majority of countries here at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development understand, there need not be a contradiction between economic growth and environmental sustainability.

    Among the crucial questions we're addressing is how to ensure that globalization works to benefit the have-nots as well as the haves, and how to develop economically and protect the earth at the same time.

    As Mr. Lomborg points out, people in the poorest countries need many things: clean drinking water, basic health care and family planning services. But they also need a healthy environment in which to live and work, just like the rest of us.

    This won't just magically occur as an inevitable byproduct of unrestrained economic development, but it will if we make it a priority. STEPHEN MILLS, Johannesburg, August 27, 2002 The writer is international program director of the Sierra Club.

    * To the Editor:

    If, as Bjorn Lomborg asserts (Op-Ed, August 26), for the same amount the Kyoto climate treaty would have cost just the United States every year "we could provide every person in the world with access to basic health, education, family planning and water and sanitation services," what is our excuse for not doing exactly that since we have not signed on to this treaty?

    Until we see action in this area of humanitarianism, let's not talk about the United States' "moral high ground." LORRAINE T. SHERMAN, Yonkers, August 26, 2002

    * To the Editor:

    Why does Bjorn Lomborg (Op-Ed, August 26) present the cost of fixing the environment or aiding development as an either-or choice?

    Instead, why not use for development the money that is now being spent on the anti-Iraq buildup? Or the $180 billion in farm subsidies that will go to large American agribusinesses so that they can drive out small American farmers and flood the world with subsidized American food, undercutting the market for third-world farmers and driving them into poverty?

    There are many other wasted expenditures that could be better spent on foreign aid.

    Mr. Lomborg is clever in disguising his anti-environmentalism in the cloak of a third-world do-gooder. I think Little Red Riding Hood can see the wolf in bed dressed in Granny's nightgown. ROBERT WYMAN, New Haven, August 28, 2002 The writer is a professor of biology, Yale University.

    * To the Editor:

    How did Bjorn Lomborg (Op-Ed, August 26) tally the cost of climate change? Did he add in the cost of the increased droughts, fires and hurricanes that we're likely to see? How about lost crops, fish migration, the disruption of breeding grounds, the death of coral reefs? How did he value a nice view, a river that is safe to swim in?

    It's a mistake to regard the term "global warming" as the end-all of environmental consequence. It's about much more than average global temperatures. Let's use "regional fluctuations from the norm, with increasing magnitude and frequency." Then we've introduced a whole host of other issues. JIM POSS, Marblehead, Mass., August 26, 2002

    * To the Editor:

    Bjorn Lomborg is right that environmentalists who claim that we are running out of resources and polluting the planet are wrong (Op-Ed, August 26). But I don't believe that by helping the poor get richer we can save the planet from global warming.

    When the poor get rich enough to afford S.U.V's and McMansions, they will buy them just as we do. Does anyone believe that the planet can support six billion to ten billion people living the American lifestyle that President Bush seems determined to preserve? ERIC GOLDWASSER, Yorktown Heights, New York, August 26, 2002