Weekly News

17th October 2003

Chemical industry works hard for right to carry on poisoning Europe

Misinformation and scare-mongering from Europe's chemical industry have led to draconian statements from a leading Italian politician, says the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Italy's Minister for Community Policies, Mr Rocco Buttiglione, blustered in Brussels earlier this week that plans for a new chemicals policy prepared by the European Commission could cost the chemical industry some 5.5 million jobs.


John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB reacted: "How can an industry lose this many jobs if it is currently employing no more than 1.6 million?" In a conference of the Economic and Social Committee, Hontelez attacked the current trend of politicians to put economic growth as the number one priority for EU politics. "People expect politicians to make their priorities quality of life, employment, social cohesion and safety, which means robust environmental policies. Economic growth can achieve all this, but putting growth unconditionally first risks undermining these very objectives." Hontelez added.

The EEB secretary general was also reacting to the letter from Europe's three most powerful leaders, Schroeder, Blair and Chirac, to President Prodi on September 20. They warned Prodi not to go ahead with proposals for a new chemicals policy if it was going to affect the competitiveness of Europe's industry. Hontelez commented: "The buzzword these days is

competitiveness. Mr Buttiglione is suggesting: if companies in China or India don’t require strict environmental rules, Europe doesn’t need them either. This is ridiculous. Following this argument will dismantle all the social and environmental achievements the European democracies have accomplished in the last 100 years. Politicians tend to forget that the new chemicals policy from the Commission is intended to save lives, prevent serious diseases, and protect the eco-systems that provide us with drinking water and food. They have forgotten that they signed up with this policy’s principles when they adopted the White Paper on Chemicals Policy in 2001."


This week three of the largest trade-unions of Europe, the German IG-Bau, Verdi and IG-Metall, came out in full support of the Commission's plans, apparently having a quite different estimation of the economic impacts than industry.

The chemical industry has consistently exaggerated the costs of the new chemicals policy being prepared by the Commission. Its first message was that the direct costs for industry would be 30 billion Euros. Later they admitted that this was a gross exaggeration, and current estimates range

from 2 to7 billion Euros over 11 years. The EEB insists that such costs must be put into perspective: these costs present less than 0.1% of the sectors annual turnover, only 5% of research investments, or 7% of their environmental protection expenditure. And besides, we should not forget that environment pollution, diseases and sick leave cost the society a

lot of money. Hontelez commented: "The real fear of the chemical industry seems to be that public safety information will become available and that it will have to stop producing or using certain hazardous chemicals. But this should be exactly the purpose of the new policy: to remove hazardous chemicals from the market, substituted by safer alternatives. "


In response to the industry's bogus propaganda, the European Commission has published its own estimates of the cost of the proposed new system. Known as REACH, the set of new testing and monitoring procedures will cost chemical producers Euro 2.3 billion over 11 years. This represents 0.05% of the sector’s annual turnover, exposing as scaremongering industry

predictions of GDP and employment losses.

Unfortunately, the Commission, while maintaining a combative commitment to what is left of the REACH system as originally conceived, has already massively watered down its proposal. This was compounded when the estimated costs were published this week. While the Commission recognises that “the health burden related to chemicals is considerable”, it has failed to quantify REACH’s benefits to human health and the environment. A recent study estimates such benefits at up to Euro 283 billion .


Mary Taylor from Friends of the Earth commented that “The impact assessment shows that plans to delete essential safety data requirements for 20,000 chemicals used in clothes, shampoos and other consumer products would save industry only Euro 0.5 billion. How can the

Commission justify sacrificing so many benefits for so little profit?”

Greenpeace's Jorgo Iwasaki Riss added; “In the light of these figures, the Commission should revive the policy’s initial aims and stop giving in to industry and US pressure. The Commission should weigh up the relatively low costs and the great benefits of replacing hazardous

chemicals, which can accumulate in our bodies and disrupt hormone systems. Wherever safer alternatives exist, industry should be obliged to use them."


In response to the assault by industry on the best features of the proposed new system, Greenpeace is organising a people's counter-lobby. On the 29th October all 20 European Commissioners will adopt a draft, if they can agree on the text. The proposal will then go to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers. To find out what you can do to take part in the Greenpeace initaitaive - suggestions as to which Commissioners to write to and what to say, go to http://www.chemicalreaction.org/


Seven out of ten Germans want the Deutschmark back


An ICM poll for the UK Daily Mail has revealed that seven out of ten Germans would vote 'no' today if given the chance to decide on whether to join the euro. Young Germans are the most disillusioned with the euro. Among 18-24 year olds, 73 percent would vote to keep the deutschmark. The poll also showed that most French voters would vote to reject the euro if they had the chance.


Euro fails to deliver price convergence


A new report by Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein has concluded that the euro is failing to bridge the price gap in the Eurozone countries. The study says, "the euro is failing to eliminate price differentials in the Eurozone, with the costs of leading consumer brands varying dramatically across the single currency zone". The report adds that there has been no progress towards price convergence this year or last - undermining claims by the pro-euro lobby that Britain joining the euro would lead to cheaper consumer goods.


Thanks to the UK ‘No’ campaign for these two items.


UK campaign for referendum on EU Constitution boosted by poll findings

Referendum04 describes itself as a (UK) nation-wide 'People's Campaign' calling for a referendum on the proposed European Constitution. It is supported by a mix from across the socio-political spectrum, and its grass roots network is growing daily, with over 150 active networks already established.

Referendum 04 informed Spectre that “Phase 1 of the Campaign is the rolling petition which is being co-ordinated across the country by organisations, associations and individuals. Completed petition forms are already flooding into the office in Sunderland in England’s industrial north-east and many groups are hitting towns and cities signature gathering this Saturday 18th October, in the first of many 'D Days.'

“An independent poll commissioned by Referendum04 confirms as in other recent polls the majority ( 75%) in favour of a referendum. What is also significant is the fact that 45% want the facts about the European Constitution to be debated in advance of a referendum.”

Neil Herron, Campaign Director of  Referendum04 added that "Tony Blair is being backed into an impossible position. For his party, which made no reference to the Constitution in its manifesto, it will become increasingly difficult at constituency level for his MPs to agree with his stance. The Campaign's support is coming from MPs and voters from all parties as the poll confirms, and as their voice becomes louder along with that of the man in the street, the demand, and it is a demand and not a request, will become impossible for the Prime Minister to refuse. The issue, as can be seen from the poll results, has grasped the public's attention as very few are not interested in the issue, and they are determined that their voice will be heard.

The full poll results can be read here

UK field trial results: Friends of the Earth calls for immediate ban on GM crops


The results released this Thursday of some of the biggest and most controversial outdoor trials of genetically modified (GM) crops show that growing GM oilseed rape and beet damages biodiversity. Friends of the Earth has called for both GM crops to be immediately banned from Europe. The Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops were commissioned by the UK Government in 1999 following intense public hostility and concern from its own wildlife advisors about the effects of introducing GM herbicide-resistant traits. The crops subjected to trial were Bayer's oilseed rape, maize and fodder beet, and Monsanto's sugar beet. All crops are genetically modified to be resistant to the companies' own herbicides.

The researchers concluded that growing conventional beet and oilseed rape was better for many groups of wildlife than growing GM varieties. In particular, in GM beet fields there were 60% fewer weed seeds, fewer butterflies and fewer bees, while in GM oilseed rape there were 80% fewer weed seeds and also fewer butterflies. They concluded that the widespread introduction of both these crops would lead to birds struggling to find food later in the year.

The researchers also concluded that the maize crop might be beneficial for wildlife. However Friends of the Earth has criticised these trials as they did not represent how farmers would grow maize in practice and compared GM with a weed killer regime that is being withdrawn from Europe.

The biotech industry must legally forward the results of the trials to the European country where they have made an application to market the crop. For the oilseed rape and sugar beet this is Belgium, the fodder beet Denmark, the sugar beet also Germany and the maize France.

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Companies such as Monsanto and Bayer told the world that their crops were environmentally safe. These trials have shown that this was simply not true. GM oilseed rape and beet cause more damage to the environment than conventional crops. Europe has now no choice but to ban these crops. The protection of the public and the environment must come before the financial interests of the biotech industry."

The full results of the trials can be found here

Weapons Inspectors alert Scottish public to nuclear weapons convoy

A group of citizens’ Weapons Inspectors this week harried a British nuclear weapon convoy as it passed through Central Scotland on its way to the Trident warhead depot at Coulport on Loch Long.

When Charlotte from Faslane Peace Camp abseiled from a footbridge on the Loch Lomond-side road the convoy was held back at Gartocharn on the A811 until she was removed and arrested along with her supporter Tara, also from the Peace Camp. Meanwhile another group of activists, in the new Nukewatch Weapon Inspectors’ white radiation suits, greeted the long line of vehicles as it passed through the village of Balloch and took the chance to explain to the crowd of passers what was going on. At this point Phill from Drymen was arrested.

Further up the road Mattias from Glasgow and Gabrielle from Faslane Peace Camp brought the convoy to a halt again. Phill, Matthias and Gabrielle were released from custody last night while Tara and Charlotte spent a night in the cells before being freed today. All were charged with breach of the peace.

The convoys take the warheads, which contain plutonium and high explosive, from the nuclear bomb factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield in England to Coulport, where they are stored and loaded onto Trident submarines.

A Nukewatch spokesperson said: “We will do what we can to make sure that the transport of Britain’s weapons of mass destruction does not pass off unimpeded or without the public getting to know about this ongoing crime against humanity.”

Water wars


This week’s meeting of the EU-ACP Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together parliamentarians from Europe and a number of developing countries, adopted an uncompromising resolution opposing water privatisation. The resolution, proposed by the European Parliament’s United Left Group, the GUE-NGL, demanded that the Europesan Commission cease to put pressure on developing countries to privatise their water supply services, either in the negotiations on a General Agreement on Trade in Services  (GATS), or in bilateral trade talks. Though the victory is purely symbolic, it is vital that every avenue be explored to undermine the EU’s sustained attempts to use poor people’s need for a drink and a wash to fill the coffers of European multinationals. As a recent study makes clear, a shared vision exists between the EU and water corporations. The vision is to be packaged and promoted as a sustainable development effort, one that promises a development agenda for the poor. In fact the EU is helping the European water corporations to access water markets of the developing countries by developing ideological and logistical support. Read "A Shared Vision: The EU Water Policy and European Water Corporate Interests" by Charles Santiago at http://www.tni.org/altreg/water/vision.htm


Just to give you an idea of the extent of the problem that the EU would like to make worse, so that European companies can make money

...1.2 billion people lack access to safe water, roughly on-sixth of the world’s population and 2.4 billion or 40 percent of the world’s people lack access to adequate sanitation services.

...Some 6,000 children die every day from diseases associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene.

...Unsafe water and sanitation cause an estimated 80 percent of all diseases in the developing world.

...Women and girls tend to suffer the most as a result of the lack of sanitation facilities.

...One flush of a Western toilet uses as much water as the average person in the developing world uses for a whole day’s washing, drinking, cleaning and cooking.

...Water use has grown at twice the rate of population during the past century. The Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are chronically short of water.

...In developing countries, as much as 90 percent of waste water is discharged without treatment.

...Overpumping groundwater for drinking water and irrigation has caused water levels to decline by tens of metres in many regions, forcing people to use low-quality water for drinking.

...Losses of water through leakage, illegal hook-ups and waste amount to about 50 percent of water for drinking and 60 percent of water for irrigation in developing countries.

...Floods affected more than 75 percent of all people impacted by natural disasters during the 1990s and caused over 33 percent of the total estimated costs of natural disasters.

Thanks to Hawaii-dwelling reader Viviane for sending us these figures.

Currency wars


"Will a strong EURO at the tip of the spear of an enlarged European Union puncture U.S. dollar-based financial hegemony that has ruled since World War II? This question acquired a new urgency with the U.S. war in Iraq and a strengthening of the EURO against the dollar starting in 2002." Read Howard Wachtel's answer here


Shootin' wars


The recent attack on the Iraqi police is a consequence of the legitimacy crisis of institutions operating under the authority of occupying forces. By participating under their authority UN and other non-military institutions became legitimate targets in the eyes of militants opposing the US-UK occupation. To deal with the situation US needs more troops on the ground, and to cover the costs Bush asks for an additional $85 billion, which is causing growing opposition at home. Besides many anti-war groups, the Democrats are also exposing Bush's lies about Iraq's alleged possession of WMD used as a pretext for the war. As the domestic pressure on Bush and Blair's governments grows, civil society should increase the pressure demanding immediate

withdrawal of occupying forces from Iraq and turning the administration of the country, for a short and defined period, to the UN until democratic elections are held. In "Iraq, the UN, & US Corporations", Phyllis Bennis argues that "Any new UN resolution aimed at providing more legitimacy for the US-UK occupation of Iraq should be opposed, and the US proconsul Paul Brenner's announced privatisation of Iraq's economy should be left for a legitimate Iraqi government. Read the rest here


Electronic voting systems and the subversion of democracy


"According to election industry officials, electronic voting systems are absolutely secure, because they are protected by passwords and tamperproof audit logs. But the passwords can easily be bypassed, and in fact the audit logs can be altered. Worse, the votes can be changed without anyone knowing, even the County Election Supervisor who runs the election system.

The computer programs that tell electronic voting machines how to record and tally votes are allowed to be held as "trade secrets." Can citizen's groups examine them? No. The companies that make these machines insist that their mechanisms are a proprietary secret. Can citizen's groups, or even election officials, audit their accuracy? Not at all, with touch screens, and rarely, with optical scans, because most state laws mandate that optical scan paper ballots be run through the machine and then sealed into a box, never to be counted unless there is a court order. Even in recounts, the ballots are just run through the machine again. Nowadays, all we look at is the machine tally.


"Therefore, when I found that Diebold Election Systems had been storing 40,000 of its files on an open web site, an obscure site, never revealed to public interest groups, but generally known among election industry insiders, and available to any hacker with a laptop, I looked at the files. Having a so-called security-conscious voting machine manufacturer store sensitive files on an unprotected public web site, allowing anonymous access, was bad enough, but when I saw what was in the files my hair turned gray. Really. It did."


Read the rest of "Inside A U.S. Election Vote Counting Program" and find out what led to this Bev Harris's sudden change of coiffure here


Resources for Radicals


The fifth edition of Resources for Radicals, an annotated bibliography of print resources for those involved in movements for social transformation is now available. Many of the new resources included focus on responding to bullying and other examples of peer violence, pacifism and effective non-violence, genetically modified foods and the history of anarchism but R4R continues to be a smorgasbord of resources that explores everything from the roots of the middle east conflict to consensus decision making.


A wide range of topics is touched on, from the criminalisation of dissent to peace tax advocacy to community gardening to civil disobedience to union organising to living out a call for global solidarity to music and resistance. Work coming from such struggles as the feminist, labour, animal rights, anti-globalisation and the peace movement abound. Resources for Radicals is available from Toronto Action for Social Change.

The price (including postage and handling) is C$20.00 Canada; US$24.00 U.S.; US$30.00 Rest of the World. Bulk ordersare available at 40% discounts, prepaid. Cheques should be made payable to Toronto Action for Social Change. Orders should be sent to Toronto Action for Social Change, P.O. Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, Ontario, M6C 1C0 Canada, or enquiries to tasc@web.ca