Tag Archives: government

Free Trade Agreements & GMOs

Globally, nobody really wants GMOs. American lobbyists and politicians call it a “technical barrier for trade.” Another way to say that might be ‘the will of the people getting in the way of corporate imperialism.’

There’s a new trade agreement in the works between the US and the EU, called TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It will be the largest trade agreement in the world. Trade between the EU and the US is already at some $2 billion per day, but regulations in the EU prevent some imports from the US and operations of certain US companies because they don’t abide by the relatively strict non-GMO and other food safety standards that the EU has adopted because of overwhelming public opinion, and because they prefer the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach when it comes to public health. I think most of us have figured out by now that most of the actions taken by our federal government at this point in time are designed to benefit corporations, not people, so it’s important to take a look at things like TTIP through that lens.

One of the tasks TTIP seeks to accomplish is a convergence of the differences in technical regulations, standards and certifications. It would be nice to assume that this convergence would take place at the highest standards, but I’m afraid we can’t make that assumption. I’ve read articles about this changing of standards being scary for Americans because, if this convergence follows the lowest common denominator, as it’s supposed that it will, we won’t be able to trust imported food. Very funny! It’s the rest of the world that’s scared, because allowing GMOs and a list of some 3000 additives in our food supply makes our products the ones that can’t be trusted in terms of safety. Look at how unhealthy we are as a nation. Other people are not exactly clamoring to have what we’re having.

The truly concerning part of this is, in fact, already an aspect of other trade agreements, like NAFTA, and would be a matter of course for TTIP – that is the ability of corporations to sue governments if they judge that the policies, regulations, or actions of that government result in a loss of their “right” to profit. An interesting concept, that – right to profit.

For example, three US-based companies – Corn Products International, ADM/Tate & Lyle, and Cargill – sued the Mexican government for refusing to import high-fructose corn syrup under NAFTA. They won the lawsuit and Mexico had to pay the three companies a total of over $169 million. Monsanto has already shown that it’s more than adept at getting what it wants via the legal system. If they can use this tactic in Europe, it will force open a back door to GMOs in the EU. That’s only one concern; there’s a long list of food additives that are approved in the US, but banned in Europe and elsewhere because of serious doubts about their safety, even in limited quantities. Artificial colors are on that list because they’re made from some of the same chemicals you find in gasoline, tar and asphalt.

Guess who gets a seat at the negotiating table. Corporations. It’s expected that they’ll give themselves the ability (as they already have done in the TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership) to challenge countries’ laws, regulations, even court decisions. This would effectively elevate corporations above the level of nation-states in terms of power and should never be allowed. It probably wouldn’t be if the public in any member country had a say, which is why the talks for both the TPP and TTIP are being kept largely secret. The information we do have is from leaked papers, and it bodes ill for the futures of the people who will be affected by the general lowering of standards. By taking away the ability of a country to regulate its own food supply, these agreements will be taking away any level of food sovereignty from individuals as well, because it erases their ability to effect any kind of change even by voting.

Which brings us back to this idea of the “right” of corporations to profit. A truly screwy concept. Corporations do not have some fundamental right to profit. They have the goal of offering products and services that people want. That is how they profit. If they offer something no one wants they should fail. That’s really the basic ideal of capitalism, albeit very simply put, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but what we’re working with now isn’t this basic capitalism; it’s crony capitalism and corporate imperialism at their ugliest. That’s really what’s responsible for companies like Monsanto, which are permitted to steamroll everything that stands in the way of any potential profit, regardless of the cost to human and environmental health and safety. This is really the importance of government regulations – if you’re permissive enough in the beginning, pretty soon you’ve created a monster that you have no control over.

And now a quote from Noam Chomsky circa 2003:

“The most powerful state in world history has proclaimed, loud and clear, that it intends to rule the world by force…The empire has also declared, explicitly and precisely, that it will tolerate no competitors, now or in the future. Its leaders believe that the means of violence in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss with contempt anyone that stands in their way.” ~ Noam Chomsky

Learn more about these issues:

Corporate Europe Observatory

Eco-Watch

Noam Chomsky’s talk at the World Social Forum in Brasil.

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Sustainable Education

Diminishing returns

I’m not just talking about a curriculum that includes educating students about sustainability, though that’s also important. I’m talking about the system of educational diminishing returns that we’re seeing, especially in the United States. I’ve got a family full of teachers, so I’ve been exposed to the particular challenges they face for my whole life, and I’ve seen first-hand the disgusting lack of support for all teachers, but more specifically for teachers that work with the students that need the most support – children with behavioral disorders, learning styles that are at odds with the current system, language impairments, math-based learning disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders. The recent U.S. Education Sequester has made things worse, disproportionately so for the teachers and kids in special & alternative education programs. Let’s face it – even with the current economic difficulties, this is an incredibly wealthy country. We’re just not using the power of our wealth to back the right horse. And if we don’t start changing things when we can, I think it will eventually lead to a situation where we don’t have the wealth or the skill-set that makes change like this potentially so easy to implement.

Education refugees

knowledge-1052011_640Because of the diminishing returns that are being seen by all students, more of us are looking outside our borders to pursue higher education. “The number of U.S. students at Canadian colleges rose 50 percent in a decade.” And that’s just Canada, one of our closest neighbors. Lots of us are going to other countries where we can get an excellent education for half the cost, or less. I’m an education refugee myself, and I’m in the Netherlands. I took my brains and my work ethic and moved them overseas. Not because I don’t love my country, but because it doesn’t love me. It loves big agra and big pharma and a big military. It certainly wasn’t the easier choice in the short-term, but it’s the more sustainable choice for me, for many reasons, one being that I no longer need a car; I go everywhere by bicycle, train or bus, greatly reducing my personal carbon footprint. Another thing that makes it a more sustainable choice is that I don’t have the crippling student loans I would have had otherwise. I still needed student loans, and they’re still through the US federal government, who’s robbing me blind on interest, but it’s tens of thousands less than it could have been.

learn-793095_640There’s another way to read ‘education refugees.’ Current and potential teachers are making other choices for careers. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher because of the inherent ability of the profession to inspire future generations, and the massive contributions teachers make to the general good of society. But that ability is being eroded by increasingly bad policies, like the rise in emphasis on standardized testing which forces them to ‘teach to the test’ instead of accenting critical thinking, research, and interactive learning, all of which engage students. Also eroding that ability is decreasing federal funding. Schools are closing, kids are being shuffled around, teachers are losing their jobs, and the ones remaining have bigger class sizes, more work, and mountains of stress. This is a downward spiral – by nature not sustainable.

Back to being green

Of course, this all has serious ramifications for the overall sustainability movement as well. Everything’s related. If we aren’t inspiring and educating people to be good critical thinkers and inventors, we’ll have a hard time coming up with new technologies that will help move us away from dependence on fossil fuels. Research and development are vital to this process. For example, biotecture wouldn’t be feasible without a really good understanding of how different materials interact with heat, and how to use that knowledge to increase the self-sufficiency of buildings. We’re actually holding back our own scientific development, and increasing the overall danger to the entire world, and that’s just unforgivable.

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