Category Archives: Chemical and Biological Warfare

Poison Gas and Arabian Tales

Poison Gas & Arabian Tales

Dispatches From The Edge

July 4, 2013

“It is not unlike Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark. It’s not just that we can’t prove a sarin attack, it is that we are not seeing what we would expect to see from a sarin attack.”

Jean-Pascal Zanders, former senior research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies

Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, cracked the case of the “Silver Blaze” by concluding that a murder and theft had to be an inside job because the watchdog never barked. It would be a good idea to keep this in mind when it comes to determining whether the Syrian government used poison gas against its opponents. And since the Obama administration is citing “proof” that the chemical warfare agent sarin was used by the Syrian government as the basis for escalating its intervention in the two-year old civil war, this is hardly an academic exercise.

Like Holmes, start with the facts.

According to French, British, Israeli and U.S. intelligence services, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad            used sarin on at least 10 different occasions, resulting in the deaths of some 100 to 150 people. The “proof” for this is based on tissue and blood samples—British intelligence claims contaminated soil as well—from victims of the attacks. The samples were gathered in Syria, taken to Turkey, and turned over to the intelligence services and the United Nations.

The French newspaper Le Monde also reports that one of its reporters suffered blurred vision and nausea during one of these attacks, and the paper has published photos of purported victims being treated. There is, as well, a video of insurgent fighters donning gas masks. Besides the photos and video images, no evidence has been released to the press.

What about the beast itself?

The chemical was invented in Germany in 1938 as a pesticide. It is a nerve agent—as opposed to a “blistering agent” like mustard gas—and kills by blocking the body’s ability to control the chemical that allows muscles to turn themselves off. As the Office of Emergency Management puts it, “Without an ‘off switch,’ the glands and muscles are constantly being stimulated. They may tire and no longer be able to sustain breathing function.”

You suffocate.

Sarin is a colorless and odorless liquid, and it is “volatile”—that is, it quickly turns into a gas. Even in small concentrations, it is very deadly and can kill within minutes. It is absorbed through the skin or lungs and can contaminate clothing for up to 30 minutes. The British created a far deadlier and less volatile variant of sarin called V. It was an errant VX cloud from the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground that killed some 6,000 sheep in Utah’s Skull Valley in 1968.

Many countries have chemical weapons, but some, including the U.S. and Russia, are in the process of destroying them under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Sarin is considered a “weapon of mass destruction” under UN Resolution 687, although that label is a bit of a misnomer. It is certainly bad stuff. In 1988 Saddam Hussein used sarin to kill several thousand Kurds in the city of Halabja, and sarin and mustard gas were used during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). It is estimated that gas inflicted about 5 percent of Iran’s casualties in that war.

But poison gas is generally considered more of a nuisance than a weapon capable of creating large numbers of dead and wounded. It only accounted for 1 percent of the casualties in World War I, and doesn’t compare with a real weapon of mass destruction. The two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed some 250,000 people and injured hundreds of thousands more. And by today’s standard of nuclear weapons, those bombs were tiny.

While chemical weapons are scary, they are no more indiscriminate in what they kill than 1,000 lb bombs and cluster weapons, indeed much of the arsenals of modern armies. Small arms, for instance, inflict 90 percent of civilian casualties.

In any case, President Obama made the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war his “red line,” a barrier he claims has now been breached.

Has it?

Philip Coyle, a senior scientist at Washington’s Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has his doubts, telling the McClatchy newspapers that from what he has observed of the evidence, it doesn’t look as if sarin was used.

Jean-Pascal Zanders, former head of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm international Peace Research Institute questions some of the reports in Le Monde. For instance, the newspaper reports that victims traveled a long distance for medical care, which he suggests is unlikely if sarin was used. He also points out there are no reports of medical workers dying from exposure to victims, even though sarin clings to clothing for up to a half hour. He also questions a Le Monde report that one victim was given 15 shots of the antidote atropine, a dose that would surely have been fatal.

“In a world where even the secret execution of Saddam Hussein was taped by someone, it doesn’t make sense that we don’t see videos, that we don’t see photos showing bodies of the dead, the reddened faces and the bluish extremities of the afflicted,” he says.

While the French claim they have an “unbroken chain of custody” from the attack to the lab, even experts who believe the intelligence reports disagree. Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association says that while his “guess” is that the poison gas was used, there is a lack of “continuous chain of custody for the physiological samples from those exposed to sarin.”

One “Western diplomat” told the Washington Post, “The chain-of-custody issue is a real issue,” in part because the “red line” speech was an incentive to “prove” chemical weapons had been used. As Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish scientist who headed the UN’s weapons inspections in Iraq, said, “If you are the opposition…you have an interest in giving the impression that some chemical weapons have been used.”

According to a report in the New York Times, samples gathered in Aleppo were carried by a civilian courier from that city to the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, “a journey that took longer than expected. At one point,” reports the Times, “the courier forgot the blood vials, which were not refrigerated, in his car. Ten days after the attack, the vials arrived at the Turkish field office for the Syrian American Medical Society.”

In short, the samples were hardly secured during the week and a half it took them to get to Turkey, and they were delivered into the hands of insurgency supporters.

Carla del Ponte, former war crimes prosecutor and currently a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, says it was the rebels, not Syria, who are the guilty party.

Damascus refuses to allow the UN to test for chemical weapons inside of Syria, which certainly raises suspicions. On the other hand the UN has not exactly been a neutral bystander in the civil war. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has demanded “unfettered access”—an unlikely event in the middle of a war—and while sharply condemning Iran and Russia for supplying arms to Assad, has muted such criticism of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the main arms suppliers for the rebels.

There is a certain common sense factor in all this as well. Would the Assad government really “cross the red line” in order to kill 150 people?

When U.S. Special Forces invaded Syria in 2008 to attack what they claimed was a “terrorist gathering”—it turned out to be carpenters and farmers—the Syrians protested, but did nothing.  At the time, Syria’s Foreign Minister told Der Speigel that Damascus had no wish to “escalate the situation” with the U.S. “We are not Georgia” he added, an illusion to Georgia’s disastrous decision to pick a fight with Russia in the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

Nor has Syria responded to three bombing raids by Israel, knowing that challenging the powerful Israeli air force would be suicidal.

Western intelligence services want us to believe that Damascus deliberately courted direct U.S. intervention for something totally marginal to the war. Maybe the Assad regime has lost its senses. Maybe some local commanders took the initiative to do something criminal and dumb. Maybe the whole thing is a set-up.

Shouldn’t we wait until the dog barks?


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Silent Spring II: Health & GM crops

Silent Spring II: Health & GM crops

Foreign Policy in Focus


This is a tale about pelicans and people, a feel good story, replete with heroic prophets, rapacious villains, and a happy ending. But it is also a warning that happy endings don’t last, and that the wicked never sleep.

The year was 1962. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, the Cuban missile crisis traumatized the nation, and brown pelicans were vanishing. Lots of other birds were disappearing, but when pelicans, with all their ungainly, prehistoric grace evaporate, people take notice.

Rachel Carson, a marine biologist from Springdale, Pa. noticed, and wrote a powerful series in the New Yorker called “The Silent Spring” that laid the carnage at the feet of the chemical industry and one of its most powerful creations, the pesticide DDT.

Like all good stories, it had a dogged heroine who fought for 17 years to publish her findings. It had bad guys, like the American Cyanamid Company, and Monsanto, who spun and obscured and lied but in the end were vanquished, and the DDT dragon was destroyed. And sure enough, the brown pelicans (and ospreys, eagles, hawks and falcons) made a comeback. Sweet ending.

But as the line from the horror movie goes, “They’re baaack.” Only this time the threat isn’t from poisonous chemicals, but from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and the very mainsprings of creation: genes. And if we don’t challenge the new Golem, one day there may be no spring at all.


In 1970 a corn blight wiped out 15 percent of the U.S. crop, in large part because the corn lacked the genetic diversity to resist the pathogen. But when something like that happens, we could ordinarily re-enrich our stock from places like Oaxaca, Mexico, which features 60 different varieties of corn. Except that Oaxaca corn has been contaminated with U.S. genetically modified corn (as has corn in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador).

Genetic diversity is life’s firewall against diseases that can wipe out an entire species. As long as the pool is rich and varied, there will always be a part of the besieged population that survives to rebuild the stock.

The greatest reservoir of genetic diversity on the planet is the Amazon basin, except that under increasing pressure by the U.S. government and biotechnology companies to use GMOs, that diversity is threatened. “We are concerned about the risk of genetic transferal,” Joao Paulo Capobianco, secretary of biodiversity in the Environment Ministry,” told the Financial Times, “imagine the impact in the Amazon rainforest.”

According to the Bush Administration (and the Clinton Administration before it), GMOs pose no danger to human health. But, on July 21, the United Kingdom’s Science Review Panel concluded, “History tells us that sometimes we have rushed forward incautiously to exploit new technologies only subsequently to appreciate the medical, social, environmental or other costs.”

While the International Council for Science, representing 100 science academies throughout the world, says GMOs are “safe,” they have only been tested since 1995. In any case, the Council quietly added a caveat: “This does not guarantee that no risk will be encountered as more foods are developed with novel characteristics.”

One thing that’s certain is that GMO crops are contaminating non-GMO crops. Biotech giants like ProdiGene, Monsanto and Dow Chemical have more than 300 open-air testing sites.

It is not just the doomsayers who point this out. Nature Biotechnology, the official magazine of the biotech industry, notes that “Current gene-containing strategies cannot work reliably in the field. Seed companies will continue to confuse batches, and mills will continue to mix varieties—gene flow (like mixing) could result in GM material unintended for human consumption ending up in the food chain.”

Sometimes “mixing” may be the result of carelessness. Sometimes guile.

Joe Jilka of ProdiGene, quoted in Gene Watch, the publication of the Council for Responsible Genetics, says you can “secure” GM crops by hiding them. Speaking about a GM corn that was engineered to produce a pig vaccine, he said, “The best way to secure it is to grow it just like any other corn. In other words, the anonymity of it just completely hides it.”

Corn pollen can easily travel up to six miles. As a result, GMO crops not approved for human consumption, like Starlink corn, have shown up in Taco Bell tortillas and corn chips.

Sometimes “mixing” occurs because funny things happen when you move from the drawing board to the real world. When German scientists engineered aspens, they took precautions to make sure the GM aspen pollen wasn’t released into the environment. Aspens flower after seven years, so the plan was to cut them down in five years, Except the aspens flowered in three years.

Biotech firms are presently planting GM pine trees loaded with pesticides. The trees are engineered to be sterile, but as the aspen experiment demonstrated, genes can be unpredictable.

The old view of the immutable gene, armored against everything but random mutation, is no longer gospel in genetics. “Genes are defined by context,” says Brian Goodwin, author of How the Leopard Changed its Spots, “if you don’t understand the context, you don’t understand the function of a gene.”

As we have discovered, diseases can jump species, even genera. HIV almost certainly came from a primate, probably a chimpanzee. SARS likely came from a civet, an animal from a completely different Order than ourselves.

When GM crops appeared in the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration successfully pushed for handling them with existing regulations, rather than developing legislative guidelines as the Europeans did.

The regulations were drawn up by the Council on Competitiveness during the Clinton Administration, which simply ignored Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists who has serious reservations about GMOs.

Unlike food additives or new drugs, which are tested over a two-year period, the FDA “recommends” that GM products be tested for only 90 days. Most are released in half that time.

In theory manufacturers are supposed to report adverse reactions, such as allergies, but if that information might reveal “confidential business information,” the company can keep quiet. Who determines what a “confidential” is? The companies.

I don’t think most Americans have any idea of the extent to which things have been pushed forward without the kind of research and precautions that ordinary common sense would demand,” John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union told The Nation.

In a CBS documentary shortly before her death in 1964, Carson said that “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because now we have acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

The naturalist John Muir once noted that when we pry up something in nature, we find it is connected to the world. That connection can give us enormous insight, or it can kill pelicans—and us.

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Mice, Men & Biowar

Mice, Men & Biowar

SF Examiner

May 11, 2001

This is a story of mice and men, and how the latter turned the former into something that should be keeping us all up at night.

The tale begins three years ago with a group of Australian gene engineers trying to devise a way to protect food supplies by making mice and rats infertile. So they did this very fancy thing: they inserted a mouse gene into a mousepox virus. The idea was that the gene would stimulate an overproduction of interleukin-4, an essential ingredient in mouse immune systems. That, in turn, would prevent the implantation of an egg in the uteru of a female mouse. Presto, infertile mice.

But something terrible happened between the drawing board to the mouse, and instead of making the mice infertile, the mousepox turned lethal, killing even those mice vaccinated against the disease. So why stay up nights worrying about dead mice? Because interkeukin-4 is an essential ingredient in our own immune systems, and what can be done to mice, can be done to men. As one Department of Defense scientist told the New York Times, “It demonstrates a frightening message. Maybe it is easier to do these things than we think.”

The Australian killer would never have happened if the world had paid attention to a group of scientists, and Nobel laureates, who met in Asilomar, Ca. back in 1975 to try to establish guidelines for the newly minted field of genetic engineering. That conference pledged, in the words of Caltech microbial geneticist Robert Sinsheimer, “ to take every possible precaution to keep these creations out of our biosphere.”

But two years later, an unholy alliance of biotech industries and the U.S.

military, led by former Nobel winner James Watson, a discoverer of DNA, called for wide-open research and a no-holds barred application of genetic engineering. Calling the Asilomar guidelines “an exercise in the theater of the absurd,” Watson called efforts to control DNA research “a massive miscalculation in which we cried wolf without ever having seen or even heard one.”

Well, the wolf is at the door, a door, according to Feb. 8, 2001 report by the U.S. Energy Department, which is hardly locked and bolted. The Department found that eight biological weapons labs lacked required oversight and control, and that experiments involving anthrax, plague, and botulism raised “the potential for greater risk to workers and possibly others.” Three of those labs, Sandia, and Lawrence in Livermore and Berkeley, are in Northern California

Most people assume that biological warfare was eliminated by the 1972 Biological Weapons Treaty and the only people out there with bad bugs are the so-called “rogue states” like Libya, Iraq, Iran and North Korea. But bioweapons research is permitted under the Treaty as long as it is “defensive,” not “offensive.” The difference, however, is hardly obvious. “The Pentagon says everything is defensive when a lot of things are offensive,” said now-Senator Barbara Boxer when she was in the House. “The research is the same. You have the same organisms present to do the test.”

A lot of the things being looked at in those labs are not things you would want to encounter, and if they ever got out into the biosphere, we are talking major trouble. The National Institute of Health Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee approved a proposal that inserted a diphtheria toxin gene into the E. coli bacteria commonly found in the human intestine. According to Sinsheimer, the test “probably contravened the 1972 Treaty and was certainly a dangerous thing to do.” Just how dangerous was underlined by a Rand Corporation report discussing the “weaponization”” of E. coli by inserting the toxin for botulism in it, one of the deadliest poisons known. The report suggested that “liberally added to water supplies and various food,” E. coli could “eliminate large numbers of people.”

Over the past few months, organizations ranging from the CIA to the National Homeland Defense Agency have warned about “bio-terrorism.” Americans have indeed been the targets of biological weapons, but from our own government. In 1950, the U.S. Navy pumped Serratia marcescens into the fog rolling in through San Francisco Bay to test the vulnerability of the Bay Area to biowarfare. While the bacteria are generally benign, they aren’t always. The “experement” likely killed Edward Nevins, a San Francisco pipefitter, whose autopsy revealed heart valves clogged with the pathogen. Bacteria were also sprayed on Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News in Virginia.

The Army admits to 339 open-air tests of biological weapons in the U.S., including the release of Hemophilus pertussis (Whooping cough) in Sebring and Palmetto, Florida. Whooping cough cases increased 12 fold, and deaths increased three-fold in Florida that year. Anthrax and Q Fever were released at high altitudes over Utah and Nevada to study dispersal patterns, and rodents infected with plague, tularemia, and Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis were released in the Dugway Proving Grounds near Salt Lake City.

The Army even tested a so-called “ethnic weapon” using coccidiomycosis or “Valley Fever, “ a fungus to which African-Americans and Asians are particularly susceptible. A variety of the fungus was released in the Naval Depot at Mechanicsberg, Penn, which had a mostly African-American civilian workforce. In testimony before Congress on the Mechanicsberg operation, a Department of Defense official said,“Since Negroes are more susceptible to coccidiodies than whites, this fungus disease was simulated by using” a mutant of Valley Fever.

The recent DOE report on slack procedures should hardly come as a surprise. In the past 40 years there have been over 5,000 laboratory-acquired infections among researchers. And 15 years ago a Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee found “serious deficiencies” exist in the safety procedures on biowar research. The danger from biological warfare is less likely to come from a terrorist organization than some government- run lab.

At this moment, more than 50 countries are meeting in Geneva in an effort to tighten up loopholes in the 1972 Treaty. Neither the Clinton nor Bush Administrations have been very helpful in this effort. The U.S. has consistently raised objections to on-site inspections of private industry (where much of the bioresearch in the U.S. takes place) and refuses to open the issue of “defensive” biological weapons. The Fifth Review Conference for the Treaty is scheduled for November, and a number of countries are trying to stiffen the Treaty’s provisions, particularly those relating to cheating.

If those efforts fail, then countries will begin to “research” what happened in Australia, only this time around it won’t be mice they’ll target. Let someone gene spice a pathogen to a Rhinovirus, or common cold, and global warming will only concern whatever species replaces us.

Conn Hallinan

For more information on this subject, contact the Council for Responsible Genetics and its publication, Gene Watch (


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SF Examiner

June 22, 2001

Do you try to pay attention to what you eat? Given we have someone in the White House who thinks drinking arsenic is nothing to worry about, and that a little salmonella never hurt anyone, it might not be a bad time to start. Maybe you’re a little nervous about genetically engineered (GE) foods? Want to pass up eatables filled with designer pesticides? Good luck. Three quarters of the stuff on your supermarket shelf is GE.

How did this happen, you ask, and is it a bad idea? Oh yes, a very bad idea. As to how it happened, that’s an interesting tale.

A little background. Scientists can now insert a gene into a plant to kill insects, or make it invulnerable to pesticides. Half the soybeans (and soy products) you consume contain the pesticide Roundup. If a bug eats Roundup Ready Soybeans by Monsanto, zap! But of course you eat it as well.

Is it bad for you? Good question. The problem is, who knows? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the mainstream media, GE foods are harmless, but since there are no long term studies on its impact on humans, that is, at best, whistling past the graveyard. A recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) study of 17 people who claimed allergic reactions after ingesting GE StarLink corn turned up nothing, which CDC epidemiologist Carol Rubin says is “good news for consumers.” But 17 people are hardly a rigorous scientific study.

Unlike food additives or new drugs, which are carefully assayed for two years, the FDA “recommends” that GE products be tested for 90 days. In practice, most are released in half that time. The FDA does require that any adverse reactions, like allergies, be posted on the web. However, if that information might reveal a “trade secret,” then the companies can keep mum. Who determines if something is a “trade secret”? The companies.

Earlier this year the FDA blocked manufacturers from putting a “100 percent GMO free” label (GMO stands for “genetically modified organism”), because the Agency argues it can’t guarantee that such products are really GE free.

The FDA claims the move was pro-consumer, but according to the Campaign for Food Safety, “The biotech industry does not want to see GMO free labels because they are afraid their products will look bad in comparison.” Greenpeace activist Kimberly Wilson told Gene Watch, a publication of the Council for Responsible Genetics, the action demonstrates the FDA is “working with industry to keep genetic engineering a secret ingredient.”

The lack of basic information on GE’s long-term impact on humans also applies to the environment. We already know that Monsanto’s GE corn StarLink is bad for Monarch butterflies. What we don’t know is how many other organisms in the biosphere it will affect, nor what the potential is for creating “superweeds.” Roundup Ready Soybeans, for instance, are engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup. What happens if the soybeans cross-pollinate with wild varieties of plant life, which, in turn, become immune to herbicides?

No way, say the researchers, we’ve got this down to a science. But funny things happen when experiments move from the lab to the field. For instance, when German scientists gene engineered aspens, they took what they thought was every precaution to make sure the GE aspens would not get into the environment. Aspens flower and spread their pollen at age seven, so the plan was to cut down the trees at age five. Except the GE aspens flowered after three years.

A tale to make the companies careful? Not quite. Biotech firms are presently planting plantations of GE pine trees chock full of insecticides. The trees are engineered to be sterile, but as the German experience indicates, genes can surprise you. And a single pine tree, according to the magazine The New Physiologist, can pollinate 1.1 million square kilometers.

So how did this happen? Well, that’s the interesting story.

Back in the ‘80s, the big biotech firms got the Reagan Administration to back the patenting of genes. You can’t patent a food crop, but you can patent a GE food crop. Then when the federal government cut support for agricultural research, the biotech forms stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Private spending on agriculture now outstrips public spending nearly three to one. There are presently 1085 agricultural biotechnology patents. The USDA and a handful of universities hold 285 of them, while the Big Five—Monsanto; Dupont; Syngenta; Dow Chemical; and Aventis— hold 937.

The goal of the companies is profit. You don’t make it in the world of competitive capitalism by handing out freebies. Which means the research is skewed toward those areas that will bring in the cash. In GE food and wood products, the profit is in sales, and if the Big Five can get enough GE products out there, those sales will be enormous.

There are presently 100 million acres planted with GE crops in the U.S., 25 times more than in 1998. Some 68 percent of the world’s GE acreage is here in the U.S. Half our soybeans and a quarter of our corn are GE. We export almost twice as much corn and soybeans as the rest of the world combined (75.9 million metric tons vs. 41 million metric tons).

Europe and Asia are presently resisting GE crops, but if biotech firms successfully lobby Brazil to open that country to GE soybeans, consumers worldwide will have little choice but to accept them. “That is why the environmentalists are putting up such a stink down there in Brazil,” Bob Callahan, spokesperson for the pro-GE American Soybean Association told the New York Times. “They know if that goes, it’s all gone.”

As GE crops spread, they pollute non-GE crops. Between biotech fields and GE black-market seeds, virtually the whole biosphere will soon be contaminated if something isn’t done.

And something can be done. When consumers pressured fast food distributors into not using Monsanto’s GE potatoes, the company stopped making the product. Not only are European and Asian countries protesting GE products, but increasing numbers of Americans are as well. Twenty-seven states have tried passing legislation restricting GE crops. The most successful of these have united environmentalists, worried about the biosphere, and farmers, worried about foreign crop sales. For a state like North Dakota, which exports $500 million in wheat each year, that is no small potatoes.

The supporters of GE crops are powerful. The financial power of the Big Five, coupled with an accommodating government, and a quiescent mainstream media, is a formidable trinity. But so is the growing alliance of environmentalists, farmers and consumers who are increasingly allergic to the alliance of multi-national companies and governments that increasingly dominate our world.

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Food Bully

Food Bully

Foreign Policy In Focus

Aug. 16, 2003

The decision by the Bush Administration to sue the European Union (EU) over its five-year moratorium on genetically modified (GM) foods has all the earmarks of a “shock and awe” campaign targeted at prying open a major potential market. But the suit before the World Trade Organization (WTO) may be aimed less at the EU than at developing nations, which are far more vulnerable to strong-arm tactics.

Take the case of the reluctant Egyptians.

Egypt had originally joined the suit, along with Argentina and Canada, but, in the face of a domestic backlash over the safety of GM food crops, withdrew. However, it filed a separate complaint on an EU ban against its GM drought-resistant cotton, joining, at least in spirit, the U.S. action.

Besides responding to popular sentiment, the Egyptians were also nervous over the confrontational tone of the U.S. suit. “The way (the complaint) was announced was like a war with the EU,” one Egyptian trade official told the Financial Times, “We can’t go to war with the EU. It is 40 percent of our trade.”

Avoiding war with the EU, however, landed them in a shootout with the Americans. Reacting with fury, the U.S. accused the Egyptians of breaking their word and cancelled free trade talks.

According to the Financial Times, Egyptian officials were “stunned” by the U.S. reaction, particularly after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick recently described their country as a “linchpin” for a Middle East free trade agreement and “the heart of the Arab world.”

The White House was banking on Egypt to represent the need for GM crops in “developing countries,” in particular, Africa. GM crops as a solution to the African famine is one of the major arguments the Bush Administration has used against the EU ban.

The Bush Administration seems to be applying its “for us or against us” anti-terrorism formula to trade policy, particularly if the country is a developing one like Egypt. Similarly, when Croatia and Thailand raised health objections to GM crops, the U.S. threatened trade sanctions and both countries backed down.

The White House has been more circuitous with big countries, like India and Brazil. In the case of Brazil, U.S. corporations–underwritten by taxpayers–bring politicians and scientists to the U.S. and South Africa to study GM crops. And reaction to India’s ban on U.S. GM crops has been muted.

There is much at stake in this fight over biotechnology, and it has nothing to do with alleviating hunger or overcoming famine. The “Big Five” biotech companies—Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Dow Chemical and Aventis–have invested billions of dollars in research and development. Out of 1085 biotech patents, the Big Five control 937.

The U.S. argues that GM crops represent the new “green revolution” that will allow countries to feed the growing world population. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own Economic Research Service found that crop yields were no higher for GM crops than they are for regular crops, and GM crops can be tricky to grow. They were created for huge American super farms, not the small-scale agriculture that characterizes most of the developing world. Plus GM seeds cost more, and few poor farmers have access to cash.

The Bush Administration presents its GM-friendly policies as a solution to hunger. During his recent tour of Africa, Bush said, “For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology.”

But many Africans are suspicious and see the spread of GM crops as creating a kind of “bioserfdom,” with farmers in thrall to huge biotech companies. Amadou Kanoute, research director of African Office of Consumers International, says the spread of GM crops, “will plunge Africa into greater food dependency.”

American agricultural policy has always had a strong self-interest streak in it. According to a policy statement by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the main vehicle for foreign food aid, “The principal beneficiary of America’s foreign assistance programs has always been the United States.”

Hunger is a product of access and distribution, not production, as the cases of India and Uganda make clear.

India produces more than 48 million tons of surplus food, yet most is never distributed to the more than 320 million Indians who go to bed hungry each night. In Orissa’s Kalahandi Province there is actual starvation, even though the area is rich and fertile and produces 50,000 tons of surplus rice annually.

In Uganda, the problem is transport, not food production. The wet and fertile west of the country produces plenty of surplus, but poor roads and inadequate rail systems make shipping the food to the dry east expensive. Yet few international organizations or lenders will pony up money for improving things like infrastructure.

The Administration’s charge that EU policies are encouraging famine in Africa has deeply angered Europeans. As EU officials point out, Europe gives Africa seven times as much aid as the U.S. does, and further, that most of that aid is delivered in cash, which bolsters local economies. The U.S., on the other hand, delivers its aid in the form of agricultural surplus, which allows the U.S. to dump its overproduction.

The European Parliament has already decided to phase out the moratorium against GM crops, although it will demand strict labeling. Any product containing more than 0.9 percent GM products will be flagged, and GM food will have to be segregated from non-GM food in production and harvesting.

The U.S., however, refuses to accept labeling. Zoellick says, while he supports consumer choice, “this information should be non-prejudicial in presentation and feasible for producers to provide,” adding that the labeling plan “does not meet this standard.”

The “feasible” in Zoellick’s statement refers to the expense involved in segregating GM products from non-GM products. But the Administration is also nervous that that if Europeans get labeling, Americans might demand the same. Three fourths of the food on U.S. shelves contain GM products, and a recent study by the high biotech firm Novartis found that 92 percent of Americans approve of labeling.

The EU is unlikely to be intimidated by fines imposed by the WTO, and if the Americans manage to block labeling, European consumers will probably just boycott all American food imports. The only real casualties in that trade war will be American farmers.

The prize in this fight is not the EU, which in any case only absorbs some 10 percent of American agricultural exports. The prize is the developing world, where regulations are lax, profits higher, and resistance may carry a very high price.

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Biowarfare and terrorism

Biowarfare and terrorism

SF Examiner

Sept. 21, 2001

If the Bush Administration truly intends to wage a war on terrorism, it can start by reversing its policies vis-a-vie the Biological Warfare Treaty.

For the past six months, the Bush Administration has complained that the 1972 Treaty, which bans countries from developing or acquiring weapons that could spread disease was deeply flawed and would not deter nations that wanted to cheat. The agreement, embraced by 143 nations, does have two loopholes: It has no enforcement procedures and doesn’t clearly distinguish between “defensive” and “offensive” weapons. The former is allowed.

After seven years of negotiations aimed at strengthening the Treaty, the U.S. formally withdrew from the Geneva talks in July, with U.S. chief negotiator Donald Mahley arguing that “The draft protocol will not improve our ability to verify Biological Weapons Convention compliance, and will do little to deter those countries seeking to develop biological weapons.”

Well, as difficult as I find it to agree with the Administration, I have to admit it got this one right. The Treaty has allowed one nation to systematically violate its protocols, undermine its spirit, and develop new and more fearsome weapons of biological warfare. Iraq? Iran? North Korea? No, the U.S.

According to the New York Times, both the Clinton and Bush administrations have secretly tested a bomb designed to spread deadly anthrax and bio-engineered the same pathogen to make it immune to current vaccinations. Under the irony-challenged codename “Clear Vision,” the CIA and the Department of Defense (DOD) is carrying out the research at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio.

Both agencies were instrumental in torpedoing the Treaty talks in Geneva, and with good reason. The new protocols would have required all countries to disclose if (and where) they are engaged in any research involving the gene splicing of germs that could be used in weapons. Of course the Bush Administration pulled out of the Treaty talks; it was up to no good.

The White House argues that the research is “defensive,” and hence allowed under the Treaty, but former arms control experts vehemently disagree. Mary Hoinkes, general counsel for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), told the Times that any such interpretation is a “gross misrepresentation” of the Treaty.

This is hardly surprising. When it comes to defense spending, especially top secret or“black budget” items, the DOD, the CIA, and the White House simply lie, all under the rubric of “national security.” The fact that the American people might want a say in something of this nature, particularly if it involves a formal treaty dutifully voted on and passed by the Senate, is irrelevant.

Even the Times puts a benign spin on its own revelation, arguing that the U.S. was essentially forced to “restart” its bio-warfare program because “it knew relatively little about the working of exotic arms it had relinquished long ago.” But the U.S. defense establishment never “relinquished” biowarfare, it just redefined “offense” to “defense.” All our nasties are defensive. Offensive weapons are what the other guys have. In fact, the research and bio agents are the same for both, and the U.S. has developed a substantial number of bio-weapons over the years. Take the so-called “turkey feather” bomb, where feathers saturated with hog Cholera successfully wiped out a herd of pigs (U.S. Army Special Report #138), or when the U.S. dusted song birds with cereal rust to initiate a epidemic on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

Weapons containing anthrax and Q fever were detonated at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet over Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. In one case, the Army allowed anthrax spores to blow over Highway 40 (now Interstate 80) and the town of Wendover on the Utah-Nevada border. Rather than stopping the tests, the Army instructed local sheriff’s to cruise the highway and take down the names of people in stalled cars.

Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, the Army released rodents infected with plague, tularemia and Q fever at Dugway, as well at Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, a disease never seen outside of Florida and Louisiana, and now endemic to Utah.

There is at least some evidence that the U.S. has engaged in active biowarfare. According to the New York newspaper, Newsday, the CIA helped anti-Castro Cubans introduce African swine fever into the island in 1971. The newspaper reported that the pathogen was packed into a canister at Fork Gulick, a former U.S. base in Panama. The epidemic was a disaster for the Cuban pig industry.

Cuba and Nicaragua also charged that the U.S. introduced Dengue II fever to both countries as part of the Reagan Administration’s jihad on the Sandinistas. Both diseases were unknown in the two countries until 1984.

The U.S. denies the charges, and the outbreak may indeed have been coincidental. On the other hand, the denials are by the same people lying to us about operation Clear Vision.

Dumping the Biological Warfare protocols is not just Bush walking away from yet another international treaty. Biowarfare is not a hypothetical missile in another country. The research is right here at home. According to a report by the Senate Governmental Affairs Oversight Subcommittee, safety measure for biological research are “completely inadequate,” and “there appears to be no safety inspections of biological defense contractors prior to contract awards, nor does the DOD require routine safety inspections.”

Let’s imagine gene-engineered, vaccine-proof anthrax loose in the Ohio countryside.

Scientists Susan Wright and Robert Sinsheimer argue the present situation is like nuclear weapons in the 1940s. “Tentative efforts were put forth at that time to seek to prevent the nuclear arms race, with all its perilous consequences. Those efforts failed and we live in the deepening shadow of that failure.”

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