It’s war tax day, so it’s good to know that (based on federal discretionary spending) just under 57% of your tax dollars will go to the military this year (this doesn’t include billions for nuclear weapons in the DOE budget, part of their $17 billion in “atomic energy/defense” budget).
You might wonder how this military spending spree is still possible, after all the talk about Pentagon budget cuts. In fact, the so-called budget cuts are not cuts at all- they’re minor reductions in the prior planned 18% increase in the ten-year projected Pentagon budget. The Obama plan calls for no cuts in nuclear forces, no major weapons systems cuts, no decrease in the size of the aircraft carrier fleet.
But this still doesn’t placate some politicians, especially those closest to military contractors whose massive profits rely on this bloated budget. Representative Buck McKeon (not to be confused with General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove), chair of the House Armed Services Committee and recipient of more defense company dollars than other House member, called the Obama budget proposal a “retreat from the world.”
Some retreat. In January, Obama boasted that U.S. military spending will remain “larger than roughly the next 10 nations combined,” although he was being modest: military analysts calculate U.S. military spending at more than the next 17 or 18 nations combined.
So, what do you get for $614 billion in military spending? How about the F-35 “stealth” fighter plane. Already the most expensive weapons system ever, the price tag of the unproven aircraft doubled last fall when maker Lockheed Martin announced “cost overruns” of more than $770 million. Given that the U.S. plan will ultimately waste $1 trillion on the jet program, which cheated on a recent capability test and suffers from more than a dozen serious safety flaws, an overrun of close to a billion dollars is likely to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Lockheed’s fleecing of taxpayers.
The F-35 is hardly alone. An audit last year found that overruns due to Pentagon mismanagement cost $70 billion over the last two years .
But defense spending creates jobs, right? Not so much. In a recent analysis, University of Massachusetts researchers found that military spending is weakest job creator, compared with spending on clean energy, healthcare, education, or even tax breaks. But there is one place that military spending is creating jobs: prisons. Military contractors including Lockheed, Raytheon, McDonnell Douglas/Boeing, General Dynamics and others have all used prison labor to build parts of Patriot Missiles, Cobra helicopters, F-15 fighter planes and other weapons.
If you’re unhappy about any of this, remember, it could be worse. Mitt Romney’s proposed military budget would result in about a 30% increase in the ten year Pentagon budget.
For more information and resources, check out the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
March 4 Update: The FDA has announced a spate of food recalls due to salmonella contamination of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), an ingredient used in thousands of foods. A Trader Joe’s salad dressing is one of the recalled products, leading some to ask if the company intends to fully inform its consumers about the nature of the potential health issue involved.
Say your young child is sick, very sick. Earlier in the day, you noticed a sign at the grocery store about a food recall of a product your child eats. The recall notice said the product could cause a serious food-borne illness. You rush your child to the doctor, and the doctor asks you what illness was specified on the sign.
And you tell the doctor, the sign didn’t say.
As a result, proper treatment for your sick child will be delayed, simply because the store failed to adequately inform you about the nature of the problem. This could mean more suffering, or worse, for your child.
Let’s hope this is only a hypothetical situation. But sadly, today at Trader Joe’s, signs at the store inform shoppers of the risk of “a serious food-borne illness” linked to the company’s house-brand Chocolate Chip Chewy Coated Granola Bars. But the store signs fail to inform people that salmonella, which can cause hospitalization and even death, is the culprit.
Yesterday, I exchanged a series of emails and had a phone conversation about this with Matt Sloan, a VP of Marketing at Trader Joe’s. I implored him to simply add the word “salmonella” before the phrase “a serious food-borne illness” in their store signs. I stressed that the most important information a doctor can have is the specific illness a patient may be suffering. I noted that this simple change could alleviate suffering if a child was sickened by the product.
He replied that Trader Joe’s has found that too much complicated information would only confuse shoppers.
In other words, Trader Joe’s thinks its customers are too stupid to understand the word “salmonella.”
Now, I don’t think that’s true, but if you do, please send Matt a note to say “thanks” for treating you like a dim-wit who can’t handle the full information that your doctor may need to properly treat an illness.
But if you’re like me, and you’re shocked that Trader Joe’s refused to make this simple change to their store signs (a process which would cost them nothing and likely take less than 30 minutes of staff time to accomplish), please urge them to reconsider by emailing Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane and VP Matt Sloan. Click here for email addresses for Dan Bane and Matt and a suggested sample email to them (that you can cut and paste, and/or edit as you like).
Earlier this month, genetically engineered (GMO) salmon produced by the US-company Aqua Bounty were reportedly condemned in Panama, due to fears that the super-salmon could escape and wreak havoc on natural fish populations. The company later claimed the report was inaccurate, but company documents acknowledge that its Panamanian operation was established in 2008 with the goal of “conducting commercial trials of the Company’s AquAdvantage salmon.”
Whatever the situation in Panama, concerns about the impending approval of genetically engineered (GMO) salmon are nothing new (nor are concerns about farmed salmon in general: Greenpeace just announced that mega-retailer Target will stop selling all farmed salmon . An article last February noted that Aqua Bounty was “soon” expecting FDA approval for the GMO salmon, which grows more rapidly than its natural counterpart.
Aqua Bounty has been seeking FDA approval since 1996, and has repeatedly claimed approval was just around the corner. In 2003, company founder and then-CEO Elliot Entis told Business Week that he hoped for FDA approval within a year. In 2004, another report stated the company was looking for approval by the end of the year. Another Business Week story in 2006 noted the fish could be on the market “as early as 2008.”
In mid-2008, the company said that the first salmon for a “commercial market test” were expected to reach harvest weight by late 2009. By mid-2009, the company projected the fish would be up to harvest weight “in early 2010.” The timeline for the market test, they said, was “proceeding on plan.”
Aqua Bounty has a history of over-promising and underperforming: projected sales of its shrimp feed additive were slated to be $370 million by 2010; in fact, total sales for all of the company’s products peaked at less than $800,000 in 2005. By 2008, the shrimp feed additive was withdrawn from the market, and the company’s mid-year 2009 report notes total sales revenue at zero following withdrawal of the product.
A look at its financial reports shows a company in deep waters. Aqua Bounty lost more than $8 million in 2006, and more than $6.5 million each year in 2007 and 2008, and projected a $5 million loss for 2009. Despite the losses, the company recently received a $2.9 million grant from the Canadian government’s “Atlantic Innovation Fund” and $100,000 from the US National Science Foundation.
The company’s latest financial statement notes, “At this level of cash burn, Aqua Bounty expects its funds to take the Company at least into 2011 before revenues need to cover costs…. Once AquAdvantage® [GMO] Salmon is approved for sale, the Company’s focus will be to develop sales as quickly as practical.”
In other words, the company’s future depends on FDA approval this year.
Of course, Aqua Bounty’s future also requires that consumers continue to be kept in the dark about the super salmon, if it ever does get to market. Since people don’t want to eat GMO salmon, their product can only survive in the marketplace if it is not labeled. Consumer groups have called for labeling, and food safety, environmental and wild salmon advocates have opposed approval (and called for strict regulation if approved) of the GMO salmon, but FDA is unwilling to require labels on GMO food, despite inherent risks in the genetic engineering process.
The techniques used to produce GMO crops or animals inherently create unpredictable side effects. Gene tinkerers literally shoot inserted genes into “target” organisms, and do not know where in the organisms’ genome the inserted gene will land. Thus they cannot know what other genes may be affected, or how the inserted gene will respond in the new host. Several studies on genetic engineering intended for faster growing fish have found a bounty of side effects, including impacts on swimming ability, feeding rates, muscle structure, life span and more. One study found GMO salmon had changes in head and body shape, with enlarged abdomens and larger than normal intestines, among other unexpected changes.
One of the most troubling side-effects of gene tinkering is a potential increase in allergens or creation of new allergens. A New England Journal of Medicine article on GMO food noted that the potential for allergies created from GMO foods is “uncertain, unpredictable, and untestable.”
GMO fish are also likely to irreversibly alter natural marine environments, with unpredictable and possibly fatal impacts on natural fish species. One study demonstrated that an escape of relatively few GMO fish could wipe out local fish populations in just 40 generations. Escapes of fish from aquaculture facilities are so routine that Canada’s draft policy stated that GMO fish “must be treated the same as fish released into the natural ecosystem.”
Despite the risks of GMO fish, widespread consumer concern, and the dubious track record of the company bringing GMO salmon to market, the US government continues to fund research and development of GMO seafood through its Sea Grant programs. Research into numerous GMO species, including catfish, sea bass, tilapia, oysters and other fish and seafood is ongoing at many of the country’s thirty-two Sea Grant universities.
British police have arrested Jim McCormick, a former cop and director of a British company that sold at least $85 million of phony bomb detectors to Iraq. An audit showed Iraq paid between $40,000 and $60,000 for each device, essentially a dowsing rod for bombs (and more, keep reading). Iraqi has purchased more than 1500 of the devices at the inflated price, although the useless device was sold elsewhere at a bargain basement rate of $16,000.
(strangely, the cost of producing the device, which contains no power source, no electronics, and seems to have no internal parts, is reported to be $250, yet a toy gun for kids with sound and lights retails for less than $5).
In addition to finding bombs, ATSC, the maker of the ersatz detector claims it can find drugs, guns, human remains, ivory and truffles (though the price of the device suggests most chefs would stick with pigs for their mushroom hunting).
A similar device marketed as the “Sniffex” detector was purportedly “invented” by Bulgarian Yuri Markov. In July 2008 the SEC charged Markov and others with running a $32 million fraud by promoting false claims about the device to investors. The Sniffex and other such fraudulent devices are reportedly still on the market.
Though Iraqi authorities repeatedly defended the accuracy of the bogus bomb sniffer, they did last June report one complaint about its nose: the detector, they said, was especially sensitive to perfumes, leading to many false alarms, presumably when aimed at fragrant young women.
[see editor’s note, at end]
Genetically engineered food giant Bayer was hit last week with the first judgment in what is expected to be a series of losses for the 2006 contamination of rice by the company’s unapproved GMO variety. A Missouri jury ordered Bayer to pay $2 million to two farmers who suffered losses when global markets to U.S. rice exports closed following the contamination event. More than 1,000 farmers from every major rice growing state except California have filed similar suits.
The unapproved Bayer rice had been grown only in a few small field trials that were abandoned in 2001. Nevertheless, contamination from the GMO variety persisted and was detected in U.S. rice shipments in Europe, Asia and Africa in 2006. A report by an Ohio independent economic consultant for Greenpeace estimated the total costs to farmers, food companies, the rice industry and other related entities from the Bayer contamination could exceed $1.28 billion. The report estimates Bayer faces a potential additional liability to farmers and food companies that are suing the biotech crop producer of another billion dollars.
In addition to the economic losses, the Bayer rice contamination is significant as it contradicts a key argument by biotech crop proponents, who say that self-pollinating crops like rice will not contaminate neighboring fields, and thus can be safely used as “pharm” crops to produce experimental drugs. Even the usually pro-biotech science journal Nature Biotechnology has chastised GMO pharming companies for using food crops to produce these untested drugs and non-food compunds, comparing the risk to “conventional pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical manufacturer packaging its pills in candy wrappers….”
In fact, a near-disaster from contamination of the food supply from an untested pig drug grown in GMO corn was narrowly averted in 2002, when a ProdiGene pharm corn contaminated 500,000 bushels of soybeans destined for the food supply. Prior to the incident, the company’s CEO had stated that such contamination was impossible because the products of the drug crops are so valuable that “we never let it get out of our hands.” Two years after the ProdiGene contamination, a report by six independent experts commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that USDA’s oversight of pharm crop field trials was still inadequate and left the food supply open to potentially disastrous contamination by experimental drugs.
Despite the havoc created by GMO contamination episodes and risks of contamination from pharm crops, a recent Sustainablog post by biotech crop proponent Steve Savage describes contamination from GMO crops as “something that is actually a very old and very manageable.” After my initial response, Savage replied, but my next post in the exchange has yet to be published, even though there are other posts on the site that were sent after I submitted mine. What follows is my (revised and expanded) final contribution to the discussion.
As the StarLink, ProdiGene and hundreds of other contamination incidents show, there is nothing “old” and nothing manageable about contamination of natural food by GMOs. For consumers, GMO contamination means we cannot be sure that the food we buy is free from altered genes, even if we buy only organically grown products. This is a direct assault on consumers’ right to know what is in our food, and our right to food free from genetic experiments.
For farmers, GMO contamination has meant millions of dollars of lost sales and economic losses that hamper the U.S. corn, rice and other crop export industries to this day. For farmers and food companies, GMO contamination means millions of dollars spent in testing costs and verification of non-GMO status, costs for which the companies responsible for the problem, the biotech companies, are not held accountable. Organic growers are especially hard-hit; in a 2003 survey, one-third of organic growers rated the risk of contamination of their crops by GMOs as high or very high. Indeed, in legal judgments that found USDA illegally approved GMO alfalfa and sugar beets, two federal judges described the agency’s failure to account for potential contamination of natural and organic farms as contrary to the real economic threats faced by farmers in areas where GMO varieties would be grown, and threats to consumers who wish to eat safe, natural food. The judgment in the sugar beet case states that the “potential elimination of farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food” is significant and should have prompted USDA to conduct a full environmental impact statement.
It’s interesting that Steve Savage boasts of his work on natural, biological pesticides while at DuPont and Mycogen. Those companies were among the leaders in bringing GMO “Bt” crops to market, despite concerns raised by scientists, environmentalists and organic growers who noted that the Bt crops threaten to destroy the usefulness of Bt sprays, valued by many as the world’s safest and most important biological pesticide. It’s curious that while Savage was purportedly working on biological pesticides, his colleagues were working to destroy the safest one known.
Savage also says that GMO Bt crops couldn’t present an allergy risk because they contain the same gene found and long-used in Bt sprays. But the version in GMO crops is not the same as in sprays; in crops it is an activated, high-dose (truncated) toxin. Moreover, regulatory agencies have failed to fully assess the allergenic potential of these Bt genes; Savage says the Cry1ac gene is safe, but one scientist’s review found that “There is now evidence that Cry1Ac is a potent, systemic and local immunogen, a strong adjuvant and that it binds to surface (gut) proteins” in animal studies. Also, an Australian GMO pea screw up showed that even genes long found safe in their natural hosts can create potentially hazardous allergens when transferred via genetic engineering, due to unexpected and uncontrollable side-effects of the process.
Savage claims that concerns about the toxic effects of pesticides are “out of date.” Yet today, the pesticide industry is promoting the use of methyl iodide, one of the most toxic carcinogens known, on food crops in California. Use of GMO crops has also hastened development of herbicide resistant superweeds, forcing farmers to return to highly toxic chemicals like 2,4-D and paraquat. GMO crop developers have also created crops engineered to withstand high doses of dicamba, a neurotoxin that has also been linked to reproductive and developmental health problems.
Savage omitted his tenure at DuPont from his Sustainablog bio, yet now says he is proud of his time there (after being outed, he updated his bio and claims he was not hiding anything. Really? Then why didn’t he list the affiliations in the first place?). Confronted with DuPont’s record as one of the worst polluters of the 20th century, he repeats a tired industry line, implying that such problems were a legacy of the past, and claims that during his time there the company was “a very responsible organization.” To another commenter who questioned DuPont’s record, Savage states that “anti-corporate forces” are unfair and have a “dehumanized perspective on corporations.” He also admits that he currently has projects with “agro-chemical companies,” but again fails to disclose which companies he works for.
Whatever one’s “perspective,” the facts about DuPont’s lengthy record of lies, crimes and misdeeds are well known, and the company’s efforts to deceive the public and cover-up risks of its products continue to this day.
Since Savage says that he found DuPont to be “very responsible” during his time there, a look at the company from 1982-89 is enlightening. Just a few of the company’s many misdeeds during this time include:
- DuPont lied about and covered up risks associated with its Teflon chemicals. For years DuPont knew a chemical in Teflon, a likely carcinogen, was persistent and toxic, yet the company covered up evidence and withheld safety data. In 2005, the EPA fined the company $16.5 million, the largest civil administrative penalty ever won, after DuPont was found guilty on three counts of hiding safety studies throughout the 1980s and beyond.
- DuPont’s disposal of the chemical in landfills, burn pits and injection wells throughout the 1980s polluted the Ohio River, leaving a legacy of water pollution that threatens community health to this day.
- Throughout the 1980’s, DuPont was the largest global producer of ozone-destroying CFCs. According to a 1991 EPA study, the ozone damage will create 12 million skin cancers, causing 200,000 deaths through 2040. DuPont denied the hazards of CFCs for decades, then continued to produce and sell the chemical in the developing world after being forced to end production in the US and Europe. DuPont CFC “alternatives” also destroy the ozone and one caused tumors in rat studies.
- DuPont funded the 1989 founding of the Global Climate Coalition, a phony front-group of gas, oil and chemical companies aligned to spread lies about the “myths” of climate change.
- Lead, mercury and other toxic pollution from DuPont’s plant in Pompton Lakes, NJ through the mid-1980s was responsible for cancer and other illnesses among residents there, according to a 2002 jury verdict. DuPont also paid $38.5 million to residents of a company-owned town next to the site. Ongoing high cancer rates in the town are raising concerns that clean-up and remediation efforts have failed.
- In 1989, the company was hit with $1.5 million in punitive damages by a jury who found DuPont guilty of fraudulently concealing health records of workers exposed to asbestos.
This is the record of the company that Savage calls “a very responsible organization”? To paraphrase Professor Harold Hill, “Friend, either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of DuPont (and apologists like Steve Savage) in your community.”
[editors note: this will be the last daily post, check back for more corporate crime "occasionally."]
Since Steve Savage sent a lengthy reply, I’ve posted it, in italics, interspersed with my responses, in bold, below.
Really now Charles, why don’t we keep this discussion above the ad homonym [sic] attack level. At the end of the day this is not about me or you.
There is nothing ad hominem about my post. My responses in regards to your actions are factual. I am not suggesting that your arguments are wrong because you hid your background; but I believe it is relevant for people to know, since (as one other commenter stated), there is much pro-biotech propaganda created by industry front-men who pose as “neutral” observers.
What you never addressed in your comment on my blog or in this post is the central point I made which was that all these “contamination” events you are describing are things that occur through the entirely natural mechanism of outcrossing. They only get defined as “contamination” because of irrational, zero-tolerances. My point is that related plants exchange genes all the time. I don’t think there is any argument about that. This blog essentially says the sky is falling, so we will have to wait and see if you are right.
Outcrossing between related plants is natural; there is nothing “natural” about outcrossing of lab-created genes, genes from non-food sources that have never been part of the human diet, and genes intended to create biologically active, experimental drugs. And there’s nothing irrational about zero-tolerance for such events.
The post doesn’t say the sky is falling; but for thousands of farmers, the sky already fell. You say you want to help farmers, yet you seem completely unconcerned about those who have suffered severe losses from GMO contamination. Whether you think it’s rational or not, it costs farmers when their customers don’t want their product. I’ve talked to thousands of farmers who tell me, the customer is always right. You seem to think that when it comes to GMO food, the customer should shut up and eat whatever Monsanto tells them to eat.
Whether you think it’s rational or not, millions of people object to eating GMOs, for many reasons. Is everyone who wants to protect their right to safe, natural non-GMO food supposed to give this right up because you think that’s not rational? Some “scientists” believe life begins at conception – to them, every woman who believes she has a right to abortion is just being irrational, too. Control over our bodies, and what food we put into them, is not something you get to decide, even if you are a scientist.
As for the Bt. The most severe case of resistance occurred through over-use of the spray form against the Diamond Back Moth. You describe Bt in pretty glowing terms. It actually represents an extremely tiny part of insect control around the world. I should know, we were in that business when I worked at Mycogen. Biological control is a cool thing and interesting to me as a biologist, but I know that it will never make a big difference on keeping the world fed. The sort of Chemicals that are developed by companies like DuPont (another former employer 1982-89) are much more important to keeping us fed and protected from diseases spread by pests. The biotech traits are another important part of our food security.
The safety and usefulness of Bt is not just my opinion, many farm and gardening experts recommend it. Like any pesticide, it can be overused and harmful if misused (eg, as you can see, one farmer found out the hard way that you shouldn’t get it in your eyes). The idea that we need toxic chemicals and GMOs for food security is convenient for those who sell these products, but evidence suggests otherwise.
I take time away from consulting to write blog posts. I’m not in the least bit ashamed about working with the companies that help farmers to be successful. At some point I’ve worked with just about all of them. I think my diverse experience in this over the past 32 years is something worth sharing in civil conversations about these complex issues.
Well, thanks for sharing.
[as I suspected he would, Steve Savage gave it another try. Below, his latest and my final response, in the same format as above]
I actually don’t think you are right that there is much pro-biotech propaganda on blog sites.
I didn’t say that; I said there is much pro-biotech propaganda written by those who, like you, hide who they really are. Here are some examples, there are too many others to list.
Most of what is said about food and agriculture is written by people with a strong bias and very little knowledge. That is why I started writing this summer. The fact that you, a paid activist, even found my post is surprising. You say “I’m not suggesting your arguments are wrong…” then what were you suggesting?
I think you’re having some basic reading comprehension problems (or you’re intentionally engaging in contextomy, which is almost as fun to say as ad hominem). In response to your claim that I was making ad hominem attacks, I pointed out that I was in fact directly addressing the inaccuracies in your arguments, and was not using the fact that you were misleading people about your background as an argument against your positions. If you need me to clarify: I think your arguments are wrong, and I also think you covered up who you are so people wouldn’t know that you work for the industry who you were purporting to defend as a “neutral” scientist. Get it?
It seems that from your perspective I work for “FOOD Inc.” From my perspective you work for “FEAR Inc.”
If people are “afraid” of GMO foods, it’s because they are being developed and promoted by the same companies who developed and promoted their toxic pesticides (and dozens of other harmful chemicals) for decades as safe, effective and environmentally friendly – until the truth came out otherwise. Since industry is using the same unsubstantiated arguments about GMOs, and uses third-parties who hide their real identities to promote their message, it tends to breed distrust and fear.
You have been very successful. Because of your activism there is no biotech wheat meaning that we have less of it grown and it has higher levels of vomitoxin than it could have had. Because of your work we have no biotech potatoes meaning that far more insecticides are needed to protect the crop from beetles and virus.
You have a knack for making claims without backing them up. The evidence shows biotech crops don’t yield more, and lead to increased use of pesticides. While I’d love to take credit for killing the Bt potato, in fact it didn’t catch on because growers didn’t find it to be profitable.
Because of your work the poor people of Thailand can’t grow virus resistant Papaya as a good source of local vitamin C.
Perhaps they don’t want the GMO papaya because they want to protect their important export markets (unlike Hawaii, which loses money on GMO papaya exports, since they have to sell the GMO variety at a lower price).
Because of your work African elites have rejected food shipments even when their people are starving and rejected free virus resistant cassava that could have allowed their people to feed themselves.
Are they “elites” because they disagree with you? (the biotech industry seems happy to work with African “elites” when they help promote biotech). A group of African scientists at a UN plant science conference were found to be quite capable of speaking for themselves on this.
Because of your work Europe produces far less food than it could so that it is a more of a rich competitor with the poor in international grain markets than it could have been.
This strikes me as internally inconsistent, but whatever you mean, see reply above re: yields and pesticide use.
Because of your work, Bt sweet corn that does not require multiple insecticide sprays has been quietly rejected by food processing companies and retailers – not because there is anything dangerous about it but because you have so effectively exploited brand protectionism instincts of large companies.
Industry says GMO corn is grown on more than 70% of all corn acreage. I must be slipping.
You have been amazingly effective.
Well, thanks for that. As I’m certain this back-and-forth is getting tiresome to readers (not to mention to me), I’m going to leave it be here. If you’d like to continue with more unsubstantiated attacks on me, feel free to do so elsewhere (I promise not to respond).
A former worker on the TransCanada Keystone pipeline has accused construction and engineering company Henkels & McCoy of workplace discrimination. Charles Adams, an African-American former employee of the company is charging that he suffered racist taunting and had a noose thrown around his neck while at the company’s pipeline worksite in 2008.
A quote from Henkels’ founder “Jack” Henkels in a company history states,
Sometimes I would like to call ours a Christian business. It never was. I am a Catholic, which none of my partners were. Three of the real architects of the business were Jews… If we were never wholly a Christian business, we certainly were not all the same color. African and Caucasian have worked side by side in Henkels & McCoy since the beginning. We were never interested in the pigmentation of a man’s skin. If he could do the job, he was on; if he couldn’t, we didn’t want him — no matter what his color.”
In 2000, the state of Illinois sued Henkels and other companies for pollution related to operations there that “caused air pollution, caused open dumping, improperly disposed of waste,” endangering the health of local residents.
Earlier this week, a federal judge approved settlement talks in a case brought by Native Americans against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the agency’s decades of discriminatory treatment of Indian farmers. The Native farmers and ranchers are seeking repayment for $600 million of losses due to USDA’s failure to treat Indians equally under USDA farm loan and assistance programs.
Earlier this year, the National Congress of American Indians called for a swift resolution of the claims, which were first filed in 1999, and pointed to an expert report showing that USDA bias cost Native Americans “$500 million to $1 billion dollars of economic losses (and) the denial of $3 billion worth of credit.” The judge’s order in the USDA case comes on the heels of a $3.4 billion federal government settlement with Native Americans for decades of mismanagement of government established Native Trusts.
Native American farmers may learn from African American farmers’ experiences with USDA. In 1999, Black farmers entered into an historic settlement with the agency, which promised hundreds of millions of dollars for farmers who the agency’s loans and assistance programs discriminated against for decades. Then Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told the Washington Post that the agency was facing “substantial liability” and hoped the settlement would end the “painful chapter” in the department’s history. But just this year, a group of black farmers complained that USDA has still not paid compensation despite the decade-old settlement.
A citizens’ group in Tillery, North Carolina has established a Land Loss Fund to improve the lives of those who have lost land, especially in African American farm communities. The organization notes the power associated with land ownership and laments that “African Americans are losing land at a rate of 9,000 acres per week.” They also point to mid-1980’s USDA programs that funneled $1.3 billion to farmers nationwide to buy land, yet included just 209 Black farmers in the more than 16,000 farmers funded by the program.
The Tillery Resettlement Community is a legacy of a federal farm program for former sharecroppers. Today, Tillery is 98 percent African American; almost all of the community’s farming jobs have disappeared, replaced by low-paying factory jobs. The small farms have been mostly replaced by corporate hog farms, leading to water contamination issues for local residents.