Category Archives: Commodification of Life

Orin Langelle responds to Rolling Stone article, “Green Going Gone: The Tragic Deforestation of the Chaco”

Orin Langelle, Board Chair, Global Justice Ecology Project

I am impressed to see attention being given to the Chaco region by Christine MacDonald’s Rolling Stone article.  I also witnessed some of the tragedy of the Chaco and Paraguay itself.

In 2009 I traveled to the Chaco with Dr. Miguel Lovera, my friend and the chairperson of Global Forest Coalition and part of the Ayoreo support group, Iniciativa Amotocodie.

Dr. Lovera became National Secretary for Plant Safety for Paraguay during Fernado Lugo’s presidency. In her article, MacDonald writes that “Lugo was swept from office in 2012 [by] an impeachment carried out by the Paraguayan Congress.” My colleagues in Paraguay would disagree with the term “impeachment.” To them it was a coup that forced Lugo out of office in 2012.

Because of the coup, Dr. Lovera lost his job as National Secretary for Plant Safety for Paraguay.  While National Secretary, Lovera was in constant battle with the soy mafia and tried to stop the introduction of GMO cotton. Lovera had armed guards in his home due to his ongoing campaign to stop GMOs. No doubt Paraguay’s agribusiness leaders and their friends at Monsanto celebrated the fact that Lovera was removed from office.

 When I was in the Chaco in 2009 it was evident that things were bad and were going to get worse.  One of the tragic realities is the ongoing hostilities against the indigenous Ayoreo People of the Chaco. I was invited by the Ayoreo community to photograph Campo Lorro, where some of the first Ayoreo People captured were sent when Mennonite farmers established settlements on their land.

Below is one of photos I shot in Campo Lorro for the photo essay “Sharing the Eye.”

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There are still uncontacted Ayoreo living in the Gran Chaco. They do not want contact with “civilization” and wish to remain in their forest home. Today, however, cattle ranches, expansion of genetically modified soybean plantations for biofuels, hydroelectric dams and mineral exploitation threaten the forests of the Chaco.

The Rolling Stone article by Christine MacDonald definitely documents the ongoing tragedy of the Chaco. A subtitle in her article, “Animal Cruelty is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat,” highlights the policies of US-based agribusiness giants Cargill Inc., Bunge Ltd., and Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Besides reading the Rolling Stone article, you can also see more from Global Forest Coalition on the negative impact of unsustainable livestock production in South America, the continent with the highest deforestation rates on earth: Redirecting Government Support for Unsustainable Livestock Production key to Biodiversity Conservation, Claim New Report and Briefing Paper.

Read the Rolling Stone Article:  Green Going Gone: the Tragic Deforestation of the Chaco, by Christine MacDonald

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, Land Grabs, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, South America, Uncategorized

Indian forest villagers rise up to halt UK firm’s bid to clear land for mining

By Gethin Chamberlain, June 28, 2014. Source: The Observer

Children collect flowers in the Mahan forest, which is threatened by a coalmining project run by the British-registered company Essar. Photograph by Greenpeace

Children collect flowers in the Mahan forest, which is threatened by a coalmining project run by the British-registered company Essar. Photograph by Greenpeace

India‘s new government faces a crucial test of its support for big business over plans to let a British-registered energy company cut down a tract of forest to make way for an open cast coalmine.

Essar Energy – owner of the UK’s Stanlow oil refinery – and its partner, the Hindalco company, were granted permission to mine in the Mahan forest of Madhya Pradesh after a lobbying campaign which reached right to the top of the previous government.

In letters to senior figures, including the prime minister and finance minister, they argued that the coal was needed to fuel a power station and aluminium smelting unit that were crucial for the country’s economic development.

But the plans have placed them on a collision course with the thousands of people who rely on the forest for their livelihoods and with environmental campaigners, including Greenpeace, who are determined to stop the mine.

Among those directly affected are more than 5,000 members of tribal communities with legal rights to use the forest. Greenpeace claims that the mine would mean the felling of more than five million trees, affecting the livelihoods of as many as 50,000 people, with at least two villages being razed. It has also raised concerns about the effect on wildlife, which includes leopards and sloth bears. Tigers and elephants are reported to be occasional visitors.

The deal is also one of several allocations of mining rights which are the subject of a criminal investigation into corruption. An official audit found many had been significantly undervalued and the political row over what became known in India as the “coal scam” further dented trust in the Congress-led government and helped consign it to defeat in this year’s general election.

A similar standoff between the UK’s Vedanta and villagers in Orissa over plans to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills ended in defeat for the company.

But the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) came to power promising to make it easier to do business in India and the billionaire owners of the two firms will expect it to make good on that pledge.

The decision to allow mining to go ahead in Mahan was granted despite staunch opposition from former environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

A final decision is expected shortly but a report to new prime minister Narendra Modi this month from India’s powerful Intelligence Bureau, labelling Greenpeace as “a threat to national economic security”, suggests the environmentalists face a struggle.

The coal block was allocated by a Congress-led government in 2006 to provide coal for Essar’s planned power station and to fuel an aluminium smelter owned by Hindalco. But environmental clearances proved hard to secure and by 2010 the companies were frustrated.

Essar chairman Shashi Ruia decided to lobby prime minister Manmohan Singh personally. On 5 March 2010 he wrote to Singh to “earnestly request” clearance, pointing out that 65% of the work on the power station had been completed and complaining that three years after being allotted the coal block, the company was still waiting on permission from the environment ministry.

The delay, Ruia argued, would result in “avoidable huge loss to us as well as the country”. Singh copied the letter to the environment and forest minister, Ramesh, with a note asking him to deal with it “expeditiously”.

Six days later, Ramesh met Ruia. In a note of the meeting sent to the prime minister’s permanent secretary, he pointed out that “the Mahan coal block should never have been allowed in the first place” and that giving permission for mining would “open up a Pandora’s box which we should avoid at all costs”.

Undeterred, Ruia tried again. On 16 August 2010 he wrote to Singh to update him on progress with construction of the power station and to ask again for clearance. “I would be very much grateful if necessary instructions are given to the Hon Minister of Environment and Forests to expedite necessary forest clearances at the earliest.”

Ramesh refused to bend. In a letter dated 8 July 2011, he wrote that he was unable to agree to clearance for the project and was particularly concerned that the coal block lay in the catchment area of the Rihand reservoir. Instead, he suggested that the power plants be supplied by the Sohagpur coalfield.

In the letter, Ramesh said that he had taken into consideration that the companies had already invested about £360m in the power plants and that the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh had appealed to him twice to permit it on the grounds that it would boost economic activity in the state. But he complained that the investment had taken place without clearance and that “fait accompli has become far too common in forest and environmental clearances”.

Shortly afterwards, he was switched to the ministry of rural development. A year later, his decision was reversed and in-principle approval was granted. In February this year, the project was given the green light. Even then, the decision came with conditions, among them the need for a resolution from the representatives of those living in the area – the gram sabha – supporting the project.

But the resolution, passed on 6 March 2013, is hotly contested. It contains the signatures of 1,125 people, although local campaigners say there were only 184 people present at the meeting. Greenpeace claims nine of the “signatories” are dead and has produced death certificates for two of those named. Several people have come forward to insist their signatures were forged. Among them is Kripanath Yadav, 36, of Amelia village. .

“Mahan forest is my provider, protector and God,” he said. “I was born in the forest and I am aware that our constitution bestows on us rights on our forest.

“My signature along with several others including some people who are dead were forged during a gram sabha which was held to take people’s consent on Essar’s coalmine. “We don’t want the mine, the jobs or the compensation that Essar tries to lure us with.” Officials have promised a fresh vote in the next month.

Last month the former coal secretary PC Parakh was questioned for two days by detectives about a number of allocations, including the Mahan block, but no charges have yet been filed.

Priya Pillai, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, accused the company of wanting to press ahead at any cost. “There’s a lot at stake for the company, therefore it seems they want to build their mine even if it means the law of the land is bypassed,” said Pillai.

It is not just environmental issues that have dogged Essar of late. The company’s decision to delist from the London Stock Exchange and take itself private upset institutional shareholders, which included Standard Life, Scottish Widows and at least two UK local authorities. Many investors were angered by a deal that they argued undervalued the company and left them millions of pounds out of pocket. The company share price stood at 420p when it initially floated in 2010 but the minority shareholders were offered just 70p when it delisted in May.

But Ramakant Tiwari, CEO of Mahan Coal, said the companies had been waiting since 2006 for permission, had invested heavily in the project and had stuck to the letter of the law.

“In such a scenario, it was but natural for both companies to represent their case before the government.”

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Will Brazil turn the Amazon into a factory of genetically modified trees?

Source: ejolt (Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade)

By the World Rainforest Movement.

Will the Brazilian government give a permit to plant genetically modified eucalyptus trees on a commercial scale? That’s the breakthrough expected by Suzano, one of the biggest Brazilian pulp and paper companies, and its fully owned biotechnology firm Futuragene. To export pulp and to feed its paper mills in Brazil, the company has planted almost 400 thousand hectares of large-scale monoculture fast-growing eucalyptus plantations in seven Brazilian states.

Suzano´s argument that this is a safe enough technology can be countered by the risks and especially the huge uncertainties that exist around this new technology which should at least postpone any introduction at commercial scale for now. Even the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that has seriously failed by allowing certification of millions of hectares of large-scale monoculture plantations in spite of the many negative social and environmental impacts, at least applies the rule that GE technology should not be used in certified plantations. At least for this reason then, FSC should decertify Suzano, an FSC-certified company.

But another argument deserves a strong and immediate reply: Suzano argues that their new genetically engineered eucalyptus tree will result in a 20% increase in productivity and by introducing such trees, Suzano affirms it will need less land and could therefore reduce the use of chemical inputs and make more land available for food production.

That looks convincing. However, the experience in Brazil itself shows a quite different story. According to EJOLT´s report “A Global Overview of Industrial Tree Plantations”, in the past decades the Brazilian eucalyptus trees that are used in industrial plantations succeeded to achieve a 60% increase in productivity per hectare (not using genetically engineered trees), increasing from 27 m3/ha/year in the 1980s to 44 m3/ha/year currently. More important however is that the area covered by these plantations in the country never decreased for that particular reason. They actually increased from about 4 million hectares at the end of the 1980s to more than 7.2 million hectares today, and the Brazilian plantation industry plans to duplicate this area by 2020. The Brazilian “success story” of being the country with the highest wood productivity per hectare worldwide has never been a reason to use less land, on the contrary. Higher productivity gave these companies such an advantage that they expanded their plantations and pulp mills more and more, increasing their profits.

Suzano´s move to GE eucalyptus trees to increase productivity even more also attends its aim to explore a new use of its wood: producing pellets to be exported for energy production, to co-fire with coal in the UK. For this reason, Suzano has expanded its plantation in the Northeastern state of Maranhão over the past years, causing new conflicts with traditional communities that have been experiencing that their communal territories used for cattle grazing, fruit collection and other activities, get invaded by eucalyptus plantations. This has led to several conflicts, which gave reason to include Suzano in the recently launched EJOLT´s Atlas on Environmental Conflicts.

To summarize, Brazilian experience has learned that rather more than less lands will be occupied when productivity increases, and rather more than less conflicts will arise. Suzano´s demand for commercial planting of genetically modified eucalyptus trees led WRM, together with groups in Brazil and Latin America, to launch a letter to the Brazilian authorities to express their deep concern and urge the Brazilian government not to authorize the commercial release of yield enhanced genetically modified eucalyptus by Suzano/FuturaGene or by any other company that also has, or will present in future, a request for such a release.

A statement from the international Stop GE Trees Campaign in support to this letter is available for sign-ons.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Climate Justice, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Industrial agriculture

“The program here for carbon trading is dead,” says villager in Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia

June 4, 2014. Source: Redd-Monitor.org

Photo by Redd-Monitor

Photo by Redd-Monitor

Things just keep getting worse for the Oddar Meanchey REDD project in Cambodia. According to a report last week in the Cambodia Daily, logging is now so rampant that community leaders have given up on REDD.

Some of the people who spent years trying to save the forests have now given up and joined the loggers.

By mid-2012, more than 3,000 hectares, or about half, of Andong Bor’s community forest had been cleared. This year a futher 2,000 hectares has gone to make way for cassava fields. The Cambodia Daily quotes the chief of the Andong Bor community forest, Din Heng, as saying that,

“The program here for carbon trading is dead. The government was first committed to protecting these forests for carbon trading, but they are not doing anything to help us fight the illegal logging.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Commodification of Life, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, REDD

Monarch butterfly decline linked to spread of GM crops

By Emily Chung, June 4, 2014. Source:  CBC News

Photo by Tyler Flockhart

Photo by Tyler Flockhart

The main cause of the monarch butterfly’s decline is the loss of milkweed — its food — in its U.S. breeding grounds, a new study has found. That all but confirms that the spread of genetically modified crops is indirectly killing the monarch.

This past winter, the number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico fell to its lowest since 1993, when records first started being kept, the World Wildlife Fund and Mexico’s Environment Department reported in January. That report blamed the loss of milkweed owing to genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in the U.S. and illegal logging in the butterflies’ Mexican wintering ground. Continue reading

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Filed under Biodiversity, Commodification of Life, Genetic Engineering

GeneWatch UK PR: Genetically modified maggots expected in fruit imports after go-ahead for Brazil GM fruit fly experiments

Another example of the unintended but inevitable consequences of genetic engineering -The GJEP Team

June 4, 2o14. Source: GeneWatch UK

Photo by Peer Review Science

Photo by Peer Review Science

GeneWatch UK today warned that planned experiments with genetically modified (GM) fruit flies in Brazil could lead to GM maggots in fruit being illegally imported to Britain and other European countries.

Experiments involving open releases of millions of genetically modified (GM) Mediterranean fruit flies (Ceratitis capitata) into fruit orchards in Brazil were approved by Brazil’s GM regulator CTNBio in April (1). The date for the planned experiments has not yet been announced.

When released, the GM fruit flies are expected to mate with wild flies and produce female offspring which fail to reach adulthood, with many dying as maggots in the fruit. This is intended to reduce the wild population of Mediterranean fruit flies, which are a pest which feeds on many types of fruit. To reduce the wild population it must be outnumbered by a factor of at least ten to one, requiring many millions of GM fruit flies to be released.  Continue reading

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Muckleshoot Tribe urges rejection of genetically engineered salmon application

May 21, 2014. Source: Intercontinental Cry

Image: Muckleshoot Tribe

Image: Muckleshoot Tribe

AUBURN, Wash.–The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe has joined with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) in calling on the United States Food and Drug Administration to deny any application for the introduction of genetically engineered salmon into the United States until a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and further scientific review is completed and formal consultation with Northwest Treaty Tribes undertaken.

AquaBounty, a large Boston-based biotechnology company, has proposed to produce genetically engineered salmon eggs in Canadian waters, ship them to Panama where the engineered salmon would be raised to maturity in inland tanks, then slaughtered and processed in Panama and shipped to the United States for human consumption.

AquaBounty has patented a process whereby the DNA of wild Chinook salmon and an eel-like pout fish are fused and injected into Atlantic salmon. That engineered salmon is said to grow to full size in half the time of a wild fish and, according to AquaBounty, “increase the efficiency of production.” Continue reading

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BREAKING: Protesters disrupt genetically engineered trees corporate event

May 14, 2014. Source: Global Justice Ecology Project

Industry Warned: “Plant genetically engineered trees and expect resistance”

Tallahassee, FL (US) - Demonstrators today interrupted an event hosted by genetically engineered (GE) tree company ArborGen, warning participants to expect growing protests should they plant GE trees. The event brought together landowners and foresters from the industrial tree plantation industry and featured top ArborGen scientists working on GE trees.

“We sent a clear message to participants — plant genetically engineered trees and expect resistance,” said Keith Brunner, an organizer with Global Justice Ecology Project. “Invasive GE eucalyptus, planned for deployment across the US South, would irrevocably devastate native ecosystems, exacerbate droughts and lead to catastrophic firestorms. This must be stopped before it is too late.”

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected soon to accept public comments following the release of its draft Environmental Impact Statement on ArborGen’s request to commercially sell millions of potentially flammable and invasive genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, for planting across the US South from South Carolina to Texas. The USDA will ultimately issue a final decision approving or denying ArborGen’s request.

GJEP member Keith Brunner and Stephanie Hall, Toad Clan, Seminolee Miccosukee, interrupt an ArborGen event. Photo: Will Bennington/GJEP

Stephanie Hall, a member of the Toad clan of the Seminolee Miccosukee People, interrupts the ArborGen event. Photo: Will Bennington/GJEP

If approved, ArborGen’s freeze-tolerant GE eucalyptus, designed to be planted in industrial tree plantations for bioenergy and pulp production, would be the first commercially approved GE forest tree in the US. Approval of GE eucalyptus could open the door to approval for other GE species like GE pine and poplar, which pose additional risks due to the likelihood of contamination of wild relatives in native forests.

Stephanie Hall, a member of the Toad Clan of the Seminolee Miccosukee People, also pointed out the link between ArborGen’s plans and the history of genocide against Indigenous Peoples in the region: “ArborGen could not be planning for the development of vast industrial plantations of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees on land in Florida without the previous history of genocide and forced removal of Indigenous men, women, children, plants and animals from the region. People should not be complicit in this — we must ban genetically engineered trees.”

“Early last year, the USDA received nearly 40,000 comments opposing ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus, with only a handful received in favor,” stated Anne Petermann,Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.  “Then in May of 2013, the international Tree Biotechnology conference in Asheville, NC was protested and disrupted for almost a week by hundreds of protesters. These protests and today’s disruption are only the beginning. As the USDA considers ArborGen’s request to legalize GE trees, opposition to these trees and the threats they pose to communities and native forests continues to grow.”

 

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Indigenous Peoples