Flotsam & Jetsam
The Earth Charter: Deadline Johannesburg, More Pain and Indignities for the World’s Lab Animals, Brussels Muscles-in Europe’s First Fluoride Ban, The Tehri Dam Erases Scores of Villages, Trade Agreement Has Farmers Holding Their Noses, Farmers ..
August 16, 2002

The Earth Charter: Deadline Johannesburg

The monument outside the Earth Charter's international headquarters in Costa Rica. Credit: www.earthcharter.org
COSTA RICA — In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development proposed the creation of an Earth Charter Commission to author a global statement of “fundamental principles for sustainable development.” In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio endorsed the drafting of just such a document and an Earth Charter Secretariat was established in Costa Rica [PO Box 319-6100, San José, Costa Rica].

Although the impetus for the charter came from Earth Summit Secretary General Maurice Strong and Green Cross President Mikhail Gorbachev, the document that emerged was the product of a unique global-grassroots process — an attempt at global governance from the ground up.

Drafts of the Earth Charter were sent around the world for debate by nongovernmental organizations, community groups, professional societies and international experts. On June 29, 2000, the final document was unveiled at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

The Earth Charter has been called part of “the unfinished business” of the first Earth Summit. Supporters of the Earth Charter Initiative hope to see the statement officially recognized at the approaching World Summit in Johannesburg. On September 28, cities around the planet will be linked by satellite to express support for the Earth Charter, “our Declaration of Interdependence.” To arrange your city’s participation, contact the Institute for Ethics and Meaning [1(888) 538-7227]. To endorse the charter or obtain more information, click on to www.earthcharter.org.

The complete Earth Charter is now available on The-Edge. It is posted under Benchmarks.

More Pain and Indignities for the World’s Lab Animals

Rabbit used for a Draize eye test. Credit: ©BUAV/ www.worldanimal.net
UK — Not only are lab animals tested, injected, vivisected, inspected and infected, now scientists are admitting that hundreds of thousands of mice, as well as sheep, pigs and cats are also being genetically modified and cloned.

A report from the British watchdog group GeneWatch claims that, in 2000, British researchers played with the genes of 582,000 living creatures, the majority of them lab mice. The GeneWatch report called the experiments wasteful, inefficient and frequently painful. “Abortion, premature death and infertility are regular side effects of these genetic technologies,” the report stated.

Dr. Sue Meyer, a member of the government’s agriculture and biotechnology committee and one of the authors of the GeneWatch study, told The Guardian: “The extent of animal suffering and the reasons for it are being hidden from public scrutiny and debate.”

Brussels Muscles-in Europe’s First Fluoride Ban
BELGIUM — Health Minister Magda Aelvoet set the European fluoride lobby’s teeth on edge in late July with the announcement that Belgium was banning the sales of fluoride tablets and fluoride-saturated chewing gum — the first time that any member of the European Union (EU) has acted to ban the consumption of fluoride.

Aelvoet’s decision triggered a storm of invective from the established dental industry. One dental professor even compared Mrs. Aelvoet to alleged Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. But as the Health Minister explained, she had acted upon the recommendation of the Belgian High Committee on Health, which determined that excessive fluoride exposure damages the nervous system and causes brittle bones and crippling osteoporosis.

European children are more exposed to fluoride-laced products than children in the US. In addition to toothpaste, children in the EU are encouraged to swallow fluoride in the form of little white pills. In addition, as the weekly newsmagazine HUMO observes, Europe’s store shelves and medicine cabinets are “swamped with fluoride gels, fluoride mouth rinses, fluoride whiteners, fluoride floss and even fluoride toothpicks.”

The Guardian (London) incorrectly reported that Aelvoet had conceded that fluoride “was effective at preventing tooth decay.” Neither Aelvoet nor anyone in the ministry made such a statement. In an interview with HUMO, Aelvoet confided that “for years I have been worried about the signals from the scientific world, which warned of fluoride use. I have never given fluoride to my own children…. I want to end this kind of fluoride use. We will contact the other EU members to broaden the base.” The only reason toothpaste was not included in the ban, Aelvoet explained, was because toothpaste “is regulated under the cosmetics act, which is regulated by [the EU].”

Pharmacist and Cabinet Advisor Frans Gosselinckx echoed the Health Minister’s concerns. “The prohibition… is a sign of things to come,” he told HUMO. “The model ‘fluoride helps against tooth decay’ is still in the head of nearly all the dentists. We have to start to break this model.”

A translation of Magda Aelvoet’s HUMO interview has been provided by Parents of Fluoride-Poisoned Children [wwwbruha.com/fluoride] and may be read on-line at

The Tehri Dam Erases Scores of Villages

This ancient and picturesque village is slowly vanishing beneath the waters of the Tehri Dam. Credit: M. Lakshman/The Hindu
INDIA — In mid-July, the rising waters of the Bhilangana and Bhagirathi rivers began to swallow the picturesque township of Tehri, whose misfortune lay in being located in Uttaranchal state in northeast India, upstream from the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation’s (THDC) massive Tehri Dam. Sunderlal Bahaguna, an anti-dam activist who has grown old in the long battle to block the dam, has now lost his home to the rising waters. “This is a dam built with our tears,” Bahaguna told The Hindu newspaper.

The 2,400 Mw dam is supposed to eventually rise 260 meters (853 feet) high. Meanwhile, the dam’s backwaters are slowing flooding 5,200 hectares (20 sq. mi.) of land, burying 37 villages and partially submerging another 88. Nearly 5,300 families must be relocated.

THDC promised two acres of land to every relocated farmer and 200 square meters of new land to every displaced family. According to The Hindu, “30 percent of those having to leave their homes have got less than 20,000 Rupees (Rs.)…[while] 11 percent received between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 80,000 ($412 and $1,646).” Some of the expelled villagers were paid as little as 46 rupees (95 cents) for their homes and land. Some 35 widows received no compensation for their losses.

THDC has built a replacement village of cement-block buildings on a hillside some distance away. But every third day, The Hindu reports, the new residents find “there is no drinking water.”

Ironically, the huge Tehri dam may be doomed by the world’s changing climate. The water that feeds the Bhagirathi flows from the Gangotri Glacier. But this glacier has been melting away at a rate of 18 meters (59 feet) a year. In the past 40 years, the glacier has retreated 800 meters (half a mile) and the rate of loss appears to be accelerating.

Because the Tehri Dam is built in a “fragile, earthquake-prone area,” The Hindu notes, “cities up to Delhi face danger should the dam burst. Yet the madness of big dams, with the trauma they bring in their trail, persists.” India plans to build 38 more dams in Uttaranchal.

Trade Agreement Has Farmers Holding Their Noses
SOUTH KOREA — The Free Market recently reared its ugly headlines in South Korea. Local garlic farmers were startled to read in the news that their government had signed a trade agreement that would flood the country with cheap Chinese garlic.

As many as 4,000 snarling garlic farmers showed up in the capitol city’s Sajik Park to raise a stink. The government must have known they were coming: There were 5,000 police on hand to greet them.

The farmers complained that no one had informed them of the deal. They demanded that the pact be axed and that the officials responsible for the agreement be reprimanded. Agence France Presse reports that public resentment to the trade pact grew so intense that President Kim Dae-Jung was forced to sack the top economic aide who negotiated the deal. It remains to be seen whether the trade will go the way of the aide.

Farmers and the Green Army Torch Bad Seeds

A game of torch-and-go. Farmers consign foreign seeds to the flames. Credit: KRRS
INDIA — The Karnataka State Farmers Association (KRRS, Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha) warned the Indian government that it wasn’t going to stand by and allow the introduction of genetically engineered Bt cotton seeds. True to its word, when Bt seeds went up for sale at a store in Davangere on June 17, the seeds went up in smoke. The offending kernels were doused with gasoline and incinerated by angry KRRS farmers and activists from the environmental group, Green Army.

The Indian government is promoting GE monocrops at a time when economic hardships are making traditional farming increasingly difficult. The KRRS explained that it had to take the law into its own gasoline-stained hands because Bt cotton cultivation “poses a lot of harm to farmers.”

Despite Drought and Hunger, Africa Refuses to Deal with the Devil
AFRICA — After two years of drought, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia are facing catastrophic food shortages. The US looked at this dilemma and saw an opportunity to unload $50 million worth of genetically engineered (GE) maize.

In an act of incredible courage, Zimbabwe and Mozambique refused the maize. Mozambique even went so far as to refuse to allow any GE maize to be transported to other countries over its roads. As Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe told his parliament: “We fight the present drought with our eyes clearly set on the future of the agricultural sector, which is the mainstay of our economy. We dare not endanger its future through misplaced decisions based on acts of either desperation or expediency.”

What concerns Mugabe is the very real danger that if any of these engineered kernels were to set root in the soil of Africa, they would eventually release tainted pollen that would contaminate native crops. African farmers also fear the introduction of patented seeds “owned and controlled” by foreign multinationals. The introduction of “Frankenseeds” — whether by accident or design — could undermine the long tradition of seed sharing and leave farmers dependent on US seed suppliers.

Food First [www.foodfirst.org] reports that the US “could save lives and avert a potential ecological crisis by having the corn kernels milled before they enter Zimbabwe.” None of the African nations can afford to pay the milling costs — $25 per metric ton.

Meanwhile, another scandal has rocked Zambia, where the Vice President (under pressure from Dunavant, a powerful US-based cotton company) attempted to rush through a new law that would have permitted the introduction of genetically engineered cotton. The parliament managed to block the attempt.

José Bové Bounds out of Jail, Calls for Prison Reform
FRANCE — Farmer-author-activist José Bové emerged from a jail cell in Villeneuve-les-Maguelone 23 pounds (10 kilograms) lighter but still a political and moral heavyweight. Bové was sent to jail for his role in “disassembling” a McDonald’s restaurant being built in Millau in 1999. Bové staged his symbolic attack on the fast-food franchise to protest the harm that globalization brings to local economies (not to mention traditional farm-based diets).

During his 40-day prison stay, the 49-year-old bristle-moustached leader of the French Farmer’s Confederation went on a hunger strike in solidarity with other prisoners “who are lonely and abandoned.” Bové was far from abandoned. During his jail-stretch, he averaged 2,000 letters a day from friends and fans around the world. Bové still faces a potential 14-month prison term for ripping up several fields of genetically engineered crops.

Honey Buzzards: Rarer than Maltese Falcons

Maltese bird-lovers are demanding an end to rampant hunting. Credit: ProAct International
MALTA — ProAct International has appealed to Lufthansa and Condor airlines to intervene on behalf of Malta’s endangered cranes and honey buzzards. In a letter signed by 500 environmentalists from around the Earth, ProAct complained that every November, “flocks of cranes fly over Malta. Many of these get shot.”

The airlines have clout because they bring tourists to Malta. Condor’s symbol is the Andean Condor and Luftansa’s logo is the Common Crane. (Condor is owned by Luftansa.)

In January, Malta’s gunslingers shot so many swans out of the sky that bird lovers dubbed the country the “killing fields of Europe.” In the words of ProAct’s David Conlin, “Maltese hunters have exceeded all reasonable limits and deserve no further tolerance of their minority behavior.”

In an open letter to Malta’s President Guido de Marco published in the Times of Malta, one outraged Maltese native declared: “May 8 will be forever indelibly imprinted in my memory (and that of many others who feel and are proud to be called Maltese) as a day of shame. In the evening, I witnessed an awe-inspiring mass migration of hundreds of honey buzzards — and their immediate massacre!.... These birds came to seek a temporary refuge for the night but instead met an untimely end as they had to fly through a deadly curtain of lead.” [www.proactnow.org]

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