JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1994 - VOLUME 15 - NUMBER 1
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
Three hundred tons of British toxic waste sent to Brazil as "soil fertilizer" arrived back in England on January 8, 1994.
The waste was originally produced by Birmingham, England-based Beaver Metals, exported by another British firm, London Metals, and imported by the Brazilian fertilizer company Produquimica, a company that has already been cited by the Sao Paulo State environmental agency (CETESB) for 19 violations of Brazilian environmental law. An analysis of the shipment by CETESB in October 1993 revealed that the "fertilizer" contained lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other toxic residues, Produquimica and London Metals illegally labeled the waste as "micronutrients."
"The Produquimica case shows how easily waste traders can use the recycling loophole to avoid legislation prohibiting waste imports for disposal," according to Sonia Rossi of Greenpeace Brazil. "Waste traders always look for a new disguise as soon as a scheme fails. It is essential that Brazil passes legislation prohibiting waste imports for recycling if we do not want to become the dumping ground for [industrialized] countries," she says.
Since 1986, Greenpeace has revealed more than 120 proposals to export waste from industrialized countries to Latin America. According to Greenpeace, in 1992, over 80,000 tons of toxic waste was exported from the United Kingdom to the Third World under the guise of "recycling" [see "South Asia: The new target of international waste traders," Multinational Monitor, December 1993].
Jefferson Martin, a spokesperson for CETESB, has called for a ban on waste imports, and Brazilian customs authorities have committed to sampling all shipments arriving in the country labeled as micronutrients to avoid new scandals.
The Brazilian shipment is now being stored at Scunthorpe, a port in northern England.
In yet another incident in a string of threats and harassment, unidentified intruders recently broke into the offices of two indigenous rights groups in Ecuador.
On October 31,1993, the office of COICA (the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples Organizations of the Amazon Basin) was broken into and robbed of more than $6,000 worth of equipment, including valuable computer records. The burglary occurred just a few weeks after a break-in at CONFENIAE (the Confederation of Indian Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon).
In early October, a dead dog was found near COICA's office with an attached note which read "Be a patriot, kill an Indian." This message and another, "Kill Lucho Macas," have appeared in graffiti throughout Quito recently. Macas is the president of CONAIE, Ecuador's national indigenous federation.
According to Nilo Cayoqueo, director of the California-based South and Meso American Indian Information Center, "this burglary is just another in a string of attempts to stop indigenous defense of the rainforest. This movement is crucial to the defense of the land, and must continue to move forward."
Indigenous groups are working to keep oil and gas companies off Huaorani traditional lands in the Ecuadorian rainforests. They fear that the threats and break-ins may signal a more aggressive confrontation against the indigenous movement.
Winners of the Most Misleading Ad Awards for 1993 were announced in January by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
The ninth annual Harlan Page Hubbard Lemon Awards were given for "the most misleading, unfair and irresponsible" ad campaigns of 1993. The winners were selected by national consumer, environmental and public health organizations.
The Hubbard awards are named after a 19th-century advertising mogul who pioneered many of the modern advertising techniques for "snake-oil" products like Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, which was advertised as a "cure" for almost everything ranging from cancer to low sex drive.
CSPI inducted Nature's Plus into the "Hubbard Hall of Shame" for ads that urged consumers to write Congress in support of legislation that would presumably prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from banning vitamins. The law would actually exempt the dietary supplement industry from new truth in labeling laws, according to CSPI.
CSPI also awarded the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) a special "Hubbard Award for Commercial Excess" for allowing advertisers such as Saab and Citicorp to run so-called "enhanced underwriter acknowledgments," which are the equivalent of regular ads found on commercial television.
Some of the other winners of the Hubbard Awards include:
"Deceptive ads like these will continue until the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gets serious about protecting consumers," says Bruce Silverglade, of CSPI. Silverglade called on the FTC to better regulate ads by providing more guidance to advertisers, improving communications with consumers and the media and better coordinating with state and local consumer agencies.
"The FTC should be a driving force for consumer protection," Silverglade says. "Instead, it's taking a back seat."
- Aaron Freeman and Ben Lilliston