Behind the Lines

Farmers Slam GATT

THIRD WORLD FARMERS in October 1993 condemned GATT proposals on world trade, describing them as an "instrument of colonization" which would rob poor peasants.

 Delegates from India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nicaragua and Ethiopia ended a two-day meeting in the Indian city of Bangalore with calls to resist draft proposals which they believe would drive up seed prices. "The draft would have serious repercussions on the development of poor countries," said Malaysian agricultural expert Mohammed Idris, president of the Consumers Association of Penang. "Patenting seeds, for example, would amount to robbery of our seeds and peasants will be forced to buy the seeds from the robbers."

 Indian delegate Vandana Shiva said the proposals, drafted by former GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) director-general Arthur Dunkel, are a "powerful instrument of colonization." The so-called Dunkel draft of a new world trade pact includes clauses on patenting of seeds and plant breeding.

 Indian farmers have demonstrated in numbers as high as 500,000 against the draft, fearing it would stop them replanting their own seeds and force them to pay more for new ones. More than 30,000 farmers staged a three-day sit-in in front of Delhi's historic Red Fort last month, demanding the Indian government reject the plan.


Hold the Fries

PLANTS MAKING FRENCH-FRIED POTATOES for fast-food chains are contaminating water supplies and threatening the health of Washington and Oregon residents, a report contended in early December 1993. "McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and similar chains have helped create a production process that threatens human health and the environment," said Bill Bean, president of the Columbia Basin Institute, which sponsored the study.

 About half the french fries sold in U.S. fast food chains are produced in a five-county area straddling the Washington-Oregon border, according to the study.

 Only about half of each potato is used to make restaurant quality french fries, and as a result ground water in the Columbia Basin area has been "massively contaminated" by nitrates from the organic decomposition of potato wastes, the report said. Pesticides used on potato farms compound the problem, resulting in well water that frequently exceeds federal standards for contaminants.

 "Tax and economic development subsidies are being unnecessarily provided to an industry which generates considerable social and environmental costs that in turn require public remediation with those same scarce public funds," the report said.

 The report recommends re-evaluating the price of water in the region to provide industry with an incentive to conserve. It also suggests a new focus on improving the water infrastructure in the region and preventing further degradation.

Chemical Corruption

 POLICE ARRESTED A FORMER CHIEF of the Montedison chemical firms on corruption charges on December 7, 1993, as investigation into Italy's second largest private company deepened. Seventy-year-old Mario Schimberni, who lost the presidency of Montedison in 1987 after it was taken over by the Ferruzzi family, is being charged with "false reporting of the company's balance sheet and the illegal distribution of profits," the sources said.

 Schimberni, one of Italy's most influential businessmen in the early 1980s who later headed the state railways, will be held under house arrest in Rome because of his age.

 The Ferruzzi group, which has just been saved from bankruptcy by its bankers, has been implicated in scandals over bribes paid by business to political parties.

 Several former executives, including some Ferruzzi family members, face possible corruption charges and the family has lost control of the group after its debts soared to $16.4 billion.

 Milan magistrates, leading the corruption inquiries, ordered the arrest of Schimberni in connection with $294 million allegedly diverted to a Dutch Antilles-based company between 1984 and 1986.

 At the time Schimberni was president of Montedison and a Swiss-based holding company M.E.I.H.C. which controlled several Montedison offshore firms.


Nestle's Toxic Milk Returned

NESTLE LANKA, a subsidiary of the multinational food firm, has returned a 15-ton consignment of radioactive milk powder imported from Poland, a company spokesperson said on December 7, 1993.

 In November 1993, Sri Lankan customs authorities ordered the company to return the milk powder after local tests showed it contained more than the permissible amount of radioactive particles. The spokesperson said the entire consignment was re-shipped on December 6, 1993 to the port of origin for further checks. Customs officials said the discovery was made by the Radio Isotope Centre of the University of Colombo.

 Sri Lanka has resumed checks on imported milk foods after Bangladesh recently rejected a consignment of milk because it was contaminated by radioactivity.

 Checks were introduced following the 1984 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the then-Soviet Union, which raised fears that neighboring milk-producing countries could have been affected.

 The company spokesperson said the consignment had been certified by the Geneva-based Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) as having the permissible amount of radioactive material

 before arriving in Colombo. "The SGS is a world famous organization that issues certificates of conformity and standards on milk and other products. They are standing by their original certificate," he said.