Monthly Archives: July 2012

SOOL SANAAG CAYN = South China Sea: offshore exploration and territorial tension

South China Sea: offshore exploration and territorial tension

25 July 2012 by Chris Lo

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Tensions are rising in the South China Sea as China continues to dispute territorial boundaries with its neighbours. Chris Lo investigates the geopolitical instability surrounding key offshore regions, while tracking the links between territorial claims and the presence of potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

The root of the disagreement lies in a complex web of international maritime law and national territorial claims

For the first time in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) 45-year history, this year’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia failed to produce a joint communiqué to the world.

Despite a wide range of disputes in the past, this unified statement has always provided a representation of the member countries’ commitment to peace and cooperation, moving towards the potential introduction of a formal economic community in the next few years.

For the first time in nearly half a century, the ASEAN states were unable to reach a consensus on this year’s joint statement. The sticking point is a wide-ranging dispute between a number of south-east Asian nations and close neighbour China on sovereignty over various areas of the South China Sea.

Although the dispute has broad significance concerning the geopolitical stability of the surrounding region, the presence of potentially massive oil and gas reserves in many of the disputed zones means offshore exploration is intimately connected to the wider crisis.
South China Sea dispute: key players
“China and the whole Asia Pacific region seems to be caught in a multipronged Mexican stand-off.”

The root of the disagreement lies in a complex web of international maritime law and national territorial claims. China, the region’s undisputed powerhouse, continues to lay claim to more than three-quarters of the South China Sea, demarcated by its so-called ‘nine-dotted line’, which extends from China’s south coast almost to the northern shore of Malaysia.

China’s aggressive claim has provoked outrage from Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries, as it infringes upon their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) as set down by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), giving countries the right to exploit marine resources up to 200 nautical miles out from their coastlines. The UNCLOS treaty has been signed and ratified by the European Union and 162 states, including China.

Particular tension has sprung up in three specific areas, over all of which China claims some level of sovereignty. China is disputing sovereignty over the Paracel Islands with Vietnam and Taiwan; the Scarborough Shoal with the Philippines; and parts of the Spratly Islands with Malaysia and the Philippines.

These archipelagos serve little strategic or demographic purpose, but the prospect of exploring potentially oil-rich offshore blocks provides a lucrative economic background to these tensions.
China looms large at ASEAN conference

The South China Sea controversy, and China’s powerful influence over the Asia Pacific region, cast a shadow across ASEAN’s Regional Forum in July.
“Suspicions flew back and forth that the issue was being locked out of discussions by Cambodia, with China pulling the strings.”

China’s position at the summit was to keep the territorial disputes out of the discussions, with many diplomats claiming that it applied severe pressure on host nation Cambodia, which is economically reliant on Chinese investment, to keep the South China Sea off the table.

As a result, the Regional Forum was an uncharacteristically tense affair, as suspicions flew back and forth that the issue was being locked out of discussions by Cambodia, with China pulling the strings.

Carlyle Thayer, Australian Defence Force Academy emeritus professor, told Reuters that these suspicions have opened an unprecedented rift in regional relations. “This is the first major breach of the dyke of regional autonomy,” he said. “China has now reached into ASEAN’s inner sanctum and played on intra-ASEAN divisions.”

It certainly makes sense that China favours, as it has stated, internal discussions with ASEAN countries over a multilateral approach that would lean towards the international UNCLOS treaty, which would generally favour the claims of the smaller south-east Asian countries.

As such, the country has been arguing for separate bilateral talks to leverage its influence on the region rather than expanding the argument to a more globally inclusive scale. As the following South China Sea flare-ups show, however, there seems to be little chance of reconciliation at the moment, as all parties argue their case with increasingly aggressive gestures.
Vietnam, China and the contested Block 128
“The presence of potentially massive oil and gas reserves means offshore exploration is intimately connected to the wider crisis.”

The Paracel Islands fall on the disputed border between Vietnam and China’s EEZs, although China’s nine-dotted line claim extends far beyond them and towards the Vietnamese coastline itself.

The Vietnamese Government has asserted its right to the disputed offshore regions by exploring blocks 127 and 128, in collaboration with Indian national oil and gas corporation ONGC, thus dragging the south Asian country into the politically charged South China Sea contest.

ONGC has since relinquished its rights to Block 127 due to a lack of hydrocarbon discoveries, and was on the brink of doing the same with Block 128 when PetroVietnam offered the company favourable terms (and new exploration data) earlier this month to continue to explore the block.

“They [PetroVietnam] told us to put two more years in the blocks and gave us additional data to improve the prospectivity in the block,” said an anonymous executive of ONGC’s overseas division OVL. “We are studying the data. The decision has been good for us as there is no additional responsibility. The two-year period has started and OVL will continue in the block.”
CNOOC launches competing tender

However, China has been equally assertive in the regions surrounding the Paracels, as its own state-owned oil and gas company China Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) put nine offshore blocks in the region up for global bids.
Related project
PetroVietnam’s Hac Long Field, Vietnam

River basins across the world are rich in oil and gas reserves. The Red River basin in the northern region of Vietnam also has large oil and gas reserves.

The areas offered for bids include Block 128, which OVL is already exploring. This aggressive move has incited widespread protests in Vietnam and puts strong political connotations on the contract tendering process.

CNOOC has stated that the tender is progressing well, with even some US oil companies expressing an interest, although many analysts believe that major corporations are unlikely to commit to the region until the disputes have been resolved and the territorial picture becomes clearer.

“Some of the blocks are known to be in the disputed waters,” IHS energy consultant Huang Xinhua told Reuters. “And since PetroVietnam has told companies not to take part, few would have the appetite for that kind of risk.”

Whether Vietnam’s contract extension with ONGC is based on promising data on Block 128’s oil reserves or simply a holding pattern to reinforce its claim to the area won’t be known until further exploration is conducted. But it’s clear that both countries are refusing to back down, even as the diplomatic standoff becomes more and more tense, with China’s Central Military Commission recently authorising the establishment of a military garrison in Sansha City in the Paracels, which serves as the administrative centre for China’s claims to the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
The Spratly Islands dispute
Related project
Lishui Natural Gas Field, China

Lishui 36-1 is a natural gas field located 150km away from the city of Wenzhou in the East China Sea.

The Spratly Islands, an area of more than 750 reefs, atolls and islands, lies just north of Malaysia and west of the Philippines, which, along with Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia, have laid claim to parts of the archipelago. The potential hydrocarbon reserves in the region have been estimated at around 225 billion barrels of oil equivalent, including around 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, three times the proven natural gas reserves of all the competing countries combined, China included.

With the potential for reserves on that scale, it’s perhaps unsurprising that China, and its ASEAN rivals, are desperate to develop the Spratly offshore region to reduce energy dependence and invest in a sure-fire economic winner. In legal terms, UN-sanctioned international law would once again favour the nearby ASEAN nations to varying degrees, while China is again relying on historical claims and its nine-dotted line.

The most high-profile dispute currently simmering in the Spratlys is between the Philippines and China. The Filipino Government, which counts the US as a strong military ally (joint military exercises involving the two countries were carried out in the South China Sea in April), has pushed its claim to eight islands in the region, as well as the Scarborough Shoal, which the country considers to be essentially part of the same claim.

In March, the Philippines invited bids for oil exploration contracts in three blocks in the region, drawing China’s scrutiny.
Particular tension has sprung up in three specific areas, over all of which China claims some level of sovereignty

“Without permission from the Chinese Government, oil exploration activities by any country or any company in waters under China’s jurisdiction are illegal,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

Filipino Energy Undersecretary James Layug responded: “All reserves in that area belong to the Philippines. We will only offer areas within our exclusive economic zone. These are all beside our existing service contracts so there is no doubt that these areas belong to the Philippines.”

With resources that could ensure energy security and provide a trickle-down economic benefit for decades to come, ASEAN, China and the whole Asia Pacific region seems to be caught in a multipronged Mexican stand-off, with no party willing to stand down and give up their territorial and economic rights.

This could be the most significant test of the ASEAN countries’ resolve and diplomacy since the international organisation was formed in 1967; the negotiations that take place in the months ahead could define the geopolitical and economic outlook for the entire region for years to come.

Tensions are rising as China and other south-east Asian nations vie for sovereignty over potentially oil-rich areas of the South China Sea.
Vietnamese troops march on Spratly Island in 2009.
China’s ‘nine-dotted line’ marks its claim of more than three-quarters of the South China Sea.
ASEAN’s usually cooperative regional forum was this year riven by suspicion and tension.
Naval standoffs have raised concerns that the crisis could shift from diplomatic to military.

Exit polls show Enrique Peña Nieto winning Mexico’s presidency | ANA KOURNIKOVA PRESIDENCY

PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto is ahead by as much as 11 percentage points, according to exit surveys conducted by pollsters and Mexican media.By Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

July 1, 2012, 8:14 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Millions of Mexicans voted Sunday to restore to power the once-authoritarian party they dumped 12 years ago, exit polls showed, while also delivering a harsh rebuke to a government that advanced democratic rule but also saw the country plunge into grisly violence.

Enrique Peña Nieto, the telegenic candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was ahead in Sunday’s vote by as much as 11 percentage points, according to exit surveys conducted by pollsters and Mexican media. His campaign director, Luis Videgaray, claimed victory within minutes of polls closing.

“Enrique Peña Nieto is the next president of Mexico,” Videgaray said.

But Peña Nieto’s nearest competitor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City and leader of a coalition of leftist parties, did not concede defeat.

Peña Nieto’s win would return to power the party that ruled virtually unchallenged for seven decades, until defeat in 2000. Lopez Obrador lost the 2006 presidential race to Felipe Calderon by less than 1 percentage point, refused to recognize the results and touched off a wave of protests that paralyzed Mexico City for months. His actions now remain the great unknown of this election.

Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate for the incumbent National Action Party, or PAN, in office since ousting the PRI in 2000, was by all accounts a distant third. She conceded defeat less than an hour after voting ended.

If the trends hold, Sunday’s vote will prove disastrous for the conservative party that came to office with enormous promise but has left many Mexicans disillusioned with their nation’s democratic transition and a raging drug war.

Calderon is barred by law from running for a second term.

Voting was mostly peaceful Sunday, with numerous complaints of slow-to-open polling stations, long lines and shortages of ballots. The army announced on the eve of the vote that it was redoubling forces in the border city of Nuevo Laredo after suspected drug traffickers detonated a car bomb outside City Hall on Friday.

Tens of thousands of troops are deployed across Mexico to fight powerful drug cartels who supply users in the United States with much of their cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. That fight, launched by Calderon soon after he took office, has claimed more than 50,000 lives in nearly six years.

Mexicans dismayed with the violence, which has also touched off waves of kidnapping and extortion, and dissatisfied with sluggish economic growth seem willing to return to a party that once represented an undemocratic system of coercion and repression, but claims to have reformed.

At the PRI’s headquarters, the victory party was underway moments after the first exit poll results were announced. Scores of employees of Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, decked out in red T-shirts waved flags with the party logo and chanted, “We are going to win! We are going to win!”

Cesar Santiago, wearing a red hard hat adorned with a PRI sticker, said a Peña Nieto win would bring improvements to the country’s lethargic economy and reduce skyrocketing violence. “It was a failure,” Santiago said of the drug war. “It should have been better planned, with a better strategy.”

Santiago said the PRI had changed since last time it ruled, a reign infamous for corruption and, occasionally, strong-arm tactics to maintain its almost complete dominance over Mexican life. “The PRI-istas who are there now are young. They really want Mexico to improve.”

But a few rows away were signs of the old, coercive PRI. Four young women sat gripping rolled-up PRI flags. They said they were required by bosses at Pemex to attend the PRI party. “If we don’t come, we don’t go back to work,” said one of the women, who declined to give her name to avoid being punished by the company. She said she voted for Lopez Obrador.

“It’s like the ’60s,” she said, referring to coercive PRI tactics of the past. “It hasn’t gone away.”

In Atlacomulco, Peña Nieto’s birthplace outside the capital in the state of Mexico, the mood from early in the day was triumphant. Peña Nieto served as governor of the state, Mexico’s most populous, until last year.

Voters in Atlacomulco, a bastion of PRI sympathy, jostled hoping for a photograph with Peña Nieto, 45. Comments from Mexicans showing up to cast their ballots go a long way in explaining his support.

“The PAN did not know how to govern,” said Ricardo Avila, 45, a cashier at a convenience store, referring to Calderon’s party. “They had their chance and wasted it. Time for the PRI.”

Disappointment with the lack of democratic reforms during the last 12 years of PAN government, plus the violence, has fed opposition to the ruling party. Voters turned in droves to the PRI. The PRI also spent years carefully building up its support at the local level and, in fine Mexican tradition, does not hesitate to pay voters to vote.

“The PRI knows how to deal with the narco,” said Roberto Salcido, owner of a chain of tortilla shops in Atlacomulco. “When they were in power, the country did not suffer because the deal was, ‘You move your drugs but you don’t mess with me.’ It worked. The country was calm.”

“If [making deals with drug traffickers] is what ends the violence and the extortion, then, yes,” Salcido added. “The PRI knows how to make the drug traffickers respect them.”

Peña Nieto, who has pledged to continue fighting drug cartels, arrived to vote accompanied by his new wife, a soap opera star, and children from a previous marriage. A small group of people who said they were university students appeared to protest his probable victory — which they called a “manipulated vote,” in reference to Peña Nieto’s cozy relationship with Mexico’s main television broadcasters.

Four members of the Gonzalez Romo family arrived the minute polls opened, hoping to catch a glimpse of the candidate.

“He seems honest and is very handsome,” Maria Romo said.

Her husband, Armando Gonzalez, bristled at questions about allegations of corruption that dog the PRI.

“Maybe you can accuse him of being a Don Juan, for his conquest of women — we men are like that,” Gonzalez, 61, said. “But not corrupt.”

Neither Peña Nieto nor the other candidates proposed major changes in the drug war and all insisted on continued use of the military and close cooperation with the United States, which has invested millions of dollars in the battle. Peña Nieto said before the vote that if elected he would appoint Colombian super-cop Gen. Oscar Naranjo, a favorite of Washington, as his special advisor in the fight against organized crime.

Peña Nieto has also pledged to open Pemex up to desperately needed foreign investment, something barred by the Mexican Constitution and which his party steadfastly opposed until recently.

Mexicans on Sunday were also electing governors in six states, and the PAN stood to lose there, as well. The PRI dominance extended to the western state of Jalisco, which had been governed by the PAN since 1995; exit polls showed the PAN candidate in third place.

In the sprawling capital, Mexico City, the left retained the mayorship in a landslide. The Democratic Revolution Party’s Miguel Angel Mancera, former attorney general for the city, was elected to replace popular Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, besting his nearest rival by nearly 40 percentage points.

News assistants Cecilia Sanchez and Daniel Hernandez in The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

Death of the Birds and the Bees Across America

By F. William Engdahl

Global Research, July 1, 2012

williamengdahl.com

Birds and bees are something most of us take for granted as part of nature. The expression “teaching about the birds and the bees” to explain the process of human reproduction to young people is not an accidental expression. Bees and birds contribute to the essence of life on our planet. A study by the US Department of Agriculture estimated that “…perhaps one-third of our total diet is dependent, directly or indirectly, upon insect-pollinated plants.”1

The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most important pollinator of agricultural crops. Honey bees pollinate over 70 out of 100 crops that in turn provide 90% of the world’s food. They pollinate most fruits and vegetables–including apples, oranges, strawberries, onions and carrots.2 But while managed honey bee populations have increased over the last 50 years, bee colony populations have decreased significantly in many European and North American nations. Simultaneously, crops that are dependent on insects for pollination have increased. The phenomenon has received the curious designation of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), implying it could be caused by any number of factors. Serious recent scientific studies however point to a major cause: use of new highly toxic systemic pesticides in agriculture since about 2004.

If governments in the EU, USA and other countries fail to impose a total ban on certain chemical insecticides, not only could bees become a thing of the past. The human species could face staggering new challenges merely to survive. The immediate threat comes from the widespread proliferation of commercial insecticides containing the highly-toxic chemical with the improbable name, neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. They act on the central nervous system of insects. But also on bees and small song birds. Recent evidence suggests they could also affect human brain development in newborn.

Some five to six years back, reports began to circulate from around the world, especially out of the United States, and then increasingly from around the EU, especially in the UK, that entire bee colonies were disappearing. Since 2004 over a million beehives have died across the United States and beekeepers in 25 states report what is called Colony Collapse Disorder. In winter of 2009 an estimated one fifth of bee hives in the UK were lost, double the natural rate.3 Government authorities claimed it was a mystery.

And in the USA a fact sheet from the Environmenrtal Protection Agency (EPA) on Bayer AG’s Clothianidin, a widely used neonicotinoid, warned:

“Available data indicate that clothianidin on corn and canola should result in minimal acute toxic risk to birds. However, assessments show that exposure to treated seeds through ingestion may result in chronic toxic risk to non-endangered and endangered small birds (e.g., songbirds) and acute/chronic toxicity risk to non-endangered and endangered mammals.”4

Alarming UK results

A private UK research organization, Buglife and the Soil Association, undertook tests to try to determine cause of the bee death. They found that the decline was caused in part by a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids.5 Neonicotinoids are “systemic” chemicals that kill insects by getting into the cell of the plant. In Britain it’s widely used for crops like oilseed rape and for production of potted plants.

The neonicotinoids are found in the UK in products including Chinook, used on oilseed rape and Bayer UK 720, used in the production of potted plants which then ends up in gardens and homes around the country. The new study examined in detail the most comprehensive array of peer-reviewed research into possible long-term effects of neonicotinoid use. Their conclusion was that neonicotinoid pesticides damage the health and life cycle of bees over the long term by affecting the nervous system. The report noted, “Neonicotinoids may be a significant factor contributing to current bee declines and could also contribute to declines in other non-target invertebrate species.”6 The organization called for a total ban on pesticides containing any neonicotinoids.

The president of the UK Soil Association, Peter Melchett, told the press that pesticides were causing a continued decline in pollinating insects, risking a multimillion pound farming industry. “The UK is notorious for taking the most relaxed approach to pesticide safety in the EU; Buglife’s report shows that this puts at risk pollination services vital for UK agriculture,” he said. 7

Indeed in March 2012 Sir Robert Watson, Chief Scientist at the British Government’s Department of Environment announced that his government was reconsidering its allowance of neonicotinoid use in the UK. Watson told a British newspaper, “We will absolutely look at the University of Stirling work, the French work, and the American work that came out a couple of months ago. We must look at this in real detail to see whether or not the current British position is correct or is incorrect. I want this all reassessed, very, very carefully.”8 To date no policy change has ensued however. Given the seriousness of the scientific studies and of the claims of danger, a prudent policy would have been to provisionally suspend further uise of neonicotinoids pending further research. No such luck.

EPA Corruption

In the United States the government agency responsible for approving or banning chemicals deemed dangerous to the environment is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2003, over the clear warnings of its own scientists, the EPA licensed a neonicotinoid called Clothianidin, patented by the German Bayer AG together with a Japanese company, Takeda. It is sold under the brand name Poncho. It was immediately used on over 88 million acres of US corn in the 2004 crop and since that time, the shocking death of more than one million beehives across the corn prairies of the Midwest has been reported. 9

The political appointees at EPA at the time allowed Bayer to receive a license for Poncho despite the official judgment of EPA scientists that Clothianidin was “highly toxic to bees by contact and oral exposure” and that is was “highly mobile in soil and groundwater – very likely to migrate into streams, ponds and other fields, where it would be absorbed by wildflowers” – and go on to kill more bees and non-target insects like butterflies and bumblebees. The warning, from a leaked EPA memo dated September 28, 2005 summarizes the Environmental Fate and Effects Division’s Environmental Risk Assessment for Clothianidin, which it said “will remain toxic to bees for days after a spray application. In honey bees, the effects of this toxic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects to the queen.”10

The EPA scientists judged it to be many times more toxic than Bayer’s other nicotinoid, Imidacloprid, sold under the brand name Gaucho, which itself is “7,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.”11 DDT was banned in the USA in 1972 after numerous studies proved its toxic effects on both animals and humans.

Then in January of this year another US Government agency, the US Department of Agriculture, published a significant new report from scientists under the direction of Jeffrey Pettis of the USDA Bee Research Laboratory. The study, published in the German scientific journal, Naturwissenschaften, was explosive.

The Pettis study concluded after careful control experiments with bees exposed and not exposed to neonicotinoids clearly demonstrated that there was “an interaction between sub-lethal exposure to imidacloprid (Bayer’s Gaucho—w.e.) at the colony level and the spore production in individual bees of honey bee gut parasite Nosema.” Moreover, the study went on, “Our results suggest that the current methods used to evaluate the potential negative effect of pesticides are inadequate. This is not the first study to note a complex and unexpected interaction between low pesticide exposure and pathogen loads…We suggest new pesticide testing standards be devised that incorporate increased pathogen susceptibility into the test protocols. Lastly, we believe that subtle interactions between pesticides and pathogens, such as demonstrated here, could be a major contributor to increased mortality of honey bee colonies worldwide.”12

Renowned Dutch toxicologist, Dr. Henk Tennekes reported that, unlike claims from Bayer and other neonicotinoid manufacturers, bees living near maize fields sprayed with the toxic pesticides are exposed to the neonicotinoids throughout the entire growing season, and the toxin is cumulative. Tennekes noted, “Bees are exposed to these compounds and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways throughout the foraging period. During spring, extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust material produced during the planting of treated maize seed. We also found neonicotinoids in the soil of each field we sampled, including unplanted fields.” 13

Effect on Human Brain?

But most alarming of all is the evidence that exposure to neonicotinides hahs horrific possible effects on humans as well as on birds and bees.

Professor Henk Tennekes describes the effects:

“Today the major illnesses confronting children in the United States include a number of psychosocial and behavioral conditions. Neurodevelopmental disorders, including learning disabilities, dyslexia, mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, and autism – occurrence is more prevalent than previously thought, affecting 5 percent to 10 percent of the 4 million children born in the United States annually. Beyond childhood, incidence rates of chronic neurodegenerative diseases of adult life such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia have increased markedly. These trends raise the possibility that exposures in early life act as triggers of later illness, perhaps by reducing the numbers of cells in essential regions of the brain to below the level needed to maintain function in the face of advancing age. Prenatal and childhood exposures to pesticides have emerged as a significant risk factor explaining impacts on brain structure and health that can increase the risk of neurological disease later in life.”14

There is also growing evidence suggesting persistent exposure to plants sprayed with neonicotinoids could be responsible for damage to the human brain, including the recent sharp rise in incidents of autism in children.

Tennekes, referring to recent studies of the effects of various exposures of neonicotinoids to rats, noted,

“Accumulating evidence suggests that chronic exposure to nicotine causes many adverse effects on the normal development of a child. Perinatal exposure to nicotine is a known risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome, low-birth-weight infants, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Therefore, the neonicotinoids may adversely affect human health, especially the developing brain.”15

Referring to studies recently published in the magazine, Science, Brian Moench noted:

The brain of insects is the intended target of these insecticides. They disrupt the bees homing behavior and their ability to return to the hive, kind of like “bee autism.” But insects are different than humans, right? Human and insect nerve cells share the same basic biologic infrastructure. Chemicals that interrupt electrical impulses in insect nerves will do the same to humans. But humans are much bigger than insects and the doses to humans are miniscule, right?

During critical first trimester development a human is no bigger than an insect so there is every reason to believe that pesticides could wreak havoc with the developing brain of a human embryo. But human embryos aren’t out in corn fields being sprayed with insecticides, are they? A recent study showed that every human tested had the world’s best-selling pesticide, Roundup, detectable in their urine at concentrations between five and twenty times the level considered safe for drinking water.16

The most alarming part of the neonicotinoid story is that governments and the EU to date are content to take little or no precautionary steps to stop even suspected contamination from neonicotinoids pending through long-term tests that would determine finally if they are as dangerous as considerable and growing scientific evidence says.

Bayer AG and neonicotinoids

In early 2011 the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report on bee mortalities around the world. Bayer neonicotinoids, Poncho and Gaucho, are listed there as a threat to numerous animals.

According to the UN report, “Systemic insecticides such as those used as seed coatings, which migrate from the roots through the entire plant, all the way to the flowers, can potentially cause toxic chronic exposure to non-target pollinators. Various studies revealed the high toxicity of chemicals such as Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam and associated ingredients for animals such as cats, fish, rats, rabbits, birds and earthworms. Laboratory studies have shown that such chemicals can cause losses of sense of direction, impair memory and brain metabolism, and cause mortality.” 17

Yet Bayer AG shows no signs of voluntarily stopping production and distribution of its toxic neonicotinoids.

The German pharmaceutical giant counts among its historic achievements one it prefers today to forget– the first synthesis of something it marketed as cough medicine in 1898 under the trade name, Heroin, taken from the “heroic” feeling it gave to Bayer workers on whom it was tested. 18 According to the German citizen watchdog group, Coalition against BAYER Dangers, Gaucho and Poncho have been among BAYER’s top-selling pesticides: “In 2010, Gaucho sales were valued at US$ 820 million while Poncho sales were valued at US$ 260 million. Gaucho ranked first among BAYER’s best-selling pesticide, while Poncho ranked seventh. It is striking that in the 2011 Annual Report no sales figures for Gaucho and Poncho are shown.”19

Ban in many EU Countries

Unlike the United States, several EU countries have banned use of neonicotinoids, refusing to accept test and safety reports from the chemical manufacturers as adequate. One case in point was in Germany where the Julius Kühn-Institut – Bundesforschungsinstitut für Kulturpflanzen (JKI) in Quedlinburg a state-run crop research institute, collected samples of dead honeybees and determined that clothianidin caused the deaths.

Bayer CropScience blamed defective seed corn batches. The company gave an unconvincing counter claim that the coating came off as the seeds were sown, which allowed unusually high amounts of toxic dust to spread to adjacent areas where bees collected pollen and nectar. The attorney for a coalition of groups filing the suit, Harro Schultze stated, “We’re suspecting that Bayer submitted flawed studies to play down the risks of pesticide residues in treated plants. Bayer’s … management has to be called to account, since the risks … have now been known for more than 10 years.”20

Significantly, in Bayer’s home country, Germany, the German government has banned Bayer’s neonicotinoids since 2009. France and Italy have imposed similar bans. In Italy, the government found that with the ban, bee populations returned in number, leading to an upholding of the ban despite strong chemical industry pressure.21

Despite the alarming evidence of links between neonicotinoids and bee colony collapse disorder, as well as possible impacts on human foetal cells and brains, the reaction so far in the European Union Commission has been scandalously slow. Brussels has been so weak in responding that the Office of EU Ombudsman has initiated an investigation into why. European Union Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandou said he had opened an investigation after a complaint from the Austrian Ombudsman Board, who said the European Commission had failed to take account of the new evidence on the role of neonicotinoids in bee mortality. “In its view, the Commission should take new scientific evidence into account and take appropriate measures, such as reviewing the authorisation of relevant substances,” said a statement from the EU Ombudsman’s office.

The ombudsman has asked the Commission to submit an opinion in the investigation by June 30, after which it will issue a report. Recommendations by the ombudsman are non-binding. The Commission in response has said it has asked the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) to carry out a full review of all neonicotinoid insecticides by April 30 and that it would take appropriate measures based on the findings.22

Giving EFSA final say on food safety for Europe’s consumers and insects is tantamount to asking the foxes to guard the hen house today. EFSA is heavily influenced by members with conflicts of interest and dubious ties to the same agribusiness interests represented by Bayer AG and other agriculture chemical multinationals.23

Bayer is one of six global companies tied to development of patented GMO seeds and related chemicals, controlling inputs into the entire food chain. As a tightly inter-linked group, Monsanto, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont control the global seed, pesticide and agricultural biotechnology markets. This concentration of power over world agriculture is unprecedented. As one observer noted, it enables them to “control the agricultural research agenda; dictate trade agreements and agricultural policies; position their technologies as the ‘science-based’ solution to increase crop yields, feed the hungry and save the planet; escape democratic and regulatory controls; subvert competitive markets.” 24

Dutch toxicologist Tennekes and Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard’s Department of Environmental Health are among a growing number of scientists around the world calling for an immediate and global ban on the use of the new neonicotinoid pesticides.25 Professor Lu calls for a very simple test: “I would suggest removing all neonicotinoids from use globally for a period of five to six years. If the bee population is going back up during the after the ban, I think we will have the answer.” That should be more than food for thought in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere.

Notes:

1 S.E. McGregor, Insect pollination of cultivated crop plants, 1976, USDA Agriculture. Handbook 496, p. 1

2 Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany), Countermotion to shareholder meeting: BAYER Pesticides causing bee decline, Press Release, April 11, 2012.

3Louise Gray, Beekeepers lose one fifth of hives, 24 August, 2009, The Telegraph, accessed in http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/6069218/Beekeepers-lose-one-fifth-of-hives.html

4 Anon., Clothianidin a Neonicotinoid Pesticide Highly Toxic to Honeybees and other pollinators, March 20, 2007, accessed in http://www.theenvironmentalblog.org/2007/03/clothianidin-a-neonicotinoid-pesticide-highly-toxic-to-honeybees-and-other-pollinators/.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Michael McCarthy, Government to reconsider nerve agent pesticides, The Independent, 31 March 2012, accessed in http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/government-to-reconsider-nerve-agent-pesticides-7604121.html

9 Henk Tennekes, They’ve turned the Environment into the Experiment and WE are all the experimental Subjects, January 19, 2011, accessed in http://www.boerenlandvogels.nl/en/content/they%E2%80%99ve-turned-environment-experiment-%E2%80%93-and-we-are-all-experimental-subjects.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Jeffrey S. Pettis, et al, Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema, Naturwissenschaften-The Science of Nature, 13 January, 2012, accessed in http://www.springerlink.com/content/p1027164r403288u/fulltext.html

13 Henk Tennekes, Honey Bees Living Near Maize Fields Are Exposed To Neonicotinoids Throughout The Growing Season, January 5, 2012, accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3.

14 Henk Tennekes, Prenatal exposures to pesticides may increase the risk of neurological disease later in life, March 20, 2012, accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/content/prenatal-exposures-pesticides-may-increase-risk-neurological-disease-later-life

15 Henk Tennekes, The neonicotinoids may adversely affect human health, especially the developing brain, March 20, 2012, accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3.

16 Brian Moench, Autism and Disappearing Bees A Common Denominator?, April 2, 2012, Common Dreams, accessed in http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/04/02.

17 Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany), op cit.

18 Richard Askwith, How aspirin turned hero: A hundred years ago Heinrich Dreser made a fortune from the discovery of heroin and aspirin, Sunday Times, 13 September 1998, accessed in http://opioids.com/heroin/heroinhistory.html.

19 Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany), op cit.

20 ENS, German Coalition Sues Bayer Over Pesticide Honey Bee Deaths, August 25, 2008, accessed in http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2008/2008-08-25-01.asp

21 Roberta Cruger, Nicotine Bees Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban, May 15, 2010, accessed in

http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/nicotine-bees-population-restored-with-neonicotinoids-ban.html.

22 Henk Tennekes, EU response to bee death pesticide link questioned, April 24, 2012, accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3.

23 Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory, Open letter regarding conflicts of interest EFSA’s

Management board , Brussels, March 4, 2011, accessed in http://www.corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/files/openletter/EFSA%20management%20board%20conflicts%20of%20interest.pdf

24 Andrew Olsen, Chemical Cartel, Chemical Cartel, June 28, 2010; see also, F. William Engdahl, Saat der Zerstörung: Der Dunkele Seite von Genmanipulation.

25 Henk Tennekes, Imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder – Scientists Call for Global Ban on Bee-Killing Pesticides, April 5, 2012, accessed in http://www.farmlandbirds.net/en/taxonomy/term/3.

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