Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First the cats died, then...

The following story deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

FDA finds melamine in Chinese catfish
by Goldy, 05/23/2007, 3:42 PM

Tests conducted at a US Food & Drug Administration laboratory on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Health & Human Services have detected melamine in at least one sample of imported Chinese catfish. And while officials are downplaying the health hazard, this latest finding suggests that the human food supply is much more widely contaminated than previously acknowledged.

Not that this should come as a surprise. Back on April 1, when I first started covering this story at length, I wrote:

Unless and until the FDA determines otherwise, one cannot help but wonder if our sick and dying cats are merely the canary in the coal mine alerting us to a broader contamination of the human food supply.

Three weeks later, when we learned that melamine had tainted chickens, I congratulated myself on my prescience and specifically warned that “a huge swath of our food supply has been compromised … including farmed fish.” Then on May 8, after more details of our expanding food safety crisis had emerged, I elaborated:

According to recent studies, 81-percent of America’s seafood is imported, and about 40-percent of that is farmed. China is the world’s aquaculture leader, accounting for about 70-percent of global production. It is also a major U.S. supplier of farm-raised shrimp, catfish, tilapia, carp, clams, eel and other aquaculture products.

We now know that it is common practice in China to spike the nitrogen level of livestock feed by adulterating the product with both scrap melamine and scrap cyanuric acid. And it has also been widely reported that this contaminated feed is routinely used in China’s burgeoning aquaculture industry.

[…] Fish physiology can leave them particularly prone to bio-accumulating certain contaminants, and the nature of common aquaculture practices tends to exacerbate the problem. Farmed seafood raised on a steady diet of contaminated feed would surely retain some of the toxins in its flesh. But as far as we know, no imported Chinese aquaculture products have yet been tested.

Well, now imported Chinese seafood has been tested, and the results are disturbing. FDA tested Chinese catfish from four Arkansas wholesale distributors, and found detectable levels in at least one sample. Having recently passed Vietnam to become the largest exporter of farmed catfish to the US, China is on target to deliver over 20,000 tons in 2007. If contamination was rare, a positive test would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but considering what we now know about the widespread use of melamine-adulterated fish feed in China, a one-in-four chance strikes me as just about right.

USDA and FDA officials continue to insist that melamine-tainted poultry, pork and seafood is safe to eat and that contamination levels pose no risk to human health. But they simply do not know (or will not tell us) how widespread the contamination is, whether melamine accumulates over time in human kidneys or other organs, what other toxins may have been contained in the melamine scrap, and exactly how melamine interacts with cyanuric acid and other contaminants within the human body.

What we do know is that thousands of dogs and cats dropped dead after eating melamine-tainted pet food — some within only a meal or two of consuming the poisoned product. And the FDA’s own Protein Surveillance Assignment warns that chronic exposure to melamine “may cause cancer or reproductive damage,” and specifically instructs that “pregnant women should not perform this assignment.”

The media may have lost interest in the food safety crisis, but the story continues to unfold, much of it predictably. If farm-raised Chinese seafood is contaminated, it seems likely that so is Chinese poultry, pork and beef. And if multiple Chinese manufacturers were selling melamine-spiked gluten and protein concentrate to US importers as “human food grade,” then surely Chinese food manufacturers have been similarly duped as well. Given the facts (and human nature) there is every reason to believe that Chinese manufactured processed foods are sitting on the shelf today with detectable levels of melamine — and no doubt, have been for years.

And that’s just the melamine. From toxic levels of diethylene glycol in children’s toothpaste, to antibiotics in fish, to “filthy,” “unsafe” and “falsely” labeled products, China’s burgeoning yet largely unregulated food industry is reaching out to threaten consumers worldwide.
It was not a lucky guess that led me to suspect Chinese aquaculture products, but an informed one. Don’t be surprised when this story gets much worse.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Taylor article

For justice, the label must befit the crime

F or nearly 20 years, I've studied radical environmental movements. Fifteen years ago, I met with a small group of them in a forest in Tennessee . One among that group now faces sentencing before a federal court in Oregon for crimes attributed to the Earth and Animal Liberation fronts.

In the forest that day, the assembled activists shared their deep feelings of grief about the rapid decline of the Earth's ecosystems and some of the reasons that triggered their activism. The man now facing sentencing, Stanislas G. Meyerhoff, described how, as a boy, he had killed a bird with a slingshot and subsequently had became overwhelmed with remorse. That day in Tennessee , surrounded by others who understood, his grief returned, and he wept.
Today prosecutors are attempting to brand this man and nine co-defendants as terrorists, which could dramatically lengthen and worsen the conditions of their pending incarceration. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled Monday that federal sentencing guidelines allow her to impose a "terrorism enhancement" on the confessed eco-saboteurs. Soon she will decide whether the facts in each case merit such an enhancement.

Given the way the terrorism-enhancement statute was crafted, a key fact the judge must decide is whether the defendants sought to influence or retaliate against the government. But this focus leaves out critically important ethical issues, also related to intent, which should be taken into account during sentencing, including when considering whether to label these defendants "terrorists." One such issue is whether they intended to kill or maim anyone -- their actions clearly show that they did not. Equally important are the deeper motivations of the activists.

In general, radical environmental activists are motivated by an ethical commitment to life in all its forms. They believe that, as human societies expand, suffering among human and other creatures has followed, some of which even face extinction. They believe that most people are indifferent to this intensifying ecological cataclysm. They conclude that politics as usual is insufficient and the only remaining ethical course is to resist, even illegally. Some, like that young man in the Tennessee forest, also have more personal reasons to atone for their own environmental sins.

A just sentencing ought to recognize that these defendants have good reason for their frustration and alarm. Scientists have amply demonstrated the imminent danger posed by the ongoing and escalating deterioration of the Earth's living systems. One need not approve of the crimes to recognize that a rational and compassionate urgency was a part of the motivation for them.

These are cases that cry for a judicious temperament that recognizes the moral complexity of the current cases in ways that the letter of the law might not. If terrorism is to be a meaningful term, able to represent society's harshest condemnation, it should be reserved for those who intend to maim or kill in the pursuit of their causes.

It is not a label that fits these defendants.

Bron Taylor is a professor at the University of Florida and president of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. He is author of "Ecological Resistance Movements; the Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism."

Gliese 581 C

Space.com has a good article on Gliese 581 C, a planet that seems to be at the right temperature for liquid water to exist on the surface. I'm surprised that there isn't more interest and more research funding going into this. Even if it took centuries or thousands of years, the possibility of mankind stepping off our little rock strikes me as extremely exciting. If the planet is covered by water and is the right temperature, it doesn't seem like it would be too difficult for humans to live there and terra-farming (if plant life doesn't already exist there) should be pretty easy to do over long periods of time. In the short term, it even seems possible for humans to set up giant plastic domes where they could live and farm.

A excellent blog discussion of the new planet can be found at Centauri Dreams.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The late great terror threat

The Opinion Mill has a good discussion of the late great terror threat:

Oh, come on. Six guys were planning to take on Fort Dix? Using information gleaned from pizza deliveries? Practicing for their strike with paintball guns? I realize that these poll results are looking pretty bad for Bush and the GOP, but does the pimping have to be this blatant? Don’t they realize the scary-headlines con is way past its sell-by date? Haven’t they learned anything from the speed with which the arrest of those hapless zanies in Miami last year dissolved into farce? Can’t they at least review a few episodes of 24 to get the targets straight?
You want to know about terrorists? Check out these guys. Then come back and tell me about how we have to fight the terra-ists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them on our shores. Guess what — the terrorists are already here. Only they want to kill dark-skinned people, so somehow it just doesn’t seem to be that big a deal.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

With a prom dress, tiara and combat boots

Alas, i wish all girls could be California grrrrls... (And can you imagine the theives having to explain this episode to their cell-mates in prison?)

SAN FRANCISCO - In a bizarre scene that seemed straight out of "The Streets of San Francisco," a San Anselmo teen chased thieves across Union Square Tuesday, capturing one and leading police to another. The big difference from the old television show was that Karl Malden and Michael Douglas never wore a prom dress, tiara and combat boots. Erin Schrode, a 16-year-old sophomore at Marin Academy, was decked out in prom gear and boots when she jumped into pursuit of three youths who swiped a friend's purse and a laptop computer at an afternoon protest rally.

The race lasted several blocks as Schrode kept up with the crooks, aided by an occasional onlooker, before catching one youth at the corner of Grant Avenue and Market Street. Bystanders detained the suspect as Schrode sped off down Market Street before San Francisco police joined the pursuit and caught the suspect. The third suspect vanished. "I wasn't going to let them get away," Schrode said. "They were 30 or 40 feet away from me when they took it in front of hundreds of people in Union Square. What were they thinking?" Schrode said she was shouting for others to stop the young men and to call police as she ran along busy blocks of Stockton Street and Maiden Lane.