Consumer Power

Monsanto-Bayer Gets Bitten. But the Fight Is Far from Over.

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-07-02 16:49
July 2, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulGenetic Engineering roundup_shelf_silver_gold_black_1200x630.jpg

In 2016, Christine Sheppard traveled to The Hague, Netherlands, to testify before the Monsanto Tribunal (which Organic Consumers Association helped organize). 

Sheppard told the panel of lawyers and judges she believed Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller had caused her life-destroying non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She later joined tens of thousands of cancer victims who sued Monsanto (now owned by Bayer).

Last week, Bayer settled most of those lawsuits, for a staggering $10 billion. 

Sheppard, whose story began in 1995, on a farm in Hawaii that she and her husband were forced to sell after her cancer diagnosis, called the settlement a “slap in the face.” As she wrote this week in the Guardian:

“Bayer admitted no guilt, will continue to sell Roundup, and refused to label it as carcinogenic. People will continue to get cancer from it.”

$10 billion is a lot of money to have to pay out to victims of a product Bayer insists is “safe.” We can probably count that as a win.

But admitting no guilt, and being allowed to continue to sell a carcinogenic product, is definitely a loss for consumers.

Indeed, it appears Bayer will at least try to continue to get away with murder—and the chemical giant will be helped along by a federal judge in California who in a ruling last week (another loss) refused to allow the state to require cancer warning labels on Roundup.

But the courts—and a growing number of cities and countries—aren’t all in Bayer’s pocket.

Earlier this month, a federal court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it approved Monsanto-Bayer’s dicamba-based herbicides—because the agency ignored clear evidence that the new herbicides would cause widespread damage to crops.

That good news was followed by Mexico’s announcement of plans to phase out the use of glyphosate-based herbicides by 2024, to “protect human health and the environment.”

We’ll take any good news we can get when it comes to Monsanto-Bayer. But we won’t let a little good news cause us to slack off. 

As the New York Times reported, part of the $1.25 billion settlement Bayer agreed to will be used to establish an independent expert panel to resolve two critical questions about glyphosate: Does it cause cancer, and if so, what is the minimum dosage or exposure level that is dangerous?

Bayer-Monsanto has a long history of undermining, sabotaging and attacking scientists who challenge the company line that “glyphosate is safe.” 

That makes it more critical than ever that credible scientists are allowed, without being attacked or undermined by Bayer, to conduct research and present evidence about the real dangers of Roundup.

In October 2019, the Ramazzini Institute, in coordination with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (NY) and the George Washington University, launched the Global Glyphosate Study, the most comprehensive study ever on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides. The Institute, based in Bologna, Italy, reports that due to COVID-19, the funding for the study has taken a major hit. To learn more about the study, and to donate to keep it going, visit

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

Living Off the Fat of the Land—Not the Fat of the Lab.

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-06-30 20:02
June 30, 2020White Oak PasturesWill HarrisAll About Organics white_oak_pastures_cattle_sun_pasture_1200x630.jpeg

All of my life I have heard, and used, the expression “Living off of the Fat of the Land."

To me, that expression means doing well from the excesses that come from what you have. It is kind of like living on the interest that is paid on your savings account.

The definition of the idiomatic phrase supports that meaning:

To live off the fat of the land means to live well, to live off the surrounding abundance. The term live off the fat of the land was first used in the King James Version of the Bible, translated 1611, Genesis 45:18: “And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.”

An ecosystem that is operating optimally results in an abundance, which is true wealth. This abundance occurs only when the carbon cycle, water cycle, mineral cycle, energy cycle, microbial cycle, and all of the myriad of other cycles are operating properly.

Food that is produced naturally in a good working ecosystem is good for you. It is what nature produces, and what we evolved to eat. It is the true Fat of the Land.

Sadly, industrial, centralized, commodity farming practices are very effective at breaking these natural cycles. Much of the food that we now eat is manufactured in a laboratory. I think of it as the Fat of the Lab.

We now make meat in laboratories through methods that come from reductionist science. We are told that this fat [and protein] of the lab are better for us than the fat [and protein] of the land.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown expressed how he thinks the meat market will be obsolete in 20 years.

"From a nutritional standpoint our products match the protein quality and content of the animal products that they replace" and "ours is a clear winner from a health and nutrition standpoint," [Brown] said in a "Mad Money" interview.

“This is why I think people are increasingly aware plant-based products are going to completely replace the animal-based products in the food world within the next 15 years. That’s our mission. That transformation is inevitable,” he told host Jim Cramer.

What could possibly go wrong in these laboratories? Many scientific processes and technologies are invented through reductionist science. These scientific methods almost always have unintended consequences that go unnoticed, often, for decades.

Of course, there can be good consequences (like penicillin for example). But more often than not, what we may call a “scientific breakthrough” at the time can later be recognized and recalled for dangerous unintended consequences.

Think about the number of modifications that we tried to impose on natural cycles, only to find out the unintended consequences later: using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a refrigerant or in aerosol sprays that depleted the ozone, adding antibiotics in poultry and livestock feed that are growing antibiotic-resistant diseases, eliminating wolves from national parks that led to overpopulation and starvation.

Brown says that the transformation from meat to to plant-based products made in a lab is “inevitable”. To that I say:

• There is no natural cycle that creates fake meat.

• There is no regeneration of land when meat is made in a lab.

• Nor is there any reversal of the impoverishment of rural America that was caused by industrialized agriculture.

• There is nothing inevitable or permanent about creating a new manufacturing process, unknown to nature.

The Fat of the Lab is very new. The Fat of the Land has been under testing for a really long time. In our family, we’ve been living and eating The Fat of our Land since 1866. I trust cows and hogs a Helluva lot more than I trust chemists and marketers. 

Wall Street and Silicon Valley will lie to you. Livestock don't lie. CEO’S are self-serving. Cows are sincere.

Will Harris, owner of White Oaks Pastures Farm in Bluffton, Georgia, is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher. Harris is a co-chair of the national coalition of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal.

The Numbers Aren't Pretty

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-06-30 19:44
June 30, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationRonnie CumminsEnvironment & Climate, CAFOs vs. Free Range cow_pasture_sky_grass_flowers_1200x630.jpg

The folks at the Food & Environment Network (FERN) have taken on the grim task of monitoring the COIVD-19 situation in industrial slaughterhouses.

The numbers aren’t pretty. 

As of June 29, FERN reports that at least 36,561 meatpacking, food processing and farmworkers have tested positive for Covid-19—and at least 116 workers of those have died.

Meanwhile four of the “Big Meat” companies responsible for these numbers—Tyson, JBS, Cargill and Smithfield—are being investigated for using the pandemic to needlessly endanger workers, and to deceive consumers about meat shortages so they could jack up prices, all while exporting massive amounts of meat to China.

Never have we needed to shut down factory farms more than now.

And never has the opportunity been more within our reach—if we can marshal the resources to get the job done.

Our deadline to meet our 2nd-quarter budget is midnight tonight. And we are still far short of our goal. Can you help by making a donation today? 

We need to transition exploited factory farm workers to safer, better paying jobs, either in organic regenerative meat production or some other green industry.

But that’s just one of many reasons to end factory farming.

Industrial factory farms produce pesticide- and drug-contaminated meat. 

Industrial factory farms are leading polluters of water and air.

Industrial factory farms are notorious for their cruel treatment of animals.

And let’s not forget this: Without factory farms, Monsanto would have a hard time pushing farmers to grow millions of acres of pesticide-saturated GMO grains for animal feed.

Now, more than ever, it’s time to demand an organic regenerative food and farming system. 

Now, more than ever, we need a food system that improves public health, ensures worker rights, protects family farmers, ends animal abuse and protects the environment, including climate stability.

Safely ensconced in their high-rise executive offices, “Big Meat” corporation executives  care nothing about the communities they exploit, and from which they extract wealth.

We can do better. And there’s no time like the present.

Please make a donation today if you are able. You can donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

It’s Time for Congress to Act on Reparations and Land Theft

Organic consumers - Fri, 2020-06-26 15:56
June 26, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-MayerFair Trade & Social Justice gardener_crop_kale_harvest_1200x630.jpg

The corporate takeover of our food and farming system has led to poor health, polluted waterways, degraded soils, hollowed out rural economies and communities and a host of other ills.

It’s time to re-diversify, re-democratize and re-localize the U.S. food system—the place to start is by addressing the origins of corporate control, which include slavery, racism and land theft.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to pass the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40).

Or, make a personal act of reparations to a farmer of color.

Leah Penniman, author of “Farming While Black,” puts it this way:

“Beginning with the genocidal land theft from Indigenous people, continuing with the kidnapping of our ancestors from the shores of West Africa for forced agricultural labor, morphing into convict leasing, expanding to the migrant guest worker program, and maturing into its current state where farm management is among the whitest professions, farm labor is predominantly Brown and exploited, and people of color disproportionately live in food apartheid neighborhoods and suffer from diet-related illness, this system is built on stolen land and stolen labor, and needs a redesign.”

Imagine how much different agriculture in the U.S. would look if the 3.9 million people emancipated from slavery between April 16, 1862 and June 19, 1865, had actually received the land promised to them by Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15. 

Now known as “40 acres and a mule,” the Order designated 400,000 acres of land—“a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. Johns River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast”—to be reserved and set apart for the settlement of newly freed people. The order specified that “each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) acres of tillable ground . . .” and “the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves.”

Garrison Frazier, one of 20 African American ministers who negotiated the deal in Savannah, Georgia, on January 12, 1865, told Major-General Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

“The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage, and placing us where we could reap the fruit of our own labor, take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom. … The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor.”

But when President Abraham Lincoln was shot by a confederate assassin, Order No. 15 was rescinded—and the 400,000 acres was returned to a handful of plantation owners.

That was only the beginning of the backlash against African American land ownership.

As Chris Newman of Sylvanaqua Farms wrote recently:

“Emancipated slaves were the best farmers in the world and poised to take over American agriculture forever in 1865. White America literally waged a 100-year race war to keep this from happening…”.

It’s time to get absentee corporations out of our farming communities. It’s time to rebuild strong local and regional food systems. 

It’s time to put food and farming back in the hands of the people—all people—who are invested in their own communities, and committed to an organic regenerative food system that nourishes, rather than depletes.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to pass the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40).


Challenge Eyed to Class Action Plan for Bayer Roundup Settlement

Organic consumers - Fri, 2020-06-26 15:07
June 26, 2020U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamGenetic Engineering br-2_1200x630.png

A plan to delay any new Roundup cancer claims for years and shift the key question of whether or not the weed killer causes cancer from a jury to a hand-picked panel of scientists faces potential opposition from some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who initiated and led the mass tort claims against Roundup maker Monsanto, sources close to the litigation said.

Several members of the lead law firms who won three out of three trials pitting cancer patients against Monsanto are considering challenging the terms of a proposed “class action” settlement negotiated between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and a small team of  lawyers who have not previously been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation, the sources said.

The class action settlement proposal is an element of the sweeping $10 billion Roundup litigation settlement Bayer announced June 24.

In each of the trials held to date, juries found that the weight of scientific evidence proved that Roundup exposure caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and that Monsanto covered up the risks. But under the proposal that question would go to a five-member “science panel,” not a jury.

“It’s basically depriving a plaintiff of their constitutional right to a jury trial,” said one source close to the litigation.

The proposed class settlement would apply to anyone exposed to Roundup who had not filed a lawsuit or retained a lawyer as of June 24, 2020, regardless of whether or not that person already had been diagnosed with cancer they believe was due to Roundup exposure.

The plan was put together by Bayer and the law firms of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Audet & Partners; The Dugan Law Firm; and lawyer Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law.

The agreement was reached after nearly one year of “unrelenting efforts” of negotiations, lawyer Elizabeth Cabraser said in a declaration to the court supporting the proposed class settlement.

It would set a “standstill period” in which plaintiffs in the class cannot file new litigation related to Roundup. And it calls for class members to release “any claims against Monsanto for punitive damages and for medical monitoring related to Roundup exposure and NHL.”

Notably, the plan states that rather than go forward with another jury trial, a panel of scientists will first be set up to determine the “right answer” to “the threshold question” of whether or not there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL.

The plan calls for Bayer to pay up to $150 million for the fees and costs of the attorneys’ involved and “class representative service awards” up to $25,000 to each or a total of $100,000.

Overall, Bayer said it would set aside $1.25 billion for the arrangement. The money would be used to compensate class members diagnosed with NHL for the “effects of the delay” in litigation, and to fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL, among other things.

A motion seeking preliminary approval of the class settlement was filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to be handled by Judge Vince Chhabria. Chhabria has been overseeing numerous Roundup lawsuits that have been bundled together as multidistrict litigation. In shepherding a large number of the lawsuits already filed, Chhabria oversaw one of the Roundup trials, as well as what is known as a “Daubert” hearing, in which he heard days of scientific testimony from both sides and then decided there was sufficient scientific evidence of causation for the litigation to proceed.

The class settlement proposal was negotiated separately from the main settlement made with the lead law firms.

In the main settlement, Bayer agreed to provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve roughly 75 percent of the roughly 125,000 filed and unfiled claims brought by plaintiffs who blame exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup for their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Lawyers representing more than 20,000 additional plaintiffs say they have not agreed to settle with Bayer and those lawsuits are expected to continue to work their way through the court system.

Even though Monsanto lost each of the three trials held to date, Bayer maintain the jury decisions were flawed and based on emotion and not sound science.

Science Panel Selection

Bayer and the lawyers for the proposed class would work together to select the five scientists to sit on what would be a “neutral, independent” panel, according to the plan.  If they cannot agree on the make-up of the panel then each side will choose two members and those four members will choose the fifth.

No scientist who acted as an expert in the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation will be allowed to be on the panel. Notably, neither will anyone who “communicated with any expert” in the litigation about the subject matter.

The panel would have four years to review scientific evidence but can petition for an extension of time if necessary. The determination would be binding on both sides, the plan states. If the panel determines there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL, plaintiffs can go forward to seek trials of their individual claims.

“Knowledge is power and this Settlement empowers class members to hold Monsanto accountable for their injuries if and when the Science Panel determines that general causation is satisfied,” the plan states.

The filing with the federal court requests a preliminary approval hearing within 30 days.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

Roundup Cancer Attorney Pleads Guilty to Extortion Attempt

Organic consumers - Mon, 2020-06-22 18:19
June 24, 2020U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamGenetic Engineering ru10-2_1200x630.png

A Virginia lawyer who helped represent the first Roundup cancer plaintiff to take Monsanto to trial pleaded guilty on Friday to trying to extort $200 million from a chemical compound supplier to Monsanto.

Timothy Litzenburg, 38, admitted to a scheme in which he and another lawyer threatened to inflict substantial “financial and reputational harm” on the supplier unless that company paid the two attorneys $200 million disguised as a “consulting agreement.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Litzenburg allegedly told the company that if they paid the money, he was willing to “take a dive” during a deposition, intentionally undermining the prospects for future plaintiffs to try to sue.

Litzenburg was charged with one count each of attempted extortion, conspiracy and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort. He pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting interstate communications with the intent to extort.

Lawyer Daniel Kincheloe, 41, pleaded guilty to the same charge for participating in the scheme.  The men are scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 18 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

“This is a case where two attorneys blew well past the line of aggressive advocacy and crossed deep into the territory of illegal extortion, in a brazen attempt to enrich themselves by extracting millions of dollars from a multinational company,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said in a statement. He said that the plea shows that “when crimes are committed, members of the bar, like all members of the public, will be held accountable for their actions.”

Litzenburg was one of the attorneys for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson leading up to Johnson’s 2018 trial against Monsanto, which resulted in a $289 million jury award in Johnson’s favor. (The judge in the case lowered the verdict and the case is currently under appeal.)

The trial was the first of three that have taken place against Monsanto over allegations that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto, and its German owner Bayer AG, have lost all three trials to date but are appealing the verdicts.

Though Litzenburg had helped prepare Johnson for trial, he was not allowed to participate during the actual event because of concerns about his behavior held by The Miller Firm, which was his employer at the time.

The Miller firm subsequently fired Litzenburg and filed a lawsuit in early 2019 alleging Litzenburg engaged in self-dealing, and “disloyal and erratic conduct.” Litzenburg responded with a counter-claim. The parties  negotiated a confidential settlement.

The criminal complaint against Litzenburg did not name the company Litzenburg tried to extort, but said that he contacted the company in September of  2019 year stating that he was preparing a lawsuit that would allege the company supplied chemical compounds used by Monsanto to create Roundup and that the company knew the ingredients were carcinogenic but had failed to warn the public.

According to the federal charges, Litzenburg told a lawyer for the company he was trying to extort that the company should enter into a “consulting arrangement” with him so as to create a  conflict of interest that would prevent him from filing the threatened litigation.

Litzenburg wrote in the email that the $200 million consulting agreement for himself and an associate was “a very reasonable price,” according to the criminal complaint.

Federal investigators recorded a phone call with Litzenburg discussing the $200 million he was seeking, the complaint states. Litzenburg was allegedly recorded as saying: “The way that I guess you guys will think about it and we’ve thought about it too is savings for your side. I don’t think if this gets filed and turns into mass tort, even if you guys win cases and drive value down… I don’t think there’s any way you get out of it for less than a billion dollars. And so, you know, to me, uh, this is a fire sale price that you guys should consider…”

Litzenburg claimed to be representing roughly 1,000 clients suing Monsanto over Roundup cancer causation allegations at the time of his arrest last year.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

‘Dirty Dairy’ Gets Its Due: Two Organizations Shine a Light on the Downsides of Industrial Dairy

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-06-18 15:38
June 18, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulEnvironment & Climate, CAFOs vs. Free Range white_brown_cow_pasture_graze_1200x630.jpg

The industrial meat industry has been hogging the food-related news cycle lately. The COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants. The slaughterhouse shut-downs. The “depopulating” of farm animals. Meat shortages and rising meat prices.

And then there’s the corresponding good news: Consumers buying more organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat products from local farmers and CSAs—even online sales of these products are surging.

So far, the industrial factory farm dairy industry hasn’t seen nearly as much news coverage during the pandemic. But under the mainstream media radar, two organizations recently shone a spotlight on dairy producers.

The Institute for Ag and Trade Policy (IATP) issued a report on the role of industrial dairy in global warming. The report, “Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy Is Heating Up the Planet and Hollowing Rural Communities,” calls for “redirecting public funds away from industrial agriculture, regulating the public health, environmental and social impacts of this extractive model of production and designing incentives to regenerate rural communities through agroecology.”

According to the IATP report:

“There is growing public support in the U.S., the second largest milk producer, for a dairy supply management system to limit production and ensure that small and mid-sized dairy farmers stay on the land. There are rising calls for a U.S. moratorium on new and expanding large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). New national-level climate policy also must place restrictions on GHG emissions from large-scale, high-emitting CAFOs.”

Indeed, just as consumers have been turning to local producers for their meat, many are also looking to local dairies for milk and other dairy products.

Massachusetts dairy farmer, Darrel Turner, told a local news reporter that before the pandemic, neighbors, many of whom are “city people” who mostly frequent the state’s Berkshires region on weekends, didn’t even realize that farms like Turner’s existed in the region. According to an article in the Berkshire Edge:

“It took the pandemic for the general public to realize that most of the food we eat in New England comes from somewhere else. It also made them realize a good way to avoid shortages was to turn to local producers. Massachusetts farmers have reported a run at their farms for eggs, meat, cheese and veggies since the lockdown began. ‘They are suddenly interested in what we’re doing,’ Turner says.

The Cornucopia Institute also focused attention this week on the dairy industry, with the launch of a new dairy campaign that the organization says will “empower consumers and wholesale buyers to support hard-working farmers who are in danger of being washed off the land by a tidal wave of surplus organic milk, stemming from the rise of factory farms certified under the USDA organic label.”

Cornucopia’s new campaign build’s on the institute’s Organic Dairy Scorecard, a popular resource for consumers who want to support organic dairy brands committed to upholding organic standards.

In announcing the new campaign, Cornucopia’s director of domestic policy, Marie Burcham, said:

“Authentic organic dairies lack the multimillion-dollar marketing budgets of their industrial competitors. Cornucopia aims to elevate the critical role these dairies play in the marketplace and in our communities.”

Through our own “Dirty Dairy” campaign, Organic Consumers Association has targeted companies like Ben & Jerry’s for falsely claiming to be “sustainable” and concerned about climate issues, when in fact the iconic ice cream brand sources its dairy ingredients from industrial dairy farms responsible for widespread contamination of Vermont’s waterways.

Let’s hope that as consumers change their buying habits during the pandemic, they make those changes permanent—so small organic regenerative family-owned dairies can once again thrive.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

TAKE ACTION! Ask Congress to fund local meat processing, not Big Meat bailouts!

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-06-16 16:43
June 16, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-MayerEnvironment & Climate, CAFOs vs. Free Range butcher_slaughter_house_meat_1200x630.png

Big Meat wants Congress to bail it out, even though the COVID-19 crisis has exposed how the industrial meat model—with its disease-ridden slaughterhouses and its unjust and monopolistic practices—is a total failure.

If you’d rather see Congress fund local meat processors who help build food security for your community, please ask Congress to support the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act.

TAKE ACTION: Ask Congress to fund local meat processing, not Big Meat bailouts!

Workers at slaughterhouses processing meat for Cargill, JBS, Smithfield, Tyson and the other largest factory farm brands continue to get sick and die from COVID-19. 

Big Meat corporations are doing everything they can to hide information about COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities from the public.

But the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) is trying to keep the public informed by tracking every reported coronavirus case in agriculture and food processing. Here’s the latest: 

“According to data collected by FERN, as of June 15 at 12pm ET, at least 321 meatpacking and food processing plants and 39 farms and production facilities have confirmed cases of Covid-19, and no meat or food processing plants are currently closed. At least 31,262 workers (26,969 meatpacking workers, 1,989 food processing workers, and 2,304 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 107 workers (97 meatpacking workers, 8 food processing workers, and 2 farmworkers) have died.”

For slaughterhouse workers, going to work in an already dangerous industry has become potentially deadly.

When the meatpacking companies saw this crisis beginning to unfold, instead of moving to protect workers they sought liability waivers and bailouts from the federal government—over the objections of local public health authorities trying to protect their communities. 

Trump was only too happy to oblige. He issued an executive order in late April declaring the meat supply a critical industry, rendering meaningless Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance intended to protect workers, and helping meatpacking companies evade liability for the public health disaster they’ve created.

Unions fought back by suing OSHA to get Emergency Temporary Standards to save workers’ lives, but the courts wouldn’t intervene.  

Democrats in the House are standing up for workers, but they’re also simultaneously caving in to corporate demands for a bailout. They passed a coronavirus relief bill, the HEROES Act, in May, that contains important protections for workers, including the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

But the HEROES Act would also allow the federal government to pay slaughterhouses to stay open. And it would compensate companies for the costs of disposing of “surplus livestock and poultry” that hasn’t been able to be processed due to meatpacking plant closures.

Congress shouldn’t bail out Big Meat. It should work to replace Big Meat with better meat. 

What consumers want—and what’s good for family farmers, slaughterhouse workers, animals, the environment and the climate—is meat that is regeneratively and humanely raised by farmers and ranchers who are paid fair prices, and handled and processed by workers who have safe union jobs, with family-sustaining wages, family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security.

There’s never been a better time to transform how meat is produced and processed in this country. 

Passing the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act is a good first step toward making this transformation a reality.

TAKE ACTION! Ask Congress to fund local meat processing, not Big Meat bailouts!

A Personal Message from Ronnie Cummins

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-06-11 18:50
June 11, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationRonnie CumminsHealth Issues food_shopping_grocery_virus_masks_1200x630.jpg

Editor's note: Unfortunately, we didn't meet our quarterly fundraising deadline, so we've had to extend it. If you can, please make a donation by midnight, July 5. Thank you!

It’s been a long, strange few months.

First, let me say that I hope you and your family and friends have remained safe and healthy.

Second, I want to say this: If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our corporate-controlled industrial food system is a failure—and that we’ll never have a better opportunity for transformational change than we have right now.

Like so many organizations and individuals, we are deeply concerned about our financial future. If you are able, could you help us reach our 2nd-quarter fundraising goal by making a donation today?

The COVID-19 crisis has elevated issues related to food, food security, food production and the connection between good food and good health to new heights on the national media stage.

Everywhere you look, food is in the news. 

For some of you, this may be the first time you’ve ever been confronted with empty shelves in food stores.

For others, you may have caught your first real glimpse into the unsafe, unjust and downright horrific conditions endured by slaughterhouse workers—and the total disregard Big Meat corporations have for the safety and well being of the people on whose backs they’ve built huge profits.

For many, COVID-19 has forced a renewed commitment to taking back control of their own health . . . to connecting the dots between nutrient-rich, pesticide-free organic food and a strong immune system. 

However the crisis has affected your personal relationship with food, this much is clear: COVID-19 blew a huge hole in Big Food’s false narrative that GMOs and industrial factory farms are necessary to “feed the world.”

In fact, our highly centralized industrial food system—especially factory farm meat production—can’t weather a crisis without experiencing major breaks in its supply chain.

The facts have always borne out this simple truth: The best way to achieve food security, revitalize local communities, improve your health, protect the environment and even save the climate is to rebuild our local and regional food systems.

We’ve seen this in action lately. People turning to their local farmers, farmers markets and CSAs for food they can trust, in times of need.

This is good news . . . but I’m concerned.

Once the pandemic is behind us, will consumer trends reverse? Will people turn back to Big Food and Big Meat?

Or will we turn this crisis into an opportunity to fundamentally reform our food and farming system?

We are committed to doing everything in our power to spin gold out of this disastrous pandemic.

That means stepping up our efforts to give millions more consumers the information and tools they need to change their buying habits.

It means convincing more policymakers to stop subsidizing Big Food and Big Ag and start supporting local food producers.

It means working harder than ever to achieve more than we could have hoped for.

Fortunately, OCA was able to receive a Payroll Protection Plan grant to keep our staff on through these past few months. But that money is running out.

We’ve got the attention right now of consumers, media and Congress. 

But a lot of what we’re able to do will depend on our ability to ride out this immediate financial crisis.

We need your support now more than ever.

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EPA Thumbs Nose at Court Order, Says Farmers Can Still Use Illegal Dicamba Herbicides

Organic consumers - Tue, 2020-06-09 22:32
June 9, 2020U.S. Right to KnowCarey GillamEnvironment & Climate, Farm Issues, Genetic Engineering herbicide_farm_field_crop_spray_1200x630.jpg

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared it would not immediately honor a court ruling handed down last week that banned certain herbicides made by three of the world’s largest chemical companies.

The move by the EPA amounts to a generous gift to BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agrisciences whose dicamba herbicides were deemed by the court to have been approved by the EPA illegally. The court specifically said in its order issued last week that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

But the EPA announced Monday that it was issuing a “cancellation order” that would give farmers until July 31 to use existing stocks of Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA made multiple errors in approving the dicamba products and came in response to a petition brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose lawyers argued the case for petitioners, said in a statement that the EPA’s action was “disingenuous” and “ignores the well-documented and overwhelming evidence of substantial drift harm to farmers from another disastrous spraying season.” The EPA action also ignores the risks dicamba poses to hundreds of endangered species, CFS said.

“The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law. All users that continue to not seek alternatives should be on notice that they are using a harmful, defective, and unlawful product. We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the Court’s order to the Court as expeditiously as possible,” CFS said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week urged the EPA to figure out a way around the court ruling, echoing comments by Bayer, BASF and Corteva that called dicamba herbicides important “tools” for farmers growing genetically engineered soybean and cotton.

The EPA said in deciding to allow farmers to continue to use dicamba through the end of July it was responding to “numerous unsolicited phone calls and emails” telling the agency “there is a real concern and potential for devastation to cotton and soybean crops that could result in a crisis for the industry.”

The EPA did not acknowledge the scores of farmers growing crops other than dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton who have suffered crop losses from dicamba drift and fear another summer of crop damage.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create the dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances were proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage in recent years. More than one million acres of dicamba crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

In a statement issued after the EPA announcement, BASF  said it supported the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of existing stocks of BASF’s Engenia herbicide through July 31, but said “additional clarity and flexibility” was required.  The company said it had immediately suspended selling and shipping Engenia herbicide after last week’s ruling. 

The company said it  will continue to pursue re-registration of Engenia with the EPA and is assessing its options to pursue legal remedies to challenge the court order.

Posted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.

That ‘All-Natural’ Smoked Atlantic Salmon You Bought? It Came from an Industrial Fish Farm

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-06-03 23:42
June 3, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulFood Safety ducktrap_moked_salmon_appetizer_canape_1200x630.jpg

Whether you’re looking to treat yourself to a breakfast garnished with smoked salmon, or planning to serve up pre-dinner appetizers of sliced smoked salmon atop crackers, buyer beware: When it comes to the claims made on smoked Atlantic salmon packages and websites, brands are often just blowing smoke.

Popular smoked Atlantic salmon brands entice consumers with promises like “premium,” “all natural,” “super fresh” and “healthy and nutritious.”

Some brands claim their products are “sustainably sourced.” On the issue of animal welfare, one owner of multiple smoked Atlantic salmon brands claims on its website that the company’s approach to fish health and welfare is “second to none.”

It all sounds great to the consumer. But here’s the real deal: All of these smoked Atlantic salmon products are made from salmon raised on massive industrial fish farms, and in some cases, nowhere near the Atlantic Ocean.

In fact, commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon—a species once abundant in the wild but now nearly extinct—is prohibited in the U.S. In the Gulf of Maine, they are even protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Similarly, in Canada, wild Atlantic salmon in the Bay of Fundy (located in the Gulf of Maine) are protected under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk.

That means all Atlantic salmon sold to consumers in food stores and restaurants—whether fresh, frozen, or smoked—comes from industrial salmon farms.

Which begs the question: Would you consider salmon sourced from an industrial fish farm, where the fish are crammed into net pens or giant land-based tanks, “all natural?”

How about if the salmon’s diet consisted of a cocktail of chemicals (to prevent sea lice infestations) and antibiotics—like terramycin, florfenicol and sulfamerazine—deemed highly important for human health, by the World Health Organization?

Would you think that salmon raised in floating factory farms which threaten marine life and habitats by discharging things like heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides and untreated fish waste into the ocean could be truthfully marketed as “sustainably” or “responsibly” produced?

Here’s a wild idea: Unless the label on your smoked salmon includes the words “wild” or “wild caught,” (words you’ll find on Sockeye or King salmon, but never on packages of Atlantic salmon), there’s probably nothing “natural” or “sustainably sourced” about it.

We took a look at some popular brands of smoked Atlantic salmon, and the product claims made by the companies behind those brands. Health-conscious consumers, including those who also care about the environment and animal rights, may want to think twice about taking these claims at face value.

Blue Hill Bay—what’s in a name?

Blue Hill Bay is the name of a bay near Acadia National Park, in Maine. The bay is described as being popular for its “wide open stretches of protected water” and being located in an area “recognized for its natural beauty,” much of which is “also preserved for wildlife.”

If you were a consumer, you’d probably like the idea that your salmon came from such a beautiful, pristine body of water, right?

As it turns out, Blue Hill Bay smoked Atlantic salmon is owned and sold by Acme Smoked Fish Corp., which doesn’t even have operations in Maine.

A family-owned company, Acme operates three smoking facilities: one each in Brooklyn, N.Y., Pompano Beach, Florida, and Wilmington, N.C. Acme also operates its own production facility, in Chile, which the company said gives Acme’s U.S. smoking operations “control of raw materials.”

For Acme, “raw materials” means salmon. And a “raw material” facility in Chile can mean only one thing: an industrial salmon farm.

Chile exports about $5 billion of farmed salmon annually, most of it branded “Atlantic Salmon” even though Chile’s coast is on the Pacific Ocean. (“Atlantic” in this case refers to the species. Farmed “Atlantic” salmon is raised from hybrid stock). According to this November 2019 report, on Chile’s salmon farms, the fish are “crammed into football-field-sized enclosures,” where chemicals and antibiotics are used to keep yields high and prevent disease outbreaks.

According to a 2017 report by Oceana, Chile’s salmon farmers might be applying “more drugs per ton of meat than any other fish or livestock industry in the world.” That makes industrial fish farming a huge contributor to the global antibiotic-resistance crisis, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says causes up to 3 million infections and 48,000 deaths each year—and that’s just in the U.S.

Unfortunately, when it comes to seafood, the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling law applies only to fresh seafood. And the law puts the onus on the supermarket, not the supplier, to tell consumers where the fish came from.

Consumers who look to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide for advice on how to buy responsibly sourced salmon, won’t find smoked salmon brands listed. However, they will find this:

“Farmed Atlantic salmon is a ‘Good Alternative’ from the following sources: 1) Maine; 2) British Columbia, Canada; 3) Scotland’s Orkney Islands; 4) the Faroe Islands; 5) Verlasso and Blue Circle Foods brands; and 6) worldwide when produced in indoor recirculating tanks without wastewater treatment.”

Could this be why Acme named its smoked salmon product after a bay in Maine—to take advantage of this popular seafood guide’s recommendation?

It’s important to point out that the Monterey Bay guide follows the above statement with this warning:

For these sources, most environmental impacts (or the risk of impacts) are rated moderate concerns.  . . When Atlantic salmon are farmed in recirculating systems without wastewater treatment, the feed ingredients are the biggest concern, and effluent, chemicals and disease are also rated moderate concerns.

Apart from misleading consumers to believe Blue Hill Bay Atlantic salmon is fished out of a bay on the Atlantic ocean, the company states on the package—not once, but twice—that the farmed-fish product is “all natural.”

Acme sells other brands of smoked salmon, including “All Natural” Nova smoked Atlantic salmon (also presumably raised in the company’s Chile-based farms), and Ruby Bay smoked Atlantic salmon.

Acme’s Ruby Bay brand (Ruby Bay is in New Zealand) is certified organic under EU regulations that set organic standards for industrially farmed fish. The regulations set standards for things like maximum stocking density. The regs also specify that biodiversity "should be respected and does not allow the use of induced spawning by artificial hormones.”

In the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not established organic standards for farmed fish, though discussions have been ongoing for years. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration does publish a list of Approved Aquaculture Drugs. It’s a doozy—and again, raises the question: Can fish consuming these drug cocktails really be “all natural?”

Ducktrap River of Maine—sourced from Chile?

Ducktrap offers a variety of wild and farmed smoked salmon products. Popular smoked Atlantic brands include Ducktrap Kendall Brook and Ducktrap Spruce Point, both of which are made with farmed fish—and both of which make the “All Natural” claim on the packaging.

Ducktrap brands also include “All Natural” “Made in USA” smoked Atlantic salmon, and Ducktrap Organic Smoked Atlantic salmon (certified to EU organic standards). Both brands, sold at Walmart, are sourced from industrial farms—that are not in the “USA.”

Unlike Blue Hill Bay, Ducktrap River of Maine does at least have operations in Maine, but those operations are limited exclusively to smoking. The Atlantic salmon Ducktrap imports for its smoking operations is sourced, as stated on the company’s website, from “our own farms in Scotland, Norway, Iceland and Chile.”

What Ducktrap River of Maine doesn’t publicize on its packaging and website is that the brand is owned by Norway-based Mowi, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon products, including smoked Atlantic salmon products.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Ducktrap doesn’t brag about its connection to Mowi, a company that’s had its fair share of bad press. In February, according to this report in Salmon Business, 1.5 million juvenile salmon died in Mowi’s brand new hatchery in Northern Norway, most likely from acute sulfur poisoning.

The sulfur poisoning news came just a month after Mowi had revealed that in late 2019, more than 74,000 salmon escaped from one of its industrial farms in Scotland, posing a threat to the area’s wild fish stocks. It was the third major escape in a year’s time.

Still, Mowi hasn’t been able to totally protect its Ducktrap brand. The brand is named in a class action lawsuit filed against Mowi and other Norwegian industrial fish farms for conspiring “to drive up the prices of farm-raised Atlantic salmon in an ‘unprecedented and unjustified’ scheme that resulted in record profits.”

That hardly sounds like a quaint little company doing business in Maine.

Mowi’s website is loaded with claims about how the salmon used in its products, including Ducktrap River of Maine, are “all natural,” “100% natural” or produced “all naturally with no artificial ingredients or preservatives.” Those claims are at odds with what most consumers would expect from a product produced with pesticides, antibiotics and other drugs.

Mowi also claims to be “leading the blue revolution,” and says it’s “very proud of producing food that is healthy for people and good for local communities and the planet.”

But that characterization is at odds with scientists who describe the crowded fish farming methods used by companies like Mowi as “stressful high-density conditions” that far exceed what salmon would experience in the wild.

In fact, conditions at Mowi facilities in Scotland have been rated by OneKind, a Scotland-based animal welfare organization, as some of the industry’s worst due to premature mortality rates, sea lice infestations, stress levels, overstocking, genetic deformities and escapes, and other factors. OneKind ranked Mowi overall as the second-worst farmed fish producer on animal welfare.

True North—making untrue product and practice claims?

The True North brand of smoked Atlantic salmon is the only one of the three brands we looked at that doesn’t incorporate any Maine-specific references in its brand name. Yet oddly enough, it’s the only one that sources its salmon from Maine-based operations, including industrial salmon farms and processing plants.

True North is owned by Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture, which operates industrial salmon farms off the coast of Maine, and also in Canada, Scotland and Chile.

On its website, Cooke says this: 

“Our obsession with delicious, fresh seafood has been in our DNA ever since the day our ancestors began fishing the waters of the Bay of Fundy six generations ago. Like our grandparents, we’re proud to spend our days living and working alongside our neighbors and friends in coastal communities. Fishing is in our blood. It drives us to innovate – to stay true to you, the environment and true to ourselves. It’s our guiding principle. It’s our ‘True North.’”

Somebody’s grandparents may have actually fished the waters of Bay of Fundy back in the day—but nobody at Cooke Aquaculture is actually “fishing” for Atlantic salmon, in the Bay of Fundy or anywhere else, these days.

The real story behind Cooke’s “fishing” operations in Maine was revealed in this undercover video, “Sea of Suffering,” where one of Cooke’s industrial facilities was described as a “filthy environment” creating the “perfect conditions for fungi and parasites.”

The video, produced in October 2019 by the animal welfare group, Compassion Over Killing, shows employees talking about spinal deformities and fungal infections. According to one person in the film, the filthy conditions mean that the salmon have to be vaccinated, which “stresses them out” so much that it takes about a week for the fish to start eating again.

But you won’t read any of that on the True North or Cooke websites. You also won’t read the news about how last year, Cooke was ordered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to pay a $156,213 fine for having too many fish in one or more pens, failing to conduct environmental sampling, and failing to follow a variety of clerical procedures that include timely filing of complete and accurate pollution sampling reports and timely submissions of fish spill prevention plans—all violations of the company’s operating permit, DEP rules and state law.

Instead, you’ll read about how Cooke “ . . .started with pure, fresh fish.” And this:

“For us, staying true to the ocean is how we stay true to ourselves, our community, and our future. And that’s why we fish and farm with care – to ensure long- term social, economic, and environmental sustainability.”

And on packages of True North smoked Atlantic salmon, you’ll read how the product is “sustainably farmed in the clear waters of the Gulf of Maine.”

All three brands—Blue Hill Bay, Ducktrap and True North—are national brands, in that they can be purchased online. Some are sold regionally or nationally in retail grocery stores.

But all make labeling and marketing claims that are misleading if not downright false. The best option for consumers: Go wild.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

More on industrial salmon farms:

Farmed Salmon = Most Toxic Food in the World 

Friends of the Earth report: The Dangers of Industrial Ocean Fish Farming

Factory Farmed Salmon Full of Disease and Hazardous Chemicals

Farmed Salmon Contaminated With Synthetic Tire Chemical

The Case Is Building That COVID-19 Had a Lab Origin

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-06-03 23:20
June 2, 2020Independent Science NewsJonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhDGenetic Engineering coronavirus_covid19_scientist_lab_suit_1200x630.jpg

If the public has learned a lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic it is that science does not generate certainty. Do homemade face masks work? What is the death rate of COVID-19? How accurate are the tests? How many people have no symptoms? And so on. Practically the lone undisputed assertion made so far is that all the nearest known genetic relatives of its cause, the Sars-CoV-2 virus, are found in horseshoe bats (Zhou et al., 2020). Therefore, the likely viral reservoir was a bat.

However, most of these ancestor-like bat coronaviruses cannot infect humans (Ge et al., 2013). In consequence, from its beginning, a key question hanging over the pandemic has been: How did a bat RNA virus evolve into a human pathogen that is both virulent and deadly?

The answer almost universally seized upon is that there was an intermediate species. Some animal, perhaps a snake, perhaps a palm civet, perhaps a pangolin, served as a temporary host. This bridging animal would probably have had an ACE2 cellular receptor (the molecule which allows cellular entry of the virus) intermediate in protein sequence (or at least structure) between the bat and the human one (Wan et al., 2020).

In the press and in the scientific literature, scenarios by which this natural zoonotic transfer might have occurred have been endlessly mulled. Most were fuelled by early findings that many of the earliest COVID-19 cases seem to have occurred in and around Wuhan’s Huanan live animal market. [The latest data are that 14 of the 41 earliest cases, including the first, had no connection to the animal market (Huang et al. 2020)].

Since the two previous coronavirus near-pandemics of SARS (2002-3) and MERS (2012) both probably came from bats and both are thought (but not proven) to have transitioned to humans via intermediate animals (civets and dromedaries respectively), a natural zoonotic pathway is a reasonable first assumption (Andersen et al., 2020).

The idea, as it applied to the original (2002) SARS outbreak, is that the original bat virus infected a civet. The virus then evolved briefly in this animal species, but not enough to cause a civet pandemic, and then was picked up by a human before it died out in civets. In this first human (patient zero) the virus survived, perhaps only barely, but was passed on, marking the first case of human to human transmission. As it was successively passed on in its first few human hosts the virus rapidly evolved, adapting to better infect its new hosts. After a few such tentative transmissions the pandemic proper began.

Perhaps this scenario is approximately how the current COVID-19 pandemic began.

But one other troubling possibility must be dispensed with. It follows from the fact that the epicentre city, Wuhan (pop. 11 million), happens to be the global epicentre of bat coronavirus research (e.g. Hu et al., 2017).

Prompted by this proximity, various researchers and news media, prominently the Washington Post, and with much more data Newsweek, have drawn up a prima facie case that a laboratory origin is a strong possibility (Zhan et al., 2020; Piplani et al., 2020). That is, one of the two labs in Wuhan that has worked on coronaviruses accidentally let a natural virus escape; or, the lab was genetically engineering (or otherwise manipulating) a Sars-CoV-2-like virus which then escaped.

Unfortunately, in the US at least, the question of the pandemic’s origin has become a political football; either an opportunity for Sinophobia or a partisan “blame game“.

But the potential of a catastrophic lab release is not a game and systemic problems of competence and opacity are certainly not limited to China (Lipsitch, 2018). The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently constructing a new and expanded national Bio and Agro-defense facility in Manhattan, Kansas. DHS has estimated that the 50-year risk (defined as having an economic impact of $9-50 billion) of a release from its lab at 70%.

When a National Research Council committee inspected these DHS estimates they concluded “The committee finds that the risks and costs could well be significantly higher than that“.

A subsequent committee report (NAP, 2012) continued:

“the committee was instructed to judge the adequacy and validity of the uSSRA [updated Site-Specific Risk Assessment]. The committee has identified serious concerns about (1) the misapplication of methods used to assess risk, (2) the failure to make clear whether and how the evidence used to support risk assessment assumptions had been thoroughly reviewed and adequately evaluated, (3) the limited breadth of literature cited and the misinterpretation of some of the significant supporting literature, (4) the failure to explain the criteria used to select assumptions when supporting literature is conflicting, (5) the failure to consider important risk pathways, and (6) the inadequate treatment of uncertainty. Those deficiencies are not equally problematic, but they occur with sufficient frequency to raise doubts about the adequacy and validity of the risk results presented. In most instances (e.g., operational activities at the NBAF), the identified problems lead to an underestimation of risk; in other instances (e.g., catastrophic natural hazards), the risks may be overestimated. As a result, the committee concludes that the uSSRA is technically inadequate in critical respects and is an insufficient basis on which to judge the risks associated with the proposed NBAF in Manhattan, Kansas.”

China, meanwhile, having opened its first in Wuhan in 2018, is planning to roll out a national network of BSL-4 labs (Zhiming, 2019). Like many other countries, it is investing significantly in disease surveillance and collection of viruses from wild animal populations and in high-risk recombinant virus research with Potential Pandemic Pathogens (PPPs).

On May 4th, nations and global philanthropies, meeting in Brussels, committed $7.4 billion to future pandemic preparedness. But the question hanging over all such investments is this: the remit of the Wuhan lab at the centre of the accidental release claims is pandemic preparedness. If the COVID-19 pandemic began there then we need to radically rethink current ideas for pandemic preparation globally. Many researchers already believe we should, for the sake of both safety and effectiveness (Lipsitch and Galvani, 2014; Weiss et al., 2015; Lipsitch, 2018). The worst possible outcome would be for those donated billions to accelerate the arrival of the next pandemic.

Historical lab releases, a brief history

An accidental lab release is not merely a theoretical possibility. In 1977 a laboratory in Russia (or possibly China), most likely while developing a flu vaccine, accidentally released the extinct H1N1 influenza virus (Nakajima et al., 1978). H1N1 went on to become a global pandemic virus. A large proportion of the global population became infected. In this case, deaths were few because the population aged over 20 yrs old had historic immunity to the virus. This episode is not widely known because only recently has this conclusion been formally acknowledged in the scientific literature and the virology community has been reluctant to discuss such incidents (Zimmer and Burke, 2009; Wertheim, 2010). Still, laboratory pathogen escapes leading to human and animal deaths (e.g. smallpox in Britain; equine encephalitis in South America) are common enough that they ought to be much better known (summarised in Furmanski, 2014). Only rarely have these broken out into actual pandemics on the scale of H1N1, which, incidentally, broke out again in 2009/2010 as “Swine flu” causing deaths estimated variously at 3,000 to 200,000 on that occasion (Duggal et al., 2016; Simonsen et al. 2013).

Many scientists have warned that experiments with PPPs, like the smallpox and Ebola and influenza viruses, are inherently dangerous and should be subject to strict limits and oversight (Lipsitch and Galvani, 2014; Klotz and Sylvester, 2014). Even in the limited case of SARS-like coronaviruses, since the quelling of the original SARS outbreak in 2003, there have been six documented SARS disease outbreaks originating from research laboratories, including four in China. These outbreaks caused 13 individual infections and one death (Furmanski, 2014). In response to such concerns the US banned certain classes of experiments, called gain ofunction (GOF) experiments, with PPPs in 2014, but the ban (actually a funding moratorium) was lifted in 2017.

For these reasons, and also to ensure the effectiveness of future pandemic preparedness efforts­, it is a matter of vital international importance to establish whether the laboratory escape hypothesis has credible evidence to support it. This must be done regardless of the problem–in the US–of toxic partisan politics and nationalism.

The COVID-19 Wuhan lab escape thesis

The essence of the lab escape theory is that Wuhan is the site of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), China’s first and only Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) facility. (BSL-4 is the highest pathogen security level). The WIV, which added a BSL-4 lab only in 2018, has been collecting large numbers of coronaviruses from bat samples ever since the original SARS outbreak of 2002-2003; including collecting more in 2016 (Hu, et al., 2017; Zhou et al., 2018).

Led by researcher Zheng-Li Shi, WIV scientists have also published experiments in which live bat coronaviruses were introduced into human cells (Hu et al., 2017). Moreover, according to an April 14 article in the Washington Post, US Embassy staff visited the WIV in 2018 and “had grave safety concerns” about biosecurity there. The WIV is just eight miles from the Huanan live animal market that was initially thought to be the site of origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wuhan is also home to a lab called the Wuhan Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (WCDPC). It is a BSL-2 lab that is just 250 metres away from the Huanan market. Bat coronaviruses have in the past been kept at the Wuhan WCDPC lab.

Thus the lab escape theory is that researchers from one or both of these labs may have picked up a Sars-CoV-2-like bat coronavirus on one of their many collecting (aka ‘”virus surveillance”) trips. Or, alternatively, a virus they were studying, passaging, engineering, or otherwise manipulating, escaped.

Scientific assessments of the lab escape theory

On April 17 the Australian Science Media Centre asked four Australian virologists: “Did COVID-19 come from a lab in Wuhan?”

Three (Edward Holmes, Nigel McMillan and Hassan Vally) dismissed the lab escape suggestion and Vally simply labeled it, without elaboration, a “conspiracy”.

The fourth virologist interviewed was Nikolai Petrovsky of Flinders University. Petrovsky first addressed the question of whether the natural zoonosis pathway was viable. He told the Media Centre:

“no natural virus matching to COVID-19 has been found in nature despite an intensive search to find its origins.”

That is to say, the idea of an animal intermediate is speculation. Indeed, no credible viral or animal host intermediaries, either in the form of a confirmed animal host or a plausible virus intermediate, has to-date emerged to explain the natural zoonotic transfer of Sars-CoV-2 to humans (e.g. Zhan et al., 2020).

In addition to Petrovsky’s point, there are two further difficulties with the natural zoonotic transfer thesis (apart from the weak epidemiological association between early cases and the Huanan “wet” market).

The first is that researchers from the Wuhan lab travelled to caves in Yunnan (1,500 Km away) to find horseshoe bats containing SARS-like coronaviruses. To-date, the closest living relative of Sars-CoV-2 yet found comes from Yunnan (Ge et al., 2016). Why would an outbreak of a bat virus therefore occur in Wuhan?

Moreover, China has a population of 1.3 billion. If spillover from the wildlife trade was the explanation, then, other things being equal, the probability of a pandemic starting in Wuhan (pop. 11 million) is less than 1%.

Zheng-Li Shi, the head of bat coronavirus research at WIV, told Scientific American as much:

“I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.” Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?”

Wuhan, in short, is a rather unlikely epicentre for a natural zoonotic transfer. In contrast, to suspect that Sars-CoV-2 might have come from the WIV is both reasonable and obvious.

Was Sars-CoV-2 created in a lab?

In his statement, Petrovsky goes on to describe the kind of experiment that, in principle, if done in a lab, would obtain the same result as the hypothesised natural zoonotic transfer–rapid adaptation of a bat coronavirus to a human host.

“Take a bat coronavirus that is not infectious to humans, and force its selection by culturing it with cells that express human ACE2 receptor, such cells having been created many years ago to culture SARS coronaviruses and you can force the bat virus to adapt to infect human cells via mutations in its spike protein, which would have the effect of increasing the strength of its binding to human ACE2, and inevitably reducing the strength of its binding to bat ACE2.

Viruses in prolonged culture will also develop other random mutations that do not affect its function. The result of these experiments is a virus that is highly virulent in humans but is sufficiently different that it no longer resembles the original bat virus. Because the mutations are acquired randomly by selection there is no signature of a human gene jockey, but this is clearly a virus still created by human intervention.”

In other words, Petrovsky believes that current experimental methods could have led to an altered virus that escaped.

Passaging, GOF research, and lab escapes

The experiment mentioned by Petrovsky represents a class of experiments called passaging. Passaging is the placing of a live virus into an animal or cell culture to which it is not adapted and then, before the virus dies out, transferring it to another animal or cell of the same type. Passaging is often done iteratively. The theory is that the virus will rapidly evolve (since viruses have high mutation rates) and become adapted to the new animal or cell type. Passaging a virus, by allowing it to become adapted to its new situation, creates a new pathogen.

The most famous such experiment was conducted in the lab of Dutch researcher Ron Fouchier. Fouchier took an avian influenza virus (H5N1) that did not infect ferrets (or other mammals) and serially passaged it in ferrets. The intention of the experiment was specifically to evolve a PPP. After ten passages the researchers found that the virus had indeed evolved, to not only infect ferrets but to transmit to others in neighbouring cages (Herfst et al., 2012). They had created an airborne ferret virus, a Potential Pandemic Pathogen, and a storm in the international scientific community.

The second class of experiments that have frequently been the recipients of criticism are GOF experiments. In GOF research, a novel virus is deliberately created, either by in vitro mutation or by cutting and pasting together two (or more) viruses. The intention of such reconfigurations is to make viruses more infectious by adding new functions such as increased infectivity or pathogenicity. These novel viruses are then experimented on, either in cell cultures or in whole animals. These are the class of experiments banned in the US from 2014 to 2017.

Some researchers have even combined GOF and passaging experiments by using recombinant viruses in passaging experiments (e.g. Sheahan et al., 2008).

Such experiments all require recombinant DNA techniques and animal or cell culture experiments. But the very simplest hypothesis of how Sars-CoV-2 might have been caused by research is simply to suppose that a researcher from the WIV or the WCDCP became infected during a collecting expedition and passed their bat virus on to their colleagues or family. The natural virus then evolved, in these early cases, into Sars-CoV-2. For this reason, even collecting trips have their critics. Epidemiologist Richard Ebright called them “the definition of insanity“. Handling animals and samples exposes collectors to multiple pathogens and returning to their labs then brings those pathogens back to densely crowded locations.

Was the WIV doing experiments that might release PPPs?

Since 2004, shortly after the original SARS outbreak, researchers from the WIV have been collecting bat coronaviruses in an intensive search for SARS-like pathogens (Li et al., 2005). Since the original collecting trip, many more have been conducted (Ge et al., 2013; Ge et al., 2016; Hu et al., 2017; Zhou et al., 2018).

Petrovsky does not mention it but Zheng-Li Shi’s group at the WIV has already performed experiments very similar to those he describes, using those collected viruses. In 2013 the Shi lab reported isolating an infectious clone of a bat coronavirus that they called WIV-1 (Ge et al., 2013). WIV-1 was obtained by introducing a bat coronavirus into monkey cells, passaging it, and then testing its infectivity in human (HeLa) cell lines engineered to express the human ACE2 receptor (Ge et al., 2013).

In 2014, just before the US GOF research ban went into effect, Zheng-Li Shi of WIV co-authored a paper with the lab of Ralph Baric in North Carolina that performed GOF research on bat coronaviruses (Menachery et al., 2015).

In this particular set of experiments the researchers combined “the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone” into a single engineered live virus. The spike was supplied by the Shi lab. They put this bat/human/mouse virus into cultured human airway cells and also into live mice. The researchers observed “notable pathogenesis” in the infected mice (Menachery et al. 2015). The mouse-adapted part of this virus comes from a 2007 experiment in which the Baric lab created a virus called rMA15 through passaging (Roberts et al., 2007). This rMA15 was “highly virulent and lethal” to the mice. According to this paper, mice succumbed to “overwhelming viral infection”.

In 2017, again with the intent of identifying bat viruses with ACE2 binding capabilities, the Shi lab at WIV reported successfully infecting human (HeLa) cell lines engineered to express the human ACE2 receptor with four different bat coronaviruses. Two of these were lab-made recombinant (chimaeric) bat viruses. Both the wild and the recombinant viruses were briefly passaged in monkey cells (Hu et al., 2017).

Together, what these papers show is that: 1) The Shi lab collected numerous bat samples with an emphasis on collecting SARS-like coronavirus strains, 2) they cultured live viruses and conducted passaging experiments on them, 3) members of Zheng-Li Shi’s laboratory participated in GOF experiments carried out in North Carolina on bat coronaviruses, 4) the Shi laboratory produced recombinant bat coronaviruses and placed these in human cells and monkey cells. All these experiments were conducted in cells containing human or monkey ACE2 receptors.

The overarching purpose of such work was to see whether an enhanced pathogen could emerge from the wild by creating one in the lab. (For a very informative technical summary of WIV research into bat coronaviruses and that of their collaborators we recommend this post, written by biotech entrepreneur Yuri Deigin).

It also seems that the Shi lab at WIV intended to do more of such research. In 2013 and again in 2017 Zheng-Li Shi (with the assistance of a non-profit called the EcoHealth Alliance) obtained a grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). The most recent such grant proposed that:

“host range (i.e. emergence potential) will be tested experimentally using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species and humanized mice” (NIH project #5R01Al110964-04).

It is hard to overemphasize that the central logic of this grant was to test the pandemic potential of SARS-related bat coronaviruses by making ones with pandemic potential, either through genetic engineering or passaging, or both.

Apart from descriptions in their publications we do not yet know exactly which viruses the WIV was experimenting with but it is certainly intriguing that numerous publications since Sars-CoV-2 first appeared have puzzled over the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binds with exceptionally high affinity to the human ACE2 receptor “at least ten times more tightly” than the original SARS (Zhou et al., 2020; Wrapp et al., 2020; Wan et al., 2020; Walls et al., 2020; Letko et al., 2020).

This affinity is all the more remarkable because of the relative lack of fit in modelling studies of the SARS-CoV-2 spike to other species, including the postulated intermediates like snakes, civets and pangolins (Piplani et al., 2020). In this preprint these modellers concluded “This indicates that SARS-CoV-2 is a highly adapted human pathogen”.

Given the research and collection history of the Shi lab at WIV it is therefore entirely plausible that a bat SARS-like cornavirus ancestor of Sars-CoV-2 was trained up on the human ACE2 receptor by passaging it in cells expressing that receptor.

How do viruses escape from high security laboratories?

Pathogen lab escapes take various forms. According to the US Government Accountability Office, a US defense Department laboratory once “inadvertently sent live Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, to almost 200 laboratories worldwide over the course of 12 years. The laboratory believed that the samples had been inactivated.” In 2007, Britain experienced a foot and mouth disease outbreak. Its’ origin was a malfunctioning waste disposal system of a BSL-4 laboratory leaking into a stream from which neighbouring cows drank. The disposal system had not been properly maintained (Furmanski, 2014). In 2004 an outbreak of SARS originating from the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Beijing, China, began, again, with the inadequate inactivation of a viral sample that was then distributed to non-secure parts of the building (Weiss et al., 2015).

Writing for the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists in February 2019, Lynn Klotz concluded that human error was behind most laboratory incidents causing exposures to pathogens in US high security laboratories. While equipment failure was also a factor, of the 749 incidents reported to the US Federal Select Agent Programme between 2009-2015, Klotz concluded that 79% resulted from human error.

But arguably the biggest worry is incidents that go entirely unreported because escape of the pathogen goes undetected. It is truly alarming that a significant number of pathogen escape events were uncovered only because investigators were in the process of examining a completely different incident (Furmanski, 2014). Such discoveries represent strong evidence that pathogen escapes are under-reported and that important lessons still need to be learned (Weiss et al., 2015).

The safety record of the WIV

The final important data point is the biosafety history of the WIV. The WIV was built in 2015 and became a commissioned BSL-4 lab in 2018. According to Josh Rogin of the Washington Post, US embassy officials visited the WIV in 2018. They subsequently warned their superiors in Washington of a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory”.

And according to VOA News, a year before the outbreak, “a security review conducted by a Chinese national team found the lab did not meet national standards in five categories.”

Credible reports from within China also question lab biosafety and its management. In 2019, Yuan Zhiming, biosecurity specialist at the WIV, cited the “challenges” of biosafety in China. According to Zhiming: “several high-level BSLs have insufficient operational funds for routine yet vital processes” and “Currently, most laboratories lack specialized biosafety managers and engineers.” He recommends that “We should promptly revise the existing regulations, guidelines, norms, and standards of biosafety and biosecurity”. Nevertheless, he also notes that China intends to soon build “5-7” more BSL-4 laboratories (Zhiming, 2019).

And in February 2020, Scientific American interviewed Zheng-Li Shi. Accompanying the interview was a photograph of her releasing a captured bat. In the photo she is wearing a casual pink unzipped top layer, thin gloves, and no face mask or other protection. Yet this is the same researcher whose talks give “chilling” warnings about the dire risks of human contact with bats.

All of which tends to confirm the original State Department assessment. As one anonymous “senior administration official” told Rogin:

“The idea that it was just a totally natural occurrence is circumstantial. The evidence it leaked from a lab is circumstantial. Right now, the ledger on the side of it leaking from the lab is packed with bullet points and there’s almost nothing on the other side.”

The leading hypothesis is a lab outbreak

For all these reasons, a lab escape is by far the leading hypothesis to explain the origins of Sars-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic. The sheer proximity of the WIV and WCDCP labs to the outbreak and the nature of their work represents evidence that can hardly be ignored. The long international history of lab escapes and the biosafety concerns from all directions about the labs in Wuhan greatly strengthen the case. Especially since evidence for the alternative hypothesis, in the form of a link to wild animal exposure or the wildlife trade, remains extremely weak, being based primarily on analogy with SARS one (Bell et al,. 2004; Andersen et al., 2020).

Nevertheless, on April 16th Peter Daszak, who is the President of the EcoHealth Alliance, told Democracy Now! in a lengthy interview that the lab escape thesis was “Pure baloney”. He told listeners:

“There was no viral isolate in the lab. There was no cultured virus that’s anything related to SARS coronavirus 2. So it’s just not possible.”

Daszak made very similar claims on CNN’s Sixty Minutes: “There is zero evidence that this virus came out of a lab in China.” Instead, Daszak encouraged viewers to blame “hunting and eating wildlife”.

Daszak’s certainty is highly problematic on several counts. The closest related known coronaviruses to Sars-CoV-2 are to be found at the WIV so a lot depends on what he means by “related to”. But it is also dishonest in the sense that Daszak must know that culturing in the lab is not the only way that WIV researchers could have caused an outbreak. Third, and this is not Daszak’s fault, the media are asking the right question to the wrong person.

As alluded to above, Daszak is the named principal investigator on multiple US grants that went to the Shi lab at WIV. He is also a co-author on numerous papers with Zheng-Li Shi, including the 2013 Nature paper announcing the isolation of coronavirus WIV-1 through passaging (Ge et al., 2013). One of his co-authorships is on the collecting paper in which his WIV colleagues placed the four fully functional bat coronaviruses into human cells containing the ACE2 receptor (Hu et al. 2017). That is, Daszak and Shi together are collaborators and co-responsible for most of the published high-risk collecting and experimentation at the WIV.

An investigation is needed, but who will do it?

If the Shi lab has anything to hide, it is not only the Chinese Government that will be reluctant to see an impartial investigation proceed. Much of the work was funded by the US taxpayer, channeled there by Peter Daszak and the EcoHealth Alliance. Virtually every credible international organisation that might in principle carry out such an investigation, the WHO, the US CDC, the FAO, the US NIH, including the Gates Foundation, is either an advisor to, or a partner of, the EcoHealth Alliance. If the Sars-CoV-2 outbreak originated from the bat coronavirus work at the WIV then just about every major institution in the global public health community is implicated.

But to solve many of these questions does not necessarily require an expensive investigation. It would probably be enough to inspect the lab notebooks of WIV researchers. All research scientists keep detailed notes, for intellectual property and other reasons, but especially in BSL-4 labs. As Yuan Zhiming told Nature magazine in an article marking the opening of the facility in Wuhan: “We tell them [staff] the most important thing is that they report what they have or haven’t done.”

Meticulous lab records plus staff health records and incident reports of accidents and near-accidents are all essential components (or should be) of BSL work. Their main purpose is to enable the tracking of actual incidents. Much speculation could be ended with the public release of that information. But the WIV has not provided it.

This is puzzling since the Chinese government has a very strong incentive to produce those records. Complete transparency would potentially dispel the gales of blame coming its way; especially on the question of whether Sars-CoV-2 has an engineered or passaged origin. If Zheng-Li Shi and Peter Daszak are correct that nothing similar to Sars-CoV-2 was being studied there, then those notebooks should definitively exonerate the lab from having knowingly made an Actual Pandemic Pathogen.

Given the simplicity and utility of this step this lack of transparency suggests that there is something to hide. If so, it must be important. But then the question is: What?

A thorough investigation of the WIV and its bat coronavirus research is an important first step. But the true questions are not the specific mishaps and dissemblings of Drs Shi or Daszak, nor of the WIV, nor even of the Chinese government.

Rather, the bigger question concerns the current philosophy of pandemic prediction and prevention. Deep enquiries should be made about the overarching wisdom of plucking and counting viruses from the wild and then performing dangerous ‘what if’ recombinant research in high tech but fallible biosafety labs. This is a reductionistic approach, we also note, that has so far failed to predict or protect us from pandemics and may never do so.

Footnote: This article was updated on June 3rd to broaden the estimates of “Swine Flu” deaths, from 3,000 to 3- to 200,000.

COVID 19: The Spike and the Furin Cleavage

Organic consumers - Wed, 2020-06-03 22:08
June 3, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAndré LeuGenetic Engineering, Health Issues coronavirus_cell_illustration_rendering_1200x630.jpg

After months of insisting that COVID-19 originated in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that no viruses were detected in animal samples at the market.

According to May 31 report in the Daily Mail, Fu, the top epidemiologist in China said:

“At first, we assumed the seafood market might have the virus, but now the market is more like a victim.”

Fu also told the Daily Mail that “the novel coronavirus had existed long before.”1

This is consistent with the multiple studies showing that the COVID-19 virus was circulating in Wuhan before any person was infected at the seafood market.2,3

So where did it come from? Most governments and scientists are sticking with the official story put out by the Chinese Communist Party and most of the international mass media that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has a natural origin, even though after months of searching, no natural host has been found. So far there is zero evidence for this, only data-free assumptions. As the well-respected scientist and critic of GMOs, Jonathan Latham points out:

“If the [Wuhan] lab has anything to hide, it is not only the Chinese Government that will be reluctant to see an impartial investigation proceed. Much of the work was funded by the U.S. taxpayers, channeled there by Peter Daszak and the EcoHealth Alliance. Virtually every credible international organisation that might in principle carry out such an investigation, the WHO, the US CDC, the FAO, the US NIH, including the Gates Foundation, is either an advisor to, or a partner of, the EcoHealth Alliance. If the Sars-CoV-2 outbreak originated from the bat coronavirus work at the WIV, then just about every major institution in the global public health community is implicated.”

The increasing body of evidence is showing that the most likely scenario is that SARS-CoV-2 was made in a lab and escaped.

Let’s look at the evidence.

The spike and the furin cleavage site

Several researchers have stated that SARS-CoV-2 is a combination of the bat coronavirus, RaTG13, supposedly collected in Yunnan (although Chinese lab scientists admit they have no sample in their possession of RaTG13, and many scientists doubt whether this bat coronavirus actually exists) and fully sequenced by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in its laboratory in Wuhan in 2013, and spike protein from a coronavirus found in a Malayan Pangolin confiscated at the Chinese border by customs officials.4,5 The spike protein is unique, and the closest fit comes from the Malayan Pangolin.

It is highly unlikely that this recombination happened naturally, as it is improbable that these two viruses coexisted and merged in species that are separated by thousands of miles.6,7

The spike protein is found on the top of the spike on coronaviruses. It’s the part of the virus that attaches to cells to infect them. The spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 has a very special feature, a segment of four amino acids called a furin cleavage site. A furin cleavage site allows the virus to use furin in the human body as an enzyme to dissolve its coating so it can release its genetic material to infect cells. Furin cleavage sites tend to be more infectious than cleavage sites that use other enzymes.

The virus that caused the SARS epidemic, SARS-CoV, in 2002 - 2003 does not have a furin cleavage spike, so it was not as infectious as SARS-CoV-2.

There are several published papers showing that this four-amino acid sequence furin cleavage site is missing from the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 and has been inserted in precisely the best place in the spike protein to give it the ability to become highly infectious.8,9,10,11

It is highly improbable that this furin cleavage site has evolved naturally given that there is no sign of it evolving in any of SARS-CoV-2’s relatives in its clade. Viruses are sequenced, analyzed and grouped into clades. The viruses in the same clade are seen as having evolved (mutated) from the same ancestor.8

The furin cleavage site on SARS-CoV-2 is different from furin cleavage sites in other coronaviruses in that its combination of amino acids makes it more efficient at infecting people. This makeup of the SARS-CoV-2 cleavage site also allows many other enzymes, not just furin, to release its infectious genetic material. Consequently, several researchers are now calling it a multi-basic cleavage site. This unique amino acid combination means that SARS-CoV-2 is considerably more infectious than related coronaviruses. It also explains why the virus infects multiple organs and attacks the nervous systems.9,10

It is doubtful that this recombination of two viruses, plus the insertion of the most efficient multi-basic cleavage site in precisely the best place on the spike protein, happened naturally. Nothing close to this combination has been found in nature. It is more likely to have been constructed in a laboratory through Gain-of-Function research.

This type of complex combination would need many decades to evolve to the current structure to infect the first humans, and then evolve further to be highly infectious to humans. This was the case with SARS-CoV, where there is good evidence of very close relatives in nature and also evidence that its infectivity slowly evolved in people before it reached a level that caused the epidemic in 2002- 2003.

Research has shown that there is no evidence of evolving infectivity in humans in SARS-CoV-2. It was optimized to infect humans from day one. The researchers stated:

“Our observations suggest that by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV. However, no precursors or branches of evolution stemming from a less human-adapted SARS-CoV-2-like virus have been detected.”12

A group of scientists used a computer model to test the way the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein bound with the receptors of the cells of many species. They discovered that the spike protein bound more strongly with human ACE2 receptor than any other species. They wrote:

“Notably, this approach surprisingly revealed that the binding energy between SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and ACE2 was highest for humans out of all species tested, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is uniquely evolved to bind and infect cells expressing human ACE2. This finding is particularly surprising as, typically, a virus would be expected to have highest affinity for the receptor in its original host species, e.g. bat, with a lower initial binding affinity for the receptor of any new host, e.g. humans. However, in this case, the affinity of SARS-CoV-2 is higher for humans than for the putative original host species, bats, or for any potential intermediary host species.”11

This is strong evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory rather than natural origins.

Lab-Made origins

The scientists who state that SARS-CoV-2 is not genetically engineered are basing their opinions on the lack of the insert signatures of genetic engineering. But this does not prove that it was not genetically engineered. Why? Because since 2001, Gain-of-Function virus researchers have been genetically modifying coronaviruses that have no evidence of GM insert signatures.

The first ever fully genetically engineered coronavirus was created by Ralph Baric and his team, and the information was published in 2002. In 2001, Baric’s team assembled a full-length mouse coronavirus and removed all the inserts that showed that it had been genetically engineered. They called this new method ‘No See’m Technology.’ This means that coronaviruses and other microorganisms can be genetically engineered without leaving any trace of the signatures of this engineering.13

In 2003, Baric and his team published another paper showing how they assembled a strain of SARS-CoV, the virus that caused the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003. This man-made virus was put together like a series of Lego blocks. Once the segments were joined, all the genetic engineering signatures were removed by using seamless joining of the segments they assembled.14

Baric and his team published a paper in 2008 on how they used genetic engineering to synthetically replicate a bat SARS-like coronavirus, and added the spike protein section of SARS-CoV that allows it to infect humans. This section is called the spike receptor-binding domain (RBD). The researchers stated:

“. . . we designed a consensus Bat-SCoV genome and replaced the Bat-SCoV Spike receptor-binding domain (RBD) with the SARS-CoV RBD (Bat-SRBD).”15

The researchers said they used the same seamless joining technique that they used in 2003 to assemble a human SARS virus (SARS-CoV). This means that the genetic engineering used to make this new bat virus with a spike protein that infects humans cannot be detected.15

Seamless joining has become so common now that it is routinely used in laboratories, and researchers can buy the tools to do it over the internet. As an example of a kit sold online:

“GeneArt® Seamless Cloning is a simple, two-step process, consisting of a tube-based assembly reaction followed by transformation into One Shot® Chemically Competent TOP10 E. coli. The kit uses the properties of a proprietary enzymatic mix to assemble DNA fragments with shared terminal end homology without leaving any extra sequences or scars behind (seamless).”16 

The concern here is that this technology is so widely available that anyone with a good knowledge of high school or university biochemistry can cook up a new disease organism in their kitchen and there would be no telltale signs that it was genetically modified.

This unregulated technology will result in more disasters.

Shi Zeng Li from WIV worked with Ralph Baric’s team in 2015 to genetically modify SARS-CoV in order to create a dangerous synthetic virus. The researchers took the genetic codes for part of the spike protein from a virus that Shi had isolated from bats found in Yunnan in 2011, and inserted them into SARS-CoV. Shi would have learned how to use Baric’s ‘No See’m Technology’ to make seamless joins that cannot be detected as GM signatures.17

In 2016, Shi and her team at the WIV, in conjunction with the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, constructed a full-length clone of a bat coronavirus called SL-CoV WIV1. They assembled it in discrete segments. They genetically engineered the virus using the pGEM®-T Easy Vector Systems to join the segments. This system, also available on the internet, gives researchers several options for how to remove GM inserts that can be seen as signatures of a lab-made virus.18

The online pitch for pGEM®-T Easy Vector Systems states:

“Thus, several options exist to remove the desired insert DNA with a single restriction digestion.”19

This shows that researchers at the WIV have the ability to genetically engineer viruses and remove the signatures of the genetic engineering.

Shi Zhengli and other researchers at WIV and the EcoHealth Alliance, published a paper in 2017 on how they genetically modified the spike proteins of eight bat coronaviruses, by cutting and pasting genetic material from other coronaviruses, so that the viruses infected the human ACE2 receptor—the same receptor that SARS-CoV-2 infects to cause COVID-19. They used the pGEM®-T Easy Vector Systems to join the segments to genetically engineer these viruses. Very significantly, they showed how they can insert new spikes into viruses. The researchers state:

“Then any spike could be substituted into the genome of SARSr-CoV WIV1 through this strategy.”20

This shows that researchers at WIV have the ability to genetically modify multiple coronaviruses to insert new spikes, and these new viruses cannot be detected as genetically engineered.

The research clearly shows that Gain-of-Function researchers at WIV have the ability to assemble SARS-CoV-2 from bat coronaviruses, such as RaTG13 or similar, and the spike protein from the Malayan Pangolin, and insert the multi-basic cleavage site into the precise regions of the spike and leave no evidence of genetic engineering.

Lab escape

There is an enormous amount of evidence of disease organisms escaping from laboratories in China and other countries.21 Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson, write about this evidence in Independent Science News. Latham and Wilson provide numerous examples, including how H1N1 flu escaped from a laboratory in 1977, causing a global pandemic, and how it broke out again in 2009, as Swine flu, causing around 3,000 deaths.22

Gain-of-Function research on coronaviruses was conducted in low-security Level-2 laboratories at the WIV, rather than the highest security Level-4 laboratory. The 2016 on how Shi and her colleagues constructed a full-length clone of a bat coronavirus states that the research was done at Level-2 laboratory. The 2017 on how they cut and pasted the spike proteins onto eight bat coronaviruses stated that they used the same methods as outlined in the 2016 paper, showing that this research was most likely done at the same Leve- 2 laboratory. Shi’s paper, published on May 14, 2020, on how they worked on the spike genes of multiple coronavirus referred to research conducted at the Level-2 laboratory.23

Given the information in the Washington Post about the inadequate level of biosecurity at the WIV, the escape of a coronavirus from the less secure Level-2 laboratory is a plausible scenario.24

SARS-CoV-2 was circulating in Wuhan before the first documented hospital case on December 1. According to the South China Post, the first case confirmed by the Chinese Government was on November 17, and there were more cases everyday afterwards. This has not been confirmed officially by the Chinese Government. However, given their continuous suppression of the facts, this comes as no surprise. The report in the South China Post shows that the first cases would have been in Wuhan in October.25

Another compelling piece of evidence was published in the journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution. The researchers behind that article traced back the rate of mutations in the various strain of SARS-CoV-2 to the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). The researchers wrote:

“. . . we observe an estimated tMRCA, which corresponds to the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, of 6 October 2019–11 December 2019.”26

The October 6 date is very interesting. According to an article published in NBC News, the cell phones around the Wuhan Institute of Virology went dark on October 7. The areas around the WIV, including the roads leading to it, went dark from October 14 -19, indicating that there were no people there or traffic on the roads. The lack of cell phone activity indicates that they emptied the Institute of people, and blocked the roads to stop traffic. This means that there may have been an accident on October 6 or 7, causing the need to evacuate the Institute and block of all access to and from it.27

While this cannot be proved at the moment, and it is highly unlikely that the WIV researchers and the Chinese government will ever tell the truth given the immense scale of the cover up, the weight of evidence clearly favors the scenario of an escape of a genetically modified virus as the most logical conclusion over the natural evolution theory for which there is zero evidence. There is nothing close enough to SARS-CoV-2 in nature to support the natural animal host theory, despite extensive searching by researchers.

The government officials and researchers involved in Gain-of-Function research are continuously denying it, however as the weeks go by, more cracks are appearing in their coverup and it is starting to fall apart. They know if the truth gets out about how Gain-of -Function research has caused this global pandemic, that has wrecked the lives of millions, the outcry and anger will be so great that this type of research will be banned.

André Leu is international director of Regeneration International. He is also author of several peer-reviewed papers and books. His latest book is “Poisoning our Children.”



2. Chaolin Huang, Yeming Wang, Xingwang Li, Lili Ren, Jianping Zhao, Yi Hu, Li Zhang, Guohui Fan, Jiuyang Xu, Xiaoying Gu, Zhenshun Cheng, Ting Yu, Jiaan Xia, Yuan Wei, Wenjuan Wu, Xuelei Xie, Wen Yin, Hui Li, Min Liu, Yan Xiao, Hong Gao, Li Guo, Jungang Xie, Guangfa Wang, Rongmeng Jiang, Zhancheng Gao, Qi Jin, Jianwei Wang and Bin Cao, Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel  coronavirus in Wuhan, China, Lancet 2020; 395: 497–506, Published Online January 24, 2020

3. Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus, February 2020

4. Peng Zhou, Xing-Lou Yang, Xian-Guang Wang, Ben Hu, Lei Zhang, Wei Zhang, Hao-Rui Si, Yan Zhu, Bei Li, Chao-Lin Huang, Hui-Dong Chen, Jing Chen, Yun Luo, Hua Guo, Ren-Di Jiang, Mei-Qin Liu Ying Chen, Xu-Rui Shen, Xi Wang, Xiao-Shuang Zheng, Kai Zhao, Quan-Jiao Chen, Fei Deng, Lin-Lin Liu, Bing Yan, Fa-Xian Zhan, Yan-Yi Wang, Geng-Fu Xiao & Zheng-Li Shi,  A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin, Nature, Vol579 12March2020

5. Kangpeng Xiao, Junqiong Zhai, Yaoyu Feng, Niu Zhou, Xu Zhang, Jie-Jian Zou, Na Li, Yaqiong Guo, Xiaobing Li, Xuejuan Shen, Zhipeng Zhang, Fanfan Shu, Wanyi Huang, Yu Li, Ziding Zhang, Rui-Ai Chen, Ya-Jiang Wu, Shi-Ming Peng, Mian Huang, Wei-Jun Xie, Qin-Hui Cai, Fang-Hui Hou, Yahong Liu, Wu Chen, Lihua Xiao and Yongyi Shen, Isolation and Characterization of 2019-nCoV-like Coronavirus from Malayan Pangolins, bioRxiv preprint doi: this version posted February 20, 2020.

6. Xiaojun Li, Elena E. Giorgi, Manukumar Honnayakanahalli Marichannegowda, Brian Foley, Chuan Xiao, Xiang-Peng Kong, Yue Chen, S. Gnanakaran, Bette Korber, Feng Gao, Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 through recombination and strong purifying selection Science Advances doi:10.1126/sciadv.abb9153, May 2020

7. Matthew C. Wong, Sara J. Javornik Cregeen, Nadim J. Ajami, Joseph F. Petrosino, Evidence of recombination in coronaviruses implicating pangolin origins of nCoV-2019 , bioRxiv preprint doi: This version posted February 13, 2020

8. B. Coutarda, C. Valleb, X. de Lamballeriea, B. Canardb, N.G. Seidahc, E. Decrolyb, The spike glycoprotein of the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV contains a furin- T like cleavage site absent in CoV of the same clade, Antiviral Research 176 (2020) 104742

9. Jaimes, J.A., Millet, J.K., Whittaker, G.R., Proteolytic cleavage of the SARS- CoV-2 spike protein and the role of the novel S1/S2 site, ISCIENCE (2020), doi:

10. Hoffmann M, Kleine-Weber H and Pöhlmann S 2020, A Multibasic Cleavage Site in the Spike Protein of SARS-CoV-2 Is Essential for Infection of Human Lung Cells, Molecular Cell 78, 779–784 May 21, 2020

11. Sakshi Piplani, Puneet Kumar Singh, David A. Winkler and Nikolai Petrovsky, In silico comparison of spike protein-ACE2 binding affinities across species; significance for the possible origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, arXiv:2005.06199 [q-bio.BM] 2020

12. Shing Hei Zhan, Benjamin E. Deverman, Yujia Alina Chan, SARS-CoV-2 is well adapted for humans. What does this mean for re-emergence? bioRxiv preprint doi:

13. Boyd Yount, Mark R. Denison, Susan R. Weiss, and Ralph S. Baric, Systematic Assembly of a Full Length Infectious cDNA of Mouse Hepatitis Virus Strain A59, JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, Nov. 2002, p. 11065-11068 Vol. 76, No.21 DOI: 10.1128/JVI.76.21.11065-11078.2002

14. Boyd Yount, Kristopher M. Curtis, Elizabeth A. Fritz, Lisa E. Hensley, Peter B. Jahrling, Erik Prentice, Mark R. Denison, Thomas W. Geisbert and Ralph S. Baric, Reverse genetics with a full-length infectious cDNA of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, PNAS October 28, 2003, vol. 100, no. 22, 12995-13000

15. Michelle M. Becker, Rachel L. Graham, Eric F. Donaldson, Barry Rockx, Amy C. Sims, Timothy Sheahan, Raymond J. Pickles, Davide Corti, Robert E. Johnston, Ralph S. Baric and Mark R. Denison, Synthetic recombinant bat SARS-like coronavirus is infectious in cultured cells and in mice, PNAS December 16, 2008 105 (50) 19944-19949;


17. Vineet D. Menachery, Boyd L. Yount Jr, Kari Debbink, Sudhakar Agnihothram, Lisa E. Gralinski, Jessica A. Plante, Rachel L. Graham, Trevor Scobey, Xing-Yi Ge, Eric F. Donaldson, Scott H. Randell, Antonio Lanzavecchia, Wayne A. Marasco, Zhengli-Li Shi & Ralph S. Baric, A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence, Nature Medicine Volume 21, Number 12, December 2015

18. Zeng L-P, Gao Y-T, Ge X-Y, Zhang Q, Peng C, Yang X-L, Tan B, Chen J, Chmura AA, Daszak P, Shi Z-L. 2016. Bat severe acute respiratory syndrome-like coronavirus WIV1 encodes an extra accessory protein, ORFX, involved in modulation of the host immune response. Journal of Virology 90:6573–6582. doi:10.1128/JVI.03079-15.


20. Hu B, Zeng L-P, Yang X-L, Ge X-Y, Zhang W, Li B, et al. (2017) Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus. PLoS Pathog 13(11): e1006698.

21. Kaiser, J. (2007). BIOSAFETY BREACHES: Accidents Spur a Closer Look at Risks at Biodefense Labs. Science, 317(5846), 1852–1854. doi:10.1126/science.317.5846.1852

22. Jonathan Latham, PhD and Allison Wilson, PhD, The Case Is Building That COVID-19 Had a Lab Origin, Independent Science News, JUNE 2, 2020

23. Hua Guoa, Bing-Jie Hua, Xing-Lou Yanga, Lei-Ping Zenga, Bei Lia, Song-Ying Ouyangc, Zheng-Li Shi, Evolutionary arms race between virus and host drives genetic diversity in bat SARS related coronavirus spike genes, bioRxiv preprint doi: this version posted May 14, 2020



26. Lucyvan Dorpa, Mislav Acmana, Damien Richard, Liam P. Shaw, Charlotte E.Forda, Louise Ormonda, Christopher J.Owena, Juanita Pangae, Cedric C.S.Tana, Florencia A.T. Boshiere, Arturo Torres Ortiza, François Ballouxa, Emergence of genomic diversity and recurrent mutations in SARS-CoV-2,Infection, Genetics and Evolution Volume 83, 2020, 104351


Pandemic Shock: Digital Dictatorship or Green Recovery?

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-05-28 15:17
May 28, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationRonnie CumminsHealth Issues corona_virus_1_1200x630.jpg

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose . . . to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our . . . dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through . . . ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”—Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic is a Portal.”

In the COVID-19-driven time warp of the past 90 days, politics, economics and public opinion have changed drastically.  Important aspects of social behavior seem to have improved—less non-essential travel, less consumption, more family focus, reduced greenhouse gas pollution (17 percent less worldwide in early April), increase in demand for healthy, home-cooked foods, appreciation for nature, mutual aid, social solidarity and more attention paid to the plight of farmworkers, small farmers, healthcare workers and food chain workers.

Unfortunately, other impacts of the pandemic are quite negative, in fact catastrophic: massive infections and deaths, widespread anxiety and fear, extreme political polarization and economic meltdown, including a massive number of bankruptcies of small businesses, with 40 million workers unemployed in the U.S. alone.

In addition, the federal government, led by the White House and Senate Republicans, abetted by corporate Democrats, has relaxed pollution, environmental and food safety standards, and handed out multi-trillion-dollar bailouts, with little or no government oversight, to the fossil fuel industry, corporate agribusiness and Fortune 500 corporations—instead of providing sufficient resources for those businesses, farmers, workers, families and individuals who most need help.

A Digital Dictatorship?

Driven by fear, confusion and manufactured consent, the U.S. is degenerating into what Vandana Shiva and others have described as a “Digital Dictatorship.” Or, to use Naomi Klein’s phrase, a “Screen New Deal.”

This Digital Dictatorship is held up as an exemplary model by the Chinese Communist Party. But it is also championed by hyper-capitalist billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt, along with their cohorts—Silicon Valley (Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al), Big Pharma, Wall Street and a rising cabal of technocrats and scientists. This global elite, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and government officials, is maneuvering to use the current pandemic and economic meltdown to grab unprecedented power and wealth (the “Shock Doctrine” as Naomi Klein has termed it), and impose, in the name of public health and “biodefense,” draconian surveillance, censorship and control, aimed at eliminating the last vestiges of participatory democracy, free speech, cultural diversity, ecological biodiversity and individual freedom.

As Naomi Klein puts it, the “Screen New Deal” neo-authoritarians envision:

“. . . a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails . . . in the future under hasty construction, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration. This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.”

And how do these digital overlords expect to convince us to give up our basic rights and become loyal serfs of Corporate America or Corporate Earth?

By fomenting and taking advantage of the fear, helplessness, divisions and confusion in the body politic, not only in the U.S., but across the world.

Fear, helplessness and confusion

Not since the Spanish Flu of 1918 (which killed 17-50 million people worldwide and infected 500 million), have so many people been terrified of falling ill and dying from an infectious disease.

And COVID-19 is scary, especially for those of us, and those of our loved ones, suffering from “prior medical conditions.” These now fearsome “prior medical conditions” include older people suffering from chronic diseases, often taking a wide variety of prescription drugs, as well as millions of Americans suffering from obesity, diabetes, lung disease, asthma, heart disease, cancer, or vaccine injury.

At-risk populations include those living or working in nursing homes (35,000 deaths so far) or hospitals, or those living in metropolitan areas like New York City with severe air pollution, or those unfortunate enough to live in contaminated urban or rural areas near industrial polluters and factory farms.  

In a “normal” year (since 2010), approximately 12,000 - 60,000 people in the U.S. die annually from the seasonal flu, with 800,000 hospitalized. So far this year, in only five months, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention tells us that approximately 100,000 have died from COVID-19, and 1.8 million have been infected. By the end of the year these casualty figures, unfortunately, will likely double.

Since the first reported death in the U.S. from COVID-19 on February 15, approximately 1,000, or one in eight deaths every day, are being attributed to the coronavirus. The other “normal” 7,000 - 8,000 deaths per day arise from heart disease, cancer, accidents, lung disease, medical errors, Alzheimer’s, drug overdoses, murder, suicide, etc.

While some believe the media and special interests are overestimating the death rate of COVID-19, others believe the opposite. But there is no doubt that 1,000 COVID-19 deaths per day in a country of 331 million people are right now causing major panic.

COVID-19 engenders fear, not only because it is highly contagious, but because of the way it is transmitted: invisibly through the air, often from strangers, or people who show no outward symptoms of the disease. The COVID-19 pandemic resembles a scary movie, like “Contagion,” that gives us nightmares.

In addition, the unending and often sensationalistic media and TV programming since the pandemic began has fueled public fear. This media barrage, combined with the nationwide lockdown/social distancing in our homes, compounded by the eerie and frightening sight of people wearing masks out on the streets, has given us all a lot of extra time and extra reason to worry.

Even though less than one in 3,000 Americans have so far died of the disease, and despite the fact that most of those dying from COVID-19 with prior medical conditions most likely would have died prematurely over the next decade from other medical causes, millions of people, even in low-risk groups, are still worried.

Even though probably 15-20 percent of us have already been infected, most of us without exhibiting any symptoms or ever knowing that we were infected, it’s still hard not to wonder if we, or one of our loved ones, will be next.

Relative risk and prevention

We need to keep reminding ourselves and reassuring others that the overwhelming majority of people getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 are those (mainly elderly, low-income, and disproportionately non-white) already suffering from poor health and pre-existing medical conditions.

These are medical conditions that can be prevented and/or mitigated, if we have the political will as a nation to overturn business-as-usual. We not only need to take special precautions to keep our elders and vulnerable groups safe, but we also need to embark on a national campaign to eliminate highly processed junk food, factory farms and fossil fuel and chemical-intensive agriculture—a truly degenerative and deadly system fueling America’s public health crisis and the mass deaths from COVID-19 and other chronic diseases. Supersized America’s junk foods and beverages are routinely laced with dangerous levels of sugar (which destroys your immune system), chemical flavoring and additives, unhealthy fats and pesticide residues (such as Monsanto’s Roundup).

To reduce the damage of COVID-19 and other chronic diseases, we have no choice but to declare war on environmental pollution, as well as on degenerative food and farming, and to launch a nationwide campaign to promote wellness, exercise and healthy living.

The reason so many people are dying of COVID-19 and other preventable chronic diseases in the U.S. is that we have the unhealthiest population in the industrialized world. We need a U.S. food and farming and ecological restoration system that is regenerative—that cleans up our air and water, that strengthens peoples’ immune systems, that engenders healthy levels of vitamin D and other essential nutrients and trace minerals and that promotes healthy lifestyles.

This transformation will require nothing less than a political revolution, a multi-trillion-dollar Green Recovery program and a just economic transition to a Green New Deal over the next decade.

Institutional racism and class oppression

Institutional racism and classism are responsible for that fact that African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, people living in industrial pollution zones and low-income people in general are more vulnerable to COVID-19, and are dying in far greater numbers than affluent whites.

When people are forced to live and work in polluted environments, with limited access to healthy foods, nutritional supplements and enlightened medical care (including alternative and complementary medicine) they are more vulnerable.

This is why our Green Recovery and Green New Deal must embody the principles of climate justice, environmental justice, food justice and economic justice.

It’s time, as Bernie Sanders and the Sunrise Movement have reminded us, for a political revolution, a Green Recovery and a Green New Deal, with guaranteed jobs, justice and income for all. 

Therapeutic treatment and recovery

For those hospitalized, healthcare practitioners around the world are developing and sharing important drug and treatment therapies that reduce mortality from COVID-19, including pharmaceuticals (Remdisivir and interferon), vitamin injections (vitamin D, C and others), non-ventilator oxygen therapy, homeopathy and others.

In other words, we need to be careful about protecting the most vulnerable, and conscientious about building up our health systems and therapeutic practices—but we also must strive to avoid the kind of undue panic that makes us feel helpless and afraid. We need to focus on making change, Big Change, while we still can. Otherwise those who seek to take advantage of mass panic and economic meltdown will triumph.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that COVID-19 is a minor non-life-threatening virus for those with healthy immune systems, those eating healthy food and those able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes plenty of fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Unfortunately, many of our fellow Americans have not had the opportunity to eat healthy, organic food, stay physically fit, or live and work in a healthy environment.

In a time of social distancing, social solidarity is more important than ever. Moving beyond panic, we must strive to regenerate our mental health and morale, cultivating a healthy and positive outlook, reinforcing healthy lifestyles and food with meaningful work and community-based education, arts, and activism.

Bill Gates and GMO vaccines to the rescue?

While we’re on the topic of prevention and recover7, don’t hold your breath for a properly safety-tested and effective Big Pharma vaccine to hit the market anytime soon.

Developing safe and effective vaccines for constantly mutating coronaviruses, such as the common cold and seasonal flu, is notoriously difficult. On the other hand, side effects, including unfortunately dangerous side effects, are routine.

As I never tire of repeating, our only real defense against COVID-19 and other dangerous diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, is to build up our health and our immune systems with healthy (organic and pasture-raised) food, exercise, vitamins and herbal supplements, fresh air and sunshine.

To maximize public health and provide healthy food will require nothing less than transformation of our food, farming, land-use and health care systems from degenerative to regenerative (and climate-friendly) practices. We can have cheap, health-destroying, industrial foods and factory farms. Or we can have a healthy population capable of fighting off COVID-19 and the chronic diseases that are destroying the quality of life and killing millions every year.

The real origins of COVID-19

For the past three months, I and others, including a growing number of independent scientists, have pointed out that COVID-19 was most likely caused by a weaponized, genetically engineered virus that accidentally (hopefully not deliberately) leaked out of the Wuhan Virology Lab, where so-called “biodefense” (actually biowar) experiments have been carried out by a secretive network of U.S., Chinese and international gene engineers and virologists for years.

These “gain of function” germ warfare experiments (funding for which was banned at least partially during the Obama Administration) have been funded, in large part, by Anthony Fauci and the Trump Administration’s National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), supposedly monitored by the Chinese government and the World Health Organization.

In order to conceal their scientific malpractice and criminal negligence, to protect their “right” to carry out dangerous, unregulated research (there are over 200 biomedical or “biodefense” labs in the U.S. alone, employing 15,000 scientists and researchers), and to safeguard billions of dollars in annual Biopharm and GMO industry profits (Monsanto/Bayer, among others, is now conducting its own biowarfare research), Chinese and U.S. officials, Big Pharma, Facebook, Google and an arrogant and unscrupulous network of global scientists are frantically trying to cover up the lab origins and diabolical machinations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will need to identify and bring to justice the criminal perpetrators of COVID-19, and ban biological warfare experiments, such as those weaponizing viruses, forever.

At the same time, we must educate the public that “pre-existing” business-as-usual practices and policies (bad food, air and environmental pollution, pesticides and contaminated vaccines) are the real deadly drivers of this pandemic and, along with it, the lockdown and meltdown of the global economy. We need to point out, over and over again, even as Facebook and the mass media try to censor us, that eating healthy food, strengthening our natural immune systems, getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine and exercise, are our best defenses against COVID-19 and the epidemic of chronic diseases that have undermined public health.

The body politic, though still divided between those who live in fear of COVID-19, those who worry about how they are going to survive economically and those who have reached the psychological breaking point after being locked down in their homes, can still be united—if can get across the truth about how this pandemic started and clearly explain how specific government and public policies around the world have helped, or, in some cases, made even worse the death and damage we have suffered.

Once we’re united around these basic truths, we can then organize around a Green Recovery and a Green New Deal that is both regenerative and equitable.

Grassroots Regeneration?

Despite the machinations of the Digital Dictators and Gene Engineers, we have an unprecedented opportunity, based upon widespread public rejection of the status quo and disgust at political “business as usual,” to organize and resist.

As polls and everyday experience indicate, the majority (approximately 60 percent) of the body politic continue to support the concept of a Green New Deal, of solving the climate crisis, the agricultural crisis and the environmental crisis through a “just transition.”

By way of a “just transition,” Green New Deal advocates are calling for meaningful jobs for all, universal health care, free public education, debt forgiveness and, most recently, a guaranteed income of several thousand dollars a month for every worker during the nation’s recovery period and even beyond.

People are ready to tax the rich, bring the giant corporations to heel, cut military spending and develop a new green economy which is healthier, more just, climate-friendly and more decentralized and local.

We have the incredible opportunity, for the first time, to overthrow the dictators and indentured politicians and to build a new Green Commonwealth on the ruins of the old, where love and solidarity, and care for the natural world and future generations trumps hate and avarice. Where regenerative food, farming, ecosystem restoration, renewable energy and a just full-employment economy replaces dog-eat-dog capitalism and authoritarianism.  

As the pandemic starts to level off and decrease in intensity over the next 12 months, as fear and panic decrease, we must refuse to go back “to normal,” to accept the degenerative status quo that existed before the pandemic.

With U.S. and global conditions for radical change ripening for the first time in almost a century, it’s time to roll out our own Shock Doctrine. In the coming weeks and months we will share our ideas, and the ideas of others for how we can move ahead.

In the meantime, please stay in touch. Subscribe to our newsletter. Sign our petition demanding the end of dangerous “gain-of-function” research.

And stay safe, but get outside and enjoy the summer. Keep the faith. Venceremos. We shall overcome.

Ronnie Cummins is co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration International, and the author of “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Food, Farming, Climate and a Green New Deal.” To keep up with OCA’s news and alerts, sign up here.

More Pandemics in Our Future, Unless We Shut Down Gain-of-Function Research: An Interview with André Leu

Organic consumers - Fri, 2020-05-22 18:20
May 22, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationPat ThomasHealth Issues thomas-leu_interview_1200x630.jpg

In an interview conducted on May 20, 2020, Pat Thomas and André Leu discussed the possible origins of COVID-19. Leu is international director of Regeneration International. He is also author of several peer-reviewed papers and books. His latest book is “Poisoning our Children.”


PT: Hey everyone, wherever you're turning in from today. You are very welcome here on Facebook live with the Organic Consumers Association. We are continuing our exploration of the coronavirus, and its origins, and looking at some of the evidence that the mainstream media seems too often to want to downplay. I'm Pat Thomas and with me today is André Leu. André is the international director of Regeneration International, he's a longtime organic farmer in Australia, he's a former president of IFOAM Organics International and author of the books "Poisoning Our Children" and "The Myths of Safe Pesticides." "The Myths of Safe Pesticides." André, welcome.


AL: Hi Pat, it's great to be here. And I just want to say hello to everyone watching this.


PT: It's so great that we could negotiate the time zone. You're keen to talk about the conclusions that you’ve come to, after combing through this copious research into the origins of the coronavirus. Just to set us up, a little bit I'd like to ask you why this matters to you, and what you see as the links between the coronavirus and regenerative agriculture.

AL: Why this matters is because this is probably the greatest disaster that the world has ever seen. We've never had a pandemic on this scale. It's not just the hundreds of thousands of people who have died, and more who will be dying. But we also know that there are millions of people now who are hungry because of all the economic shutdowns and people who will be dying of starvation. How many people do we know that their careers and jobs have stopped, they've lost their businesses?


This is an A-Grade disaster, and we need to know why it happened so that we can prevent this ever happening again. This is critical, so to do that we actually need to get the evidence and find out the science and the real data, not what the mainstream media is peddling. Let's look at actual evidence. So, that's what myself and others have been doing, we've been combing through documents and documents and documents. This is like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together.


PT: That's hard. And in terms of linking the coronavirus with its origins, a lot of people are going with the sort of food narrative, that stubborn narrative that the virus originated in the wet markets in Wuhan, where all these exotic species are sold. And in that narrative, an individual or individuals picked up the virus at the market and began spreading it exponentially. But how likely is that really?


AL: Once again we'll look at the real evidence. What I want to use here is what we call the "gold standard" in science, this is called peer-reviewed scientific papers, and particularly if they're in highly recognized scientific publications. And the best one for me, is from the Lancet, which is the world's premier medical journal. And that paper shows that the first patient, documented patient, with this disease went to hospital with pneumonia on December 1. That person had zero contact with the market, neither did their college of friends. Then on December 10, 9 days later, they get three more patients, two of those had zero contact with the market. They couldn't even trace their relatives or friends being at that market. On that day, they got the first person who had contact with the market. Then when you look at the data, you get a small cluster of people from the market, but you continue to get people who have had zero contact with the market. They close the market down on January 1, and after that there's no evidence of anyone from the market getting it yet, because we know that this virus has been out in Wuhan for at least 9 days before anyone in the market got it. It’s circulating all through Wuhan, and closing down the market had zero effect in stopping this pandemic. Zero.


The other thing they did is when they closed down the market they sterilized it and got rid of the animals. There is zero evidence that it came from the market. And what the evidence shows is that people were infected, in Wuhan, before anyone from the market was infected. Obviously what has happened is one person has gone into the market and infected everybody and caused the cluster. The market is a crowded place with lots of people. You just need one infected person going in there and sneezing and coughing, and bang, you've got the typical cluster, like you see in nursing homes, and so on. We see it time and time again with this disease. That's all the market is, it's not the source.


PT: And so again, people would say, "well but what about these wild animals that people are studying, or eating, or bringing into the market or what have you?" Now as far as I know, this virus hasn't been found in any wild animals, is that correct?


AL: That's correct. I've gone through all the data and you get some papers trying to say, oh look this is evidence. But when you look at the actual data of the viruses, and how close they are to the virus that causes COVID-19, they are not close, there is not one. So at this stage, despite the fact that they've looked at coronaviruses in bats and pangolins and dogs and mice, they're everywhere. The only one that they can't find is the one in humans. There is nothing, nothing in any wild, or livestock animal, either.


PT: So it's not like a trapper went out and caught some bats to eat and brought it into the market, and it started to infect people. This is something that's come from somewhere else. And the reason we know this, I think, is because of the structure of the virus itself, right?


AL: Exactly. There's a very good paper that the Chinese government suppressed that showed that there were zero bats sold in this market. By the way, this is a seafood market. They are really sort of, how can I say, inventing, fabricating that this is a wild animal market. It was not. Now, maybe there were some wild animals sold there. But there is zero evidence that any of those wild animals had the virus that causes COVID-19. On the other hand, where we do have evidence of the closest virus to the one that causes COVID-19, this is found in a bat in Yunnan, which is about 1000 miles away from Wuhan. It was found by  researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2013. In February [2020], they released the paper showing that this virus [found by the researchers in 2013] is about 96 - 96.2 percent the same as the virus that causes COVID-19. And they're trying to say that this is the one that has mutated. Other papers will show that that mutation will take about between 80 - 90 years to happen. That's nonsense to say that the closest virus has mutated naturally. There is zero evidence of that.


The other [virus] that they started talking about was from pangolins, because they found some similar viruses in pangolins, and most of those were between 80 - 90 percent similar to COVID-19. Once again, we're talking about 100 years or more of mutations, natural mutations, for them to be the same as the virus that causes COVID-19. However, one of these pangolin viruses had a section of it that was identical to the spike protein on the virus that causes COVID-19. This is missing from the bat virus [found to be similar] to COVID-19. This spike protein is very important. People can imagine in their mind the coronavirus, and you see it's got little spikes on it, you know that's why they call it corona, those spikes are what attach to our cells in our bodies and then allow the virus to invade [human cells]. The spike protein is sort of like a lock and key system. You've got to have the right spike protein to get into a cell. And they found this unique spike protein in a pangolin. So then they said, oh look the pangolin is the cause. But the rest of it is completely different from the COVID-19 virus. So other researchers then looked at it and said, look what this is, is natural recombination. if this virus that causes COVID-19 is a cross between the closest bat virus, but now it's got the spike protein from this pangolin virus, it must have happened naturally.


Yes, it's a recombination, and that [evidence] looks very strong. The evidence there is the closest we've got. Now we're getting something somewhere near 100 percent the same as the virus that causes COVID-19. But this recombination could not have happened naturally. Because the closest bat virus is very rare, it's only found in a couple of bats in a mineshaft a thousand miles away from Wuhan. And then the pangolin virus are from Malayan pangolins, which were confiscated by the border police, the customs, and were probably collected thousands of miles away from China. And there is no way that this virus, these two viruses, could have recombined, given that the two host animals were probably more than 1000 miles apart from each other. It's just scientific nonsense. There is zero evidence, zero scientific evidence to show that these two viruses recombined naturally.


PT: I think that's important to note before we get onto to the nitty-gritty of this, that viruses are constantly recombining in nature under pressure from the environment, or what have you. But the fact that these two elements could not have come together in any other way does suggest that there is some sort of lab creation going on here. And part of that is what they call Gain-of-Function research, isn't it?


AL: Exactly. I want to explain what Gain-of-Function research is. This is where researchers will artificially modify diseases, all sorts of diseases, and make them more dangerous. So, for instance, most of these coronaviruses in bats and pangolins and mice will not infect people because their spike proteins are the wrong style or shape to infect people. So what a lot of researchers, and this includes researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, have been doing is inserting spike proteins into these harmless viruses. This makes them more dangerous now because these new spike proteins are the type of spike protein to allow the virus to infect people. And we have the papers. They've been doing this research since 2007. Two particular scientific papers, one in 2015, and an even more important paper 2017, show how they did it. In 2017, they got eight harmless bat viruses and inserted new spike proteins into them, so they now had the ability to infect people. It's in black and white. They published it. This is what they do, they take harmless bat viruses, and they put new spike proteins on them. So now people can get infected by these viruses. The viruses go from  harmless to being deadly.


PT: And this is really controversial isn't it? This Gain-of-Function because it's ostensibly performed to create the pathogenicity or the transmissibility of a virus. And a scientist will say, well we have to study that to know how the virus behaves. But of course the way a virus behaves in a lab isn't necessarily how it behaves in the real world anyway. And in the meantime, you have this huge security risk in these labs.


AL: Exactly. And in 2014, Gain-of-Function research was banned in the United States after several hundred scientists wrote to the Obama government saying this research is too dangerous. We just need one of these organisms, manmade organisms, to escape and we'll have a global pandemic. So, it was banned, but it was reinstated in 2017. And while it was banned there's various organizations in the United States, in Europe and also in my country, Australia, that were funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology to do this banned research. So, it's been going on. And it's not just the Chinese government. Most of our governments are complicit in this.


And while they're saying we need to do it to understand these viruses, so we can get cures and vaccines, there's been 30 years of this type of research, and about all that's come out of it is bioweapons. There is zero evidence of any value that's come from this research. And look at the pandemic we have now. Where are all the benefits of 30 years of Gain-of-Function research to give us the cures and vaccines? They are not there. Everybody is scrambling and panicking to try and develop something. But we've got a pandemic, and we're completely unprepared for it because we've got zero ways to treat it or prevent it. So Gain-of-Function research has had no upsides and has every sort of downside we can imagine.


PT: So, just going back to the origins, assuming that it was something that was created in a lab, if it's not an animal in the market that could have caused this, but someone walking out of a lab could have, someone inadequately disinfected themselves or some sort of accidental release into the market could have been the source of this. Correct?


AL: Exactly. And we have good evidence now that that lab had poor biosecurity. There's a very good article in the Washington Post that reported on the cable from intelligence sources that went to the lab. They reported that this lab was essentially a pandemic waiting to happen. They said exactly that, that one of these organisms gets out and we will have a global coronavirus pandemic. They reported that. They explained how the staff was under-skilled, undertrained and they didn't have enough adequately trained skilled staff to run a BSL-4 laboratory, which is the highest security. And there are heaps of evidence all around the world of these organisms escaping out of laboratories, in virtually every country. There’s a very good paper published in Science, which is a high-level scientific journal, documenting numerous examples of these deadly organisms that have escaped, and essentially saying it's just been luck that we haven't had a deadly pandemic from one of these escapes.


PT: It's just luck that their key didn't fit our lock, really, is what you're saying.


AL: Or some of them like anthrax and smallpox, and other things could have really been a disaster. But they managed to get on top of it, in time. But this time it looks like the luck has run out.


PT: It's actually really frightening, you know, because we live our lives and we think everything's okay. And I think you've made a really important point that this time it happens to be the lab in China, but it's labs all over the world doing this research. And escapes are commonplace. It's terrifying. I think maybe that's one of the reasons people are sticking to the, "it came from bats," story, because that’s actually a more comforting narrative. "It was out of our control." "It's nothing to do with mankind." “Nature she's so unpredictable." But if you start looking at the fact that scientists could have created this, and then through lax security released it into the world, that's a 'whole lotta kettle of fish' that's much harder for a lot of people to swallow.


AL: Exactly. And if you look at who are the people who are saying this is natural, we're looking at the military, were looking at various government-funded research organizations—people or organizations who are actually involved in this Gain-of-Function research. They know if the truth came out, there'd be such public anger that this research would be stopped. And so it should be. I think one of the really important things that needs to come out of this, is that we need Gain-of-Function research stopped. This genetic modification of these viruses is wrong. It's creating new deadly organisms that have zero benefit. The only thing they're designed to do is kill people. And it not only is a waste of billions of dollars over the years, which could be used on much better things, it's now created the worst pandemic in our history. We need to prevent it ever happening again. Because believe me, we know there are far worse organisms sitting in these laboratories. If one of those escapes, it's going to make this COVID-19 look like a picnic.


PT: It's terrifying, and it brings me to the point that this research is kind of dribbling out. It’s being published in scientific journals, but it’s not necessarily being discussed in any kind of open or transparent way in the media. But is there also a problem with the way information has been kind of dribbled out of China as well? I mean is there a cover-up there, or is it just complete disorganization?


AL: It's been a coverup from day one, and we're unraveling it at the moment.


PT: And how do we know that?


AL: How do we know? We knew right from the beginning, China's working with the World Health Organization on this cover-up. They [the Chinese government] first admitted that there were a few cases of this new pneumonia. But they said it came from the seafood market, and that there was no evidence that it could be transmitted between humans, because it went directly from animals to humans. So, no need to worry about it. At the same time [the Chinese government] was saying that, and the World Health Organization was parroting China's claims, China was jailing the doctors who were reporting on this new pneumonia. We know one of those doctors died, in the end, a month later. He's a hero in China, and should be hero for the rest of us because he went out of his way, he was jailed for telling the truth. So, that's the first coverup.


We know that they covered up the first laboratory, this is on January the 11, that released the genome of this virus. Because before that they would not release the information on this virus to any other scientists in the world. Then a laboratory in Shanghai published the genetics of it so other scientists could study it. They closed that laboratory down the next day, on January 12, and silenced the scientists. We know in early February, a paper came out from two eminent scientists in China showing there were zero bats in the Huanan seafood market, and that the likely cause of this epidemic was a release from one of the two laboratories that were doing this research in Wuhan. Not just one, it's two doing this research. Then that paper got pulled, and the Chinese put pressure on all the academic sites that posted it. It's no longer online, but fortunately we have copies of it and we've kept it, as have other people. But those scientists have disappeared. Any scientist that's come out to try and tell the truth has disappeared or been silenced.


We can see the cover-up is still happening. They've closed down the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They will not allow any independent scientists in. The lab has been taken over by the military now. And also in China, any publication, anything said about this virus, has to go through their propaganda unit in Beijing. So, everything coming out of China now is pure propaganda, including any so-called "scientific study." It's officially edited and approved by the propaganda unit from Beijing. So, this is a grand-scale cover-up. And then the other evidence is, that when my country [Australia] proposed an independent investigation into the [origins of] the pandemic, [China] stopped all our imports of barley and meat, and starting putting trade pressure on us. However, as of last night the majority of countries in the world have agreed to an independent investigation into the source and cause of this [pandemic], and the cover-up.


PT:  It's interesting because we say that we should be led by the science, and yet scientists that come up with evidence that doesn't fit the narrative are silenced. It's not just with COVID-19, it's in all parts of science. So, I guess my question is, lot of people are saying this pandemic is an opportunity for change, for changing the way we live, changing the way we think, changing the way we act, and changing the way we farm. Do you believe that, and what do you think of the main lessons that we need to take away from this now? How can we be better prepared next time?


AL: I fully agree. This now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us not to go back to business as normal, and to instead reinvent the Green New Deal. We need to start having an environmental economy, one that is caring, and I think really importantly open and transparent. What we're seeing is a lack of transparency and scientific transparency. We need openness. We need the real facts published. We don't need the media suppressing things. It's what's happening. The whole issue of Gain-of-Function, you will not see it in any mainstream media. And yet Gain-of-Function research is one of the biggest threats we face. Gain-of-Function research is the cause of this pandemic, and will be the cause of future and even worse pandemics unless we put a stop to it. And I think we need a global campaign to end this type of genetic engineering. This is a disaster. It has been predicted for a long time. Now it's happening and we're in the middle of it, and we need to make sure it never ever happens again. 


PT: André from your lips to God's ears. That's all I can say there. Thank you so much for going into such detail about this and for laying it out so clearly. Let's see what happens next. We're waiting for the next bit of information to come and help us be clear. So we may ask you back and talk a bit more about it.


AL: I think you will. What we're uncovering at the moment will clearly provide even more evidence about the day the accident happened. And we should have that clearly in a week or two, so I'll be very happy to come back and go into more detail about what happened, when it happened, and who did it.


PT: Fantastic! We'll look forward to that. Thank you so much.


AL: My pleasure. Ciao


Pat Thomas is a journalist and author of several books on health and environment including “Complete Wellness and What Works, What Doesn’t – The Guide to Alternative Healthcare.” She is also the editor at Natural Health News in the UK. See more on her website. Thomas frequently writes for the Organic Consumers Association. You can sign up here for OCA’s news and alerts.

Tell Congress: No Bailout for Big Meat!

Organic consumers - Thu, 2020-05-21 23:00
May 21, 2020Organic Consumers AssociationAlexis Baden-MayerEnvironment & Climate, CAFOs vs. Free Range, Politics & Globalization ban_circle_cafo_factory_farms_pigs_hogs_1200x630.jpg

There’s a serious flaw in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES Act) just passed by the House: It includes a bailout for the four largest factory farm meat companies—Tyson, Cargill, JBS and Smithfield.

Congress should help independent family farmers, who are on track to lose billions as a result of the COVID-19 crisis—instead of coming up with more ways to funnel money to huge agribusiness corporations.

After all, Big Meat’s monopolistic practices and unsafe, unfair labor practices are what’s largely to blame for causing a shortage of processing facilities during the pandemic.

Tell Congress: No Bailout for Big Meat!

In 1933, to stabilize farm prices, Congress created the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a government-owned corporation that operates under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The 1948 CCC charter included a number of ways the USDA could provide relief to farmers, including allowing the agency to pay farmers to “remove and dispose of, or aid in the removal or disposition, of surplus agricultural commodities.”

If the HEROES Act passes as is, the CCC charter will be amended to give the USDA two new spending powers, both intended to help big corporations, not family farmers:

(h) Remove and dispose of or aid in the removal or disposition of surplus livestock and poultry due to significant supply chain interruption during an emergency period.

(i) Aid agricultural processing plants to ensure supply chain continuity during an emergency period.

These are gifts to Big Meat. Here’s why.

In the vertically integrated industrial meat system, it’s typically the big corporations that own the animals. This is especially true in the poultry industry, where independent farmers, under contracts with companies like Tyson, are forced to take all the financial risk associated with owning the land and buildings to house and raise the chicks, but Tyson owns the birds.

By amending the CCC charter to allow the USDA to pay for the “disposal” of birds due to lack of processing capacity, Tyson benefits—not the farmers raising the birds.

The other gift to Big Meat? Allowing the USDA to provide funds to companies like Smithfield so they can keep their slaughterhouses open—no matter how many COVID-19 deaths this causes.

This Big Meat bailout is just one of many ways corporate lobbyists have found to get Congress and the Trump Administration to help them profit from the pandemic.

The $2-trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in March included two tax provisions that will deliver a $160 billion windfall to the wealthiest Americans, disproportionately benefiting hedge fund and real estate investors. 

Billions in Paycheck Protection Program loans meant for small businesses have been siphoned off by large, publicly traded corporations.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was given a $454 billion slush fund he “can lever up to $4 trillion” to prevent any losses from corporate balance sheets, even as tens of millions of working Americans lose their jobs, can’t pay mortgages, rents and bills, and skip meals. 

Even among the rich, Trump donors are getting more than their fair share of coronavirus relief funds.

The situation is so bad that even billionaires are speaking out about how crazy—and unnecessary—it is to bailout the rich.

Public pressure has forced many companies to return coronavirus relief funds.

The original purpose of the CCC was to ensure that during times of crisis, farmers got paid and food made its way to the people who needed. 

Let’s put enough heat on Congress to block the big meat bailout for Tyson, Cargill, JBS and Smithfield!

Tell Congress: No Bailout for Big Meat!