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Susie Cagle's Posts

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Too big to prosecute: How Monsanto slipped the DOJ’s grasp

monsanto-withered-featureHey so remember a few months ago when we told you about how the Department of Justice quietly slipped its Monsanto investigation into the shredder? The global GMO giant  was "pleased," activists were pissed, and we were left wondering how that whole thing even happened.

Today, Lina Khan at Salon breaks down the what-the-fuck of it all. The investigation was first fertilized at the state level in 2007, when officials in Iowa, Texas, and other states began looking into Monsanto's restrictive, anti-competitive contract agreements with seed companies and farmers. Monsanto's trademarked genes are in more than 90 percent of American soy and 80 percent of corn.

Monsanto started in chemicals, only moving into genetically modified seed traits in the 1980s, and then buying up seed companies of its own in the '90s. "Over the next decade Monsanto spent more than $12 billion to buy at least 30 such businesses," Khan writes.

Alarmed by the fact that they were losing access to many key seed gene pools and seed breeders, biotech competitors -- including DuPont, Dow and Syngenta -- scrambled to keep up, grabbing suites of seed companies to secure their own arsenals.

Once mimicked by its rivals, Monsanto’s strategy redrew the industry. Competition and variety have dwindled as a result. Since the mid-1990s, the number of independent seed companies has shrunk from some 300 firms to fewer than 100. Many businesses not bought out directly were pushed out by bankruptcy.

The antitrust lawsuit against Monsanto proved difficult for the DOJ for a number of reasons, not least of which was Monsanto's Hulk-like influence over Washington politics: The company spent nearly $6 million on lobbying last year.

Read more: Food, Politics

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Bottled water doesn’t actually come from where you think it does

Image (1) bottledwater.jpg for post 30853Are you still hung up on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's post-State of the Union weird water flub? Well, Peter Gleick sure is. The author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water (and the underhanded liberator of those climate-denying documents from the Heartland Institute) has been researching bottled water for years, and after Rubio's odd moment with a bottle of Poland Spring, Gleick saw his chance to finally nail Poland Spring bottler Nestlé on where the water actually comes from.

A "distinct character profile" and not quite 1/3 legit? Sounds Rubio-appropriate. Mother Jones reports:

In researching the book, Gleick said he found that most of the companies that he talked to were cagey about their water sources. "They don't like to advertise that fact, and there's no legal requirement that they say on their label where the water comes from," he says. As a result, despite spending $11 billion a year on bottled water, most Americans don't know much about the origins of these beverages.

There are a few rules that bottled-water brands have to follow, however. In order to be called "spring water," according to the EPA, a product has to be either "collected at the point where water flows naturally to the earth's surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source." Unlike the term "spring water," other terms like "glacier water" or "mountain water" aren't regulated and "may not indicate that the water is necessarily from a pristine area," according to the EPA.

Gleick found that only about 55 percent of bottled waters are actual spring water. The other 45 percent of brands is mostly treated tap water. Aquafina, PepsiCo's bottled water brand, and Dasani, which is Coke's, are from municipal sources. ...

Read more: Food

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Protesters target firms angling for a piece of pipeline profits

Tomorrow marks the start of a week of actions and information sessions nationwide aimed at throwing a monkey wrench into the Keystone XL pipeline construction. There are 24 planned events across 20 cities.

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Tar Sands Blockade

Want to march and chant? Want to dance? Want to learn how best to lie limp in front of a bulldozer or U-lock your neck to a piece of heavy machinery? (Protip: A little Maalox and water will wash that pepper-spray out right quick.) Rallies, protests, flash mobs, trainings, and Idle No More round dances will take place from Seattle to Washington, D.C., rain or shine. The whole effort is spearheaded by the tireless folks at Deep Green Resistance and the Tar Sands Blockade.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Are municipal utilities more resilient during disasters?

Boulder, Colo., wants to dump its investor-owned utility and start up a publicly owned one that's more in line with the city's pinko-commie agenda aggressive environmental goals, as Grist's David Roberts has written about (twice). But even cities and towns without pinko-commie tendencies are looking to switch to municipal utilities in order to lower rates and get faster responses to outages caused by our new extreme weather.

Not everyone agrees, though, that public utilities are better capable of getting their act together in an emergency. The New York Times reports:

In Massachusetts after Hurricane Irene in 2011, for instance, municipal utilities in some of the hardest-hit areas were able to restore power in one or two days, while investor-owned companies like NStar and National Grid took roughly a week for some customers. According to an advocacy group called Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, government-owned utilities on average employ more linemen per 10,000 customers than the private companies. ...

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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E.U. car efficiency info may be more ‘creative’ than accurate

When it comes to legit auto fuel-economy data, a new report suggests there may be some sugar in the gas tank.

Activist group Transport & Environment says European car makers are consistently "optimizing" their cars' performances on fuel efficiency and emissions tests, i.e. cheating. Overall, T&E estimates that European car manufacturers are falsely claiming their cars are 25 to 50 percent more efficient than they really are.

"It's lots and lots of small tweaks," T&E's Greg Archer told the BBC. "And they all add up."

The report accuses car-makers of all sorts of MacGyver-like fuel-efficiency tricks used just during testing: taping up tiny cracks around doors and windows to reduce air resistance; lightening their cars; using special lubricants; slicking up test tracks; and stopping the car's battery from recharging. "Creative, but legal," according to The Guardian.

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Transport & Environment
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All that alleged trickery adds up to car drivers thinking they're getting a more efficient, cheaper vehicle, and officials thinking they're getting lower emissions and a cleaner environment. From The Guardian:

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Big Sugar could get a big government bailout

sugar.jpgTrigger warning, healthy eaters. The USDA is considering a big sugar bailout. Here's how that would work: The agency would buy 400,000 tons of sugar from surprisingly productive sugar companies in order to give those sugar companies enough cash to pay back the the $862 million they borrowed from the USDA last October. And then you would riot in the streets because what the hell is going on, USDA?!

The Wall Street Journal reports on the part before the rioting:

The USDA makes loans to sugar processors annually as part of a program that is rooted in the 1934 Sugar Act. The loans are secured with some 4.1 billion pounds, or 2.05 million tons, of sugar that companies expect to produce from the current harvest. That comes to almost a quarter of total U.S. output that the USDA forecasts for this year.

If domestic sugar prices bounce back before a final decision [on the bailout] is made, the USDA would back away from plans to intervene in the market, [said USDA economist Barbara Fecso]. A final decision could come as early as April 1. ...

The loan program was designed to operate at no cost to taxpayers. A June 2000 study by the Government Accountability Office, then called the General Accounting Office, estimated the program's cost to the U.S. economy at $700 million in 1996 and $900 million in 1998.

The bailout would help bolster the price of sugar, therefore driving up the cost of sweetened goods. But even if you hate sugar and all the terrible things it does to our bodies, you're still paying for it.

Is that enough, though, to ally carrot and cupcake lovers in what New York Magazine wishes were a militant social movement?

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U.N. to poor people: Sorry, pollution and warming will hit you hardest

The Chinese are fed up with pollution
Shutterstock / Hung Chung Chih

It's that time of year again. You're enjoying unseasonably warm weather / digging out from under an unexpected snow storm, looking forward to a summer full of invasive mosquitos, and oh, what's this? Why, it's another U.N. Human Development Report with terrible news about the planet!

The report celebrates advances in developing countries, improved conditions for the poor, and the "dramatic rebalancing of economic power" worldwide, i.e. the rise of Brazil, China, and India to crush Western white people. But it warns all that could be lost with climate change, deforestation, and air and water pollution. As usual, and as noted in past U.N. reports, the poor have the most to lose.

From The Guardian:

"Environmental threats are among the most grave impediments to lifting human development … The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be," warns the report, which builds on the 2011 edition looking at sustainable development.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Extreme weather and GMO crops devastate monarch butterfly migration

It's not so much the butterfly effect as the butterfly affected: We knew monarchs had it bad as of late, but there was some hope for their winter migration -- until scientists conducted a census.

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In just two years, the annual migration of North American monarch butterflies has declined by 59 percent, and scientists are blaming extreme weather and "changed farming practices," according to the New York Times. In other words, monster storms and monster Monsanto.

The area of forest occupied by the butterflies, once as high at 50 acres, dwindled to 2.94 acres in the annual census conducted in December, Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas disclosed at a news conference in Zitácuaro, Mexico. ...

The latest decline was hastened by drought and record-breaking heat in North America when the monarchs arrived last spring to reproduce. Warmer than usual conditions led the insects to arrive early and to nest farther north than is typical, Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, said in an interview. The early arrival disrupted the monarchs’ breeding cycle, he said, and the hot weather dried insect eggs and lowered the nectar content of the milkweed on which they feed.

That in turn weakened the butterflies and lowered the number of eggs laid.

But an equally alarming source of the decline, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Vidal said, is the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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New Pope Francis sure likes buses, but will he be a leader for climate action?

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Catholic Church

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been named the new head of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, as he's now called, awaits his future wearing cute outfits and riding around Vatican City in the popemobile. But where does Bergoglio stand on climate change?

Ex-Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, used his papal platform to promote social and political action in response to global warming, and even added an electric car to the popemobile fleet. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was also a proponent of climate action. And other Catholic leaders have spoken out about the need for a response to the impending "serious and potentially irreversible" effects of a warmer planet. (But, shhh, don't say anything about birth control and population growth.)

Bergoglio is still a bit of a mystery, but his humble background is well-documented. A Jesuit, he claims to have quietly rebelled during a period of grisly military dictatorship in Argentina, hiding people in his church and giving out fake identity papers. He chose to live in a small apartment instead of the fancy cardinal's house in Buenos Aires, and he is best known "as a champion of the poor," says The Washington Post.

This is often reflected in his very humble lifestyle, despite his position. One much-cited example of his personal (and very Franciscan) commitment is that he takes the bus.

Read more: Living, Politics

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New law aims to make eating lions illegal, because right now it’s totally not

When Mufasa gave Simba that speech about the circle of life, he maybe should have included an extra warning about becoming lion jerky for some hungry folks in the U.S. Because apparently that is a thing.

Illinois Rep. Luis Arroyo wants to make eating lions illegal in his state, and the proposal is a lot more controversial than you might think. If passed, the Lion Meat Act would make it ""unlawful for any person to slaughter a lion or for any person to possess, breed, import or export from this State, buy, or sell lions for the purpose of slaughter." Right now, eating lion is legal nationwide.

Burgers? Tacos? Snack sticks? Really?
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Burgers? Tacos? Snack sticks? Really?

For a ban on eating a threatened species, Arroyo's proposal is garnering a lot of criticism -- and not just from the guy who runs the weird-meat store, though he's certainly the most annoyed. Richard Czimer of Czimer's Game & Seafood, Inc. (mm mm lion snack sticks and bear bacon!) told National Geographic that the ban is "trying to curtail a choice." Of Arroyo: "He's discriminating against all my customers and everybody who wants to try something new," said Czimer, who was only able to buy two lousy lions last year.

Czimer, who was jailed for six months in 2003 for buying and selling illegal tiger and leopard meat, is mostly but not entirely alone in his love for lion, which also enjoys a bit of market share in Arizona. Other critics of the Lion Meat Act seem to be bothered by the big-government overreach of preventing people from eating threatened species. From Take Part:

Read more: Food