Does “Corporate Farming” Exist? Barely.

By Tom Philpott

Goaded on by small-is-good gospel, plenty of people have adopted a Manichean view of modern US farming: large, soulless corporate enterprises on one side, human-scale, artisanal operations on the other.

Want to know what’s missing from Chipotle’s green-tinted ads?

Take, for example, Chipotle’s much-discussed new web ad, which tugs at the heartstrings by painting a haunting picture of a small-time farmer who finds himself working for—and then competing against—a fictional industrial-farming behemoth.

Reality is a lot more complicated. While there are plenty of mega-corporations in the food industry, they rarely do the actual farming themselves.

A USDA study released in August found that 96.4 percent of US crop farms are “family farms,” or “ones in which the principal operator, and people related to the principal operator by blood or marriage, own more than half.” That number doesn’t leave a lot of room for corporate farmers, does it?

The story is a bit—but not that much—different in meat production. Pork, and pork only, actually has corporations raising significant numbers of livestock. Here are the largest hog producers in the United States, lifted from an interesting 2010 paper by Tufts University researchers Tim Wise and Sarah Trist:
Smithfield, recently bought by the Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui International (in a deal just approved by Smithfield’s shareholders), is obviously a massive, globe-spanning corporation. Not only does it raise about 1 in 5 American hogs, it also has a 31 percent share of the hog-processing market, Wise and Trist show. When Smithfield directly raises 1.2 million hogs per year, that’s corporate farming.

But after Smithfield, things change quickly. As the above chart shows, the nation’s fourth-largest hog producer, Iowa Select Farms, has a 2.5 percent market share. Yes, that’s a lot of hogs—150,000 per year, to be exact—but the vast majority of America’s other 70,000 pig farms tend to be family-owned operations. It’s true that they usually operate under contract with mega-processors like Smithfield and peers like Tyson and JBS. But these aren’t corporate-owned farms.

In beef, the last stage of conventional cow production—fattening them for slaughter—is largely dominated by big players. Here (from a 2010 paper by Texas Tech University ag scientist M. L. Galyean) are the biggest operators of feedlots—those massive, infamous pens where cows spend their last days chomping on corn and soy-based feed, laced with dodgy additives:

Read more

Golden rice exposed as fraud: Genetically engineered crop nothing more than biotech battering ram to crush GMO regulations

Everywhere you turn in the media, GMO propagandists are invoking so-called “Golden rice” as part of a false narrative that claims GMOs will save the world. Golden rice will save a million lives, blared the cover of TIME Magazine. Golden rice will give poor people critical nutrition and end suffering, we’re told. In fact, Golden rice will even make all the poor children eating it no longer care that they have no clean water, no sustainable agriculture and no economic future, it seems.

http://saccsivdotcom.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/monsanto-hired-mercenary-blackwater-to-infiltrate-anti-gmo-groups/

There’s a problem with all this, of course: the golden rice hoopla is pure hokum. Quackery. Charlatanism. There is no evidence whatsoever that golden rice can treat, prevent or cure any medical condition. And since when did pro-GMO people ever care about nutrition in the first place? Aren’t they in agreement with the FDA that there is no vitamin, no mineral and no herb that has any ability whatsoever to prevent, treat or cure any disease?

http://www.occupycorporatism.com/monsanto-chief-given-killer-award-for-bringing-gmo-to-the-world/

The Golden rice false narrative

To understand all this, you have to grasp the claims of the golden rice fiction pushers. They say that there are millions of children dying in Southeast Asia from one single cause. And that cause is that the rice they eat does not have enough vitamin A in it. Surely these people could eat carrots and get plenty of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. But the GMO industry doesn’t want you to think about carrots from Mother Nature. They want you to jump on board with golden rice from biotech companies.

Now, set aside for a moment the ridiculously myopic point of view that fixates on one nutrient rather than the full assortment of vitamins, minerals and plant-based nutrients humans need to survive. To the GMO pushers, there’s only one nutrient that matters, and that’s vitamin A. They furthermore believe vitamin A can never come from any other source than GMO golden rice(not kale, spinach, carrots or anything else).

Also set aside for a moment the fact that GMO crops are routinely the most nutrient depleted crops in the world because they are grown in corporate monoculture fields where micronutrients like zinc and magnesium are never added back into the soil. Instead, crops like GM corn are fed only a diet of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK) with an extra helping of BT toxin that’s grown in each and every kernel. For some reason, the idea that the entire western world is eating a known poison that destroys the stomachs of insects and animals does not bother the golden rice pushers. The only thing that matters to them is that not enough poor children are eating GMOs.

And so the myths begin: Golden rice will save the planet! Biotech is our savior! Children will be saved from nutritional starvation!

The magical golden rice myth

For the last two decades, the myth of golden rice has been invoked by GMO pushers to try to justify their agenda of 1) Owning the world’s seeds, 2) Forcing all farmers into economic servitude to Monsanto, 3) Spreading so much genetic pollution that heirloom crops all become contaminated with the genetic intellectual property of the GMO corporations.

These are the real goals of the GMO industry. Not to save lives but to control lives and dominate the global food supply. (All while dousing the entire planet with deadly glyphosate, by the way.)

But there’s a problem with the golden rice narrative: it’s all fiction. And to understand that, you have to get right down to the science — something that GMO pushers have long since completely abandoned. “RUN! It’s science!”

Golden rice myths debunked

To start with, the genetically engineered variety of golden rice is the wrong variety altogether. There are two varieties of rice typically grown in Southeast Asia: Japonica rice and Indica rice (two “families” of rice). Japonica is a dryland rice, while Indica is grown in wet rice paddies.

The genetically engineered “golden rice” is Japonica rice, which refuses to grow in the wet regions where children are most impacted by vitamin A deficiency. So the GMO industry goofed big time on this and engineered vitamin A into the rice that doesn’t need it.

And why? Because it was easier to insert the beta-carotene genes into the Indica rice. It’s a lot like that old joke where a guy loses his keys on a dark street but ends up looking for them only under the streetlight. A friend asks, “You lost your keys over there, so why are you looking for them here?” And the guy replies, “Because this is where there’s light!”

See, the GMO industry doesn’t care about which variety of rice gets artificially inserted with an unnatural gene sequence. As long as they nail something with it, they can then run the false headlines about how their Frankenfood scientists will save the world (even as they put the entire world at risk from genetic pollution).

Vitamin A precursor in golden rice may not survive storage and cooking

Getting back to the actual science of all this, first realize that this so-called “golden rice” doesn’t contain vitamin A at all. It contains beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that the human body transforms into vitamin A.

Unless there’s some new research I haven’t heard about, there have been no studies on the integrity of beta-carotene in stored golden rice. There is no evidence, in other words, that the artificially-inserted beta-carotene even survives storage to a sufficient degree to matter nutritionally. This utter lack of scientific evidence, however, doesn’t stop GMO pushers from falsely claiming golden rice will save millions of children. This “leap of faith” by GMO advocates is utterly and wholly non-scientific and not supporting in any way by actual scientific data.

It is, in essence, belief in magic. Golden rice is a “magical” food, it seems, sort of like Lucky Charms, which are “magically delicious.”

Consider this delusional thinking by one GMO pusher:

“Golden Rice could prevent blindness and death of hundreds of thousands of children but can not do so, so far, because risk assessment notoriously is ignoring a risk-benefit analysis!” – Ingo Potrykus, April 2004 (SOURCE)

On what scientific basis does Ingo claim golden rice can “prevent blindness and death” when there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support such a claim? Ingo, like all the other golden rice pushers, is engaged in “magical thinking.” He wants golden rice to prevent blindness, so he leaps to the conclusion that it does as a matter of faith, not science.

Even if the beta carotene survives storage, there’s the question of how much beta-carotene survives high-heat cooking. While there is evidence that low-heat cooking may actually make beta-carotene more readily digestible in some foods, at high heat, beta-carotene is easily destroyed, which is why canned vegetables consistently test at lower levels of beta-carotene than fresh vegetables. Again, this has not been sufficiently studied in golden rice, so no one can really answer the question of whether golden rice will in fact deliver usable beta carotene to the bodies of people who eat it after it is harvested, stored and prepared in a traditional manner.

This fact doesn’t stop delusional thinking by GMO industry shills like Troy Goodman:

“GM food scientists have already developed a yellow rice, or “golden” rice, that is rich in vitamin A and iron and helps prevent anemia and blindness, especially in children.” – Troy Goodman (SOURCE)

Troy Goodman is, of course, making a fraudulent drug claim for an artificial food which has never been approved by the FDA to treat any health condition. The fact that these claims have never been substantiated doesn’t seem to bother Troy, though. Who needs evidence when you believe in magic? This all comes down to a matter of faith, not science. That’s what the GMO industry and all its corporate flaks ultimately add up to: a cult of GMO worshippers who don’t have actual science to back their positions, but they do have “faith” (beliefs) which defy reality.

By the way, this entire argument about golden rice presupposes that GE rice is the only way to deliver this nutrient to these children. But that’s absurd: beta carotene is easily found in all sorts of foods such as carrots and cantaloupe, none of which need to be genetically engineered to produce beta carotene.

Golden rice claims are medical fraud

Here’s where the golden rice pushers really hit a conundrum. In their golden rice propaganda, they claim that this rice prevents blindness and death.

This very claim, according to the FDA, transforms golden rice into a drug. The FDA’s definition of a drug is any substance that “treats, prevents or cures” any health condition. The FDA, in fact, uses this stance as a weapon to routinely attack and raid nutritional supplement companies. Even a manufacturer of cherry juice can be arrested and charged with crimes for claiming that cherry juice prevents gout, a claim that’s exhaustively supported by the scientific literature, including studies funded by the U.S. government itself.

So the claim that golden rice prevents blindness is, in fact, a drug claim. Yet golden rice has never been approved by the FDA to treat any disease or health condition whatsoever. GMO pushers, of course, claim that golden rice is not a drug and therefore doesn’t need approval by the FDA, but this is false. The mere claim that it treats or prevents a disease makes it a drugunder current FDA regulations (which are quite ridiculous, of course).

Here’s a professor of Johns Hopkins violating FDA regulations and making false drug claims about golden rice:

“Since a large proportion of vitamin A-deficient children and their mothers reside in rice-consuming populations, particularly in Asia, Golden Rice should substantially reduce the prevalence and severity of vitamin A deficiency, and prevent at least hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and cases of blindness every year,” – Dr. Alfred Sommer, professor and dean emeritus, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (SOURCE)

Dr. Alfred Sommer, like nearly all other biotech pushers, is engaged in making a fraudulent drug claim for a substance the FDA would categorize as an “unapproved drug.” If Dr. Sommer sold golden rice alongside such claims, he could be arrested and charged with “drug-related crimes” and even red-flagged on Interpol as an international fugitive, just as happened to Greg Caton who sold topical cancer salves made from Amazonian herbs.

Why are drug claims selectively allowed for golden rice but no other foods, herbs or superfoods? If it is the position of GMO advocates that all food-based nutrition can be sold alongside bold claims of treating disease and preventing death, then they must also agree that all other foods, superfoods and herbs need no FDA approval, either. Manufacturers of herbal supplements, superfoods and dietary supplements offer far more than beta-carotene to consumers, yet none of these companies can make any health claims whatsoever without being threatened or even raided and shut down by the FDA.

Is it now the position of GMO advocates that everyone who offers nutrient-rich foods can now openly claim that they treat, prevent and cure disease? Of course not. GMO pushers want this claim to be selectively applied only to their Frankenfoods, not to other foods, herbs or nutritional supplements. In their minds, only beta-carotene from genetically engineered foods has any health benefit. All other beta-carotene is somehow “inert.” This is yet another blaring contradiction in the magical thinking of golden rice pushers.

So until golden rice is tested and approved as a drug by the FDA, all these claims being touted by GMO pushers are fraudulent medical claims. Unless, of course, you want to clear away all FDA regulations on the benefits of nutrients in foods and allow all food manufacturers to make scientifically-validated health claims (which would probably be a good idea, overall).

Here’s another totally false, unsubstantiated and illegal drug claim being made by the “Golden Rice Project” pushers:

“Considering that Golden Rice could substantially reduce blindness (500,000 children per year) and deaths (2-3 million per year), the parsimony displayed by the responsible bodies after 20 years is hardly understandable. – Jorge E. Mayer, Peter Beyer, Ingo Potrykus, “The Golden Rice Project” (SOURCE)

Jorge Mayer, like everyone else mentioned here, has joined the golden rice magical thinking cult and has cast aside critical thinking in his enthusiastic effort to pile on yet more fraudulent medical claims about golden rice. How does Mr. Mayer know golden rice can reduce deaths and blindness? He doesn’t. There is no evidence whatsoever to support this. Mr. Mayer is engaged in what skeptics routinely refer to as “magical thinking.”

Artificially adding beta-carotene to rice may interfere with the absorption of other nutrients

There’s a good reason why playing God with Mother Nature’s seeds is a bad idea. For starters, human scientists are short-sighted, arrogant fools compared to the wisdom of nature. This is immediately evident in the realization that beta-carotene, in isolation, actually interferes with the absorption of other nutrients such as canthaxanthin and lycopene.

In nature, nutrients appear in a natural, holistic “symphony” that creates nutritional balance in the body. But when Frankenfood scientists start playing God with seeds, they will often introduce a nutritional imbalance by inserting a gene for one isolated nutrient without considering the complex dietary implications experienced by people who eat the plant.

The case of South Asian children going blind or dying from a “lack of vitamin A,” as is often quoted in the status quo media, is such a vast oversimplification of the real nutritional challenges facing these children that the statement is akin to quackery. These children don’t need just one vitamin. They need the kind of full-spectrum nutrition that only comes from growing a diverse selection of food.

The real nutritional problems facing these kids, in other words, are not problems that can be solved by artificially inserting a few genes into rice. What these regions really need is permaculture education so they can learn to grow a more diverse diet that’s naturally rich in vitamins, nutrients, carotenoids and other plant-based medicines that nourish humans and prevent disease.

But you won’t hear the GMO pushers talk about teaching people to farm. And the word “permaculture” is considered blasphemy in the biotech industry. Teaching people to farm using heirloom seeds would be utterly contradictory to the goal of the biotech industry – total domination and enslavement of the human race by using food as a system of control.

The implication that the lives of these people can be transformed with one genetically engineered crop containing ONE nutrient is absurd. These people need permaculture. They need sustainable farming practices. They need a diverse diet of locally-grown foods that naturally and automatically produce thousands of phytonutrients, including beta-carotene. Western corporations, however, think the answer is “vaccines and GMOs,” and in that belief, the entire western system of “scientific thinking” is shown to utterly lack any real understanding about life, nutrition, compassion and ethics.

Biotech is an industry that’s far more interested in controlling people than saving them.

If you really want to help your fellow man, give him some seeds, teach him how to farm, and most importantly do not seek monopoly patents on those seeds so that you can economically enslave your fellow man. On this point, every biotech company on the planet fails the basic test of ethics and corporate responsibility. For those companies to then claim they are “helping humanity” or “feeding the world” while enslaving it borders on the criminally insane. (And in my opinion, companies like Monsanto are global criminal enterprises engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.)

Regulations are in the way of saving children!

GMO scientists and industry monopolists (like Monsanto and Syngenta) claim the only reason golden rice isn’t saving millions of lives right now is because of all those darned GMO regulations which should be completely removed. In fact, they say, any company should be allowed to plant any experimental crop it wants, right out in the open, without any oversight whatsoever. Who needs regulations when the industry itself operates with such high standards of integrity and caution, right?

In reality, their approach is more like “the environment be damned!” Who cares about genetic pollution that could cause a global agricultural holocaust when there are public relations victories to be scored on golden rice! (In other words, to push their monopolist crops, GMO companies would gladly put the entire world at risk of a global food supply collapse.)

Right now, the goal of the GMO industry is to use golden rice as a battering ram to loosen regulations against GMOs so that companies like Monsanto can seize control of agriculture everywhere around the world. Golden rice is the cover story, but the real agenda is to dominate all agricultural seeds and crops for centuries to come. And in order to achieve that, this industry will gladly unleash a steady stream of false claims about golden rice that utterly lack any scientific substantiation whatsoever.

Every single person who has joined the cult-like bandwagon of false medical claims for golden rice is now guilty of lying to the public and colluding with an industry steeped in death and destruction.

The bottom line? If you really want to help malnourished people around the world, teach them how to farm so they can grow their own nutrient-rich vegetables like carrots, cabbage and beets. GMOs are not required. All we need is open-pollinated seeds, permaculture education and fundamental human compassion rather than corporate greed.

See my related article, Golden rice debunked: ten blatant contradictions and false claims of genetically modified rice.

Action item: Link to this story using “golden rice”

If you really want to make a dent in this debate, link to this story using the words “golden rice” so that this article becomes more prominent when people search the term.

This will also help Natural News educate more people on this issue so that we can all make better informed decisions on these important agricultural issues.

The golden rice false narrative is being intentionally distorted in order to push a corporate agenda, and it’s time we stood up to the lies and told the real story on golden rice.

The world doesn’t need golden rice and more GMOs polluting the planet. What the world does need is permaculture knowledge, open-pollinated seeds and soils that are not damaged by glyphosate. It’s time to get back to protecting life rather than protecting corporate profits.

Shame on all those who keep pushing golden rice. They are destroyers of our world and instigators of human suffering. They are also delusional when it comes to clear thinking and real science.

More sources for this article:

http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/news_tough…

http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archiv…

http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/golden-rice…

http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/fe…

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/p…

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/S…

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/pdfs/migr…

Read more

FBI Plays the Role of Domestic Spy And Spy-Enabler, Says New Report

by J.D. Tuccille

Sure, the National Security Agency has been caught spying beyond the borders of the United States and also here at home. But the NSA scoops up its domestic data courtesy of the the FBI and the enormous surveillance powers that law-enforcement agency has acquired in recent years. The Bureau isn’t shy about spying on its own behalf, either. Never hesitant about flexing its muscles to target dissenters and whistleblowers, the FBI, reveals a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union, was empowered and set loose in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and is more dangerous than ever.
You know those phone records we’ve been fretting about the NSA accumulating? Well, in Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority, the authors write:

Every 90 days for the past seven years the FBI has obtained secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) orders compelling telecommunications companies to provide the government with the toll billing records of every American’s telephone calls, domestic and international, on an ongoing daily basis.

That’s because intelligence agencies in the United States are supposed to focus their efforts beyond the country’s borders. But if they team up with a law-enforcement agency authorized to operate within the United States…
In fact, the strictures to which the FBI itself was subject, because of a history of “targeting immigrants, racial and religious minorities, and political dissidents for surveillance, infiltration, investigation, and ‘disruption strategies'” have largely been lifted as a consequence of 9/11. the FBI has also gained access to new legal authority and the technological tools to more intrusively scrutinize people’s communications and activities, for good or ill. The FBI may now be tapping so many sources of information that’s it’s effectively trying to drink from a firehose. The ACLU report quotes former FBI Director William Webster complaining of a “data explosion” that brings in too much information to analyze.
The loosened restrictions on the FBI are sometimes explicit, such as the authority granted by the Patriot Act, but also a matter of creatively interpreting existing laws and court rulings.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey rewrote the FBI’s rule book in 2008, giving FBI agents unfettered authority to investigate anyone they choose without any factual basis for suspecting wrongdoing. The 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines created a new kind of intrusive investigation called an “assessment,” which requires no “factual predicate” and can include searches through government or commercial databases, overt or covert FBI interviews, and tasking informants to gather information about anyone or to infiltrate lawful organizations. In a two-year period from 2009 to 2011, the FBI opened over 82,000 “assessments” of individuals or organizations, less than 3,500 of which discovered information justifying further investigation.
The FBI has a habit of using “exigent letters” which are legal shortcuts supposed to be used only in emergency circumstances, to gather information. When this becomes problematic, it sometimes issues secret National Security Letters to cover the earlier use of the exigent letters. The FBI has used hundreds of thousands of NSLs, but the exact number isn’t clear since, at least at one point, the Bureau lost track.

Aside from its own investigative efforts, the FBI has also taken to collecting data from state and local law-enforcement agencies, as well as private sources. This is all part of the firehose mentioned above.

Who is on the receiving end of all of that data collection? Well, so much data is hoovered up that you could say all of us. But in recent years, the FBI has specifically targeted Muslims and Arabs, advising agents to be on the lookout for suspicious activities such as “frequent attendance at a mosque.” FBI training materials also express concern about “Anarchist Extremists” and continue a decades-long obsession with “Black Separatists.”

This might be all right if the FBI were specifically watching for violent and criminal activity by the aforementioned groups, but many of the warning signs for which agents are supposed to watch are as First Amendment-protected as attending religious services—including submitting FOIA requests.

And when the FBI does bust criminal activities with infiltrators and informants, there’s often a question about just who is guilty of what.

In many cases the government agent provides all the instrumentalities of the crime, chooses the target, designs the plot, and provides the gullible subjects financial support or other incentives to carry out the plot. The subjects are often destitute and at times become financially dependent on the informants.

Exempted from the Whistleblower Protection Act, the FBI freely retaliates against employees who attempt to call out wrongdoing. As a result, it’s rare for FBI employees to speak out. That culture lends itself to a willingness to target whistleblowers in other agencies—and journalists. Apart from recent revelations about spying on the press, “In 2010 the Inspector General reported the FBI used an illegal ‘exigent letter’ to obtain the telephone records of 7 New York Times and Washington Post reporters.”

Born in the fear- and intolerance-fueled red-scare Palmer Raids that even the FBI itself labels “certainly not a bright spot for the young Bureau,” the FBI seems to have done litttle over the decades but add power and high-tech toys to its ever-authoritarian institutional persona. For which the NSA thanks it.

Read the full ACLU report here.

Read more

Independent NSA spying review not so independent

Stung by public unease about new details of spying by the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama selected a panel of advisers he described as independent experts to scrutinize the NSA’s surveillance programs to be sure they weren’t violating civil liberties and to restore Americans’ trust.

But with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts.

The panel’s advisers work in offices on loan from the DNI. Interview requests and press statements from the review panel are carefully coordinated through the DNI’s press office. James Clapper, the intelligence director, exempted the panel from U.S. rules that require federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings in ways the public can observe. Its final report, when it’s issued, will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it.

Even the panel’s official name suggests it’s run by Clapper’s office: “Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.”

Read more

4 decades after war ended, Agent Orange still ravaging Vietnamese

By Drew Brown

In many ways, Nguyen Thi Ly is just like any other 12-year-old girl. She has a lovely smile and is quick to laugh. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up. She enjoys skipping rope when she plays.

But Ly is also very different from other children. Her head is severely misshapen. Her eyes are unnaturally far apart and permanently askew. She’s been hospitalized with numerous ailments since her birth.

Her mother, 43-year-old Le Thi Thu, has similar deformities and health disorders. Neither of them has ever set foot on a battlefield, but they’re both casualties of war.

Le and her daughter are second- and third-generation victims of dioxin exposure, the result of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, when the U.S. Air Force sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over parts of southern Vietnam and along the borders of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The herbicides were contaminated with dioxin, a deadly compound that remains toxic for decades and causes birth defects, cancer and other illnesses.

To this day, dioxin continues to poison the land and the people. The United States has never accepted responsibility for these victims – it denies that Agent Orange is responsible for diseases among Vietnamese that are accepted as Agent Orange-caused among American veterans – and it’s unclear when this chain of misery will end.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama will meet with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the White House, only the third meeting between chief executives of the two countries since Vietnam and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1995.

The two countries share many contemporary concerns. The White House says Obama plans to discuss cooperation on regional issues and trade, plus other U.S. priorities such as climate change and human rights. The two countries share a strong common interest in countering China, which has become increasingly assertive over potentially oil-rich areas of the South China Sea.

Many Vietnamese say it’s time for the United States to do more to address the issue of Agent Orange and its victims, so that the last tragic chapter of the Vietnam War finally can be closed.

Le Thi Thu’s father served in the North Vietnamese army and was wounded in Quang Tri province, one of the most heavily sprayed areas of the country.

“Before he went to war, my father had two children: my older brother and sister,” said Le, who was born in 1970. “They were normal. But after he came back, he had me.”

“I could see the differences in myself and others right away,” she recalled. “When I was a small child, I felt pain inside my body all the time. My parents took me to the hospital, and the doctors determined that I had been affected by Agent Orange.”

When her daughter Ly was born, “we knew right away” Agent Orange was to blame, Le said.

The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975.

“During the war, we were hostile, but after the war ended, we normalized our relations and are now building a strategic partnership between Vietnam and the United States,” said retired Col. Thai Thanh Hung, the chairman of the 16,500-member Da Nang Veterans Association. “We no longer have hatred towards the Americans and the U.S. government, but we want this one lingering and remaining issue to be addressed, which is that the United States help solve the Agent Orange and dioxin problem. That’s why we’re keeping an eye on this issue, to see if the United States is really interested in healing the wounds or not.”

The most significant event to date occurred last August – 37 years after the war ended – when U.S. contractors began a project to remove dioxin from 47 acres of contaminated soil at the Da Nang International Airport, which was one of the largest U.S. bases during the war.

The $84 million effort, which is expected to take until the end of 2016 to complete, has been hailed as an important milestone in U.S.-Vietnamese relations. The airport is one of the most heavily contaminated areas in the world, with dioxin levels measuring more than 365 times the acceptable limits set by the United States and other industrialized countries.

Observers say that while the project represents a long overdue first step, more work needs to be done. More than two dozen other known or potential dioxin “hot spots” have been identified at former U.S. bases. Also left unresolved is the thorny issue of how best to help Vietnamese who’ve been sickened and disabled because of Agent Orange and dioxin exposure.

U.S. aid for these people so far has amounted to a pittance. According to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, only $11 million of the $61.4 million that Congress has allocated since 2007 – a year after then-President George W. Bush pledged to help clean up contaminated areas – has been earmarked for public health programs in Vietnam.

U.S. officials caution that the money is to help people with disabilities “regardless of cause,” and isn’t specifically for Agent Orange victims. This semantic sleight of hand outrages many American veterans of the war, who say the United States has a moral obligation to help Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, just as sick and dying U.S. veterans have received government help for the last two decades.

“There’s a hypocrisy there,” says Chuck Searcy, who served in Vietnam as an intelligence analyst during the war and has lived in Hanoi since 1998, heading up a project to clear battlefields of unexploded ordnance, which also continues to kill and maim Vietnamese. “It’s a glaring disconnect, and it’s embarrassing because the whole world can see it.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that all 2.8 million Americans who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides, which were in use from 1961 to 1971. They qualify for compensation if they become sick from any of 15 illnesses presumed to have been caused by their exposure. The VA also recognizes another 18 birth defects in the children of female veterans.

In 2011, the last year for which data was published, the VA paid nearly $18 billion in disability benefits to 1.2 million Vietnam-era veterans, including 303,000 who received compensation for diabetes mellitus, the most common of the 15 diseases associated with herbicide exposure.

U.S. officials have long held, however, that there’s no proof that Agent Orange is to blame for the same diseases and birth defects in Vietnam.

“Few independent studies have been conducted in Vietnam to assess possible health effects on the local population,” said Chris Hodges, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. “The lack of validated data and scientific review makes it difficult to estimate accurately the number of actual or potentially affected people or the extent of related health effects.”

In many ways, the fight for recognition of Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims mirrors the 20-year struggle that U.S. veterans endured before Congress granted them compensation in 1991.

Hoping to emulate a case that resulted in a 1984 settlement requiring Dow Chemical, the Monsanto Corp. and other Agent Orange manufacturers to pay $197 million in damages to sick U.S. veterans, a group of Vietnamese victims sued in 2004, only to have the same federal judge dismiss their case a year later, saying the companies were immune because they were following government orders. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2009.

As occurred with U.S. veterans, momentum in Congress appears to be shifting favorably toward the Vietnamese. In 2011, lawmakers directed the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop a plan for assisting Vietnam with Agent Orange programs in the coming years. The agency hasn’t yet released its proposals.

For its part, Vietnam has put into motion a set of steps that it says will “fundamentally solve” its problems with Agent Orange by 2020. The document, signed in June 2012 by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, outlines preferential treatment for all ailing veterans who fought against the Americans, monthly stipends and health coverage for families with disabled members and special care for pregnant women from contaminated areas.

The Aspen Institute, a Washington-based research center, has called on the United States to spend $450 million over 10 years to clean up Vietnam’s dioxin hot spots, restored damaged ecosystems and expand health care for people with disabilities.

It’s unclear how much Congress is willing to do. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., introduced a bill last month that would commit the United States to cleaning up all remaining sites and would provide assistance to help Vietnam give better

health care and other resources to Agent Orange victims. An identical bill introduced two years ago failed to make it out of committee.

Searcy, the former intelligence analyst who lives in Hanoi, points out that after nearly 40 years, Vietnam’s expectations of the United States remain modest.

The Vietnamese have never demanded that the U.S. do for the Vietnamese what they’ve done for U.S. veterans,” he said. “But the Vietnamese have left the door open to do what’s fair.”

“I think it’s possible to bring some closure to this within the next decade,” he added.

Source

Fish Frenzy: GM Salmon Breed with Trout, Threaten Wild Populations

A newly released scientific report reveals yet another disturbing concern when it comes to the genetically modified salmon that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is threatening to approve soon. Apparently, not only are Atlantic salmon and wild brown trout (a near relative of salmon) able to mate and create a genetic combination of the two species, but these hybrid offspring apparently grow even more rapidly than the GM salmon themselves (already designed to be excessively large). And this could cause big problems for the free-swimmers in their natural habitat.

According to this latest research, results indicate that the GE salmon/wild trout mix would have a competitive advantage over other fish should they escape into rivers and oceans. Since they would grow 80% faster and have increased appetites, these super-fish could voraciously consume much of the available food, causing other wild fish to end up being far smaller.