Transcript: Speech by Gail Malone – March Against Monsanto, Sydney 12/10/11

Given the recent court case regarding the safety of RoundUp I thought it timely to republish.

We need to know if mining companies are destroying our aquifers; we need to know if they are poisoning our ground water with Coal seam gas chemicals.  We need to know that RoundUp destroys our soil and destroys human embryonic cells.  We need to know which foods are genetically modified.  We need to know of the precautionary principle and we really need to know about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.  What we need to know will be kept from us if this agreement is signed.

We are heading into a perfect storm of the destruction of our environment, affecting our food and water sustainability as well as our sovereignty in one fell swoop.  The TPPA is a wet dream for the likes of Monsanto and other destructive industries.  One of the greatest threats to Australia becoming a rampant US corporate state is transparency.  If the people of this country actually understood what the TPPA means, that is if they have heard about the TPPA, they would be outraged by the lack of consultation with the people of this land and the degree to which they will be disenfranchised by it.

 

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Why have so few Australians heard anything about the TPPA?  Because it’s a secret…so shhh it’s so secret that even in the US, Members of Congress, state governors, the press, and the public are not allowed to see drafts of the agreement.  There are over 600 business representatives serving as official U.S. trade advisers who have full access to draft texts playing an inside role in the process.  In Australia, only a few people involved in the negotiations know the details and they are not allowed to reveal them to Parliament, let alone the Australian public..  How does one negotiate anything without knowing the ‘details’, we all know that’s where the devil is.  Why is there such need for secrecy with this trade agreement?  Our sovereign rights will be imperilled by the TPPA and the people may get a bit uppity about that.

The TPPA is the stuff Monsanto dreams are made of.  If everyone knew the full implications, via studies of independent, peer reviewed science; if these studies were available for scrutiny not only Monsanto’s research, Australians would not allow such madness.  If you knew a Monsanto GM food caused infertility in both men and women, immune system failure, holes in the gastro intestinal tract, multiple system failure, would you want to eat it, would you feed it to your kids?  Monsanto told us PCBs, Agent Orange and DDT were all safe, not a good track record on transparency.  Monsanto and other companies of their ilk will lie for profit; they have a history of it, what psychologists would call a pattern of behaviour.  It is up to our government to demand transparency from multi national corporations and view their findings by comparing and contrasting them to other genuine scientific studies.  Government will only do that if a well informed citizenry in turn hold government to account, once the TPPA is signed that will be impossible.

The fundamental assumption is corporations can sue sovereign states, but sovereign states can’t sue corporations operating in their territory.  Tribunals set up to deal with disputes are a one-way street.  Tribunals are not bound by precedent and have no appeal mechanism. When an investor-state tribunal rules in favour of a foreign investor, the government must pay the corporation an amount decided by the tribunal and funded by taxpayers.  The obvious consequence of the threat of such challenges is States will change or weaken regulations to avoid fines, or avoid enacting legislation that might attract a fine.  So no plain labelling on cigarettes, but definitely plain labelling on GMO foods.  Monsanto doesn’t want you to know you’re eating their product, they know we don’t want their poison.

Monsanto’s best known product in Australia is RoundUp.  Researchers found one of RoundUp’s inert ingredients can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.  The new findings intensify debate around “inerts” – the solvents, preservatives, surfactants and other substances manufacturers add to pesticides.  Glyphosate, RoundUp’s active ingredient, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States.  Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate, rather than the mixture of ingredients found in RoundUp.  A few years back Monsanto agreed with the New York Attorney General’s office to discontinue the use of the terms “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly” in adverts promoting glyphosate-based products, including RoundUp.  Biactive the ‘improved’ RoundUp is based on glyphosate, Monsanto boast that it is frog friendly and can be sprayed on and near waterways.  Monsanto does not disclose what the ‘improved’ surfactant is.  One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself.  “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on RoundUp-treated crops, lawns and gardens.  A research team suspects that RoundUp might cause pregnancy problems by interfering with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal foetal development, low birth weights or miscarriages.  The term “inert ingredient” is misleading, U.S. Federal law classifies all pesticide ingredients that don’t harm pests as inert.  However, some inert ingredients have been found to potentially affect human health.  Many amplify the effects of active ingredients by helping them penetrate clothing, protective equipment and cell membranes, or by increasing their toxicity.  RoundUp is in the hands of untrained people across the country-side spraying for all they are worth to save us from weeds.  There are many safe methods for dealing with weeds that are cheap and some not labour intensive.  It has been found that many weeds have become resistant to RoundUp, Fleabane is one that is quite common in Australia.  So, we are in fact making super weeds, like we have made super cockroaches and super bacteria by ill informed and out of control use of insecticides and antibiotics?  Spraying RoundUp kills fungi that colonise plant roots and aid in the uptake of soil mineral nutrients.  If people had these facts to hand why would they spray their gardens and veggie patches with a chemical that will cause a failure to thrive?  If you have a weed infestation it is best to know how to deal with it, or if it needs to be dealt with at all.  Annual weeds can be kept cut low so they don’t go to seed, they then will dye off and replenish the soil without disturbing it making it vulnerable to further infestations and erosion.  Steam is also being used in several local councils for weed eradication.  You can solarise weeds by watering the area and covering it with thin clear plastic.  Leave it for as long as possible, say over winter to early spring would be ideal and wha-la dead weeds, cheap, painless, safe, just plant up, mulch, follow up spot weed, job done without a drop of poison ready for summer veggies!  Plants grown in solarised soil soon after treatment have often benefited from improved seed germination, better stand establishment and improved plant height.  Increased growth responses are thought to be due primarily to the increase in soil nutrient availability, as a result of the breakdown of soil organic material.  For large trees, camphor laurels and the like you can deal with them with a strangler fig, no removal of habitat or soil disturbance just patience to let nature take its course.  Understanding your weeds helps, do they need to be removed at all?  If the weeds and the crops or flowers you are growing aren’t competing for the same soil nutrients the weeds can be left as green mulch to help stop erosion and maintain moisture in the soil.  The weeds in your lawn can feed you, many are high in nutrients, very tasty and if you have not been using chemicals a dandelion is a delicious food as are many other weeds.  It makes no sense to use RoundUp except to increase Monsanto’s bottom line.  We are very cavalier about its use and it’s one environmental problem that we, as individuals, can control to a large extent.  All we have to do is not purchase the stuff but informed decisions can only be made in a transparent environment.

The amount of water in the Great Artesian Basin could form a water cube of 40 kilometres, holding more than 100,000 times the water of Sydney Harbour.  The water is between thick layers of friable sandstone into an interlinked network of aquifers that stretch from Dubbo in NSW, through most of Queensland and parts of the Northern Territory and South Australia.  It ”flows” through pores in the rock at the glacial pace.

The coal seam gas industry as a whole could extract 300 billion litres per year over the next 25 years, most of it from the Great Artesian Basin, according to federal government estimates.  As farmers are grappling to do more with less and adapt to a more stringent licensing system, the water being sucked up from the basin as a by-product of coal seam gas extraction will see the total volume brought to the surface rise by 60 per cent.

The basin has existed for millions of years, but one of the biggest tests to its existence will come in the next decade.  Beneath the layers of water lie some of the world’s most extensive coal seams.  Just as the sandstone aquifers contain water, so the coal seams contain methane.

To get the methane to the surface tens of thousands of shafts will be threaded through the aquifer layers.  In most cases, water, sand and chemicals will then be forced down the shafts at high pressure, to fracture the coal seams and get to the gas.  Large amounts of underground water will also have to be pumped out. After a few years, the wells will have to be sealed so that no gas or water leaks out, ever.  This will have to be done without turning the fragile Great Artesian Basin into a continent-sized pin–cushion.

As mentioned, sand is used in the fracking process so this is another resource that will have to be extracted from somewhere reasonably close the fracking areas.  Just north of Sydney I know of a sand mine, very handy as it’s close to the freeway.  The sand is being produced by crushing the friable sandstone of a hanging swamp with endangered flora and fauna, rock engravings and a spectacular women’s site. A river has been removed, that’s illegal, the company didn’t have a water licence, that’s illegal.  Friable sandstone is like a sponge that holds water within aquifers, extractive industries put a hole in the bucket of our aquifers.  The impacts of this culture of extraction cannot be fully realised and the TPPA will tie our hands in determining how we want to maintain our environment.

I did a quick search of some of the known chemicals used and the very first chemical I searched Naphthalene, yep, sure enough produced by Monsanto….the second one; Triethanolamine Zirconate produced by Monsanto … but there are still no comprehensive list of all the chemicals used, it’s suspected there are about 36 chemicals altogether but they are secret like KFCs 11 herbs and spices, Coca Cola’s recipe and Monsanto’s secret surfactant in Biactive RoundUp.

The most important Australian court to date, due to its exceptionally detailed consideration of the precautionary principle, is Telstra Corporation Limited v Hornsby Shire Council.  The case was heard in the New South Wales Land and Environment Court in 2006.

The Principle was summarised by reference to the NSW Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991, which itself provides a good definition of the principle:

“If there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reasoning for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.  In the application of the principle… decisions should be guided by: (i) careful evaluation to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment; and (ii) an assessment of risk-weighted consequence of various options”.

The most significant points of Justice Preston’s decision are the following findings: The principle and accompanying need to take precautionary measures is “triggered” when two prior conditions exist: a threat of serious or irreversible damage, and scientific uncertainty as to the extent of possible damage.

Once both are satisfied, “a proportionate precautionary measure may be taken to avert the anticipated threat of environmental damage, but it should be proportionate.”

The threat of serious or irreversible damage should invoke consideration of five factors: the scale of threat (local, regional etc.); the perceived value of the threatened environment; whether the possible impacts are manageable; the level of public concern, and whether there is a rational or scientific basis for the concern.

The consideration of the level of scientific uncertainty should involve factors which may include: what would constitute sufficient evidence; the level and kind of uncertainty; and the potential to reduce uncertainty.  The principle shifts the burden of proof.  This principle will be null and void if the TPPA is signed.

Frederick Douglas said “Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning.  They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.  Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

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Gail Malone has a Cert. IV in Conservation and Land Management. Gail specialises in weed management.

 

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