This isn’t original, and it’s only tentatively about food/coffee. However, it has made me angry enough to repost it. This may not be ‘news’ as such, as what I am about to quote was written in 2004. However, it is news to me, because although on some level I was aware of what was going on, I had no idea of how bad it actually is.
A bit of background. Columbia is the world’s third largest producer of coffee. The industry employs over half a million people. In amongst the political turmoil, (backed by the US) guerilla warfare, corruption, grinding poverty (again, a result of US influence) and drugs (which are sold to the US most directly), there grows a lot of decent coffee tended by farmers in conditions near to slavery. The coffee is not the most amazing, niether is it dire, but it is very very consistant. As such, it finds its way into a lot of ‘blends’ – as in, it’s mixed with better quality stuff and sold on at a higher price, or it goes into instant coffee, or into cheaper filter coffees where people are after the caffeine not the flavour.
I am currently reading “Coffee – a Dark History” by Antony Wild, and the following disturbing stuff is from that book.
“The civil war [in Columbia] is escalating as the US seeks to defend its oil interests, World Bank strictures have led to a doubling of unemployment in the last ten years, and there has been a 30% drop in real terms in the national average income. …. Coffee farmers in the ‘Zona Cafetera’ are abandoning previously flourishing coffee farms, or taking to coca and poppy planting to supplement their income. In the south, where such plants are more widespread, US planes spray them from the air with Monsanto’s Roundup or Roundup-Ultra (its more virulant form), killing all and any crops, polluting rivers, and causing widespread health problems, as well as laying waste over a million acres in the last five years. When a demonstration of the sprayers accuracy was mounted to impress visiting US senator Paul Wellstone, a democrat opposed to American military aid for Columbia, he and his aides were accidently drenched in the herbicide. Before it could be determined what long term harm may have befallen him as a result, Wellstone was killed in a plane crash in the run up to the 2002 Senate elections. The death of the most vociferous Democratic critic of the then potential war in Iraq, just as sabres were rattling ever louder, was seen by some as an eerie coincidence….
Monsanto were one of the suppliers of chemicals for the Vietnam war including the notorious Agent Orange. Whilst Monsanto acknowledge, in the 130 countries worldwide where they are marketed, that Roundup and Roundup-Ultra should be used with caution to avoid damage to humans, animals and other flora, it has long been suspected there has not been adequate research into the possible effects on humans of enhanced Roundup Ultra Cosmo Flux 411 F, which apparently has been deployed by the US government without the knowledge of the Columbian government. The US ‘War on Drugs’ has frightening implications for the Columbian ecosystem, and if coca and poppy planting continue to move into areas where coffee is grown, the health effects of the spraying could be felt globally.
Within the USA, Monsanto’s reassurances regarding the safety of their operations have been shown to be lamentably wanting: they were recently found guilty by a court in Alabama of conduct ‘so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilised society.’ The case concerned the long-term poisoning and systematic cover-up of the toxic pollution of the poor community of Anniston. The company was heavily fined as a result, but it is clear that, for this corporation at least, the wages of sin substantially exceed the costs of virtue.”
Jesus Cristo en bicicleta!!!!
Not only is this bloody stupid, totally unethical, illegal (it is akin to biological warfare), it is also virtually ineffective. The US spends a great deal of money on this so-called War on Drugs – financing Columbia’s right-wing puppet government, its military and its brutal policeforce, as well as sending in the planes to poison the crops, and then more in the form of World Bank/IMF loans to ensure ‘education and development’ for their embarrassingly poor neighbours.
Surely a far more sensible thing to do was the stop funding the corrupt government and military, and put the money into sustainable development programs to actually support the coffee industry, improving the lot of the plantation workers, and ensuring a guaranteed, fair price for coffee . If Columbians were allowed to elect the government they actually want, there would be no need for the guerilla fighters, (although, admittedly, it might lead to that which the US fears more than anything, a vaguely left-wing administration with unfashionable social conciences). Guaranteeing a price for Columbia’s coffee would not only help the industry and national economy as a whole, it would also prevent coffee farmers actually starving, and negate the need for them to turn towards growing coca for a living. The cocaine industry could effectively be made obsolete as soon as growing coffee becomes more profitable than growing coca.
I maybe naive or oversimplifying things to my own ends somewhat, but if I can figure this much out, surely others in more practical positions to do something about it could do so as well?
There is a nice irony to all of this. That is, nearly two-thirds of Columbia’s 560,000 tonnes a year of coffee goes directly to roasters and retailers in the US. So basically, Jillian, Dan, et al, if you suddenly grow webbed feet or go blind after drinking your coffee, you can be safe in the knowledge that the stuff sprayed on the coffee crops was employed directly by your government, based on assurances from Mon$anto, and no doubt it has helped to rid the world of a small section of the cocaine industry…..
As Carl says, There is no underestimating the stupidity of some sections of humanity.