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Corporations shell out $1.2mn in Senate contributions to fast-track TPP

RT | May 28, 2015

Records from the Federal Election Commission show corporations have been donating tens of thousands of dollars to Senate campaign coffers, particularly to lawmakers who were undecided over a controversial trade deal involving Pacific Rim countries.

Using data from the Federal Election Commission, the Guardian studied donations from the corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when debate over the trade deal was ramping up.

What the documents showed was that out of a total of nearly $1.2 million given, an average of $17,000 was donated to each of the 65 “yes” votes. Republicans received an average of $19,000 and Democrats received $9,700.

“It’s a rare thing for members of Congress to go against the money these days,” Mansur Gidfar, spokesman for the anti-corruption group Represent.Us, told the Guardian. “They know exactly which special interests they need to keep happy if they want to fund their re-election campaigns or secure a future job as a lobbyist.”

Fast-tracking the TPP means voting to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate a deal without permitting Congress to amend the final document. The Senate first voted to debate Trade Promotion Authority – the fast-track bill – by a 65-33 margin on May 14. On May 21, lawmakers voted 62-37 to bring the debate on TPA to a close and pass the bill.

Little is known about the specifics of the trade deal. According to a draft document leaked by WikiLeaks, the pact would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia, such as the ability to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings – federal, state or local – before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Besides the United States, the accord would include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Most business interests support the Pacific Rim deal while labor groups have said it will cost American jobs and suppress wages.

Just two days before the fast-track vote, when Obama’s trade deal lacked a filibuster-proof majority, six out of eight Democrats who were on the fence decided to vote in favor of fast-track. Senators Michael Bennett (Colorado), Patty Murray (Washington) and Ron Wyden (Oregon) all received contributions totaling $105,900 combined. Bennett alone received $53,700.

The other Democrats who voted in favor were Dianne Feinstein (California), Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and Bill Nelson (Florida), though it’s unclear if they received contributions.

“How can we expect politicians who routinely receive campaign money, lucrative job offers, and lavish gifts from special interests to make impartial decisions that directly affect those same special interests?” Gidfar told the Guardian. “As long as this kind of transparently corrupt behavior remains legal, we won’t have a government that truly represents the people.”

In comparison, almost 100 percent of Senate Republicans voted for fast-tracking the TPP, with “no” votes from Louisiana and Alaska. Seven of those Republicans are running for re-election in 2016 and received contributions to their campaigns – Senators Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Roy Blunt (Missouri) John McCain (Arizona), Richard Burr (NC), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Tim Scott (SC).

According to the Federal Election Commission documents, most of the donations came from corporations like Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

Read more: EU drops controls on dangerous chemicals after TTIP pressure from US – report

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tunisia museum attack: Who’s behind it, what are their goals?

RT | March 19, 2015

Groups like IS, which could be behind the Bardo Museum shootings, have a long history of collaborating with the West and may have attacked tourists just to maintain their anti-Western façade, says independent political analyst Dan Glazebrook.

RT: Do you think that the Western tourists were targeted on purpose?

Dan Glazebrook: Yeah, I think so. The thing is with ISIS and these groups – they have a long history of collaborating with the West. It’s fundamental to their appeal that they kind of try to present themselves as anti-Western. If you look over the last several years, they’ve been singing from the same song-sheet – whether it’s on Libya, the fight against Gaddafi; Syria, the fight against Assad. We’ve had revelations about fighters’ passage to Syria to go and fight against Assad being facilitated by MI5, by British intelligence. This all came out in the hearings in Mozambique last year. So these guys are on the same page, they are helping to fulfill the West strategic aims of destabilization in the area. … The thousands and thousands people they’ve killed, the vast majority of them have been other Muslims and non-white people. From time to time they have to kill some Europeans and some Westerners in order to maintain this façade of somehow being opposed to the West, whilst they continue to carry out and facilitate the West’s strategic aims.

RT: A large number of Islamic State fighters reportedly come from Tunisia. Why is that?

DG: It was estimated at one point that the actual majority of foreign fighters in Syria were of Tunisian origin, over 3,000… They’ve also fought in Libya; they’ve fought in terrorist campaigns in Algeria. There are many different reasons; part of it is a kind of extremist backlash against the extremist secularism of the previous President [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali and his predecessor [Habib Bourguiba]. But I think a lot of it is just simply to do with the economics and finances. There is very high unemployment in Tunisia. It is rumored that you can get up to $27,000 a year for going to fight for ISIS… Billions of dollars were put into these sectarian militias to build up these groups by Saudi Arabia and the USA as a bulwark against the resistance axis of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. These billions of dollars are still slushing around.

‘Attack might be publicizing Ansar al-Sharia’s merger with ISIS’

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, also commented on the Tunis museum attack.

RT: No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Who in your view is most likely to be behind it?

Brian Levin: The most likely would probably be Ansar al-Sharia which is a radical Salafist terrorist group which started in Tunisia shortly after the Tunisian revolution in January, 2011. It was formed three months later by a fellow named Abu Ayadh. That is the most likely suspect, although, ISIS affiliates are present in neighboring Libya as well.

RT: Do you think the attackers were pursuing any particular goal with this terrible assault?

BL: Yes, I would think that if it is Ansar al-Sharia or if Ansar al-Sharia is using this to publicize some kind of merger with ISIS – this would be the time and the place to do it. Tunisia, as I said, in an area where ISIS has been exporting its brand of radicalism. That is one thing – Tunisia is Western friendly and it has got a strong economy.

RT: Earlier, a warning for tourists had been issued calling on them not to visit certain areas. Is this kind of attack in Tunisia a rare event and just how dangerous is the country for travelers?

BL: There have been advisories put out about travel to Tunisia. Its biggest industries are in fact tourism and minerals. It is a democratic society and it is Western friendly. Its economy is strong [but] it relies on these exports and tourism. And an attack like this could really hurt the economy in a place where there is fragility with respect to the economic situation. Remember again, Tunisia was the success story of the Arab Spring. This is the time and the place where groups like ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia are trying to make radicalism an imprint there and in the neighboring countries as well.

RT: The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that IS was behind the attack. Do you believe that that is likely?

BL: It could be in a sense to the extent that these actors had the same goal… Ansar Al-Sharia is allying itself with the al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa. The fact of the matter is it very well could be ISIS. ISIS does have an imprint in North Africa. One of the things that ISIS had wanted to do even when it was just AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] back in 2004, they wanted to export their terrorism to places like Jordan, and now has an imprint in places like Libya which neighbors Tunisia.

Read more 17 tourists, 2 locals slain in Tunis museum attack

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rich get richer from fewer labor unions, study says

RT | February 28, 2015

A study by the International Monetary Fund tracked three decades of income and found that as unionization declined, the wealth of the richest 10 percent in advanced countries showed a continuous increase.

More specifically, the study’s authors found that when researching income levels during the period of 1980-2010, the decline in unionization explained about half of the rise in incomes for the richest 10 percent, and half of the increase in the Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality).

“While some inequality can increase efficiency by strengthening incentives to work and invest, recent research suggests that higher inequality is associated with lower and less sustainable growth in the medium run, even in advanced economies,” argued the paper’s authors, Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron.

The authors said traditional research has argued that the rise of inequality in advanced economies can be attributed to skill-based technology changes – such as new technology displacing workers – and globalization. They found that these developments led to some inequality changes at different rates and magnitudes, but not enough to account for the consistent increase in inequality that was being measured.

Researchers looked for answers in recent studies that made the claim that financial deregulation and lower taxes were another factor – but again, that wasn’t showing the steady increases that researchers were charting.

“…A rising concentration of income at the top of the distribution can reduce a population’s welfare if it allows top earners to manipulate the economic political system in their favor,” they wrote, referring to things such as lower taxes and business subsidies.

They then considered what effect the decline in unionization and a flat-lining minimum wage could have on wealth disparity. Previous research said such things were unlikely to have a direct impact, but that is not what Jaumotte and Buitron found. They took samples of advanced economies between 1980 and 2010 and considered gross income, labor market institutions and controls for globalization, financial liberalization, and common global trends.

“Our results confirm that the decline in unionization is strongly associated with the rise of income shares at the top…about half the increase…in net income is driven by deunionization,” said Jaumotte and Buitron.

Economists argue that stronger unions and higher minimum wages increase unemployment, but there isn’t strong evidence to support the claim. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development only found three studies out of 17 that showed an association between unions and unemployment.

What it did find was that union rules lead to equal pay for workers, and that unionization didn’t maintain wages above “market-clearing” levels and cause unemployment. And unions, by mobilizing workers, encourage policymakers to engage in income redistribution and support for social and labor rights.

In the US, there were 14.5 million union members in 2013, or 11.3 percent of the working population, compared with 17.7 million in 1983. Union members in the private sector have fallen under seven percent, levels not seen since 1932. Internationally, Germany has 18.4 percent of its population in unions, Canada 27.5 percent, and Finland 70 percent.

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

Monsanto agrochemicals causing genetic damage in soybean workers – study

RT | January 22, 2015

Soybean workers exposed to the agrochemicals like glyphosate, the main component in Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ herbicide and other biocides, suffer from elevated DNA and cell damage, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, involved 127 people, including 81 exposed to biocides while working in the Brazilian soybean industry and 46 non-exposed individuals in a control group.

The exposed group exhibited an elevated level of cellular apoptosis, as well as DNA damage, according to researcher Danieli Benedetti and his team, which concluded that the now-common use of genetically-modified soybeans in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, especially in the city of Espumoso, has toxic ramifications for workers.

“Our findings indicate the advisability of monitoring genetic toxicity in soybean farm workers exposed to pesticides,” the researchers said.

Genetically-engineered seeds, proliferated across the globe by multinational agribusiness conglomerates like Monsanto, are designed to withstand dousing by glyphosate and other biocides in order to terminate insect, fungus, and weed nuisances.

Benedetti’s team focused specifically on Glyphosate and 2,4-D, the two top biocide components in American-biotechnology farming culture. Glyphosate is the prime ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup products, while Dow Chemical’s 2,4-D is a potent herbicide that was also used in making Agent Orange, the chemical used by the US to devastate resistance during the Vietnam War.

Last spring, Brazil’s public prosecutor sought to suspend use of glyphosate based on its toxic effects. Studies have linked glyphosate to a fatal kidney disease that has affected poor farming regions worldwide.

Just last week, Monsanto won final approval from the US for its new genetically-modified soybeans and cotton, designed to withstand a dominant biocide that fights weed resistance built up as a result of the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide already in use.

Monsanto reported an earnings drop of 34 percent in its first fiscal quarter. The company reportedly lost $156 million in the fourth quarter of last year due to a one-time payment made to settle an environmental legal case.

As multinationals such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical have sought strict standardization in agriculture markets the world over, the corporate leviathans, especially the former, have become the target of considerable protests and demonstrations.

Companies like Monsanto market their own patented seeds that, given their genetic modification, can be doused with biocides to kill pests and weeds, and which can jeopardize long-term health of the soil and the necessary biodiversity of a local environment that allows for natural pollination and, thus, food security.

In May of last year, activists on five continents around the globe, comprising of 52 nations organized resistance under the ‘March against Monsanto’ umbrella. Protests positioned against Monsanto and involving other corporate-food issues occurred in around 400 cities worldwide, according to reports.

Just this past weekend, more than 120 organizations joined the fifth annual ‘We are Fed Up!’ demonstration in Berlin to focus on the increased importation of American farming practices – such as genetic modification, frequent antibiotic injections for animals, and chemical meat treatments – following the implementation of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Protests have raged most furiously in Europe, where the EU recently approved a law that would let its nations ban genetically-modified organisms even if the EU had deemed them safe. Monsanto said last year it would not try to get any more GM crops approved in Europe given the consistent pushback.

Anger and unrest against Monsanto’s stranglehold has also spread to South America. In Argentina, protests have occurred in resistance to the company’s potent biocides used in tandem with their genetically-engineered seeds. In Brazil, farmers have called on Monsanto and other producers of pest-resistant corn seeds to reimburse them for money spent on additional biocides when the bugs killed the crops instead of dying themselves, speaking to the biocide arms race involved in using GM seeds. Brazilian soy exporters are also tangling with Monsanto over seed royalties.

In Central America, Guatemala’s highest court suspended in September a controversial ‘Monsanto Law,’ a provision of a US-Central American trade agreement, that would insulate transnational seed corporations considered to have “discovered” new plant varieties.

On its home turf in the United States, Monsanto has worked diligently with other multinational biotech, agribusiness, and food production companies to beat down state-level proposals to simply label whether food is comprised of GM ingredients.

The most recent example came in the state of Oregon, where a November ballot initiative to require GMO labeling was narrowly defeated in what became the most expensive ballot measure in the state’s history. The likes of Monsanto and Dupont flushed more than $21 million into the anti-labeling campaign, dwarfing the $9 million raised by proponents.

The company has sued Hawaii’s Maui County for passing last year that bans the cultivation of genetically modified organisms.

Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters have been the target of mild protests, especially during shareholder meetings.

Meanwhile, agribusiness allies on Capitol Hill are pushing new federal legislation, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, that would standardize food labeling, effectively killing popular state-based efforts to pass labeling laws.

READ MORE:

Monsanto gets approval for new GMO corn, soybeans designed for potent new biocide

Rising suicide rate for Indian farmers blamed on GMO seeds

In facts & numbers: Absolute majority of Americans want GMO food to be labeled

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guatemala defies ‘Monsanto Law’ pushed by US as part of trade agreement

RT | September 3, 2014

The highest court in Guatemala has suspended the controversial ‘Monsanto Law,’ a provision of a US-Central American trade agreement, that would insulate transnational seed corporations considered to have “discovered” new plant varieties.

The Constitutional Court suspended on Friday the law – passed in June and due to go into effect on Sept. 26 – after a writ of amparo was filed by the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Peasant Movement, which argued the law would harm the nation, LaVoz reported.

The Court’s decision came after several Guatemalan parliamentarians from both the governing Patriotic Party and the opposition party Renewed Democratic Freedom said they would consider repealing the law after outcry from a diverse cross-section of Guatemalans.

The decision also offers interested parties 15 days to present their arguments pertaining to the law in front of the Constitutional Court. Members of both political parties said they would present motions to resist the law.

The ‘Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties,’ dubbed the ‘Monsanto Law’ by critics for its formidable seed-privatization provisions, is an obligation for all nations that signed the 2005 CAFTA-DR free trade agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. The agreement requires signatories to adhere to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties.

The law offers producers of transgenic seeds, often corporate behemoths like Monsanto, strict property rights in the event of possession or exchange of original or harvested seeds of protected varieties without the breeder’s authorization. A breeder’s right extends to “varieties essentially derived from the protected variety,” thus, a hybrid of a protected and unprotected seed belongs to the protected seed’s producer.

The Rural Studies Collective (Cer-Ixim) warned that the law would monopolize agriculture processes, severely threaten food sovereignty – especially those of indigenous peoples – and would sacrifice national biodiversity “under the control of domestic and foreign companies.”

The National Alliance for Biodiversity Protection said in July that the law is unconstitutional “because it violates the rights of peoples. It will benefit transnational seed companies such as Monsanto, Duwest, Dupont, Syngenta, etc.”

“According to this law, the rights of plant breeders are superior to the rights of peoples to freely use seeds,” the Alliance said in a statement.

“It’s a direct attack on the traditional knowledge, biodiversity, life, culture, rural economy and worldview of Peoples, and food sovereignty,” the Alliance added.

Anyone who violates the law, wittingly or not, could face a prison term of one to four years, and fines of US$130 to $1,300.

It is unclear what options the Guatemalan government has given the obligations under CAFTA-DR. The US would likely put pressure on the nation to pass the law, part of a global effort using trade agreements to push further corporate control over trade sectors like agriculture in the name of modernization. Upon further refusal, the US could drop Guatemala from the trade agreement.

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Swiss take obligatory army service to referendum

RT | September 18, 2013

On Sunday, the Swiss are voting on a proposal to abolish military conscription in favor of a voluntary army. The country with no clear foes and a long tradition of neutrality could find better ways of spending money than playing at war, proponents say.

Switzerland, once a proud supplier of mercenaries for numerous wars in Europe, has maintained a policy of armed neutrality for the last five centuries. It isn’t a member of any defense pacts and wasn’t even member of the United Nations until 2002. But it has an army of 150,000, the size of Austria’s, Belgium’s, Norway’s, Finland’s and Sweden’s armies combined.

Under Swiss law, all able-bodied males must take part in compulsory military service between the ages of 18 and 34. This comprises 18 to 21 weeks of basic training and further yearly refresher courses lasting 19 days. Senior officers may have to serve up to the age of 50 and spend more than twice as much time on army duty than ordinary recruits.

Boot camp is praised by advocates as a character-building experience, which teaches working in a team under stress and gives a chance to develop leadership skills. It also serves as a kind of glue for Swiss society, with connections made in the service lasting on in civilian life. For a country with four different language groups, it is seen by many Swiss as crucial for national unity.

The military is also the cornerstone of the Swiss militia, which has a role similar to the National Guard in the US. Those in the army help civilian authorities and respond to natural disasters and other major events. Many continue helping society as volunteers after retiring from the service by joining the fire service, participating in local politics. or serving other public duties.

An anachronism that costs too much

However, there are plenty who see military traditions as an expensive anachronism, which is no longer necessary. The pacifist Group for Switzerland without an Army (GSoA) has gathered the 100,000 signatures necessary to put their abolition proposal to a national referendum.

Referenda are essential to Switzerland’s direct form of democracy and are held several times a year at national, regional and local levels. An initiative must win support from a majority of voters and a majority of cantons to be passed and made law.

GSoA, which has been campaigning against obligatory army service since 1982, argues that the country located in the heart of Europe doesn’t need big military firepower to protect itself and that a purely voluntary force would suffice. It criticizes conscription, which excludes Swiss women and disrupts study and work for men, costing an estimated $4.3 billion to the economy annually.

“Not everyone has time to play war,” declares the GSoA campaign poster.

The group has pushed unsuccessfully for several referendums in the past, trying to scrap the military, preventing the procurement of American fighter jets, banning all arms exports from Switzerland, and stopping the Swiss tradition of conscripts keeping their assault rifles at home after initial training.

Sunday’s vote is not expected to go in favor of the GSoA. A survey by Swiss television in August revealed that 40 per cent of respondents would reject the initiative, with another 17 per cent leaning that way. The support for the military is particularly strong in the older generations, with 68 per cent of those over 65 opposing the initiative. Less than a third of Swiss people support the proposal.

“Switzerland needs an army,” says Jakob Büchler of the Christian Democrat Party (CVP), a member of the National Council, which rejected the initiative as cited by The Local. “We are a small country, we are a neutral country, and we are a country that isn’t in any defense alliances. We have to therefore organize our own defense and security ourselves, and that’s why we need an army.”

Opponents of the initiative fear that there won’t be enough volunteers for military service and Switzerland would then have to start a costly change to a professional army.

Globalization advancing

Lately, GSoA reasoning has found support from an increasing number of multinational firms who are not happy to see local staff being sent to boot camps, reports Reuters. The contact-building aspect of the military is diminishing too, with Swiss companies being infiltrated by foreigners – just six of the CEOs at Switzerland’s top 20 companies hold Swiss nationality – and of course females are climbing the corporate ladder, too. Meanwhile young men nowadays have other options such as internships abroad.

While the GSoA proposal is likely to be thrown out, they are still hoping for a strong showing of support for their stance as they continue their fight. “The more ‘yes’ votes we receive, the greater the pressure will be to reform the army,” says Seraina Patzen, a spokeswoman for the group.

The Swiss military are not objecting to undergoing reform. They have already shrunk the number of troops considerably. In the late 1980s Switzerland had 800,000 soldiers and officers, but by 2003 the number had dropped to 350,000. The plan is to reduce the current army of 150,000 to 100,000 in coming years.

Conscription rules were made less strict. Since 1996 conscientious objectors may serve an extended period in the civil service as an alternative to joining the military.

But the Defense Ministry maintains that a conscripted military is necessary for the country. During a recent media tour of barracks, Defense Minister Ueli Maurer said Switzerland may not face an enemy in the field, but may become, for example, a target of a cyber attack disrupting the transport network. In order for the army to respond to national emergencies, it needs to be able to draw on the best IT specialists, engineers and technicians the country has to offer.

September 18, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Globesity’: US junk food industry tips global scales

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By Robert Bridge | RT | September 07, 2013

From Mexico to Qatar, obesity rates are soaring to unprecedented levels. The alarming trend is damaging economic performance, as well as the health of millions of consumers worldwide.

Take our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, mix in a generous portion of American fast-food and dubious agricultural practices, add a dash of corporate duplicity and you have a recipe for high obesity rates across the planet.

The newly released United Nations report on global nutrition does not make for very appetizing reading: Amid an already floundering global economy, the reality of a fattening planet is dragging down world productivity rates while increasing health insurance costs to the tune of $3.5 trillion dollars per year – or 5 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

31.8 percent of US adults are now considered clinically obese. This is a remarkable figure, especially considering that it is approximately double the US obesity rate registered in 1995, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

An individual is considered obese when their body mass index (BMI), a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of the person’s height in meters, exceeds 30 kg/m2, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, much of the international community is quickly catching up with the global consumption superpower. Mexico, for example, just surpassed US obesity rates with a whopping 32.8 percent of Mexican adults now considered to be clinically obese.

The unprecedented weight gains in Mexico, however, as well as many other countries, appear to be no accident.

Following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico became the dumping ground for a slew of cheap fast food and carbonated drinks, according to a Foreign Policy report.

Thanks to NAFTA, there was a more than 1,200 percent increase in high-fructose corn syrup exports from the US to Mexico between 1996 and 2012, according to the US Agriculture Department. In an effort to place a cap on the high-calorie drinks, Mexican officials introduced a tax on beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup. American corn refiners, however, cried foul and the tax was voted down by the World Trade Organization.

Mexicans now consume 43 gallons of soda per capita annually, giving the country the world’s highest rate of soda consumption, according to estimates by Mexico’s national statistics agency.

Yet another disturbing casualty on the obesity trail is tiny Qatar, an oil-rich Arab nation of 250,000 people that is also rich in fast food diets.

“Like most people in the Arab Gulf, (Qataris) were traditionally desert-dwelling and therefore much more physically active,” according to a 2012 report by Policymic.com. “Now, cars have replaced camels and fast food and home deliveries take the place of home cooking. Even housework and child rearing is left to maids and nannies.”

Today, some 45 percent of Qatari adults are obese and up to 40 percent of school children are obese as well.
Last month, nutrition experts from around the world shared their views at an obesity and nutrition conference in Sydney. For many of the attendees, the primary culprit in the global obesity scourge is out-of-control corporate power, where the free market decides everything.

The rise of global fast food outlets has been a key change in our environment leading to fattier foods and fatter people, Bruce Neal, professor at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, told the Indo-Asian News Service.

“As fast as we get rid of all our traditional vectors of disease – infections, little microbes, bugs – we are replacing them with the new vectors of disease, which are massive transnational, national, multinational corporations selling vast amounts of salt, fat and sugar,” Neal said.

John Norris, writing in Foreign Policy, explained some of the global dynamics that contributed to the so-called “globesity” epidemic, including the soft drink industry’s move to use cheaper high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar in many of their products.

“Suddenly, it was cheaper to put high-fructose corn syrup in everything from spaghetti sauce to soda. Coke and Pepsi swapped out sugar for high-fructose corn syrup in 1984, and most other US soda and snack companies followed suit,” Norris wrote. “US per capita consumption of high-fructose corn syrup spiked from less than half a pound a year in 1970 to a peak of almost 38 pounds a year in 1999.”

While some might be tempted to downplay the negative effects of such a harmless sounding additive, researchers from Canada’s University of Guelph, as pointed out by Norris, discovered that a high-fructose corn syrup diet in rats produced “addictive behavior similar to that from cocaine use.”

As obesity explodes, US fast food companies look abroad.

Americans, thanks in part to First Lady Michele Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ program, have recently woken up to the unsustainability of their soda guzzling, fast food ways. Other politicians and activists have also weighed in on the debate, making the environment for the fast food industry not as comfortable as in the past.

In March, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attracted the ire of the soft drink industry when he placed a ban on the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 ounces. Violators will be fined $200.

In his 2004 a documentary film, “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock stunned audiences by tracking the physical effects on his body – none of them positive – after consuming nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days. As a result of the experiment, Spurlock gained 24½ lbs. (11.1 kg), a 13 percent body mass increase, and a cholesterol level of 230, among other negative side-effects.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call for the fast food industry came in 2002 when two teenagers accused McDonald’s of deceptively marketing its menu from 1985 to 2002, causing them, they alleged, to become obese. The judge dismissed the case in 2010, but the message to the industry was crystal clear.

As a result of these and other public awareness campaigns, the American fast food industry – although slower than some may like – has been gradually rewriting their menus and marketing campaigns, many of which are aimed at kids.

At the same time, the junk food industry – sensing the sea change of attitudes in the United States as the physical effects of junk food manifests itself – are investing increasingly in foreign markets where public awareness of the subject is not so developed.

Similar to the crackdown on the tobacco industry in the late 1990s, US fast food companies are busy setting up shop abroad for easy, unregulated markets to hawk their wares.

Already the size of their presence is breathtaking: “Coca-Cola and PepsiCo together control almost 40 percent of the world’s $532 billion soft drink market, according to the Economist. Soda sales, meanwhile, have more than doubled in the last 10 years, with much of that growth driven by developing markets. McDonald’s investors were disappointed that the company only turned $1.4 billion in profit during the second quarter of 2013, having become used to years of double-digit gains every three months,” according to the Foreign Policy report.

So while the United States is steadily finding ways to regulate its fast food, soft drink industry, and thus nip the obesity epidemic in the bud, it is, at the same time, legislating on behalf of unhealthy exports abroad.

Now the question is, will the rest of the world bite the hand that feeds?

September 7, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment