When American industry manufactures a product that is so dangerous to human health that consumers rebel against it or government bans it, the manufacturers withdraw the stuff from the market and move on to make something else–right?
I’m afraid not, Pollyanna. Instead, American manufacturers have an atrocious history of simply moving their banned nasties to Third World countries, dumping the products on unsuspecting poor people. Take DDT … please! When the makers of this cancer-causing pesticide were stopped some 40 years ago from selling and spreading this deadly poison in the U.S., they jumped to Mexico and other Latin American nations.
Now, here we go again. Monsanto and other U.S. manufacturers of genetically-altered crops literally have come a cropper in trying to sell their Frankenfoods in Europe, where they’ve been banned, and in our country, where a growing consumer rebellion has spooked retailers and processors from buying these genetically contaminated foods.
So, Monsanto and the rest are trying to peddle their tampered foodstuffs to the world’s poor. Particularly disgusting is their shameful claim that they’re doing this out of humanitarian concern. The lab techs, they say, can splice foreign genes into rice that will juice up its vitamin A content, thus improving the health of millions of Third World children. Kit Bond, the senator from Monsanto, even put 30 million of our tax dollars into a foreign aid spending bill to buy Monsanto’s Frankenrice for distribution to the poor, piously saying that the funds will “liberate millions from the tyranny of hunger.”
Hogwash. Genetic food tampering is about putting millions into the coffers of Monsanto. These products have not been proven safe for use by us–so why should the world’s poor be Monsanto’s guinea pigs? What the world needs is affordable food that’s widely distributed–not genetic technology pushed by cold-eyed profiteers.
LOOTING THE TONGAN GENE POOL
Let’s travel again into Hightower’s Far, Far, Far-out Frontiers of Free Enterprise.
Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you sliding down a slippery slope into a strange world where literally everything seems to be for sale–including the very genetic make-up of the inhabitants! It seems that an Australian biotech corporation calling itself Autogen Limited has purchased the exclusive global rights to the entire gene pool of the people of Tonga. This Polynesian nation of some 110,000 people is one of several that Autogen Ltd. wants to wrap up, genetically speaking, making it the only company allowed to perform genetic studies on the entire Polynesian race.
An Australian newspaper, the Adelaide Advertiser, reports that the DNA of Tongans and other people of Polynesia are especially valuable to biotech profiteers, for these indigenous people have long been genetically isolated from other populations of the world, creating a relatively “pure” ethnic pool. Using the unique DNA of Polynesians, Autogen Limited plans to link their genes to certain diseases and then engineer drugs that could put hundreds of millions of dollars into its own corporate coffers. To extract the DNA, Autogen reportedly is building a research lab on Tonga’s main island, next to the country’s only hospital. The blood of patients who come there would go to Autogen’s lab technicians.
It’s said that the Tongan government will get royalties from any drugs developed from its people’s DNA, and that this is a deal that can produce both jobs for the people and money to finance better health care for them. Yet critics note that the people themselves have not been told of the deal.
The biotech company and the Tongan government stand accused of bio-piracy– looting the people’s biological essence and selling it like a commodity. If they can seize the Tongans’ DNA for profiteering purposes, what’s to prevent another company from looting yours?
LIVING WAGE FOR CONTRACTORS
Here’s a novel concept: If you work full time and do a good job, you shouldn’t be paid so poorly that you live in poverty.
Try to tell that to the federal government, though. An independent study released by ACORN, the grassroots advocacy group for the working poor, finds that corporations enjoying fat, tax-paid contracts from the feds are paying poverty wages to the people actually doing the contract work. The same federal government that sets precise standards for, say the tensile strength of screws that it buys, sets no standards for the fair pay of people working under its contracts.
The study, conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, revealed that 11 percent of federal contract employees receive less than a “living wage,” which is to say their paychecks are too low to lift them and their families above the poverty level. In this period of economic prosperity and federal surpluses, in this period when Congress annually raises its own pay, in this period when federal contracts routinely cover the million-dollar paychecks of the corporate CEOs getting the contracts–it’s absurd that our tax dollars would be used to subsidize sub-poverty pay.
Ironically, while the companies profit on the backs of these workers, many of the workers themselves have to turn to food stamps, housing assistance, and other federal poverty programs just to make ends meet. This means that we taxpayers are hit with a double whammy: first, we’re subsidizing low-wage companies, then we have to provide services to assuage the poverty of their workers.
Better that the contractors themselves be required to pay fair wages from the start, which is why the Living Wage Responsibility Act has been introduced in Congress, sponsored by Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. It requires big businesses that get federal contracts to pay their employees a wage no less than the federal poverty level. For more information, contact ACORN: 202-547-2500.
Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. His website is www.jimhightower.com.