Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wrestling With All That Mud

It's widely reported that a milestone of sorts has been reached in Java as it marks the one year anniversary of the birth of a mud well of sorts spun completely out of control. At this report the mud well/volcano has been spewing splooge for a year and no end is in sight.
"B-b-but Sparky! I thought this was an agricultural law blog!" Yes, I know, I know, but this is interesting.
It seems that this was no natural phenomenon. A year ago an exploratory well being drilled blew out and that's when things really started going to hell in a wheelbarrow. The well continues to produce millions of barrels of boiling hot mud each day that has covered major roads, caused better than 40,000 people to lose their homes and has buried factories, railways and infrastructure.
Nobody seems to have a clue as to how to remediate the situation. Dumping the stuff in a local river clogged that up pretty much, droppong concrete balls down the borehole didn't help, and now it's supposed that a giant dam can be built around the mud spewing crater.
There's a bright spot in all this. There isn't a dime of American money involved.
photo credits to Al Jazeera.

You Are What You Eat, But Not In China

It is reported today by Al Jazeera (that's right, folks, the bes' li'l ole news organization that ever prowled the back streets of the middle east on a Sheikh's expense account) and others that the former head of China's food and drug safety regulatory agency has been condemned to death for what amounted to whoring out his regulatory power to the highest bidder. The take for Zheng Xiayou was on the order of $780,000 or thereabouts.

According to sources he took bribes that enabled approval of one antibiotic that killed at least ten patients before it was removed from the market. Zheng's conduct was egregious even by China's lax standards concerning official corruption.

Apparently the stink from this person offended even the government of the PRC because it's getting in the way of business-and that's what China's all about, folks. And anyone who gets in the way of business and foreign trade is going to get run over.

Whether it will change much remains to be seen, but unless the underlying food safety issues are adequately addressed, there's likely to be still more trouble up ahead for China's food exporting business

Al Jazeera also has a few juicy items in a sidebar that bear further investigation:
  • antibiotics in imported catfish that have caused Mississippi and Alabama to ban imports
  • antibiotic and pesticide residues in shrimp and other items imported to Japan and Europe
  • turbot ( a fish) artfully doctored with malachite green, a carcinogen, exported to Hong Kong

(these can be explained by noting that the water in China that fish are grown in is more than ordinarily polluted, thus the need for antibiotics and fungicides like malachite green)

  • poisonous baby formula, saltwater passed off as rabies vaccine, and carcinogenic dyes injected to make egg yolks more colorful, all in China.

Stay tuned.

Picture credit to AlJazeera.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Order 81 "Controversy": Tales Told By Idiots

For some reason, about two months ago we here at Law Down On The Farm started seeing an increase of mail in the mailbag on the subject of Coalition Provisional Authority Order 81. As you know already, CPA81 was instituted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in April 2004. It's a revision of Iraqi law concerning protection of intellectual property.

You can read CPA81 here.

In particular, Chapter three quater was singled out for scrutiny as it institutes some protection for plant breeders.

The discourse was about like the following snippet:

Iraqi Order 81 is of special interest because it goes a long way in affecting every living being on the planet. This order prohibits Iraqi farmers from using the methods of agriculture that they have used for centuries. The common worldwide practice of saving heirloom seeds from one year to the next is now illegal in Iraq. Order 81 wages war on Iraqi farmers. They have lost the freedom and liberty to choose their own methods of agriculture

Pretty strong stuff. But it didn't stop there.

Jeremy Smith in The Ecologist called Order 81 "the ultimate war crime". Galil Hassan says of Iraqi farmers "the fate of their food sources and agricultural heritage is being looted behind closed doors."

"B-b-but Sparky! What does it do? What in the hell is going on here?!" you say.

Good question.

It seems that Iraq's farmers have a tradition of saving seed from year to year-like many farmers the world over, even a few here in the United States.

It also seems that Iraq's agricultural sector is in decline.

Galil Hassan blames it on 'criminal sanctions' -that's Newspeak for the U.N.'s Oil for Food Program and the sanctions imposed after Iraq's brutal invasion of Kuwait....didja forget that, Mr. Hassan?

It's quite likely that the decline of Iraqi agriculture began a few years before the sanctions. A cruise through the FAOs website suggests that desertification, salinization, and mismanagement on a governmental level are as much to blame as sanctions and war for the parlous state of the agricultural system in Iraq. In addition, Iraqi farmers were forced to sell the wheat and barley they grew to the old regime's government trading monopoly at artifically low prices. There's a universal principle at work here-nobody likes to work for free, either here, in Iraq, or any place else.

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization says that 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers saved seed in 2002, and their report indicates that productivity declined steeply in the 1990s because of lack of machinery, low use of inputs (presumably fertilizer and herbicides), and deteriorating soil quality and irrigation infrastructure.

In an effort to increase Iraqi agricultural productivity, high yield plant varieties are being sent to Iraqi farmers in an effort to increase production of foodstuffs.

These include varieties of wheat that are used to produce pasta.

Somehow or other, because Iraqis do not generally eat pasta products, this is seen as the thin end of a wedge that's going to force GMOs on Iraqi farmers and make them pay for seed that replaces that which they used to save and rope them into some sort of subjugation to Monsanto for herbicides and patented seed varieties.

Nonsense. It's an effort to produce more food to eat, and to produce plant varieties that can be marketed and exported.

So....back to Order 81, in particular Article 3.

It allows for registration of plant varieties that have an identifiable genotype that is developed by selection or presumably by genetic engineering, and it prohibits propagation of a registered variety without the assent of the breeder. It also prohibits using saved seed from protected varieties. Protection will last 20 years from the date of registration.

That's it. No big plot to shanghai poor farmers in their loincloths. Nothing compels farmers to buy what they would not otherwise use. Nothing prohibits farmers from planting any existing variety, or saving seed, or doing any of the things that farmers have done in the region since time out of mind.

Quite the opposite seems true. Since 2004, when the Ministry of Agriculture was handed back to Iraqis to run, there is a consistent theme of transfer of farming expertise and technology to struggling farmers in Iraq. It's in the great tradition of farmers helping farmers that is one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal decade of American foreign policy.

We've seen similar complaints from the same people concerning the Green Revolution. One time I was at a symposium where Nobel Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug spoke. A woman in the audience got up and started taking him to task for similar reasons. Borlaug interrupted her in mid tirade and said "Ma'am, we were concerned with feeding as many people as possible. If you can't do that, you can't do any of the other things."

Borlaug has said "If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread. Otherwise, there will be no peace."

A moral for our times? No doubt about it.

And that leads us back to the words of the Bard which seem appropriate to this manufactured controversy concerning Order 81. This story truly is "...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

And the idiots are easily identifiable.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tree Farm Owner Convicted in Deer Killing

We blogged this issue last December, but here's a brief refresher. Kevin Kelly, owner of a tree farm near Tipton, Iowa decided he'd provided the last free lunch a wandering whitetail deer would ever have, and shot it out of season.

Kelly relied on a 1915 case as support for the proposition that he could kill the deer for having the audacity to want to eat lunch on his property.

The DNR was not amused at being put to its proof and Kelly was charged with killing a deer out of season. He asserted his defense of necessity, but was convicted by a Cedar County jury because he could not point to specific trees that had been damaged by the wandering critters, whose only crime was hunger. Kelly was fined $100 for taking a deer out of season, another hundred for using a rifle, and assessed a levy of $1,500 to replace the deer.

Kelly remains unrepentant, and John Carlson of the Register remains sympathetic.

I'm in mind of the laws of old Europe that would jail or execute people for picking up deadfalls in the king's forest to heat their huts or cook their grub. Remarking on the injustice of this was enough to get a young Prussian lawyer named Karl Marx kicked out of the country, and thereby hangs a tale.

However, if Kelly had asked this former prosecutor about what he was fixing on doing, I would have told him this.

The usual arguments about "I wuz just shooting coyotes" don't work.

Poachers, idlers, and takers of game and fish out of season never win their arguments except at the tavern and across the kitchen table.

As an assistant county attorney it was my duty to prosecute DNR violations in Madison County while I worked there. I took great pleasure in it. I probably have prosecuted more short bass tickets than anyone around, and my record on prosecuting using a shooting range after sunset is 100 per cent.

It's simple. You break the law, you get punished, especially if you're trying to rub the DNR's nose in something.

And as any Lucas County farmer will tell you, the first six rows are for the deer anyway.