SEPTEMBER 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 9
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
Return to Sender
Ending its longstanding role as a dumping ground for a pesticide banned throughout most of the industrialized world, Niger returned 100,000 pounds of the extremely toxic pesticide dieldrin to the Netherlands in late July 1991. The pesticide, banned in Europe and the United States, had been "donated" to Niger by U.S. and European aid agencies for locust control programs since the 1960s. The "return-to-sender" operation was carried out at the request of the Niger government by the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), the German development assistance agency and by Shell Chemical, the Dutch multinational corporation which manufactures the pesticide. The dieldrin was incinerated at a facility in the Netherlands.
Niger had been receiving the dieldrin under a program in which development agencies such as AID buy pesticides from chemical companies and give them to African nations for locust and other pest control programs. According to Bill Barclay of Greenpeace, donations from development agencies in Northern countries, primarily France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States, account for 80 percent of the pesticide market in sub-Sahara Africa. In some instances, the recipient has little choice but to participate because acceptance of the chemicals is a condition of receiving other types of aid. Barclay points, for example, to a recent case in which Japan's donation of Toyota trucks to Benin was tied to Benin's acceptance of highly toxic pesticides.
The donated pesticides have not even been effective in controlling locusts, according to several recent studies, including one by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment. Many of the pesticides sit unused. Often stored improperly, they leak into water supplies and create serious health and environmental problems.
Critics denounce the pesticide donation programs for allowing chemical companies to avoid responsibility for disposing of pesticides banned in their own countries. Barclay says that donor governments and chemical companies in particular have an "obligation to take responsibility" for the pesticides donated to Africa and that there is widespread support among African government officials for the "idea of sending the stuff back to the North."
In a move that could prove even more dangerous than the dumping, however, development agencies and chemical manufacturers, including AID and the Swiss chemical company Ciba-Geigy, are now developing plans to set up incineration facilities in Africa to burn the pesticide stockpiles.
Environmentalists and many African nations strongly oppose the incineration plan, which would convert pesticides into toxic emissions and ash. Opponents of the plan also fear that once incinerators are built in Africa, they will become low-cost disposal sites for Northern toxic waste traders.
In a small victory for Australian aboriginal and conservation groups, the Australian government banned mining at Coronation Hill, located in the Northern par of the country, because of the area's importance to the religious beliefs of the Jawoyn, an indigenous people who have inhabited the region for hundreds of years. Jawoyn legend holds that Coronation Hill is the resting place of a malevolent spirit and should not be disturbed In announcing the ban, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke said the decision was based on "overwhelming evidence that the effect of mining on the Jawoyn people and to a lesser extent the environment, outweighs an economic benefit to Australia offered by the proposed mine."
According to the Australian Consulate-General it the United States, gold and platinum deposits identified at the site had been expected to generate more that $150 million in profits over the next nine years.
Hawke asserted, however, that Coronation Hill represents a unique case and that the mining ban then will not serve as a precedent for future disputes over resource exploitation. "It is an illogical position to judge this special case as reflecting any change in them government's general attitude to ventures involving the development of our natural resources," he said.
Control of the beef industry passed into the hands of a few companies in the 1980s, according to "Where's them Meat?," a study released in July 1991 by the Western Organization of Resource Councils Education Project The report says that, in 1990, IBP Inc., ConAgra Red Meats, Excel Corporation, Beef America Operatin Company and National Beef Packing Company marketed an estimated 80 percent of the total fed cattle slaughtered in the United States. The report also note that the total number of meatpacking plants in them United States fell by 42 percent between 1972 and 1987.
The domination of the market by large corporate meatpackers and feedlots has forced small and medium size packers and feeders out of business, leaving many producers with only one or two buyers in their regions. These buyers are able to virtually dictate the price they will pay livestock producers, the study's authors claim.
The loss of meatpacking plants has led to the erosion of jobs, wages and the tax base in many states, especially Iowa, Nebraska, Washington, Missouri and Minnesota according to the study.
- Holley Knaus