Category Archives: Corporate political nexus
Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips
Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.
In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016
The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.
In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)
BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:
- OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
- Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
- Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
- In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
- UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues. (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
- In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.
A saga of missing medical records
In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:
“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”
The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip. No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).
Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files
But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.
The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:
“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.
A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.
She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.
An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.
They deserve the last word:
“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.
“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.
Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have died and MP Diana Johnson (below, left) asked for an urgent Commons debate last year.
She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally succumbed to pressure and announced a public inquiry into this 1970s and 80s scandal.
Last year it was recalled here that British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family and friends. It is estimated that over 2.400 have died since then.
At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection… and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect… but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”
It was decided that victims should die to avoid going over budget
Ministers believe the reforms (cutbacks) are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Meanwhile the contaminated die apace as this inquiry gets under way, 30 years too late.
Bank branches are closing all over the country, with huge savings in the upkeep of buildings and staff wages. This is due, it is said, to customers undertaking more transactions online. In many cases this is a result of firm persuasion by the banks urging customers towards the more profitable system.
A reader experienced this firm encouragement towards online banking a few days ago when phoning to transfer funds. The impression was given that this was essential, but when pressed the staff member admitted it was not. Indeed she wavered a great deal more when it was pointed out that her job could well be eliminated with the closing down of telephone operations.
America’s Central State Bank warns that – due to the open nature of the Internet – all web-based services are inherently subject to risks such as online theft of access codes/user ID/username, PIN/Password, virus attacks, hacking, unauthorized access and fraudulent transactions.
The National Audit Office records that the volume of online ‘card not present’ fraud increased by 103% between 2011 and 2016
Online banking security rated by Which? At best, a 16% chance of being defrauded
In 2015 online bank fraud was described in the Guardian as the UK’s fastest growing area of crime – doubling from £60m in 2014 to an expected total beyond £130m this year – and the losses to consumers have in some cases been of the life-changing order of £90,000 each.
50 banks were surveyed by Which? and its August 2017 report revealed that all had experienced fraud – the best were 84% free of fraud, the worst only 56%. So even customers using the ‘best’ banks have a 16% chance of being defrauded.
Defrauded customers should accept the blame and not expect automatic refunds
Ross Anderson (right: professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory) has seen the mass take up of online banking, and more recently the explosion in fraudulent activity. Financial fraud cost £2m a day in 2016, with older people disproportionately hit.
According to Anderson and other security experts, banks are shifting liability away from themselves and on to the customer – aided by a Financial Ombudsman Service that they claim rarely challenges the banks following a fraud. Miles Brignall in the Guardian comments: “The bank is on the hook for credit card losses, but not most bank frauds”.
The Independent reported that RBS’s chief executive Ross McEwan caused a storm when he claimed that it is not banks’ responsibility if customers are defrauded in such circumstances. The bank boss – who as part of his role also runs the NatWest brand, which has 24 million retail customers – said he didn’t think the bank had “a duty of care” to victims. They should accept the blame and not expect automatic refunds, he argued. 5,000 of his customers who were defrauded of £25m during nine months in 2015 – and anyone else who has suffered such losses – should consider taking class action.
Anderson, one of Britain’s foremost experts on cybersecurity, says he has never banked online – and has no plans to do so. He believes that system has become so weighted in favour of the banks that the customers now carry all the risk.
Miles Brignall in the Guardian asks: “If a man who has chronicled the rise of online banking won’t use it, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
CCGs had to release data on payments from private companies and charities under the Freedom of Information Act. With researchers at Bath University and Lund University in Sweden, the BMJ compared the data to the details published in CCGs’ online registries.
NHS clinical commissioning groups, who are in charge of buying health services for their local areas, received payments, including sponsorships and tickets to sporting events and concerts from the building pharmaceutical and hospitality industries.
The BMJ worked with Piotr Ozieranski, a lecturer in the department of social and policy sciences at the University of Bath, Shai Mulinari, a sociology researcher at Lund University in Sweden and Emily Rickard, a research assistant in Bath’s department of social and policy sciences, who intend to publish the full findings of their research in the coming months.. Piotr Ozieranski’s comment: “It seems rather peculiar that CCGs are permitted to accept any payments or benefits in kind from private sector companies”.
Only £1,283,767 of £5,027,818 paid from 2015 to 2017 was declared on public registers
This, despite the revised NHS England guidance which requires CCGs to maintain and publish registers of their conflicts of interest and procurement decisions. This was revised and strengthened after finding, in 2015, that CCGs had paid many millions of taxpayers’ money to companies, hospitals and surgeries in which their members had financial or professional stakes.
National Health Clinical Commissioners responded: “This BMJ investigation seems to imply that there is some wrong doing on the part of CCGs by working with external companies and pharmaceutical organisations, which we would strongly challenge.
Not so: the investigation does not relate to working with these industries, it implies that funding of recreational activities for CCG members, most of which have not been declared as required, is the ‘wrong-doing’.
Paul Glasziou, professor in the Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia, says that doctors are often unaware of the effect of drug companies’ activities on their own behaviour:
“Pharmaceutical company dominance of the funding of continuing medical education can result in prescribing that harms.
“Clinicians are often naive about the persuasion tactics used by some companies. So we urgently need better ‘inoculation’ against these tactics, as well as better regulation and funding of balanced continuing education.”
Since clinical commissioning groups were launched in England in 2013, there have been concerns about the conflicts of interest among those who commission health services while also providing them. But the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said that drug companies had an important role in supporting healthcare organisations.
The BBC World Service radio this morning, Radio 4’s Broadcasting House – and other mainstream media – offered distorted reporting:
- first headlining the “iron fist” threat and repeating this several times, before acknowledging its conditionality ‘if political unrest continues’
- and failing to focus on the far larger rallies supporting the Iranian government
They stressed that the demonstrations erupted over falling living standards, but Iranian interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli said that those people in the larger demos realised this was due to imposed sanctions – but the BBC website chose only to report his words about the consequences of damage to public property, disrupting order and breaking the law.
The USA’s use of soft power to foment unrest has been effective with many worldwide
The use of soft power was touched on in a linked site in 2015. We quote: “Hard power is exerted by financial inducements, invasion and remote killing by drone aircraft. Soft power sounds quite benign, but as Joseph Nye points out in The Future of Power (2011, left), it can be wielded for good or ill: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all possessed a great deal of soft power. He adds: “It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms”.
An illusion of a free society (‘liberating minds’) is presented and a consumerist culture cultivated. One actor in this drive is the Human Rights Foundation, whose approving Wikipedia entry emphasises its insistence on ‘economic freedom’. In Central and South America and the Middle East it has paved the way for the overthrow of regimes which would not co-operate.
Has it escalated in Iran after its threat to further ‘eliminate’ use of the dollar?
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said to Putin in November: “we can nullify US sanctions, using methods such as eliminating the dollar and replacing it with national currencies”. Forbes earlier reported that this policy would be implemented. Several countries have not fared well after ‘ditching the dollar’:
- In 2002 North Korea’s state-run Korean Trade Bank announced a ban on the use of US dollars in daily payment and settlement for its citizens and foreigners.
- In 2003 Coilin Nunan wondered: “Could one reason for the US wish for ‘regime change’ in Iraq and unprecedented European opposition to such a project be Iraq’s decision two years earlier to accept euros only as payment for its oil, instead of the customary dollars? Could America’s current focus on Iran be similarly explained?”
- In 2004 Fidel Castro decreed that the dollar would no longer be legal for commercial transactions.
It should be stressed that the soft power illusions of total normality, freedom and prosperity are a confidence trick. The unmentioned features of the USA, a country which young Iranians and others have been led by soft power to admire as ‘an ideal state of freedom’, include pollution, child abuse, violent pornography, inequality of opportunity, youth unemployment, high cost housing and military aggression.
The FT reports that senior executives at several of the largest US banks have privately told the Trump administration they feared the prospect of a Labour victory if Britain were forced into new elections.
It then referred to a report by analysts at Morgan Stanley arguing that a Corbyn government would mark the “most significant political shift in the UK” since Margaret Thatcher’s election and may represent a “bigger risk than Brexit” to the British economy. It predicted snap elections next year, arguing that the prospect of a return to the polls “is much more scary from an equity perspective than Brexit”.
Jeremy Corbyn gave ‘a clear response’ to Morgan Stanley in a video (left) published on social media reflecting anti-Wall Street rhetoric from some mainstream politicians in the US and Europe, saying: “These are the same speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy in 2008 . . . could anyone refute the headline claim that bankers are indeed glorified gamblers playing with the fate of our nation?”
He warned global banks that operate out of the City of London that he would indeed be a “threat” to their business if he became prime minister.
He singled out Morgan Stanley, the US investment bank, for particular criticism, arguing that James Gorman, its chief executive, was paying himself a salary of millions of pounds as ordinary British workers are “finding it harder to get by”.
Corbyn blamed the “greed” of the big banks and said the financial crisis they caused had led to a “crisis” in the public services: “because the Tories used the aftermath of the financial crisis to push through unnecessary and deeply damaging austerity”.
The FT points out that donors linked to Morgan Stanley had given £350,000 to the Tory party since 2006 and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, had met the bank four times, most recently in April 2017. The bank also had strong ties to New Labour: “Alistair Darling, a Labour chancellor until 2010, has served on the bank’s board since 2015. Jeremy Heywood, head of Britain’s civil service, was a managing director at Morgan Stanley, including as co-head of UK investment banking, before returning to public service in 2007”.
A step forward?
In a December article the FT pointed out that the UK lacks the kind of community banks or Sparkassen that are the bedrock of small business lending in many other countries adding: “When Labour’s John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, calls for a network of regional banks, he is calling attention to a real issue”. And an FT reader commented, “The single most important ethos change required is this: publish everyone’s tax returns”:
- In Norway, you can walk into your local library or central council office and see how much tax your boss paid, how much tax your councillor paid, how much tax your politician paid.
- This means major tax avoidance, complex schemes, major offshoring, etc, is almost impossible, because it combines morality and social morals with ethics and taxation.
- We need to minimise this offshoring and tax avoidance; but the people in control of the information media flow, plus the politicians, rely on exactly these methods to increase their cash reserves.
But first give hope to many by electing a truly social democratic party.
Is the rainbow suggesting a new party logo?
“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit” – The Observer July 2017.
In the same month, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study attributed 80% of the recent rise in evictions to the “no fault” process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
Two months’ written notice is all that private landlords need to do: they don’t need to give any reason when they ask tenants to leave.
It allows the worst landlords to ignore disrepair – tenants who complain are given notice – a process officially recognised under the name ‘retaliatory eviction’.
Read more about retaliatory eviction’ – the subject of Commons Briefing paper SN07015 by Wendy Wilson – published on June 13, 2017.
Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue forcefully in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions
Mr Corbyn reviewed the government’s record:
- Homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010.
- Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector.
- One-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy was promised, but just one in five council homes have been replaced.
- Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists.
Campbell Robb, chief executive, said: “With the possibility of eviction with just two months’ notice, and constant worries about when the next rent rise will hit, the current rental market isn’t giving people – particularly families – the stability they need to put down roots. The stable rental contract offers renters a five-year tenancy and gives landlords more confidence in a steady income, all within the existing legal framework”.
Scotland for best practice to date: the Scottish secure tenancy
In Scotland, under Jack McConnell’s Labour government, by an order under section 11 of the 2001 the Housing (Scotland) Act tenants of local authorities, housing associations & tenants who are members of fully mutual co-operative housing associations, from 30 September 2002, became Scottish secure tenants.
Read the excellent terms here. Will a Labour government in this country adopt this Rolls Royce standard model and also introduce a stable rental contract for those in private accommodation? Or will the profit motive win the day?