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Aug 29, 2007

Latin American Banana Farmers Sue U.S. Companies Over Pesticides

The pesticide was designed to kill worms infesting the roots of banana trees on Latin American plantations.

But at least 5,000 agricultural workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama have filed five lawsuits in this country claiming they were left sterile after being exposed in the 1970s to the pesticide known as DBCP.

Jury selection for the first of the lawsuits is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

"This is the first time any case for a banana worker has come before a U.S. court," said Duane Miller, one of the attorneys representing more than 30 Nicaraguan plaintiffs who worked on plantations from 1964 to 1990.

The cases raise the issue of whether multinational companies should be held accountable in the country where they are based or the countries where they employ workers, legal experts said.

A verdict in favor of the workers could open the door for others to file similar claims in the U.S., where juries are known for awarding bigger judgments.

"The administration of justice in developing countries in comparison to the administration of justice in the U.S. -- there's a big gap," said Alejandro Garro, a Columbia University law professor.

"The significance of it is we're talking about a global economy where big business does business all over the world and where we don't have a uniform type of justice," he said

The upcoming lawsuit was filed in 2004 and accuses Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide.

Dow Chemical Co. and Amvac Chemical Corp., manufacturers of the pesticide, "actively suppressed information about DBCP's reproductive toxicity," according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Erin Burke, who represents Westlake-based Dole, and Kelly Kozuma, a spokeswoman for Newport Beach-based Amvac, declined to comment.

Scot Wheeler, a spokesman for Midland, Mich.-based Dow, said in an e-mail that the lawsuits were without merit, and that "there are no generally accepted studies in the scientific community of which we are aware which establishes an effect on sterility in banana farm workers" exposed periodically to the chemical.

"Workers bringing these claims rotated jobs often or changed jobs altogether with enough frequency that long-term exposure would have been fairly unusual and it is not likely that there is any injury whatsoever related to DBCP," Wheeler wrote.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site says the chemical was used as a fumigant on more than 40 different crops in the U.S. until it was largely phased out by 1979.

Long-term exposure to the pesticide causes male reproductive problems, including decreased sperm count, according to the site, which lists DBCP as a "probable human carcinogen."

In April, all five lawsuits were placed under the jurisdiction of Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney. The legal actions involve claims on behalf of workers from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica. Other growers and manufacturers are named as defendants.

straight to the source: BusinessWeek, Associated Press, Noaki Schwartz, 08 Jul 2007

Imported from external blog

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Posted: Aug 29, 2007 3:08am
Oct 23, 2006
Focus: Workers Rights
Action Request: Boycott
Location: United States

Cornucopia & OCA Denounce Wal-Mart's War on Organic Farmers

  • Wal-Mart Declares War on Organic Farmers: Partners with Agribusiness for Corporate Takeover
    By Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-624-2042 Ronnie Cummins, 218-226-4164 Steve Sprinkel, 805-290-0988
    The Cornucopia Institute, September 25, 2006
    Straight to the Source Wal-Mart Declares War on Organic Farmers: Partners with Agribusiness for Corporate Takeover <br> <br> By Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-624-2042 Ronnie Cummins, 218-226-4164 Steve Sprinkel, 805-290-0988 <br> The Cornucopia Institute, September 25, 2006 <br> <a href="">Straight to the Source </a></span></font>

Wal-Mart Declares War on Organic Farmers: Partners with Agribusiness for Corporate Takeover

Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-624-2042 Ronnie Cummins, 218-226-4164 Steve Sprinkel, 805-290-0988

 CORNUCOPIA, WISCONSIN: A report released today by The Cornucopia Institute, the nation's most aggressive organic farming watchdog, accuses Wal-Mart of cheapening the value of the organic label by sourcing products from industrial-scale factory farms and Third World countries, such as China.

Wal-Mart announced earlier this year that they would greatly increase the number of organic products they offered and price them at a target of 10% above the cost for conventional food.

"We have received scores of press inquiries over the past few months asking us if Wal-Mart's organic expansion was 'good news or bad news' for the industry," stated Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. "My stock answer has been: If Wal-Mart lends their logistical prowess to organic food both farmers and consumers will be big winners by virtue of a more competitive marketplace. However, if Wal-Mart applies their standard business model, and in essence Wal-Marts organics, then everyone will lose."

The Institute's white paper, Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic Products Expansion or Market Delusion?, makes the argument that Wal-Mart is indeed poised to drive down the price of organic food in the marketplace by inventing a "new" organic and cheap imports of questionable quality. "Organic family farmers in this country could see their livelihoods disintegrate the same way so many industrial workers saw their family-supporting wages evaporate as Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers put the screws to manufacturers production shift to China and other low-wage countries," Kastel added.

Wal-Mart, already the nation's largest organic milk retailer, partnering with the giant milk processor Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), recently introduced their own private-label organic milk packaged by Aurora Organic Dairy. Aurora, based in Boulder, Colorado, has faced a maelstrom of organic industry criticism and negative press for operating a number of industrial-scale dairies with thousands of cows confined in feedlot-like conditions. They are also the subject of current USDA investigations into their organic management practices.

"If there was any previous doubt as to their intentions, partnering with Dean/Horizon and Aurora should leave no question in anyone's mind as to how Wal-Mart is approaching its organic initiative," proclaimed Steve Sprinkel long-time industry observer and columnist for the nation's leading sustainable agricultural journal, Acres USA. Large percentages of milk from Horizon and Aurora come from factory farms, milking as many as 10,000 cows, allegedly without the required access to pasture. The two companies have also been accused of bringing nonorganic cows onto their farms. "Because of the intense media scrutiny there is no doubt that Wal-Mart entered into these relationships in blatant disregard to the ethical expectations of the consumers who have helped build organics into a lucrative $16 billion industry," Sprinkel added.

This April, The Cornucopia Institute released a rating of the nation's approximately 70 organic namebrand and private-label organic dairy products ( ). Although almost 90% received a very high rating, Horizon and Aurora refused to participate in the study and received the Institute's lowest score. And in a subsequent poll of their over 800,000 members, the Organic Consumers Association moved to boycott Horizon and Aurora dairy products. "It's hard to believe that at this time Wal-Mart would embrace these products," said OCA director Ronnie Cummins.

In addition to the report's documentation of the Wal-Mart/factory-farm connection, the study also highlighted the company's decision to lower the per unit cost basis on organic products by collaborating with its long-time trading partner China.

"Even if it were not for many serious concerns about the propriety of the certification process in China little if any regulatory oversight there burning fossil fuels and undercutting our domestic farmers, does not meet the consumer's traditional definition of what is truly organic," Kastel stated.

While Wal-Mart sources Chinese organic products, the industry's largest organic and natural foods retailer, Whole Foods Market, announced plans this summer to greatly expand their offerings of locally grown produce in deference to organic consumer sentiments.

"Between Whole Foods and hundreds of the nation's cooperatively owned natural foods groceries, we are certainly set up for a clash of the titans," said Cummins. "Will consumers choose cheap industrial food, be it from factory farms or questionable Third World imports, or will they continue to support ethical processors and family farmers?"

This month The Cornucopia Institute sent a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott suggesting that Wal-Mart's approach to organics would likely undermine the corporation's campaigns to attract upscale shoppers to their stores and to help cleanse the reputation of world's largest retailer in terms of the widespread criticism that it has endured due to its labor and environmental practices.

"We are afraid that you are grossly miscalculating your move into organics and underestimating the knowledge and commitment of the organic consumer. Those buying organic food are comfortable paying the historic premiums because they think that part of their purchase dollar supports a different kind of environmental, animal husbandry, and economic justice ethic," the letter from Cornucopia read in part.

The letter also cited an example of Wal-Mart selling mislabeled conventional yogurt as organic. In addition, the Institute's report also red-flagged the retailer selling organic baby formula made with both questionable synthetic ingredients and processing materials. The report suggests that Wal-Mart might lack the qualifications or commitment to oversee what promises to be one of the nation's largest organic manufacturing, distribution, and retail networks.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cornucopia Institute's White Paper, Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic Products. Market Expansion or Market Delusion?, along with a photo gallery containing images of some of the organic items now being offered for sale at Wal-Mart stores can be found on the organization's Web page at .

 The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives. The Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.

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Posted: Oct 23, 2006 9:44am
Jun 23, 2006
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Read
Location: United States

Police Evict Farmers & Community from the Nation's Largest Community Garden in South Central LA

Press Release: South Central Farm, June 13, 2006

Press Release: South Central Farm, June 13, 2006
The end for South Central Farm?

LA Times

Not legal challenges, not folk singers' entreaties, not even a last-minute infusion of $10 million could save the South Central Farm.

Sheriff's deputies moved in before dawn Tuesday to evict the farmers from the 14-acre plot, a rare swath of green in the otherwise industrial belt between Alameda Street and Long Beach Avenue. Seeking to prolong the multiyear land dispute, protesters chained themselves to pipes inside.

Actress Daryl Hannah, environmental activist John Quigley and a few other demonstrators secured themselves above the fray in a walnut tree. Supporters poured in, chanting and waving signs, as county Sheriff's Department deputies and Los Angeles Police Department officers bearing clubs and shotguns surrounded protesters, making arrests.

"This is the end, my friend," said Tezozomoc, one of the farmers' representatives, quoting a line from Jim Morrison. "But we don't know yet. This is just another chapter."

A chapter in the struggle that dates back to the mid-1990s, one involving celebrities and community activists, political pressure and complex land deals. Developer Ralph Horowitz bought the site two decades ago, lost it to the city through eminent domain, then bought it back for the price the city paid him. In the interim, the sizable site became used by more than 350 families to farm peppers, cilantro, squash and indigenous herbs.

But after Horowitz regained the property with the intent to transform the rows of corn and cactus into a commercial project, the farmers sat on tenuous ground. They fired off 61 claims to block development, all rejected by the court, and requested a temporary restraining order, also turned down.

They enlisted the help of high-profile supporters such as Hannah, folk music icon Joan Baez, musician Ben Harper and his wife, actress Laura Dern.

And they relentlessly lobbied Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to use his clout to keep the site open. Through various sources, his office was able to wrangle $6 million in donations, well short of the $16.3 million Horowitz originally requested to sell the site.

Last week, the Annenberg Foundation announced a surprise offer of $10 million in cash and an agreement to finance the remaining $6 million.

But Horowitz, reportedly furious about being cast as the villain by farm supporters, rejected the offer and demanded the farmers removal. At 5 a.m. Tuesday, 65 helmeted deputies of the Sheriff's Department's Civil Management Unit moved in, with the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department assisting.

Authorities cut through the chain-link fence around the farm and extricated the demonstrators who'd locked themselves inside. Then came an earthmover to level off the ground for a fire engine. The truck pulled inside and extended its ladder, eventually plucking the remaining protesters from the tree shortly after noon.

The LAPD arrested 27 people on suspicion of failing to disperse, and sheriff's deputies arrested an additional 17, including Hannah, on suspicion of failing to obey a court order and obstructing a peace officer.

The scene was chaotic, but largely  peaceful. There were demonstrators accusing the authorities of breaking apart the community. Then there were counterdemonstrators accusing the farmers of breaking apart the community. Then came the guitar players, then the drummers.

Armed with an ear-splitting whistle and a pot she banged with a rock, farmer Andrea Rodriguez angrily defended the site she's come to rely on.

"We want to go back to Mother Earth, get nutrition for our families," she said in Spanish. "We will struggle. We won't go. We are all together and we will not leave. We're just farmers, we don't have money, but we're still important."

Repeated attempts to reach Horowitz at his office were unsuccessful, though he told The Associated Press that he found the farmers to be ungrateful and wanted his land back. Though Dan Stormer, an attorney for the farmers, said they'll have one more day in court in July to try to claim ownership of the land, Horowitz has already said he will not sell to the farmers or their supporters.

A few hours after the evictions, Villaraigosa spoke with Horowitz on the telephone and reiterated his support for the Annenberg Foundation's $16 million offer.

But Horowitz said the property was worth even more money, Villaraigosa told reporters later. Horowitz also told the mayor he felt personally vilified by the farmers and wouldn't sell until he evicted every single person from the land.

"I told him that from my vantage point, this is a more than fair offer. This is an opportunity for us to have an urban garden in the city that wants to be the greenest big city in America," Villaraigosa said. "And he said, well, that was nice but he wasn't accepting."

While running for mayor, Villaraigosa pledged to help save the farm and, once in office, assigned Deputy Mayor Larry Frank to seek private donations to help the farmers buy the land from Horowitz.

But the price was a moving target, the mayor said, going from about an estimated $6 million to $10 million to $12 million to the final price tag of $16 million.

The mayor and allies had a hard time raising funds to buy the land because many potential donors felt the land wasn't worth the price.

"I understand a businessman's need to invest and make a profit. I also have a high respect for and will defend property rights," Villaraigosa said. "But I also believe that we are called upon by a sense of community and civic duty to do the just and right thing. I had hoped that the landowner would have heeded that call."


NEWS FROM THE FARM - 6/13/2006 8:59am,

8 people have been carried out on                  stretchers and they have started to bull doze the land!

WHAT:    Hundreds of officers with the Los Angeles Sheriff department swarmed onto the peaceful, non-violent South-Central Farmers garden at 5:15am today accompanied by six helicopters buzzing over the sleeping supporters.

Supporters of this 14 acre organic farming community remain outside the locked-down area on the street chanting their protest of this forceful action while 20 are still inside the farm.

Dozens of supporters have been living on the land, sleeping in tents, and taking turns living in the Walnut tree on the premise while fasting to show solidarity with the Farmers.  Julia-Butterfly Hill just came down last week after fasting for 23 days. Several celebrities have shown up in the last few weeks - Willie Nelson, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Ed Begley, Jr, Joan Baez to name a few.

As of this time, Daryl Hannah and aerial artist John Quigley are up in the Walnut tree refusing to come down.  20 campers on the land have locked themselves to benches, fences and the base around the tree while L.A. County Sheriffs are attempting to saw their locks off.

Yesterday, a peace offering of organic flowers and fresh produce from the Farm was presented to the developer, Ralph Horowitz at his offices in Brentwood, California and to Mayor Antonio Villagairosa  at City Hall. Their response to this appears to be this early morning raid.

Citizens are frustrated with the Mayor because of his apparent lack of political leadership in this, even though he has publicly stated supported of the Farm in the last few weeks.

The Farm supporters are asking people to:

1.  Call City Hall to ask that Mayor Villaraigosa step up and exhibit political leadership and interfere with the eviction.    PH: 213-978-0600

2.  Come down to City Hall to express their support.   Address: 200 N. Spring Street - Los Angeles, CA  90029

3.  Come to the Farm to Protest this oppressive and destructive action against the Farmers and their supporters

WHERE:         41st & Long Beach Ave.             Los Angeles, CA             (Alameda exit off Interstate 10)

WHEN:         All Day           June 13, 2006

****A SPECIAL 7:00PM candlelight vigil will be held on-site   The public is encouraged to attend

To learn more about the South Central Farmers, visit: Contact: Fernando Flores:  Co-Chair of South Central Farmers Support Coalition         PH: 909-605-3136 ====================================================== HISTORY:

The South Central Farm, a 14-acre green oasis in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, is in danger of being lost to warehouse development. This community garden has been operated mainly by Latino immigrants for more than a decade and has become an important part of the culture and open space in Los Angeles.

In 1992, the Farm was created in response to the Rodney King uprising to help develop and align the local South-Central community. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank signed a lease with the city of Los Angeles to set aside the South Central Farm as a community garden. Since then more than 350 impoverished families have banded together as the South Central Farmers to transform an industrial dump into an urban paradise. These families have been successfully augmenting their household food supply with the resultant harvest.

But in 2003 the city sold the land to a private developer to build warehouses. The community was outraged, and the farmers refused to leave the land while they tried to raise the money to buy the property themselves. For the last several weeks -- in the face of a deadline to come up with the money or be evicted -- the farmers, with the help of appeals by activists and celebrities, worked around the clock and successfully raised the money to purchase the property. At last report, the Annenburg Foundation had offered to help raise the 15 million to purchase the land but it seems responding to pressure, the developer has changed his mind and decided not to sell the land to the farmers after all.         ***************************************************

Tonight (6/16) Daryl Hannah will be on Larry King Live to talk about the South Central Farm.  ***It is important that in this national media
venue, we ensure that the primary sentiment by callers and viewers is a POSITIVE one.***


1.  Call in to the show during the broadcast (it is on at 9pm
Eastern, 6pm Pacific) and ask a question or make a positive comment.
The talking points and suggested questions are below.

2.  Email your comments or questions NOW at the Larry King website:

3.  Spread the word to other allies who are supportive of the South
Central Farm.

Key Information We Want Our Circle of Life Family to Know:

€    The money was raised.  Ralph Horowitz changed his mind about
selling the property at the last minute.

€    The farm is an oasis in one of the roughest neighborhoods in
the country.  It has literally kept many of the kids who work with
their families on the farm out of gangs.  350 poor families have used
the farm as their primary food source.
  It is also a community hub
for cultural events and farmers markets.

€    Ralph Horowitz stood to profit $11 million dollars on the
sale to the farmers.    That’s about $4 million per year that he
owned the land.  He paid only $5 million for it in 2003, so he would
have profited almost 250% in less than 3 years.  Yet, he turned it
down citing his anger at the farmers as the reason.

€    Julia Butterfly Hill coordinated the celebrity presence at
South Central Farm.    She also did a great deal of the fundraising.
She was at the farm, fasting, for over 3 weeks and had left just 48
hours earlier for a commitment that she needed to keep in NY.

€    This is just the beginning of a grassroots movement to green
South Central LA.    People are holding the Mayor to his promise
to green the City, and are demanding it starts in South Central.

Questions you could ask of Daryl— feel free to pepper the questions
with positive comments about the action, or underscoring one of the
bullet points above.

€    Why did you choose to get arrested?
€    Why did you spend 3 weeks at the farm?    That’s a lot of time
      for a celebrity to commit.
€    Was the money raised or not?  The developer keeps saying it wasn’t.
€    Who is being affected by the destruction of the farm?
€    How did The LA mayor help or hurt the case?  What was his role in all            of this?
€    Why is this farm so important?    The farmers are supposedly
     being relocated, so why does this particular farm matter?
€    How did you find out about South Central Farm?
€    What challenges did you have to overcome to be at the farm,
      sit in the tree and get arrested?
€    Do you think other celebrities should do actions like this?
€    What can I do now?

If you plan to email or call the show, please let us know your name
and where you live.  You can email to let us
know.  We are trying to get as many allies as possible to commit to
this!  Thank you for your support of the South Central Farmers.


Next week, Circle of Life is hosting our seasonal call and email chat
with Julia Butterfly Hill.  It is on the Solstice, June 21st.  The
email chat begins at 12 noon pacific time (3pm Eastern).  To log in,
go to and follow the directions for logging into the chatroom.

The Partner’s Circle conference call with Julia Butterfly Hill begins
at 1pm pacific time (4pm eastern) and is open to members of our
Partners Circle (anyone who has made a donation to Circle of Life in
the past year).  For the login information and password, email

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Posted: Jun 23, 2006 12:43pm


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