Saturday, June 30, 2007
by Eric Holt-Giménez
Global Research, June 30, 2007 ALAI
Biofuels. The term invokes a life-giving image of renewability and abundance—a clean, green, sustainable assurance in technology and the power of progress. This image allows industry, politicians, the World Bank, the United Nations, and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to present fuels made from corn, sugarcane, soy and other crops as the next step in a smooth transition from peak oil to a yet-to-be-defined renewable fuel economy. Drawing its power from a cluster of simple cornucopian myths, “biofuels” directs our attention away from the powerful economic interests that benefit from this transition. It avoids discussion of the growing North-South food and energy imbalance. More fundamentally, it obscures the political-economic relationships between land, people, resources and food. By showing us only one side, “biofuels” fails to help us understand the profound consequences of the industrial transformation of our food and fuel systems—The Agro-fuels Transition.The Agro-fuels BoomIndustrialized countries unleashed an “agro-fuels boom” by mandating ambitious renewable fuel targets. Renewable fuels are scheduled to provide 5.75% of Europe’s transport fuel by 2010, and 10 percent by 2020. The United States aims at 35 billion gallons a year. These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70% of its farmland to fuel. The U.S.’s entire corn and soy harvest would need to be processed as ethanol and bio-diesel. Converting the bulk of their arable land to fuel crops would wreak havoc with the North’s food systems. Therefore, OECD countries are looking to the Global South to meet their fuel demands. Southern governments appear eager to oblige. Indonesia and Malaysia are rapidly expanding oil-palm plantations in an effort to supply up to 20 percent of the EU bio-diesel market. In Brazil—where fuel crop acreage already occupies a land area the size of Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Great Britain combined—the government is planning a five-fold increase in sugar cane acreage. Their goal is to replace 10 percent of the world’s gasoline by 2025. The rapid capitalization and concentration of power within the agro-fuels industry is breathtaking. Over the last three years venture capital investment in agro-fuels has increased eightfold. Private investment is swamping public research institutions, as evidenced by BP’s recent award of half a billion dollars to the University of California. Behind the scenes—and under the noses of most national anti-trust laws—giant oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming powerful partnerships: ADM and Monsanto, Chevron and Volkswagen; BP, DuPont, and Toyota. These corporations are consolidating the research, production, processing, and distribution chains of our food and fuel systems under one colossal, industrial roof. Agro-fuel champions assure us that because fuel crops are renewable, they are environmentally–friendly, can reduce global warming, and will foster rural development. But the tremendous market power of agro-fuel corporations, coupled with the poor political will on the part of governments to regulate their activities, leads us to doubt these happy scenarios. Before jumping on the bandwagon, the mythic baggage of the agro-fuels transition needs to be publicly unpacked: Myth #1: Agro-fuels are clean and greenBecause photosynthesis from fuel crops removes green house gases from atmosphere and can reduce fossil fuel consumption, we are told fuel crops are green. But when the full “life cycle” of agro-fuels is considered—from land clearing to automotive consumption—the moderate emission savings are undone by far greater emissions from deforestation, burning, peat drainage, cultivation, and soil carbon losses. Every ton of palm oil produced results in 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions—10 times more than petroleum. Tropical forests cleared for sugar cane ethanol emit 50 percent more greenhouse gasses than the production and use of the same amount of gasoline Commenting on the global carbon balance, Doug Parr, chief UK scientist at Greenpeace states flatly, “If even five percent of biofuels are sourced from wiping out existing ancient forests, you’ve lost all your carbon gain.”There are other environmental problems as well. Industrial agro-fuels require large applications of petroleum-based fertilizers, whose global use—now at 45 million tons/year—has more than doubled the biologically available nitrogen in the world, contributing heavily to the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO². In the tropics—where most of the world’s agro-fuels will soon be grown—chemical fertilizer has 10-100 times the impact on global warming compared to temperate soil applications. To produce a liter of ethanol takes three to five liters of irrigation water and produces up to 13 liters of waste water. It takes the energy equivalent of 113 liters of natural gas to treat this waste, increasing the likelihood that it will simply be released into the environment to pollute streams, rivers and groundwater Intensive cultivation of fuel crops also leads to high rates of erosion, particularly in soy production—from 6.5 tons/hectare in the U.S. to up to 12 tons/hectare in Brazil and Argentina.
Myth #2: Agro-fuels will not result in deforestationProponents of agro-fuels argue that fuel crops planted on ecologically degraded lands will improve rather than destroy the environment. Perhaps the government of Brazil had this in mind when it re-classified some 200 million hectares of dry-tropical forests, grassland, and marshes as “degraded” and apt for cultivation In reality, these are the bio-diverse ecosystems of the Mata Atlantica the Cerrado and the Pantanal, occupied by indigenous people, subsistence farmers, and extensive cattle ranches. The introduction of agro-fuel plantations will simply push these communities to the “agricultural frontier” of the Amazon where the devastating patterns of deforestation are all too well-known. Soybeans supply 40 percent of Brazil’s biodiesel. NASA has positively correlated their market price with the destruction of the Amazon rainforest—currently at nearly 325,000 hectares a year. Called “The Diesel of Deforestation,” palm oil plantations for bio-diesel are the primary cause of forest loss in Indonesia, a country with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. By 2020, Indonesia’s oil-palm plantations will triple in size to 16.5 million hectares—an area the size of England and Wales combined—resulting in a loss of 98% of forest cover. Neighboring Malaysia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, has already lost 87% of its tropical forests and continues deforesting at a rate of seven percent a year. Myth #3; Agro-fuels will bring rural developmentIn the tropics, 100 hectares dedicated to family farming generates thirty-five jobs. Oil palm and sugar cane provide 10 jobs, eucalyptus two, and soybeans a scant half-job per 100 hectares, all poorly paid. Until recently, agro-fuels supplied primarily local and sub-regional markets. Even in the U.S., most ethanol plants were relatively small, and farmer-owned. With the agro-fuels boom big industry is quickly moving in, centralizing operations and creating gargantuan economies of scale. Big Oil, Big Grain, and Big Genetic engineering are rapidly consolidating control over the entire agro-fuel value chain. The market power of these corporations is staggering: Cargill and ADM control 65 percent of the global grain trade, Monsanto and Syngenta a quarter of the $60 billion gene-tech industry. This market power allows these companies to extract profits from the most lucrative and low-risk segments of the value chain, e.g., inputs, processing and distribution. Agro-fuels producers will be increasingly dependent on a tightly-organized cabal of companies for their seed, inputs, services, processing and sale. They are not likely to receive many benefits. More likely, smallholders will be forced out of the market and off the land. Hundreds of thousands have already been displaced by the soybean plantations in the “Republic of Soy” a 50+ million hectare area covering southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and eastern Bolivia. Myth #4: Agro-fuels will not cause hungerHunger, said Amartya Sen, results not from scarcity, but poverty. According to the FAO, there is enough food in the world to supply everyone with a daily 3,200-calorie diet of fresh fruit, nuts, vegetables, dairy and meat. Nonetheless, because they are poor, 824 million people continue to go hungry. In 2000, world leaders promised to halve the proportion of hungry people living in extreme poverty by 2015. Little progress has been made. The world's poorest people already spend 50-80% of their total household income on food. They suffer when high fuel prices push up food prices. Now, because food and fuel crops are competing over land and resources, high food prices may actually push up fuel prices. Both increase the prices of land and water. This perverse, inflationary spiral puts food and productive resources out of reach for the poor. The International Food Policy Research Institute has estimated that the price of basic food staples will increase 20-33 percent by the year 2010 and 26-135 percent by the year 2020. Caloric consumption typically declines as price rises by a ratio of 1:2. With every 1 percent rise in the cost of food, 16 million people are made food insecure. If current trends continue, some 1.2 billion people could be chronically hungry by 2025—600 million more than previously predicted. World food aid will not likely come to the rescue because our surpluses will go to our gas tanks. Perversely, food aid only increases when food prices are low, not high. Instead of converting land to fuel production, what are urgently needed are massive transfers of food-producing resources to the rural poor.Myth #5: Better “second-generation” agro-fuels are just around the corner Proponents of agro-fuels like to reassure “food versus fuel” skeptics by asserting that present agro-fuels made from food crops will soon be replaced with environmentally-friendly crops like fast-growing trees and switchgrass. This myth, wryly referred to as the “bait and switch-grass” shell game, helps make first generation agro-fuels socially acceptable.The agro-fuel transition transforms land use on massive scales, pitting food production against fuel production for land, water and resources. The issue of which crops are converted to fuel is irrelevant. Wild plants cultivated as fuel crops won’t have a smaller “environmental footprint” because commercialization will transform their ecology. They will rapidly migrate from hedgerows and woodlots onto arable lands to be intensively cultivated like any other industrial crop—with all the associated environmental externalities.By genetically engineering plants with less lignin and cellulose, the industry aims to produce cellulosic agro-fuel crops that break down easily to liberate sugars, especially fast-growing trees. Trees are perennial and spread pollen father than food crops. Cellulosic candidates miscanthus, switch grass, and canary grass, are invasive species. Given the demonstrated promiscuity of genetically-engineered crops, we can expect massive genetic contamination. Monsanto and Syngenta will be quite pleased. Agro-fuels will serve as their genetic Trojan horse, allowing them to fully colonize both our fuel and food systems. Any technology with potential to avoid the worst impacts of global warming must be commercially viable on a global scale within the next 5-8 years. This is highly unlikely with cellulosic ethanol, a product that has thus far demonstrated no carbon savings. Making it a green, viable product is not simply matter of scaling up existing technology, but of major breakthroughs in plant physiology that permit the economically efficient breakdown of cellulose, hemi-cellulose, and lignin. The agro-fuel industry is either betting on miracles or counting on taxpayer bail-outs. Faith in science is not science. Selective faith in second-generation fuel—rather than working to improve existing solar, wind, or conservation technologies—is bias in favor of the highest bidder.The Twin is Dead, Long live the TwinThe International Energy Agency estimates that over the next 23 years, the world could produce as much as 147 million tons of agro-fuel. This will be accompanied by a lot of carbon, nitrous oxide, erosion, and over 2 billion tons of waste water. Remarkably, this fuel will barely offset the yearly increase in global oil demand, now standing at 136 million tons a year—never mind offsetting any of the existing demand. Is this worth it? The agro-fuel transition closes a 200-year chapter in the relation between agriculture and industry that began with the Industrial Revolution. Then, the invention of the steam engine promised an end to drudgery. However, industry’s take-off lagged until governments privatized common lands, driving the poorest peasants out of agriculture and into urban factories. Peasant agriculture effectively subsidized industry with both cheap food and cheap labor. Over the next 100 years, as industry grew, so did the urban percentage of the world’s population: from 3% to 13%. Cheap oil and petroleum-based fertilizers opened up agriculture itself to industrial capital. Mechanization intensified production, keeping food prices low and industry booming. The next hundred years saw a three-fold global shift to urban living. Today, the world has as many people living in cities as in the countryside.  The massive transfer of wealth from agriculture to industry, the industrialization of agriculture, and the rural-urban shift are all part of the “Agrarian Transition,” the lesser-known twin of the Industrial Revolution. The Agrarian/Industrial twins transformed most of the world’s fuel and food systems and established non-renewable petroleum as the foundation of today’s multi-trillion dollar agri-foods complex. The pillars of the agri-foods industry are the great grain corporations, e.g., ADM, Cargill and Bunge. They are surrounded by an equally formidable phalanx of food processors, distributors, and supermarket chains on one hand, and agro-chemical, seed, and machinery companies on the other. Together, these industries consume four of every five food dollars. For some time, the production side of the agri-foods complex has suffered from agricultural “involution” in which increasing rates of investment (chemical inputs, genetic engineering, and machinery) have not increased the rates of agricultural productivity—the agri-foods complex is paying more and reaping less. Agro-fuels are the perfect answer to involution because they’re subsidized, grow as oil shrinks, and facilitate the concentration of market power in the hands of the most powerful players in the food and fuel industries. Like the original Agrarian Transition, the present Agro-fuels Transition will “enclose the commons” by industrializing the remaining forests and prairies of the world. It will drive the planet’s remaining smallholders, family farmers, and indigenous peoples to the cities. It will funnel rural resources to urban centers in the form of fuel, and will generate massive amounts of industrial wealth. Unfortunately, the agro-fuels transition suffers from a congenital flaw: its fraternal twin is dead. There is no new Industrial Revolution. No expanding industrial sector waits to receive displaced indigenous communities, smallholders and rural workers. There are no production breakthroughs poised to flood the world with cheap food. This time, fuel will not subsidize agriculture with cheap energy. On the contrary, fuel will compete with food for land, water and resources. Agro-fuels collapse the industrial link between food and fuel. Taken to its extreme, agro-fuel will be used to grow agro-fuel—a thermodynamically pathetic proposition. The inherent entropy of industrial agriculture was invisible as long as oil was abundant. Now, food and fuel systems must shift from a savings to a checking account. Agro-fuels lead us to overdraw. “Renewable” does not mean “limitless.” Even if crops can be replanted, land, water, and nutrients are limiting. Pretending otherwise serves the interests of those monopolizing those resources.Agro-fuel’s appeal lies with its potential to prolong the oil economy. With an estimated one trillion barrels of oil reserves left on the planet, $100-a-barrel oil is not far off. The higher the oil prices, the more ethanol costs can rise while remaining competitive. Herein lays the contradiction for second generation agro-fuels: as oil becomes more expensive, first generation agro-fuels become more lucrative, discouraging the development of second-generation fuels. If oil reaches $80 per barrel, ethanol producers could afford to pay over $5 per bushel (~127 kg.) for corn, making it competitive with sugar cane as well. The planet’s energy crisis is potentially an $80—100 trillion dollar bonanza for food and fuel corporations. No wonder we are invited to consume our way out of over-consumption.Limits—not incentives—must be placed on the agro-fuels industry. It is unconscionable for the North to shift the burden of over-consumption to the Global South simply because the tropics have more sunlight, rain and arable land. If agro-fuels are to be forest and food friendly, clearly the grain, cane, and oil-palm industries need to be regulated, and not in piecemeal fashion. Strong, enforceable standards based on limiting land planted to agro-fuels are urgently needed, as are anti-trust laws powerful enough to prevent the corporate concentration of market power in the industry. Sustainable benefits to the countryside will only accrue if agro-fuels are a complement to territorial plans for sustainable rural development, not the centerpiece. Building Food and Fuel SovereigntyThe Agro-fuels Transition is not inevitable. There is no reason to sacrifice the possibility of sustainable, equitable food and fuel systems to an industrial strategy that compromises both. Many successful, locally-focused, energy-efficient and people-centered alternatives are presently producing food and fuel in ways that do not threaten food systems, the environment, or livelihoods. The question is not whether ethanol and bio-diesel per-se have a place in our future, but whether or not we allow a handful of global corporations to determine our future by dragging us down the dead end of the agro-fuels transition. To avoid this trap we have to abandon the cornucopian myths left over from the age of abundant oil. We must dare to envision a different, steady-state agrarian transition built on re-distributive land reform that re-populates and stabilizes the world’s struggling rural communities. We need to rebuild and strengthen our local food systems, and ensure conditions for the local re-investment of rural wealth. Putting people and environment—instead of corporate mega-profits—at the center of rural development requires food sovereignty: the right of people to determine their own food systems.In both the Industrial North and the Global South, hundreds of thousands of producers and consumers are actively organizing for their right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. They are also re-building local food systems architecture to ensure that most of the wealth and benefits of food systems accrue locally—not in the distant corporate coffers of the agri-foods giants. They are holding agri-foods corporations accountable for the externalities that their industry imposes on taxpayers in the form of hunger, environmental destruction and poor health from cheap, processed foods. Social movements for land reform, indigenous rights, farmer-to-farmer sustainable agriculture, ethical trade, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, inner-city gardens and neighborhood-food systems development, are a few examples of the widespread, multi-faceted efforts for food sovereignty. Organizations like international Via Campesina, Brazil’s landless movement (MST), the Federation of Southern Cooperatives of African-American Farmers, and the Community Food Security Coalition, are transforming the social will from these rural and urban movements into political will—the formula for social change. Food Sovereignty movements are already squaring off with the agro-fuels boom. When U.S. president George Bush arrived in Brazil to establish an ethanol partnership with Lula, 700 women from Via Campesina greeted him by occupying Cargill’s sugar mill in Sao Paulo in protest. But derailing the agro-fuels juggernaut entails changing the Agro-fuels Transition from an agrarian transition that favors industry to one that actually favors rural communities—a transition that does not drain wealth from the countryside, but that puts resources in the hands of rural peoples. This is a far-reaching project. A good nest step would be to launch a pro-active, global moratorium on the expansion of agro-fuels. Time and public debate is needed to assess the potential impacts of agro-fuels, and to develop the regulatory structures, programs, and incentives for conservation and food and fuel development alternatives. We need the time to forge a better transition—an agrarian transition to food and fuel sovereignty.Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D., is Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
NOTES1.Delft Hydraulics in George Monbiot, “If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels” The Guardian, 3/27/2007
2. David Tilman and Jason Hill, Washington Post, 3/25/07
3. Miguel Altieri and Elizabeth Bravo, “The ecological and social tragedy of biofuels,” 5/1/07, www.foodfirst.org , 4. Ecologist, May, 2007
5. Plano Nacional de Agroenergia 2006-2011, In Camila Moreno, “Agroenergia X Soberania Alimentar: a Questão Agrária do século XXI”, 2006
6.The Ecologist, Ibid
7. Annie Dufey, “International trade in biofuels: Good for development? And good for environment?” International Institute for Environment and Development, 2006.
8. Bravo, E. 2006, Biocombustibles, cutlivos energeticos y soberania alimentaria: encendiendo el debate sobre biocommustibles. Accion Ecologica, Quito, Ecuador
9. C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer, “How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor”,Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007
10. “The World Goes to Town,” The Economist, 5/11/07
11. Caroline Lucas Mep, et al “Fuelling a Food Crisis: The impact of peak oil on food security”, The Greens/European Free Alliance, European Parliament, 12/06
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
by Mitch Battros - Earth Changes Media
June 25th 2007
No, I'm not kidding. This was today's headline. Al Gore continues his childish rant waving his little green finger at you as the cause of climate change. Jonathan Owen, in his article published in the Independent, describes Gore as displaying "an extraordinary outburst aimed at America's failure to tackle global warming". I guess he's slipping in the popularity poles---See Owens article here:How odd of a position I am in calling Al Gore to task for displaying the very same ideology as the bubba Bush regime. It makes me sad and angry at the same time. The true victim of this Goreism babble is science itself. How dare Gore and all the zombies that follow his mantra proclaim they have a clue as to true scientific protocol. What they present is nothing more than lock-step fascism.What is fascism? It goes like this --- "you are either with me, or you are with the terrorist". (Bubba Bush). "you are either with me, or you are with the polluters. Now what's it going to be". (Al Gore).Fascism (Random House):In "Global Warming: A Convenient Disguise"; I go into how this political game began, the step by step hi-jacking of science, and the true motives of the players involved. You will find it a fascinating read of how this 'hide in plain sight' game plan came into fruition. What is at the bottom of this scheme is no surprise. It is nothing less than greed greed greed. But it is not the end game that fascinates me, it is the journey to it.But there is a sinister agenda to this game. I say sinister because it is being done with forethought and full knowledge of what is coming down the pike. Get ready for "mass migration" over the next few years. And guess what? The IPCC has it written dead center in their latest February 2007 release. Although having this fully recognized reality, their agenda remains stead fast to greed greed greed. In short order---they want your money---every last dime. Of course it is to save you from the "evil doers"."Global Warming: A Convenient Disguise" methodically describes how and why "nobody" every believed there is any such thing regarding so-called global warming as "prevention". To put it politely---it is a convenient disguise. To be perfectly blunt---it is a lie. There never was a true plan for "prevention" because there is no prevention of the Sun. Our ancestors have been telling us this for centuries.But there is a shining light in the midst of this madness. It is the very real applicable planning of "preparedness". Our ancestors describe it in a different way. They tell us to 'condition ourselves to best facilitate the coming changes'. Yes, we do have an influence and empowerment of this 'in progress' transition. In "Global Warming: A Convenient Disguise" you will learn first hand how this can be accomplished, and done in a relatively short time.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
by Prof. Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research, June 24, 2007
"Another [9/11 type terrorist] attack could create both a justification and an opportunity that is lacking today to retaliate against some known targets" (Statement by Pentagon official, leaked to the Washington Post, 23 April 2006)
The US media consensus is that "the United States faces its greatest threat of a terrorist assault since the September 11 attacks" (USA Today, 12 February 2006) The American Homeland is threatened by " Islamic terrorists", allegedly supported by Tehran and Damascus.
America is under attack" by an illusive "outside enemy".
Concepts are turned upside down. War becomes Peace. "Offense" becomes a legitimate means of "self-defense". In the words of President Bush:
"Against this kind of enemy, there is only one effective response: We must go on the offense, stay on the offense, and take the fight to them." (President George W. Bush, CENTCOM Coalition Conference, May 1, 2007)
The intent is to seek a pretext to wage a preemptive war.
A "terrorist attack on America" could be used to justify, in the eyes of an increasingly credulous public opinion, on "humanitarian grounds", the launching of a major theater war directed against Iran and Syria...
Sunday, June 24th, 2007
An explosive Cabinet Office document reveals that the departing Prime Minister had no intention of making a ’smooth transition’ of power to Gordon Brown. Political Editor Marie Woolf reveals the detailed plans to sack his bitter rival and break up the Treasury in an exclusive report that reveals an extraordinary breakdown at the heart of government
An astonishing confidential document - disclosed by The Independent on Sunday three days before Gordon Brown takes over as Prime Minister - proves that Tony Blair planned to sack Mr Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately after the last election.
The Cabinet Office document, drawn up by a team of Downing Street advisers including Lord Birt, the former director-general of the BBC, shows that far from the “unswerving support” the Prime Minister pledged to Mr Brown this week, he planned to scupper his career and break up the Treasury just two years ago.
The revelations will shock Labour Party delegates assembling in Manchester for the formal announcement of Mr Brown’s succession as Labour leader.
They will also confirm long-held suspicions by allies of Gordon Brown that the Prime Minister has been undermining him for years. The top-secret paper confirms talk at Westminster that Mr Blair intended to sack Mr Brown after the 2005 election and move him to another post to loosen his control over the domestic agenda.
The paper provides the first concrete proof that the speculation was true, including draft speaking notes for the Prime Minister, a briefing for the ” new Chancellor”, as well as a list of personal qualities Mr Brown’s successor should have.
Marked “Copy No 1 - Prime Minister Confidential Policy”, the paper says the new Chancellor’s qualities must include “lack of personal investment in previous policies”. It adds that “teamwork” is a key asset, something that arch-Blairites have accused Mr Brown of being incapable of.
The document adds that on the first day in office Mr Blair should ” convey to the new Chancellor” his plans to split the Treasury and hand many of its key roles, including responsibility for tax credits, to other ministries.
In the week in which Tony Blair finally leaves the stage, the leak starkly illuminates the extent of the breakdown in the central relationship of the Labour government over the past decade.
It emerged last week that Cherie Blair repeatedly urged her husband to sack Mr Brown, and that Mr Blair told friends of his intention to ditch the Chancellor.
The paper was prepared by a trusted team of advisers in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, in close co-operation with John Birt and the Economic and Domestic Secretariat in the Cabinet Office - Mr Blair’s elite civil service support team.
Downing Street sources have told The Independent on Sunday that Mr Blair wanted to be kept closely informed of its work and watched presentations of the plans as they developed. As proof of how closely involved Tony Blair was, The Independent on Sunday has seen the Prime Minister’s own personal copy, drafted for him in March 2005, weeks before the election.
One Downing Street insider said that the secret plans were known only to a small coterie of Mr Blair’s inner circle, including Alan Milburn, Lord Birt and a group of key Downing Street officials...
Saturday, June 23, 2007
by Ramzy Baroud
Global Research, June 22, 2007
All my forewarnings have suddenly been actualised, all at once: Gaza has descended into total and utter chaos; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has capitulated to Israel and to the United States without a shred of reservation; and the Palestinian democratic experiment, which was until recently an astounding success, has been smashed to pieces.
For years I have been warning of a civil war starting in Gaza. I wrote about it in my last book, The Second Palestinian Intifada. I warned via every media platform available that there are too many hands working to ensure the demise of the Palestinian national project, both from within and without. I urged Palestinians not to fall into rhetoric. I saw very clearly that the fragmentation of Palestinian national identity -- an outcome of two combined realities: one stemming from the post-Oslo political culture, the other from Israel's Bantustan ghettos imposed in the West Bank and the total isolation of Gaza -- was almost perfected. I've toured many cities in many countries taking on Palestinian division, worried that Palestinians will reach a point where they no longer identify themselves as such, but as ideological and tribal extensions of factions and sub-factions.
In recent months I became belligerent -- in the eyes of some -- in my frankness. Not one public speech I gave would conclude without a few Palestinians abandoning the gathering; either Fatah loyalists furious over my chastisement of Abbas, Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan and the rest of the clique for their corruption and deviation from the aspirations of their own people; or Islamists, angry for my suggesting that Hamas shouldn't act as the sole proprietor of the Palestinian narrative, despite their parliamentary majority, but merely as a conduit for Palestinian constants and the will of the Palestinian people. My comments were not always popular: they ruffled many feathers, and recently they cost me my job.
The devastating embargo imposed on Palestinians after the Hamas landslide victory in January 2006, didn't produce the results publicly projected. To the contrary, it greatly hampered the American "democratic" experiment in the Middle East. Everywhere I travelled since, I have witnessed a sense of giddiness and much hope being pinned on Hamas's rise in politics. Thus it was resolved that Hamas had to be removed, with Abbas's Preventive Security Forces, riddled with corruption, entrusted with the task. Dahlan, man of the hour, was given the Israeli and American nod. His Palestinian "Contras" wreaked havoc: kidnapping, assassinating and provoking endless feuds.
One can well imagine what impact such meddling would have, knowing that Gaza is essentially a huge open-air prison. I was a prisoner there until the age of 21. I remember how people picked fights for no convincing reason -- isolation, hunger and hopelessness lead to self-destruction. The US and the EU took part in the siege and embargo, and Israel's bombardment never ceased, not even for one day. Hundreds of besieged Palestinians have been blown to shreds by Israeli bombs. Their only mechanism of defence has been makeshift Qassam "missiles" that have killed no more than a dozen Israelis in six years. Thousands of Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the same period. Gaza bore all the signs that warned of disaster and civil war was looming, it was one assassin's bullet away -- one provocative statement, one kidnapping.
The pressure Hamas faced as a result was insurmountable. The movement had reached the limits of political concessions; any more would be considered a retreat from its political platform and could lead to fragmentation within its own ranks. Yet a state of isolation from within (Fatah's total control over the 10 branches of the security apparatus), and from without (the US-led international embargo that called for Hamas's removal), was sure to weaken Hamas and eventually deprive it of popular support. The decision was thus made that Hamas must take its chances and push for what it termed the "second liberation of Gaza".
Now the situation is very bleak. Hamas is in control of Gaza, and Abbas and Fatah are in control of as much in the West Bank as Israel allows. This places Palestine's destiny back in the US neo-conservative court.
Dividing the West Bank and Gaza appears central to the agenda: "This turn of events frees Abbas to focus on the much more manageable West Bank, where he can depend on the Israeli Defense Forces to suppress challenges from Hamas, and on Jordan and the United States to help rebuild his security forces," wrote Martin Indyk, the pro-Israel lobbyist in Washington, in The Washington Post, 15 June. Most American mainstream editorials are sounding the same message. And various Arab governments, the EU, the US and Israel are flocking to back Abbas. Money, weapons and political legitimacy are being bestowed upon him from all directions. The once irrelevant leader is now the darling of the international community; the sanctions set to be lifted on his emergency government, which he has appointed after sacking the unity government, an unconstitutional act by all standards.
Israeli officials cannot imagine a more satisfactory scenario. The new experiment suggests that the West Bank will be lavished with aid and Gaza will be starved further. This is the pinnacle of injustice, and as always the US and Israel take centre stage, directing the show. Abbas and his men are presented as the true heroes, already making their debut as the true and legitimate face of Palestinian democracy, a democracy determined by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, not the Palestinians.
Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian American author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com; his latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London)
Friday, June 22, 2007
Friday, June 22nd, 2007
By Jim Fetzer
A study of the black box data provided by the government to Pilots for 9/11 Truth has confirmed the previous findings of Scholars for 9/11 Truth that no Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon on 9/11. “We have had four lines of proof that no Boeing 757 hit the building,” said James Fetzer, founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth. “This new study by Pilots drives another nail into a coffin of lies told the American people by The 9/11 Commission”.
The new society, an international organization of pilots and aviation professionals, petitioned the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) under the Freedom of Information Act and obtained its 2002 report on American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 that, according to the official account, hit the ground floor of the Pentagon after it skimmed over the lawn at 500 mph plus, taking out a series of lamp posts in the process. The pilots not only obtained the flight data but created a computer animation to demonstrate what it told them.
According to the report issued by Pilots for 9/11 Truth (http://pilotsfor911truth.org/), there are major differences between the official account and the flight data:
a. The NTSB Flight Path Animation approach path and altitude does not support official events.
b. All altitude data shows the aircraft at least 300 feet too high to have struck the light poles.
c. The rate of descent data is in direct conflict with the aircraft being able to impact the light poles and be captured in the Dept of Defense “5 Frames” video of an object traveling nearly parallel with the Pentagon lawn.
d. The record of data stops at least one second prior to official impact time.
e. If data trends are continued, the aircraft altitude would have been at least 100 feet too high to have hit the Pentagon.
As Robert Balsamo, co-founder of Pilots for 9/11 Truth, observes, “The information in the NSTB documents does not support, and in some instances factually contradicts, the official government position that American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001.” The study was signed by fifteen professional pilots with extensive military and commercial carrier experience. They have made their animation, “Pandora’s Box: Chapter 2,” available to the public at http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=Pandora’s+Black+Box%3A+Chapter+2 .
According to James H. Fetzer, founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth (http://911scholars.org), this result fits into the broader picture of what happened at the Pentagon that day. “We have developed four lines of argument that prove–conclusively, in my judgment–that no Boeing 757 hit the building. The most important evidence to the contrary has been the numerous eyewitness reports of a large commercial carrier coming toward the building. If the NTSB data is correct, then the Pilot’s study shows that a large aircraft headed toward the building but did not impact with it. It swerved off and flew above the Pentagon.”
Fetzer, who retired last June after 35 years of teaching courses in logic, critical thinking, and scientific reasoning, expressed pleasure over the Pilot’s results, which, he said, has neatly resolved the most pressing issue that remained about the Pentagon. He added, “We have previously developed several lines of argument, each of which proves that no Boeing 757 hit the building,” including these four:
The hit point at the Pentagon was too small to accommodate a 100-ton airliner with a 125-foot wingspan and a tail that stands 44 feet above the ground; the kind and quantity of debris was wrong for a Boeing 757: there were no wings, no fuselage, no seats, no bodies, no luggage, no tail! Not even the engines were recovered, and they are practically indestructible.
Of an estimate 84 videotapes of the crash, the three that have been released by the Pentagon do not show a Boeing 757 hitting the building, as even Bill O’Reilly admitted when one was shown on “The Factor”. At 155 feet, the plane was more than twice as long as the 77-foot Pentagon is high and should have been visible. There are indications of a much smaller plane, but not a Boeing 757.
Indeed, the aerodynamics of flight would have made the official trajectory–flying more than 500 mph barely above ground level–physically impossible, because of the accumulation of a massive pocket of compressed gas (air) beneath the fuselage; and if it had come it at an angle instead, it would have created a massive crater; but there is no crater and the official trajectory is impossible.
Flying low enough to impact with the ground floor would have meant that the enormous engines were plowing the ground and creating massive furrows; but there are no massive furrows. The smooth, unblemished surface of the Pentagon lawn thus stands as a “smoking gun” proving the official trajectory cannot be sustained.
Members of Scholars have contributed to a new book that analyses the government’s official account, according to which 19 Islamic fundamentalists hijacked four commercial airliners, outfoxed the most sophisticated air-defense system in the world, and committed these atrocities under the control of a man in a cave in Afghanistan. Entitled, THE 9/11 CONSPIRACY (2007), it includes photographs of the hit point before and after the upper floors collapsed, the crucial frame from the released videos, and views of the clear, smooth, and unblemished lawn.
“Don’t be taken in by photos showing damage to the second floor or those taken after the upper floors collapsed, which happened 20-30 minutes later,” Fetzer said. “In fact, debris begins to show up on the completely clean lawn in short order, which might have been dropped from a C-130 that was circling above the Pentagon or placed there by men in suits who were photographed carrying debris with them.” The most striking is a piece from the fuselage of a commercial airliner, which is frequently adduced as evidence.
James Hanson, a newspaper reporter who earned his law degree from the University of Michigan College of Law, has traced that debris to an American Airlines 757 that crashed in a rain forest above Cali, Columbia in 1995. “It was the kind of slow-speed crash that would have torn off paneling in this fashion, with no fires, leaving them largely intact.” Fetzer has been so impressed with his research he has invited Hanson to submit his study to Scholars for consideration for publication on its web site, 911scholars.org.
“The Pentagon has become a kind of litmus test for rationality in the study of 9/11,” Fetzer said. “Those who persist in maintaining that a Boeing 757 hit the building are either unfamiliar with the evidence or cognitively impaired. Unless,” he added, “they want to mislead the American people. The evidence is beyond clear and compelling. It places this issue ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. No Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon.”
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
This ID project is even more sinister than we first thought The insidious erosion of our civil liberties will accelerate dramatically if the government wins the battle over identity cards Henry PorterSunday March 19, 2006The Observer Whether the campaign is about rape, TV licences or filling in your tax form, there is always a we-know-where-you-live edge to the message, a sense that this government is dividing the nation into suspects and informers. Reading the Identity Cards Bill, as it pinged between the House of Commons and the Lords last week, I wondered about the type of campaign that will be used to persuade us to comply with the new ID card law. Clearly, it would be orchestrated by some efficient martinet like the Minister of State at the Home Office, Hazel Blears. Her task will be to put the fear of God into the public at the same time as reassuring us that the £90 cost of each card will protect everyone from identity theft, terrorism and benefit fraud. The ads might imagine any number of scenarios. Here is one. 'Your elderly mother has fallen ill,' starts the commentary gravely. 'You travel from your home to look after her. She has a chronic condition but this time, it's a bit of a crisis and you need to pick up a prescription at the only late-night chemist in town. Trouble is, she has mislaid her identity card and you never thought to get one. Under the new law, the pharmacist will not be able to give you that medicine without proper ID. So, get your card. It's for your own good - and Mum's.' It became clear last week that the government will do anything to get this bill through parliament, including ignoring its own manifesto pledge to make the cards voluntary, a fact that we should remember as each of us entrusts the 49 separate pieces of personal information to a national database. By the end of last year, the government had already spent £32m of taxpayers' money on the scheme and, at the present, the expenditure is edging towards £100,000 a day. No surprise that Home Secretary Charles Clarke dissembles about Labour promises. Labour's manifesto said: 'We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.' It turns out that there is nothing voluntary about it. If you renew your passport, you will be compelled to provide all the information the state requires for its sinister data base. The Home Secretary says that the decision to apply for, or renew, a passport is entirely a matter of individual choice; thus he maintains that the decision to commit those personal details to the data base is a matter of individual choice. George Orwell would have been pleased to have invented that particular gem. Yet this is not fiction, but the reality of 2006, and we should understand that if the Home Secretary is prepared to mislead on the fundamental issue as to whether something is voluntary or compulsory, we cannot possibly trust his word on the larger issues of personal freedom and the eventual use of the ID card database. Clarke has now established himself as a deceiver, even in the eyes of his party. Labour democrats such as Kate Hoey, Diane Abbott, Bob Marshall-Andrews and Mark Fisher all understood that the Lords' amendments of last week simply sought to underline this concept of a voluntary scheme, which complied with the 2005 manifesto. Oddly enough, the compulsory provision of personal information to the government database is not the greatest threat to our freedom, though it is in itself a substantial one. The real menace comes when the ID card scheme begins to track everyone's movements and transactions, the details of which will kept on the database for as long as the Home Office desires. Over the past few weeks, an anonymous email has been doing a very good job of enlightening people on how invasive the ID card will be. 'Private businesses,' says the writer, 'are going to be given access to the national identity register database. If you want to apply for a job, you will have to present your card for a swipe. If you want to apply for a London underground Oystercard or supermarket loyalty card or driving licence, you will have to present your card.' You will need the card when you receive prescription drugs, when you withdraw a relatively small amount of money from a bank, check into hospital, get your car unclamped, apply for a fishing licence, buy a round of drinks (if you need to prove you're over 18), set up an internet account, fix a residents' parking permit or take out insurance. Every time that card is swiped, the central database logs the transaction so that an accurate plot of your life is drawn. The state will know everything that it needs to know; so will big corporations, the police, the Inland Revenue, HM Customs, MI5 and any damned official or commercial busybody that wants access to your life. The government and Home Office have presented this as an incidental benefit, but it is at the heart of their purpose. Last week, Andrew Burnham, a junior minister at the Home Office, confirmed the anonymous email by admitting that the ID card scheme would now include chip-and-pin technology because it would be a cheaper way of checking each person's identity. The sophisticated technology on which this bill was sold will cost too much to operate, with millions of checks being made every week. That is a very important admission because the government still maintains the fiction that the ID card is defence against identity theft and terrorism. The 7 July bombers would not have been deterred by a piece of plastic. And it is clear that the claim about protecting your identity is also rubbish because chip-and-pin technology has already been compromised by organised criminals. What remains is the ceaseless monitoring of people's lives. That is what the government is forcing on us. Practically every week in these columns, I urge you to pay attention to the government's theft of our liberties. I would feel a bore and an obsessive if I hadn't pored over the ID card bill last week and read Hansard's account of the exchanges in both houses. One of the most chilling passages in the bill is section 13 which deals with the 'invalidity and surrender' of ID cards, which, in effect, describes the withdrawal of a person's identity by the state. For, without this card, it will be almost impossible to function, to exist as a citizen in the UK. Despite the cost to you, this card will not be your property. People keep asking me what they can do about the lurch into Labour's velvet tyranny and I keep replying that the only way for us is to re-engage with the politics of our country. But it is difficult. The new Conservative regime under David Cameron has not yet found the voice to articulate the objection to the radical changes proposed in our society. Edward Garnier, the Tory spokesman on ID cards, did his best in the Commons last week, but we need to hear his leader express the principled outrage that comes from conviction and unyielding values. If we don't, we may justifiably wonder if the Conservatives are sitting on their hands in the belief that they will eventually inherit Labour's apparatus of control. Outside parliament, what needs to happen is the formation of the broadest possible front against these changes, a movement which deploys the most principled democratic minds in the country to argue with the lazy and stupid view that if you've got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from Labour's attack on liberty. I believe that will happen.
Whether the campaign is about rape, TV licences or filling in your tax form, there is always a we-know-where-you-live edge to the message, a sense that this government is dividing the nation into suspects and informers.
Reading the Identity Cards Bill, as it pinged between the House of Commons and the Lords last week, I wondered about the type of campaign that will be used to persuade us to comply with the new ID card law. Clearly, it would be orchestrated by some efficient martinet like the Minister of State at the Home Office, Hazel Blears. Her task will be to put the fear of God into the public at the same time as reassuring us that the £90 cost of each card will protect everyone from identity theft, terrorism and benefit fraud.
The ads might imagine any number of scenarios. Here is one. 'Your elderly mother has fallen ill,' starts the commentary gravely. 'You travel from your home to look after her. She has a chronic condition but this time, it's a bit of a crisis and you need to pick up a prescription at the only late-night chemist in town. Trouble is, she has mislaid her identity card and you never thought to get one. Under the new law, the pharmacist will not be able to give you that medicine without proper ID. So, get your card. It's for your own good - and Mum's.'
It became clear last week that the government will do anything to get this bill through parliament, including ignoring its own manifesto pledge to make the cards voluntary, a fact that we should remember as each of us entrusts the 49 separate pieces of personal information to a national database. By the end of last year, the government had already spent £32m of taxpayers' money on the scheme and, at the present, the expenditure is edging towards £100,000 a day. No surprise that Home Secretary Charles Clarke dissembles about Labour promises.
Labour's manifesto said: 'We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.'
It turns out that there is nothing voluntary about it. If you renew your passport, you will be compelled to provide all the information the state requires for its sinister data base. The Home Secretary says that the decision to apply for, or renew, a passport is entirely a matter of individual choice; thus he maintains that the decision to commit those personal details to the data base is a matter of individual choice.
George Orwell would have been pleased to have invented that particular gem. Yet this is not fiction, but the reality of 2006, and we should understand that if the Home Secretary is prepared to mislead on the fundamental issue as to whether something is voluntary or compulsory, we cannot possibly trust his word on the larger issues of personal freedom and the eventual use of the ID card database.
Clarke has now established himself as a deceiver, even in the eyes of his party. Labour democrats such as Kate Hoey, Diane Abbott, Bob Marshall-Andrews and Mark Fisher all understood that the Lords' amendments of last week simply sought to underline this concept of a voluntary scheme, which complied with the 2005 manifesto. Oddly enough, the compulsory provision of personal information to the government database is not the greatest threat to our freedom, though it is in itself a substantial one. The real menace comes when the ID card scheme begins to track everyone's movements and transactions, the details of which will kept on the database for as long as the Home Office desires.
Over the past few weeks, an anonymous email has been doing a very good job of enlightening people on how invasive the ID card will be. 'Private businesses,' says the writer, 'are going to be given access to the national identity register database. If you want to apply for a job, you will have to present your card for a swipe. If you want to apply for a London underground Oystercard or supermarket loyalty card or driving licence, you will have to present your card.'
You will need the card when you receive prescription drugs, when you withdraw a relatively small amount of money from a bank, check into hospital, get your car unclamped, apply for a fishing licence, buy a round of drinks (if you need to prove you're over 18), set up an internet account, fix a residents' parking permit or take out insurance.
Every time that card is swiped, the central database logs the transaction so that an accurate plot of your life is drawn. The state will know everything that it needs to know; so will big corporations, the police, the Inland Revenue, HM Customs, MI5 and any damned official or commercial busybody that wants access to your life. The government and Home Office have presented this as an incidental benefit, but it is at the heart of their purpose.
Last week, Andrew Burnham, a junior minister at the Home Office, confirmed the anonymous email by admitting that the ID card scheme would now include chip-and-pin technology because it would be a cheaper way of checking each person's identity. The sophisticated technology on which this bill was sold will cost too much to operate, with millions of checks being made every week.
That is a very important admission because the government still maintains the fiction that the ID card is defence against identity theft and terrorism. The 7 July bombers would not have been deterred by a piece of plastic. And it is clear that the claim about protecting your identity is also rubbish because chip-and-pin technology has already been compromised by organised criminals. What remains is the ceaseless monitoring of people's lives. That is what the government is forcing on us.
Practically every week in these columns, I urge you to pay attention to the government's theft of our liberties. I would feel a bore and an obsessive if I hadn't pored over the ID card bill last week and read Hansard's account of the exchanges in both houses. One of the most chilling passages in the bill is section 13 which deals with the 'invalidity and surrender' of ID cards, which, in effect, describes the withdrawal of a person's identity by the state. For, without this card, it will be almost impossible to function, to exist as a citizen in the UK. Despite the cost to you, this card will not be your property.
People keep asking me what they can do about the lurch into Labour's velvet tyranny and I keep replying that the only way for us is to re-engage with the politics of our country. But it is difficult. The new Conservative regime under David Cameron has not yet found the voice to articulate the objection to the radical changes proposed in our society. Edward Garnier, the Tory spokesman on ID cards, did his best in the Commons last week, but we need to hear his leader express the principled outrage that comes from conviction and unyielding values. If we don't, we may justifiably wonder if the Conservatives are sitting on their hands in the belief that they will eventually inherit Labour's apparatus of control.
Outside parliament, what needs to happen is the formation of the broadest possible front against these changes, a movement which deploys the most principled democratic minds in the country to argue with the lazy and stupid view that if you've got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from Labour's attack on liberty. I believe that will happen.
Meta-analyses Used To Discredit Supplements
Several recent 'studies' on nutrients seem to contradict either what we know from previous research, or what our intelligence tells us should be true. You only have to scan the headlines and pay attention to the "newly found" dangers of this or that natural substance. From St. John's Wort to Kava Kava, from vitamin C to vitamin E, we hear that they are "not effective" or worse - that they may be dangerous.
Nonsense, says Dr Robert Verkerk of the Alliance for Natural Health, those studies are manipulated. Apparently there is a new kind of study that is highly regarded these days, the so-called "meta-analysis". That is a choose-and-pick approach where older studies are reviewed and analyzed to make them say whatever the funders now desire. The criteria of inclusion/exclusion of previous studies in the analysis, and the decision of how to give different weights to different results are so rubbery that almost any conclusion becomes possible. We see that in many of the recent studies that attempt to trash nutrients, to give vitamins and other natural substances a bad name.
The fact that a recent meta-analysis throwing doubt on omega-3 fish oils coincides with the launch of a pharmaceutical version of the same type of fats made by chemical giant Solvay reminds me of the tryptophan disaster of more than a decade ago. The amino acid L-tryptophan was being used as a mood enhancer and remedy for migraine headaches and had the public excited. At the same time as a tryptophan-based pharmaceutical headache medicine was launched, a mysterious contamination of one batch of the amino-acid made by Japanese producer Showa Denko caused all tryptophan products sold as supplements to be taken off the market, while the one sold as a medicine remained on sale. Much the same happened with melatonin, a strong anti-oxidant and regulator of sleep patterns. Once the excitement got too much, the health authorities came down heavy handed and removed melatonin from the market in several European countries.
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META-ANALYSIS: a new tool to discredit natural health supplements?
By Dr Robert Verkerk, Executive & Scientific Director, Alliance for Natural Health
(you can download a PDF version of the article here)
On 24 March 2006, The British Medical Journal published a meta-analysis (a study of other studies) on omega-3 fatty acids  that prompted headlines around the world to the effect that “fish oils don’t work”. This is not the first time a meta-analysis has triggered headlines that discredit natural health supplements.
The vitamin E meta-analysis of 2004
In November 2004, Dr Edgar Miller and colleagues published electronically in the Annals of Internal Medicine a meta-analysis  that provided headlines as bizarre as “High dose vitamin E death warning” (this headline was run by none other than the BBC on 11 November 2004). The meta-analysis appeared to be pitched to tarnish the reputation of vitamin E, a nutrient in which many are known to be deficient. Among many of its problems, the study failed to show how healthy people would respond to supplemental intakes of vitamin E and it only included studies on synthetic vitamin E (dl-alpha-tocopherol). It therefore omitted any consideration of the effects of the seven other related compounds that make-up full spectrum, natural vitamin E, as found in vegetable oils. Interestingly, the body’s absorption of the most important dietary form (gamma-tocopherol) is hindered by high doses of synthetic vitamin E, and this could have explained the negative results found by Miller et al.
The overall conclusion that high-dose vitamin E causes increased mortality could also have been a statistical artefact, with no biological relevance. Since the study assessed all-cause mortality, and not just cardiovascular mortality, other factors could easily have contributed to the greater death rate in the higher dose vitamin E group found when trials were pooled. It should be noted that the increased death rate was marginal; just 63 additional deaths per 10,000 persons, compared with the control group. Given that the confidence interval ranged from 6 to 119, this increased death rate cannot be said to be statistically significant.
Prior to this meta-analysis on vitamin E, market research data from Frost & Sullivan showed that vitamin E was the second most consumed single vitamin supplement, after vitamin C, in Europe. High-dose Vitamin E could have easily been perceived by Big Pharma as a threat to its huge cardiovascular drug market, comprised of statins, beta-blockers and ACE-inhibitors. In fact, Big Pharma had demonstrated such a strong interest in vitamins that it established an illegal cartel to control the markets and prices of a range of key vitamins, including vitamin E. Fortunately for the consumer, the conspiracy was eventually exposed and pharma companies like BASF and Hoffman-La Roche, as well as some of their top executives, got busted. Fines imposed by the US Justice Department in the US (May 1999) and, separately, by the European Commission (November 2001), which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars in the US and similar amounts in Europe, are still among the largest ever imposed following an anti-trust investigation. Undeterred by this prosecution, Big Pharma continued its campaign against supplements, with the meta-analysis on vitamin E appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine just three years later.
The antioxidant vitamin meta-analysis of 2003
A year earlier, in June 2003, another meta-analysis appeared. This one was published in the prestigious medical journal, the Lancet, by Dr Marc Penn and colleagues from the Cleveland Clinic . These authors asserted that beta-carotene, vitamin A and other antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E, were harmful. These authors re-iterated yet again negative results from a very small clutch of studies on synthetic vitamins like synthetic beta-carotene and vitamin E, which were once more administered to diseased or high risk subjects, and often for inadequate periods of time.
Following the publication of the meta-analysis, the lead author was quoted in the media saying that people should stop taking supplements containing vitamins A, beta-carotene and E. These conclusions, some of which were carried over into the vitamin E meta-analysis the following year, are profound misinterpretations of the existing evidence base, and most certainly cannot be applied to the role of these vitamins in reducing risks of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease in healthy people. Nor can these conclusions be applied to supplements containing natural forms of these vitamins.
Back to the omega-3 meta-analysis of 2006
Last month’s attack on fish oils prompted by the meta-analysis by Dr Lee Hooper and his colleagues, as published in the BMJ, must surely be seen in the same light as the two meta-analyses discussed above. Put bluntly, the meta-analysis appears to be, once more, a vehicle to generate negative headlines. In fairness, even the authors have now conceded that they were “misquoted in much of the press.” 
The scientific evidence for long chain omega-3 benefits on lowering triglycerides and other risk factors in heart disease, as well as clear, beneficial immune system modulation and behavioural effects, have been regarded by scientists, doctors and health authorities around the world as conclusive. This evidence has formed the basis of recommendations to consume oily fish or fish oil supplements by many governments. Where governments have stipulated a limit on the maximum amount to be consumed, such as no more than three portions of oily fish weekly, this has served mainly as a means to limit intake of heavy metals like mercury, or other contaminants such as dioxins or PCBs common in most wild fish . Peculiarly, governments have appeared shy of recommending high-quality fish oil supplements which are often guaranteed as being free of any significant levels of these contaminants. This is particularly relevant given that specific batches of several low cost, mass market fish oil product lines have recently had to be withdrawn from the UK market owing to dioxin contamination (e.g. several Seven Seas [owned by pharma giant Merck] fish oil product batches were withdrawn on 14th March 2006, and on 11th March 2006 high street pharmacy chain Boots withdrew two batches of its own brand fish oil product).
In closely scrutinising Hooper et al's paper, one thing becomes apparent: the findings are not nearly as damning as those suggested by the negative headlines on omega-3 fats that rebounded around the world for over a week. In fact, to the contrary; when it comes to the studies with fish oils only, the news appears just as rosy as we had all thought.
Ten out of 12 randomised control trials considered in the meta-analysis that assessed these oils in relation to total mortality point to positive findings. The same can be said for all three cohort studies considered by the meta-analysis authors. That’s thirteen out of fifteen studies showing favourable results for higher intakes of omega-3 fats. The remaining two studies have been presented as showing very slightly negative findings, but in both cases the studies deal with existing disease states, either angina or coronary artery bypass grafts. The negative effects, in both cases, are so small that they could be regarded as having little or no biological relevance (in one study there was half a percent greater mortality in the treatment compared with control, while in the other there was a little over a 2% difference). The meta-analysis authors themselves considered both studies as being of medium to high risk of bias, which might in itself explain or at least contribute to such variations.
So, while the world was assaulted with headlines such as “The benefits of fish and linseed oils as elixir of life are another health myth” (this example being courtesy of The Times newspaper), we could have just as easily, and much more correctly, read headlines along the lines of: “New meta-analysis reinforces the health benefits of fish oils.” But perhaps fewer newspapers would have sold on 24 and 25 March 2006.
Smearing the data with margarine
Even when Hooper and co-workers included studies with plant-derived, short chain omega-3 fats, such as those found in certain vegetable oils (e.g. flax) including margarines, the overall trend still pointed to reduced mortality for those consuming higher intake levels of all forms of omega-3.
The study that was presented as having the most pronounced apparent negative effect was one published in 2002 by Groningen University’s Dr Wanda Bemelmans and colleagues . The study, known as the MARGARIN trial, investigated the effect on heart disease risk of a Unilever margarine enriched with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an important short-chain omega-3 found to be rich in Mediterranean diets, well known for their health promoting properties. The study also aimed to assess the effect of group education on the benefits associated with consuming a typical Mediterranean diet. Importantly, the subjects in the study all had multiple cardiovascular risk factors; nearly half were smokers and took anti-hypertensive drugs, while over 40% had family histories of cardiovascular risk.
Bemelmans and colleagues’ own findings, in contrast to their interpretation of these findings in the Hooper et al meta-analysis, are overwhelmingly positive. They demonstrate clearly the beneficial effects of ALA-enriched margarine on reducing heart disease risk. The study also shows that group education led to healthier diets, with increased consumption of fish, and consequently lower heart disease risk factors. These findings are actually fully in line with another major study, the Lyons Diet Heart Study, published in 1994 in the Lancet, which actually provided the inspiration for Bemelmans and colleagues’ MARGARIN trial.
So, how was this study distorted to give the impression that omega-3 fats might be bad for you? This is down to the very small number of deaths recorded, which could just as easily be a function of chance rather than any treatment effect. The study included only four deaths out of 266 subjects in total. The omega-3 meta-analysis authors managed to blacken this study because 3 out of 4 of these deaths (again from all-causes, not just cardiovascular disease) occurred in the high ALA, treatment group, while only one was in the low ALA, control group. This small number of deaths could easily have been a function of random, ‘statistical clustering’, particularly given that risk factors appeared lower in the high ALA treatment group.
Dr Bemelmans has actually gone on public record since the release of Hooper et al’’s meta-analysis questioning the way in which her study has been used, and how her and her co-authors’ positive findings have been used to demonstrate negative findings in the meta-analysis.
Just as importantly, since the omega-3 sources are vegetable oils in margarine, it is not surprising that the benefits are perhaps less pronounced given the inefficient and limited conversion by the human body of plant-derived omega-3s to key long chain fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are abundant in fish oils. Additionally, harmful trans fats in margarine could have been an additional confounding factor.
Cutting to the chase
Looking at all of the data in the omega-3 meta-analysis, the only area where it is possible to interpret a tendency towards very slightly negative effects, is in the case of randomised control trials (but not cohort studies) looking at the effects of omega-3 fats on cancer and stroke. However, these results could just as easily be the result of bias or confounding factors, inadequate periods of supplementation, or even the effects of contaminants in fish or fish oil capsules.
For the BMJ’’s own view on the subject, it is worth referring to the Editorial published on 24 March which focuses on Hooper et al’’s meta-analysis. Contrary to the thrust of the meta-analysis itself, and the related media, the Editorial takes a rather positive line on omega-3s, and demonstrates concern over dwindling supplies of marine-derived omega-3s. Citing directly from the Editorial:
“For the general public some omega 3 fat is good for health….. Adequate intake of omega 3 fats is particularly important for women of childbearing age…… We are faced with a paradox. Health recommendations advise increased consumption of oily fish and fish oils, within limits, on the grounds that intake is generally low. However, industrial fishing has depleted the world’s fish stocks by some 90% since 1950, and rising fish prices reduce affordability particularly for people with low incomes. Global production trends suggest that, although fish farming is expanding rapidly, we probably do not have a sustainable supply of long chain omega 3 fats.”
Additionally, there are now many Rapid Responses published in the BMJ which reinforce problems with the authors’ conclusions. These can be found at:http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/332/7544/752.
Let you be the judge. I don’t believe many people who read the full Hooper et al meta-analysis, as well as the BMJ editorial and Rapid Responses, would stop taking fish oil supplements. The problem is that only a tiny proportion of the population will do this. Many more will succumb to the negative headlines triggered by the meta-analysis and, contrary to the vast weight of evidence, they now run the risk of going against government advice to increase consumption of oily fish or fish oil supplements at recommended doses.
Those very few who interrogate the evidence considered by Hooper and colleagues might actually decide to alter their sources of omega-3 fats, shifting in the direction of high quality fish oil supplements and away from vegetarian sources of omega-3 and even oily fish, which runs the risk of contamination. This way, they can be guaranteed specific amounts of long-chain EPA and DHA, as well as being confident they are consuming products that are certified as free from contaminants.
So, despite the headlines, there is no new evidence clouding the efficacy of fish oils or long chain essential fatty acids. In fact, if the meta-analysis had included other health benefits such as immune system function, cognitive and behavioural function and joint health, the case for marine-derived omega-3s would have looked even stronger. So strong, in fact, one wonders if the media couldn’t be sued by fish oil supplement manufacturers for damages. But things are rarely this simple.
We are left wondering about those negative headlines. Could there have been a motive for the negative spin?
Pharma fish oils
Just as we’ve seen Big Pharma control vitamin and mineral markets globally, both legally and illegally, is it not possible that this most recent skewed meta-analysis is part of a plan to discredit fish oils consumed increasingly by the masses?
When you peruse the competing interests declared in the BMJ paper, the only possible link given is that speaker fees have been paid to one of the authors by a company, Solvay, that markets a product called Omacor. Solvay is not a small marketing outfit. It is part of an international chemical and pharmaceutical group, headquartered in Brussels, which employs some 33,000 people across 50 countries. Omacor also happens to be the first prescription-only fish oil. As a licensed medicine, unlike the much more common fish oil food or dietary supplements, it can brandish extensive health and medicinal claims. Omacor, manufactured by Pronova Biocare in Norway (a private, limited company owned by Ferd Private Equity Fund), is prescribed primarily for reducing triglycerides (a major heart disease risk factor) and is positioned firmly as a stable mate with cholesterol-reducing statin drugs. In other words, the evidence for taking high quality fish oils is so convincing, drugs companies perhaps now want a slice of the action.
And the timing for the release of the meta-analysis does appear most fortuitous. In November 2004, Omacor was approved as a drug by the US Food & Drug Administration. In September 2005, Solvay Pharmaceuticals and Pronova Biocare signed a licensing agreement for exclusive distribution rights for distribution into India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and New Zealand.
Furthermore, on 1 December 2005, EPAX Sales and Production de-merged from Pronova Biocare to enable Pronova to focus exclusively on the production of prescription-only Omacor. EPAX, also based in Norway, will continue to produce concentrated omega-3 oils for the ‘poor-cousin’, dietary supplement industry.
Is the way actually being paved to encourage patients to elect for the prescription-only fish oil version, resplendent with all the health claims allowed under a drugs regime and banned in the food or dietary supplement sector? Even if these processes are only coincidental, and we currently have no direct evidence to suggest otherwise, the effect is the same.
The crying shame from a public health and disease prevention perspective, is that some of the most robust evidence for taking fish oils relates to their early, protective effects against heart disease. And that’s why the free availability of high quality fish oil supplements is so important; people only take drugs when they become sick.
So now, those people – and there may be many – who have been unfairly frightened away from fish oil supplements might believe that they need to wait until they’re sick in later life before their trusted doctors can prescribe the fish oil supplements they should have been consuming all along.
It is indeed a topsy-turvy world of lies, damn lies — and statistics.
1. Hooper L, Thompson RL, Harrison RA, Summerbell CD, Ness AR, Moore HJ, Worthington HV, Durrington PN, Higgins JP, Capps NE, Riemersma RA, Ebrahim SB, Davey Smith G. Risks and benefits of omega 3 fats for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review. British Medical Journal, 2006; 332 (7544): 752-60.
2. Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2005; 142(1): 37-46.
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4. Hooper L, Thompson RL, Harrison RA, Summerbell CD, Ness AR, Moore HJ, Worthington HV, Durrington PN, Higgins JP, Capps NE, Riemersma RA, Ebrahim SB, Davey Smith G. Rapid Response in British Medical Journal: Authors reply - omega 3s and health. http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/332/7544/752#131349 [last accessed 19 April 2006].
5. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition / Committee on Toxicity (UK). Advice on fish consumption: benefits and risks. Food Standards Agency / Department of Health. 2004. 204 pp.
6. Bemelmans WJ, Broer J, Feskens EJ, Smit AJ, Muskiet FA, Lefrandt JD, Bom VJ, May JF, Meyboom-de Jong B. Effect of an increased intake of alpha-linolenic acid and group nutritional education on cardiovascular risk factors: the Mediterranean Alpha-linolenic Enriched Groningen Dietary Intervention (MARGARIN) study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 75(2): 221-7.
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posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday April 24 2006