A Point of View

Database 2

Desirability

By highlighting some of the numerous undesirable consequences of capitalism, the desirability of socialism may be demonstrated by default

Starvation:

  •  840m people in the world today are undernourished, according to the UN Food and Agriculture  Organization                                                                                                                                      Source: Guardian (The Editor section) 19/10/02
  • Over 6 million children die each year of hunger. 2009 has witnessed a historic high in hunger – an estimated 1.02 billion people, one sixth of humanity – go hungry every day. (FAO, 2009a)Source: http://conscious-capitalism.blogspot.com/ 
  • The best meal you'll never have!

Costing the Earth

BBC Radio 4 14.4.2004

In the UK, a shocking 30-40% of all food is never eaten. In the last decade the amount we binned went up by 15%. Every year each of us throws away over £400 worth of food - that's £20 billion pounds overall, enough to cover the cost of everyone's council tax.

And it's not just the financial loss. The environment suffers too. Food grown but not eaten means more farm chemicals; transported and not eaten means more food miles; processed and thrown away means more rotting food churning out methane - the most potent greenhouse gas.

Every indication is that with the continuing trend to eat out more and the rise of convenience food, the figures will only increase as they have on the other side of the Atlantic. A 10 year study by Tim Jones at the University of Arizona has shown that 40-50% of all food in the US ready for harvest never gets eaten.

A quarter of all food heading for landfill could be eaten. As we hear, a small portion of this is saved and used by charities like FARESHARE to feed the 4 million in this country who do not have enough to eat.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/costingtheearth_20050414.shtml

Environmental destruction:

Climate Change

  • Climate Change and Global Warming

by Anup Shah

From Global Issues :Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues That Affect Us All

 ‘Global warming and climate change is looked at in this section of the global issues web site. Introduced are some of the effects of climate change. In addition, this section attempts to provide insights into what governments, companies, international institutions, and other organizations are attempting to do about this issue, as well as the challenges they face. Some of the major conferences in recent years are also discussed.’

 Have a look at the following links:

1.  Climate Change and Global Warming Introduction     http://www.globalissues.org/article/233/climate-change-and-global-warming-introduction

‘The US:

  • Accounts for roughly four percent of the world’s population;
  • Accounts for approximately 20% of global emissions and some 40% of industrialized country emissions’

 2.  Global Dimming                                                                           http://www.globalissues.org/article/529/global-dimming

‘In the 1970s and 1980s, massive famines were caused by failed rains which climatologists had never quite understood why they had failed.

The answers that global dimming models seemed to provide, the documentary noted, has led to a chilling conclusion: “what came out of our exhaust pipes and power stations [from Europe and North America] contributed to the deaths of a million people in Africa, and afflicted 50 million more” with hunger and starvation.’

3.  UN Framework Convention on Climate Change                               http://www.globalissues.org/article/521/un-framework-convention-on-climate-change  

4.  Reactions to Climate Change Negotiations and Action http://www.globalissues.org/article/179/reactions-to-climate-change-negotiations-and-action

‘The US has been vocally against effective action on climate change due to its reliance upon fossil fuel for its economy. Being a producer of oil and coal, they feel more threatened by action on climate change.

Europe, on the other hand, is calling for stronger action. One reason it does so is that it currently imports its fossil fuels so has more incentive to reduce this dependency and seek out domestically grown alternatives.

In both regions, local populations have a reasonable awareness of environmental issues. However, in the US, the business lobbies (mainly fossil fuel based industries) are very strong and powerful and have been able to affect decisions and outcomes.

5.  Global Warming, Spin and Media                                         http://www.globalissues.org/article/710/global-warming-spin-and-media

‘For many years, talk of climate change led to a lot of skepticism and denial, typically from corporate-backed interests such as energy companies. For example, just recently, the British Royal Society, and separately, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported on ExxonMobil waging a campaign of disinformation on global warming between 1998 and 2005, funding right wing think-tanks and journals such as the American Enterprise Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And “with the help of right-wing media, such as the Wall Street Journal, … columnists deliberately spread disinformation about climate change.”

As another example, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) revealed that some business lobby groups have influenced the Australian government to prevent Australia from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This lobby group included interests from the coal, electricity, aluminum (aluminium), petroleum, minerals and cement industries. The documentary exposing this revealed possible corruption within government due to extremely close ties with such industries and lobby groups, and alleged silencing of government climate scientists.

6. Climate Justice and Equity                                                     http://www.globalissues.org/article/231/climate-justice-and-equity

‘According to a Christian Aid report (September 1999), industrialized nations should be owing over 600 billion dollars to the developing nations for the associated costs of climate changes. This is three times as much as the conventional debt that developing countries owe the developed ones.’

7. Climate Change Flexibility Mechanisms                          http://www.globalissues.org/article/232/flexibility-mechanisms

8.  Carbon Sinks, Forests and Climate Change                                http://www.globalissues.org/article/180/carbon-sinks-forests-and-climate-change

9. Climate Change Affects Biodiversity                                        http://www.globalissues.org/article/172/climate-change-affects-biodiversity

10. Global Warming and Population                                                http://www.globalissues.org/article/708/global-warming-and-population

11.    Energy Security                                                                            http://www.globalissues.org/article/595/energy-security

Some countries such as the US have enormous military expenditure in part to protect global oil areas for their interests. A number of other large countries are getting more involved or active in the international arena due to energy related concerns, including China and Russia prompting a fear of a geopolitical cold war centered around energy security.

12. Dominance and Change in the Arctic http://www.globalissues.org/article/740/dominance-in-the-arctic

‘The headlines caused by the Russian claim may appear to have been a sudden interest, but the interested parties have, for years, been interested in the potential the Arctic offers.

The US Geological Survey, a U.S. government agency, believes that the region may house approximately 25% of the world’s oil reserves.

Gas, even diamonds, are supposedly to be found there too.

Also lucrative is the opening up of access and trade routes as climate change breaks up more ice. The famed North West Passage across the top of Canada, and the North East Passage (also known as Northern Sea Route) across the top of Russia could become permanent passages, for example.’

13. The Ozone Layer and Climate Change                                    http://www.globalissues.org/article/184/the-ozone-layer-and-climate-change

‘Scientists believe that Global Warming will lead to a weaker Ozone layer, because as the surface temperature rises, the stratosphere (the Ozone layer being found in the upper part) will get colder, making the natural repairing of the Ozone slower.

NASA, for example, reports that by 2030, "climate change may surpass chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the main driver of overall ozone loss." ‘

14. El Niño and Climate Change                                                          http://www.globalissues.org/article/186/el-nino-and-climate-change

Pollution:

Stress :

Adulteration:

  • Chickens:

The chicken you are eating could have been injected with beef or pork protein. That is the claim that will be made by BBC one’s Panorama programme on Thursday after a six month investigation into the chicken processing industry in Holland. Tests carried out for the programme reveal that beef or pork DNA has been found in chicken, including products which are being sold as Halal meat. It will also reveal that meat processors have been deliberately pumping chicken full of water - and even beef protein - in an effort to make them look bigger, with some Dutch sourced chicken fillets containing as much as 50% added water. The practice of injecting chicken with water and proteins is not illegal, as long as it is accurately labelled. It is also not illegal to inject beef and pork proteins into chicken, as long as they are labelled as ‘hydrolised proteins’. These proteins are added to the chicken to allow the meat to retain more water.  All the companies featured in the film deny using beef or pork proteins in this process, with some denying they use additives, and the rest insisting they use hydrolised protein made from chickens. However, one German protein company has been caught on film boasting about how it has developed a method of breaking down the DNA so that no traces of beef or pork can be found. Panorama captured a director of  the company called Prowica, saying that some of his proteins are guaranteed to be ‘PCR negatinve’. PCR is the test that authorities use to find DNA from different species of animals. Theo Hietbrink, of Prowica, told the programme that at least 12 companies were using this new brand                                                                                  

Source: Panorama 2008?

Health:

  • Health care's big money wasters.

Down the drain: $1.2 trillion. That's half of the $2.2 trillion the United States spends on health care each year, according to the most recent data from accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute. What counts as waste? The report identified 16 different areas in which health care dollars are squandered. But in talking to doctors, nurses, hospital groups and patient advocacy groups, six areas totalling nearly $500 billion stood out as issues to be dealt with in the health care reform debate                                                              

Too many tests:                                                                                                                                  Doctors ordering tests or procedures not based on need but concern over liability or increasing their income is the biggest waste of health care dollars, costing the system at least $210 billion a year, according to the report. The problem is called "defensive medicine." "Sometimes the motivation is to avoid malpractice suits, or to make more money because they are compensated more for doing more," said Dr. Arthur Garson, provost of the University of Virginia and former dean of its medical school. "Many are also convinced that doing more tests is the right thing to do.""But any money that is spent on a patient that doesn't improve the outcome is a waste," said Garson. Some conservatives have suggested that capping malpractice awards would help solve the problem. President Obama doesn't agree; instead, his reform proposal encourages doctors to practice "evidence-based" guidelines as a way to scale back on unnecessary tests.

Those annoying claim forms:                                                                                                           Inefficient claims processing is the second-biggest area of wasteful expenditure, costing as much as $210 billion annually, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report said. "We spend a lot of time and money trying to get paid by insurers," said Dr. Terry McGenney, a Kansas City, Mo.-based family physician. "Every insurance company has its own forms," McGenney said. "Some practices spend 40% of their revenue filling out paperwork that has nothing to do with patient care. So much of this could be automated."Dr. Jason Dees, a family doctor in a private practice based in New Albany, Miss., said his office often resubmits claims that have been "magically denied." "That adds to our administrative fees, extends the payment cycle and hurts our cash flow," he said. Dees also spends a lot of time getting "pre-certification" from insurers to approve higher-priced procedures such as MRIs. "We're already operating on paper-thin margins and this takes times away from our patients," he said. Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said "hundreds of billions" of dollars can be saved by standardizing procedures and using technology -- something the White House has mentioned as a key to health care reform. "For that to happen, we need the technology," she said. "Doctors and hospitals must adopt the technology, and we have to develop rules for exchanging of information between doctors, hospitals and health plans." Pisano said the industry is launching a pilot program later this year that will allow physicians to communicate with all health plans using a standardized process.    

Using the ER as a clinic:                                                                                                                             More insured and uninsured consumers are getting their primary care in emergency rooms, wasting $14 billion every year in health care spending. “This is an inappropriate use of the ER," said Dee Swanson, president of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. "You don't go to the ER for strep throat." Since emergency rooms are legally obligated to treat all patients, Swanson said providers ultimately find ways to pass on the cost for treating the uninsured to other patients, such as to those who pay out-of-pocket for their medical care. Dees also took issue with consumers who don't get primary care for their diabetes or blood pressure on a timely basis, hence finding themselves in the ER. "Going to the doctor for strep throat would cost $65-$70. In the ER, it's $600 to $800," he said. The $787 billion stimulus bill signed passed by President Obama earlier this year allocates $1 billion for a wellness and prevention fund, including $300 million for immunizations and $650 million for prevention programs to combat the rapid growth in chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.    

Medical "Oops":                                                                                                                                    Medical errors are costing the industry $17 billion a year in wasted expenses, something that makes patient advocacy groups irate. “Do we have a good health IT system in place to prevent this?" asked Kim Bailey, senior health policy analyst with consumer advocacy group Families USA. Bailey suggested that processes such as computerized order entry for drugs and use of electronic health records (EHR) could help ensure that patients get the correct dosage of medications in hospitals. The stimulus bill calls for the government to take a leading role in developing standards by 2010 to facilitate the adoption of health information exchanges across the system, including patient electronic health records by 2014.Obama has repeatedly said that the use of technology in the health sector will help boost savings, enhance the coordination of care and reduce medical errors and unnecessary procedures.       

Going back to the hospital:                                                                                                                    Bailey suggested that processes such as computerized order entry for drugs and use of electronic health records (EHR) could help ensure that patients get the correct dosage of medications in hospitals. Discharging patients too soon is a "huge waste of money," said Swanson."This happens a lot with elderly patients who are discharged prematurely because of insurance, bed unavailability or ageism," she said. Many times, patients also don't follow instructions for care after discharge. "So complications arise and they are readmitted in a week," Swanson said. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the cost of preventable hospital readmissions at $25 billion annually.Among the reform plans, one proposal being considered is for Medicare to potentially penalize hospitals who readmit patients within 30 days of discharge     

You forgot to wash your hands!:                                                                                                          Those ubiquitous dispensers of hand sanitizer are in hospitals for a reason: PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that about $3 billion is wasted every year as a result of infections acquired during hospital stays."The general belief is that hospitals are getting much better in managing this than they have in the past," said Richard Clarke, CEO of Healthcare Financial Management Association, whose members include hospitals and managed care organizations. Something as simple as hand-washing often can reduce the problem."Sometimes doctors are the most difficult people to convince to do this," said Clarke. "The challenge here is that patients sometimes come in with infections which then spread in the hospital."The stimulus bill signed by Obama earlier this year includes $50 million for reducing health care-associated infections.                                                                                                                 

Other areas of waste identified in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report included up to $493 billion related to risky behaviour such as smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse, $21 billion in staffing turnover, $4 billion in prescriptions written on paper, and $1 billion in the over-prescribing of antibiotics                                                                                                                                                                                          Special Report Fixing Health Care  By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer First Published: August 10, 2009: 4:01 AM ETLast Updated: August 10, 2009: 12:13 PM ET http://money.cnn.com/2009/08/10/news/economy/healthcare_money_wasters/index.htm

Inequality

  • Nine US banks together paid $32.6 billion in bonus while they received $175 billion worth funds from the US. Bonus payments in UK banks have risen from five to fifteen billion pounds in past three years.                                                                                                                                  

Source: BBC 09/02/09

  • UN: World's richest 2% own half global wealth
    The world's richest 2% of adults own more than half of global household wealth, while half the world's population own only 1%, a United Nations report published on Tuesday showed. The report, entitled The World Distribution of Household Wealth, found that assets of $2 200 or more placed a household in the top half of world wealth distribution in 2000.
                                             

Source: http://www.mg.co.za/section/world  05/02/2008 

  • Poverty Facts and Stats

Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening

The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death

Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on enrollment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers.

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.

Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.

Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.

Water problems affect half of humanity:

Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day.

More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.

Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.

1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)

Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea

The loss of 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.

Close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.

Millions of women spending several hours a day collecting water.

To these human costs can be added the massive economic waste associated with the water and sanitation deficit.… The costs associated with health spending, productivity losses and labour diversions … are greatest in some of the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeds total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003

Number of children in the world: 2.2 billion                                                                                           Number in poverty: 1 billion (every second child)

Shelter, safe water and health:For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:           

640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)                                                                                           400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)                                                                                      270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)

Children out of education worldwide: 121 million

Survival for children Worldwide:                                                                                                            10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy. 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation

Health of children worldwide:                                                                                                                  2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized                                                                                                                                                          15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom)

Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than US$1 a day and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. However, urbanization is not synonymous with human progress. Urban slum growth is outpacing urban growth by a wide margin.

Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions

In developing countries some 2.5 billion people are forced to rely on biomass—fuelwood, charcoal and animal dung—to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 80 percent of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China

Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels [by poorer segments of society] is a major killer. It claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of five: that is 4000 deaths a day. To put this number in context, it exceeds total deaths from malaria and rivals the number of deaths from tuberculosis.

In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%:

The poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of all the consumption:

1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity:

Breaking that down further:

Number of people living without electricity

Region

Millions without electricity

South Asia

706

Sub-Saharan Africa

547

East Asia

224

Other

101

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.

World gross domestic product (world population approximately 6.5 billion) in 2006 was $48.2 trillion in 2006.

The world’s wealthiest countries (approximately 1 billion people) accounted for $36.6 trillion dollars (76%).

The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).

Low income countries (2.4 billion people) accounted for just $1.6 trillion of GDP (3.3%)

Middle income countries (3 billion people) made up the rest of GDP at just over $10 trillion (20.7%).

The world’s low income countries (2.4 billion people) account for just 2.4% of world exports

The total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world “rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets.”

In other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets in 2004

For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.

51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations.

The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.

The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money.

In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much.

An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:

3 to 1 in 1820                                                                                                                                             11 to 1 in 1913                                                                                                                                        

35 to 1 in 1950                                                                                                                                             44 to 1 in 1973                                                                                                                                            72 to 1 in 1992

“Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.

For economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980 - 2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960 - 1980]. For each indicator, countries were divided into five roughly equal groups, according to what level the countries had achieved by the start of the period (1960 or 1980). Among the findings:

Growth: The fall in economic growth rates was most pronounced and across the board for all groups or countries.

Life Expectancy: Progress in life expectancy was also reduced for 4 out of the 5 groups of countries, with the exception of the highest group (life expectancy 69-76 years).

Infant and Child Mortality: Progress in reducing infant mortality was also considerably slower during the period of globalization (1980-1998) than over the previous two decades.

Education and literacy: Progress in education also slowed during the period of globalization

A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.

Source: http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats   (Last Updated Monday, September 20, 2010) Author: Anup Sh

War

 

 

 

  • The environmental consequences of war.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, concern over the health and environmental effects of depleted uranium (DU) weapons has continued to grow. An extremely dense metal made from low-level radioactive waste, DU is principally used by the United States, but also by other countries such as Britain, in defensive military armour, conventional munitions, and some missiles. Its ability to penetrate the armour of enemy tanks and other targets more readily than similar weapons made of other materials has made DU extremely valuable to the US military. Perhaps not surprisingly, the US military has downplayed potential health risks posed by exposure to Depleted Uranium… The Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy, predicts that soldiers and civilians exposed to high DU levels may be at increased risk for kidney damage and lung cancer. Unfortunately, a DU clean-up and monitoring program, necessary to confirm suspected health threats, is on hold until coalition forces agree to reveal where and how much DU was used in Iraq…

The degradation of infrastructure and basic services brought on by war can wreak havoc on the local environment and public health. Countries’ water supply systems, for example, can be contaminated or shut down by bomb blasts or bullet damage to pipes. In Afghanistan, destruction to water infrastructure combined with weakened public service during the war resulted in bacterial contamination, water loss through leaks and illegal use. The consequence was an overall decline in safe drinking water throughout the country.
Water shortages can also lead to inadequate irrigation of cropland. Agricultural production may also be impaired by intensive bombing and heavy military vehicles travelling over farm soil. The presence of landmines can also render vast areas of productive land unusable.
Additional war-related problems which compound degradation of the natural and human environment include shortages in cooking fuel and waste mismanagement during and after military conflicts.
During the most recent warfare in
Iraq, individuals were forced to cut down city trees to use as cooking fuel. In Afghanistan, the creation of poorly located, leaky landfill sites resulted in contaminated rivers and groundwater…

Military machinery and explosives have caused unprecedented levels of deforestation and habitat destruction. This has resulted in a serious disruption of ecosystem services, including erosion control, water quality, and food production. A telling example is the destruction of 35% of Cambodia’s intact forests due to two decades of civil conflict. In Vietnam, bombs alone destroyed over 2 million acres of land. These environmental catastrophes are aggravated by the fact that ecological protection and restoration become a low priority during and after war.

Agent Orange is a herbicide that was sprayed in millions of litres over approximately 10% of Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. It was used to defoliate tropical forests to expose combatants, and destroy crops to deprive peasants of their food supply.  The environmental and health effects were devastating. The spraying destroyed 14% of South Vietnam’s forests, including 50% of the mangrove forests. Few, if any, have recovered to their natural state.
A key ingredient of Agent Orange is dioxin, the most potent carcinogen ever tested. It is therefore not surprising that Agent Orange has been linked to an array of health problems in Vietnam including birth defects, spontaneous abortions, chloracne, skin and lung cancers, lower IQ and emotional problems for children (Forgotten Victims).

Similar to toxic chemical spills, Agent Orange continues to threaten the health of Vietnamese. In 2001, scientists documented extremely high levels of dioxin in blood samples taken from residents born years after the end of the Vietnam War. Studies attribute such high levels to food chain contamination: Soil contaminated with dioxin becomes river sediment, which is then passed to fish, a staple of the Vietnamese diet. This is a clear reminder that poisoning our environments is akin to poisoning ourselves.

From the Sierra Club of/du Canada

Source:http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/postings/war-and-environment.html  

 

Quality of Life

  • Fast Food Nation

The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
By ERIC SCHLOSSER
Houghton Mifflin 
 

‘What We Eat

OVER THE LAST THREE DECADES, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society. An industry that began with a handful of modest hot dog and hamburger stands in southern California has spread to every corner of the nation, selling a broad range of foods wherever paying customers may be found. Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-throughs, at stadiums, airports, zoos, high schools, elementary schools, and universities, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at K-Marts, Wal-Marts, gas stations, and even at hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music – combined’...

‘Fast food has proven to be a revolutionary force in American life; I am interested in it both as a commodity and as a metaphor. What people eat (or don’t eat) has always been determined by a complex interplay of social, economic, and technological forces. The early Roman Republic was fed by its citizen-farmers; the Roman Empire, by its slaves. A nation’s diet can be more revealing than its art or literature. On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant. During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture. Fast food and its consequences have become inescapable, regardless of whether you eat it twice a day, try to avoid it, or have never taken a single bite.

The extraordinary growth of the fast food industry has been driven by fundamental changes in American society. Adjusted for inflation, the hourly wage of the average U.S. worker peaked in 1973 and then steadily declined for the next twenty-five years. During that period, women entered the workforce in record numbers, often motivated less by a feminist perspective than by a need to pay the bills. In 1975, about one-third of American mothers with young children worked outside the home; today almost two-thirds of such mothers are employed. As the sociologists Cameron Lynne Macdonald and Carmen Sirianni have noted, the entry of so many women into the workforce has greatly increased demand for the types of services that housewives traditionally perform: cooking, cleaning, and child care. A generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food in the United States was spent to prepare meals at home. Today about half of the money used to buy food is spent at restaurants - mainly at fast food restaurants.

The McDonald’s Corporation has become a powerful symbol of America’s service economy, which is now responsible for 90 percent of the country’s new jobs. In 1968, McDonald’s operated about one thousand restaurants. Today it has about twenty-eight thousand restaurants worldwide and opens almost two thousand new ones each year. An estimated one out of every eight workers in the United States has at some point been employed by McDonald’s. The company annually hires about one million people, more than any other American organization, public or private. McDonald’s is the nation’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes - and the second largest purchaser of chicken. The McDonald’s Corporation is the largest owner of retail property in the world. Indeed, the company earns the majority of its profits not from selling food but from collecting rent. McDonald’s spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other brand. As a result it has replaced Coca-Cola as the world’s most famous brand. McDonald’s operates more playgrounds than any other private entity in the United States. It is one of the nation’s largest distributors of toys. A survey of American schoolchildren found that 96 percent could identify Ronald McDonald. The only fictional character with a higher degree of recognition was Santa Claus. The impact of McDonald’s on the way we live today is hard to overstate. The Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross.

In the early 1970s, the farm activist Jim Hightower warned of the McDonaldization of America. He viewed the emerging fast food industry as a threat to independent businesses, as a step toward a food economy dominated by giant corporations, and as a homogenizing influence on American life. In Eat Your Heart Out (1975), he argued that bigger is not better. Much of what Hightower feared has come to pass. The centralized purchasing decisions of the large restaurant chains and their demand for standardized products have given a handful of corporations an unprecedented degree of power over the nation’s food supply. Moreover, the tremendous success of the fast food industry has encouraged other industries to adopt similar business methods. The basic thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today’s retail economy, wiping out small businesses, obliterating regional differences, and spreading identical stores throughout the country like a self-replicating code.

America’s main streets and malls now boast the same Pizza Huts and Taco Bells, Gaps and Banana Republics, Starbucks and Jiffy-Lubes, Foot Lockers, Snip N’ Clips, Sunglass Huts, and Hobbytown USAs. Almost every facet of American life has now been franchised or chained. From the maternity ward at a Columbia/HCA hospital to an embalming room owned by Service Corporation International - the world’s largest provider of death care services, based in Houston, Texas, which since 1968 has grown to include 3,823 funeral homes, 523 cemeteries, and 198 crematoriums, and which today handles the final remains of one out of every nine Americans - a person can now go from the cradle to the grave without spending a nickel at an independently owned business.

The key to a successful franchise, according to many texts on the subject, can be expressed in one word: uniformity. Franchises and chain stores strive to offer exactly the same product or service at numerous locations. Customers are drawn to familiar brands by an instinct to avoid the unknown. A brand offers a feeling of reassurance when its products are always and everywhere the same. We have found out . . . that we cannot trust some people who are nonconformists, declared Ray Kroc, one of the founders of McDonald’s, angered by some of his franchisees. We will make conformists out of them in a hurry . . . The organization cannot trust the individual; the individual must trust the organization.

One of the ironies of America’s fast food industry is that a business so dedicated to conformity was founded by iconoclasts and self-made men, by entrepreneurs willing to defy conventional opinion. Few of the people who built fast food empires ever attended college, let alone business school. They worked hard, took risks, and followed their own paths. In many respects, the fast food industry embodies the best and the worst of American capitalism at the start of the twenty-first century - its constant stream of new products and innovations, its widening gulf between rich and poor. The industrialization of the restaurant kitchen has enabled the fast food chains to rely upon a low-paid and unskilled workforce. While a handful of workers manage to rise up the corporate ladder, the vast majority lack full-time employment, receive no benefits, learn few skills, exercise little control over their workplace, quit after a few months, and float from job to job. The restaurant industry is now America’s largest private employer, and it pays some of the lowest wages. During the economic boom of the 1990s, when many American workers enjoyed their first pay raises in a generation, the real value of wages in the restaurant industry continued to fall. The roughly 3.5 million fast food workers are by far the largest group of minimum wage earners in the United States. The only Americans who consistently earn a lower hourly wage are migrant farm workers.

A hamburger and french fries became the quintessential American meal in the 1950s, thanks to the promotional efforts of the fast food chains. The typical American now consumes approximately three hamburgers and four orders of french fries every week. But the steady barrage of fast food ads, full of thick juicy burgers and long golden fries, rarely mentions where these foods come from nowadays or what ingredients they contain. The birth of the fast food industry coincided with Eisenhower-era glorifications of technology, with optimistic slogans like Better Living through Chemistry and Our Friend the Atom. The sort of technological wizardry that Walt Disney promoted on television and at Disneyland eventually reached its fulfillment in the kitchens of fast food restaurants. Indeed, the corporate culture of McDonald’s seems inextricably linked to that of the Disney empire, sharing a reverence for sleek machinery, electronics, and automation. The leading fast food chains still embrace a boundless faith in science - and as a result have changed not just what Americans eat, but also how their food is made.

The current methods for preparing fast food are less likely to be found in cookbooks than in trade journals such as Food Technologist and Food Engineering. Aside from the salad greens and tomatoes, most fast food is delivered to the restaurant already frozen, canned, dehydrated, or freeze-dried. A fast food kitchen is merely the final stage in a vast and highly complex system of mass production. Foods that may look familiar have in fact been completely reformulated. What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand. Like Cheyenne Mountain, today’s fast food conceals remarkable technological advances behind an ordinary-looking façade. Much of the taste and aroma of American fast food, for example, is now manufactured at a series of large chemical plants off the New Jersey Turnpike’..

‘Fast food is now so commonplace that it has acquired an air of inevitability, as though it were somehow unavoidable, a fact of modern life. And yet the dominance of the fast food giants was no more preordained than the march of colonial split-levels, golf courses, and man-made lakes across the deserts of the American West. The political philosophy that now prevails in so much of the West - with its demand for lower taxes, smaller government, an unbridled free market - stands in total contradiction to the region’s true economic underpinnings. No other region of the United States has been so dependent on government subsidies for so long, from the nineteenth-century construction of its railroads to the twentieth-century financing of its military bases and dams. One historian has described the federal government’s 1950s highway-building binge as a case study in interstate socialism - a phrase that aptly describes how the West was really won. The fast food industry took root alongside that interstate highway system, as a new form of restaurant sprang up beside the new off-ramps. Moreover, the extraordinary growth of this industry over the past quarter-century did not occur in a political vacuum. It took place during a period when the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage declined by about 40 percent, when sophisticated mass marketing techniques were for the first time directed at small children, and when federal agencies created to protect workers and consumers too often behaved like branch offices of the companies that were supposed to be regulated. Ever since the administration of President Richard Nixon, the fast food industry has worked closely with its allies in Congress and the White House to oppose new worker safety, food safety, and minimum wage laws. While publicly espousing support for the free market, the fast food chains have quietly pursued and greatly benefited from a wide variety of government subsidies. Far from being inevitable, America’s fast food industry in its present form is the logical outcome of certain political and economic choices.

In the potato fields and processing plants of Idaho, in the ranchlands east of Colorado Springs, in the feedlots and slaughterhouses of the High Plains, you can see the effects of fast food on the nation’s rural life, its environment, its workers, and its health. The fast food chains now stand atop a huge food-industrial complex that has gained control of American agriculture. During the 1980s, large multinationals - such as Cargill, ConAgra, and IBP - were allowed to dominate one commodity market after another. Farmers and cattle ranchers are losing their independence, essentially becoming hired hands for the agribusiness giants or being forced off the land. Family farms are now being replaced by gigantic corporate farms with absentee owners. Rural communities are losing their middle class and becoming socially stratified, divided between a small, wealthy elite and large numbers of the working poor. Small towns that seemingly belong in a Norman Rockwell painting are being turned into rural ghettos. The hardy, independent farmers whom Thomas Jefferson considered the bedrock of American democracy are a truly vanishing breed. The United States now has more prison inmates than full-time farmers.

The fast food chains’ vast purchasing power and their demand for a uniform product have encouraged fundamental changes in how cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed into ground beef. These changes have made meatpacking - once a highly skilled, highly paid occupation - into the most dangerous job in the United States, performed by armies of poor, transient immigrants whose injuries often go unrecorded and uncompensated. And the same meat industry practices that endanger these workers have facilitated the introduction of deadly pathogens, such as E. coli 0157:H7, into America’s hamburger meat, a food aggressively marketed to children. Again and again, efforts to prevent the sale of tainted ground beef have been thwarted by meat industry lobbyists and their allies in Congress. The federal government has the legal authority to recall a defective toaster oven or stuffed animal - but still lacks the power to recall tons of contaminated, potentially lethal meat.

I do not mean to suggest that fast food is solely responsible for every social problem now haunting the United States. In some cases (such as the malling and sprawling of the West) the fast food industry has been a catalyst and a symptom of larger economic trends. In other cases (such as the rise of franchising and the spread of obesity) fast food has played a more central role. By tracing the diverse influences of fast food I hope to shed light not only on the workings of an important industry, but also on a distinctively American way of viewing the world.

Elitists have always looked down at fast food, criticizing how it tastes and regarding it as another tacky manifestation of American popular culture. The aesthetics of fast food are of much less concern to me than its impact upon the lives of ordinary Americans, both as workers and consumers. Most of all, I am concerned about its impact on the nation’s children. Fast food is heavily marketed to children and prepared by people who are barely older than children. This is an industry that both feeds and feeds off the young. During the two years spent researching this book, I ate an enormous amount of fast food. Most of it tasted pretty good. That is one of the main reasons people buy fast food; it has been carefully designed to taste good. It’s also inexpensive and convenient. But the value meals, two-for-one deals, and free refills of soda give a distorted sense of how much fast food actually costs. The real price never appears on the menu.

The sociologist George Ritzer has attacked the fast food industry for celebrating a narrow measure of efficiency over every other human value, calling the triumph of McDonald’s the irrationality of rationality. Others consider the fast food industry proof of the nation’s great economic vitality, a beloved American institution that appeals overseas to millions who admire our way of life. Indeed, the values, the culture, and the industrial arrangements of our fast food nation are now being exported to the rest of the world. Fast food has joined Hollywood movies, blue jeans, and pop music as one of America’s most prominent cultural exports. Unlike other commodities, however, fast food isn’t viewed, read, played, or worn. It enters the body and becomes part of the consumer. No other industry offers, both literally and figuratively, so much insight into the nature of mass consumption’.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/schlosser-fast.html 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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