Featured stories in this issue...
Editorial: A New and Slightly Different View from Rachel's
We've changed our name and, to some extent, our focus. Our goal is
to connect the dots to reveal the root causes of declining human
health, the destruction of nature, and the inequalities and
injustices that are rising like flood waters around us all. Who gets
to decide? How do the few control the many?
Why We Can't Prevent Cancer
A stunning new report nails the relationship of environmental and
workplace exposures to cancer, and makes the case that prevention is
an "urgent priority." However, we at Rachel's argue that adequate
prevention is not really possible within an economy that requires
A Giant in Sustainable-Ag Is Forced to Resign at Iowa State
A giant in the sustainable agriculture movement, Dr. Fred
Kirschenmann, has been forced to resign his research post at Iowa
State University for "neglecting key stakeholders" -- meaning the
corn and soybean agribusiness corporations.
Left Behind -- the Legacy of Hurricane Katrina
"The gap in health between white and black Americans has been
estimated to cause 84,000 excess deaths a year in the United States,
a virtual Katrina every week."
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #829, Oct. 27, 2005
EDITORIAL: A NEW AND SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT VIEW FROM RACHEL'S
With this issue, we have changed the name of Rachel's Environment &
Health News to Rachel's Democracy & Health News. Since 1986, we have
been reporting on studies linking environmental deterioration to
declining human health. We will continue to report on those studies,
but we want to expand our view a bit to reveal more about the
underlying causes of the problems we all face.
As we say in the new masthead statement in this issue of Rachel's,
"The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining
because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise
of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers
and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance,
and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled
by the few."
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and
what might be done about it?"
When we started Rachel's in 1986, information was hard to find. We
used to visit a library every week and photocopy medical studies and
summarize them for our readers. Now things are different -- the world
is awash in information. What's missing now is a coherent picture of
how the pieces fit together. We think the decline of democracy -- the
few now controlling the many for narrow, selfish purposes -- is an
idea that can help make sense out of the disconnected information we
We hope you agree. Please let us know what you think.
Peter Montague (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tim Montague (email@example.com)
Return to Table of Contents
From: Rachel's Democracy and Health News #829, Oct. 27, 2005
WHY WE CAN'T PREVENT CANCER
By Peter Montague
In 1999, cancer surpassed heart disease as the number one killer of
people younger than 85 in the U.S. Now a detailed report on the
causes of cancer tells us why: cancer has been steadily increasing in
the U.S. for 50 years as people have been exposed to more and more
cancer-causing agents, including chemicals and radiation.
Richard Clapp, Genevieve Howe, and Molly Jacobs Lefevre have just
published "Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer; A Review
of Recent Scientific Literature" and it is a real eye-opener.
But before we dive into this report looking for nuggets, let's set the
About half of all cancer cases are fatal, and death by cancer is often
prolonged, painful, and very expensive. Those who manage to survive
cancer live out their lives molded by the after-effects of harsh
treatments popularly known as "slash and burn" -- surgery,
chemotherapy, radiation, or some combination of the three.
As more people are kept alive each year with their breasts or
testicles removed, the "cancer establishment" chalks up another
"victory" -- and no doubt the victims are glad to be alive -- but we
should acknowledge that there's something very wrong with calling this
"victory." Slash and burn seems more like a dreadful defeat.
The truth is, an epic struggle has been going on for 50 years between
the "slash and burn=victory" camp, versus those who think the only
real victory is prevention of disease. The struggle occurs across a
fault line defined by money. To be blunt about it, there's no money in
prevention, and once you've got cancer you'll pay anything to try to
stay alive. Cancer treatment is therefore a booming business, and
cancer prevention is nowhere. That is the basic dynamic of the debate.
Cancer surgeons can achieve the status of rock stars among their
peers. Those who advocate prevention will most likely find themselves
without funding, ridiculed and despised by the chemical industry, the
pesticide industry, the asbestos industry, the oil industry and all
their minions -- lawyers, bankers, engineers, reporters, professors,
and politicians -- who make a fat living off those who pump out
cancer-causing products and dump out cancer-causing by-products, aka
The debate began 50 years ago when a powerful voice for prevention
spoke out from inside the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In 1948.
Wilhelm Hueper, a senior NCI scientist, wrote,
"Environmental carcinogenesis is the newest and one of the most
ominous of the end-products of our industrial environment. Though its
full scope and extent are still unknown, because it is so new and
because the facts are so extremely difficult to obtain, enough is
known to make it obvious that extrinsic [outside-the-body] carcinogens
present a very immediate and pressing problem in public and individual
In 1964, Hueper and his NCI colleague, W. C. Conway, described
patterns in cancer incidence as "an epidemic in slow motion":
"Through a continued, unrestrained, needless, avoidable and, in part
reckless increasing contamination of the human environment with
chemical and physical carcinogens and with chemicals supporting and
potentiating their action, the stage is being set indeed for a future
occurrence of an acute, catastrophic epidemic, which once present
cannot effectively be checked for several decades with the means
available nor can its course appreciably be altered once it has been
set in motion," they wrote.[pg. 28]
Hueper of course was right. This is why 50% of all men and 40% of all
women in the U.S. now hear the chilling words, "You've got cancer" at
some point in their lives. That's right, 1 out of every 2 men now get
cancer in the U.S., and more than 1 out of every 3 women.
Clapp, Howe and Lefevre tell us that between 1950 and 2001 the
incidence rate for all types of cancer increased 85%, using
age-adjusted data, which means cancer isn't increasing because people
are living longer. People are getting more cancer because they're
exposed to more cancer-causing agents.
Contrary to well-funded rumors, the culprit isn't just tobacco or the
hundreds of toxic chemicals intentionally added to tobacco products.
Tobacco products remain the single most significant preventable cause
of cancer, but they have not been linked to the majority of cancers
nor to many of the cancers that have increased most rapidly in recent
decades including melanoma, lymphomas, testicular, brain, and bone
marrow cancers.[pg. 1]
No, it's more complicated than just tobacco with its toxic additives.
Most plastics, detergents, solvents, and pesticides and the
toxic-waste by-products of their manufacture came into being after
World War II. From the late 1950s to the late 1990s, we disposed of
more than 750 million tons of toxic chemical wastes.[pg. 27] Over 40
years, this represents more than two tons of toxic chemical wastes
discharged into the environment for each man, woman and child in the
U.S. No wonder some of it has come back to bite us.
Since the U.S. EPA began its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program in
1987, total releases have been reported as declining (though EPA does
not check the accuracy of industry's self-reporting). Despite the
reported decline, in 2002, the most recent year reported, 24,379
facilities in the U.S. reported releasing 4.79 billion pounds of over
650 different chemicals. (And TRI data do not include other enormous
discharges: toxic vehicle emissions, the majority of releases of
pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and fertilizers, or releases
from numerous other non-industrial sources.) In 2001, more than 1.2
billion pounds of pesticides were intentionally discharged into the
environment in the United States and over 5.0 billion pounds in the
whole world.[pg. 27]
While all this chemical dumping has been going on, incidence rates for
some cancer sites have increased particularly rapidly over the past
half century. From 1950-2001, melanoma of the skin increased by 690%,
female lung & bronchial cancer increased by 685%, prostate cancer by
286%, myeloma by 273%, thyroid cancer by 258%, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
by 249%, liver and intrahepatic duct cancer by 234%, male lung &
bronchial cancer by 204%, kidney and renal pelvis cancers by 182%,
testicular cancer by 143%, brain and other nervous system cancers by
136%, bladder cancer by 97%, female breast cancer by 90%, and cancer
in all sites by 86%.[pg. 25]
In the most recent 10-year period for which we have data (1992-2001),
liver cancer increased by 39%, thyroid cancer increased by 36%,
melanoma increased by 26%, soft tissue sarcomas (including heart) by
15%, kidney and renal pelvis cancers by 12%, and testicular cancer
increased by 4%.[pg. 25]
OK, so dumping chemicals into the environment has been a major
industrial pastime for 50 years, and cancers are increasing. But why
do we think these things are connected? What real evidence do we have
that environmental and occupational exposures contribute to cancer?
That's what the new Clapp-Howe-Lefevre report is about. It is a
review of recent scientific literature -- with emphasis on human
studies, not studies of laboratory animals. Indeed, the bulk of the
new Clapp-Howe-Lefevre report is a cancer-by-cancer compendium of what
recent human studies tell us about environmental and occupational
exposures that contribute to cancers of the bladder, bone, brain,
breast, cervix, colon, lymph nodes (Hodgkin's disease and non-
Hodgkin's lymphoma), kidney, larynx, liver and bile ducts, lungs,
nasal passages, ovaries, pancreas, prostate, rectum, soft tissues
(soft tissue sarcoma), skin, stomach, testicles, and thyroid, plus
leukemia, mesothelioma, and multiple myeloma. (It is worth pointing
out -- and Clapp-Howe-Lefevre do point it out -- that this compendium
owes a great debt to a data spreadsheet on cancer and its
environmental causes prepared by Sarah Janssen, Gina Solomon and Ted
Schettler, for which thanks are due the Collaborative on Health and
Many of the bad actor chemicals are well-known to us all: metals and
metallic dusts (arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium,
nickel); solvents (benzene, carbon tet, TCE, PCE, xylene, toluene,
among others); aromatic amines; petrochemicals and combustion
byproducts (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs); diesel
exhaust; ionizing radiation (x-rays, for example); non-ionizing
radiation (magnetic fields, radio waves); metalworking fluids and
mineral oils; pesticides; N-nitroso compounds; hormone-disrupting
chemicals (found in many pesticides, fuels, plastics, detergents, and
prescription drugs); chlorination byproducts in drinking water;
natural fibers (asbestos, silica, wood dust); man-made fibers (fiber
glass, rock wool, ceramic fibers); reactive chemicals (such as
sulfuric acids, vinyl chloride monomer, and many others); petroleum
products; PCBs; dioxins; mustard gas; aromatic amines; environmental
tobacco smoke; and outdoor air pollution.
But there is additional evidence linking chemicals with cancer:
** Elevated cancer rates follow patterns -- the disease is more common
in cities, in farming states, near hazardous waste sites, downwind of
certain industrial activities, and around certain drinking-water
wells. Patterns of elevated cancer incidence and mortality have been
linked to areas of pesticide use, toxic work exposures, hazardous
waste incinerators, and other sources of pollution.[pg. 26]
** The U.S. EPA's long-delayed and heavily industry-influenced "Draft
Dioxin Reassessment" released in 2000 admitted that the weight of the
evidence from human studies suggests that, "the generally increased
risk of overall cancer is more likely than not due to exposure to TCDD
[dioxin] and its congeners [chemical relatives]." The report goes on
to conclude, "The consistency of this finding in the four major cohort
studies and the Seveso victims is corroborated by animal studies that
show TCDD to be a multisite, multisex, and multispecies carcinogen
with a mechanistic basis."[pg. 26]
** Farmers in industrialized nations die more often than the rest of
us from multiple myeloma, melanoma, prostate cancer, Hodgkin's
lymphoma, leukemia, and cancers of the lip and stomach. They have
higher rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and brain cancer. Migrant
farmers experience elevated rates of multiple myeloma as well as
cancers of the stomach, prostate, and testicles.[pg. 26]
** The growing burden of cancer on children provides some of the most
convincing evidence of the role of environmental and occupational
exposures in causing cancers. Children do not smoke, drink alcohol, or
hold stressful jobs. Their lifestyles have not changed appreciably in
recent years. In proportion to their body weight, however, "children
drink 2.5 times more water, eat 3 to 4 times more food, and breathe 2
times more air" than adults." In addition, their developing bodies may
well be affected by parental exposures prior to conception, exposures
while growing in the uterus, and the contents of breast milk.
Clapp-Howe-Lefevre put it this way: "We have learned how to save more
lives, thankfully, but more children are still diagnosed with cancer
every year. The incidence of cancer in all sites combined among
children ages 0-19 increased by 22% from 13.8/100,000 in 1973 to 16.8
in 2000 and most of this increase occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
Epidemiologic studies have consistently linked higher risks of
childhood leukemia and childhood brain and central nervous system
cancers with parental and childhood exposure to particular toxic
chemicals including solvents, pesticides, petrochemicals, and certain
industrial by-products (namely dioxins and polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons [PAHs])."[pg. 26]
All in all, the Clapp-Howe-Lefevre report makes a compelling case that
many industrial chemicals contribute to many kinds of cancers. But
where this report really shines is in its clear call for
prevention. In all, there are relatively few products or substances
associated with cancer.[pgs. 10-11, 37-40] Everything doesn't cause
cancer, and many of the things that do could be shunned and phased
out. In principle, a great deal of prevention is possible.
Thirty years into the prevention-vs-treatment debate -- in 1981 -- two
famous British scientists -- Sir Richard Doll and Sir Richard Peto
-- published an extremely influential study in which they estimated
that "only" 2 to 4% of all cancers are caused by environmental or
workplace exposures. With 1.2 million new cases of cancer each year in
the U.S., half of them fatal, 2% to 4% = 12,000 to 24,000 deaths each
year, most of them preventable. Doll and Peto said tobacco caused 30%
of all cancers and food caused another 35%. We now know that cancer
results from the interaction of our genes with exposure to several
cancer-causing agents. All the necessary exposures must occur to cause
a cancer -- if any one of them is missing, the cancer will not occur.
This is why prevention is important -- it really can work.
Because cancer requires multiple exposures to cancer-causing agents,
it is wrong and misleading to say that "Exposure to product A causes X
percent of all cancers." It simple doesn't work like that. Perhaps
Doll and Peto in 1981 did not know how such things worked, and they
boldly proceeded to estimate what percent of all cancers were
attributable to particular exposures. It was wrong, but their report
served as powerful ammunition for the prevention-is-pointless crowd.
If "only" 2 to 4% of all cancers were caused by environmental
exposures, then there was little incentive to prevent human exposure
to environmental agents, the argument went. What a welcome message
this was for the cancer-creation industries (petrochemicals, metals,
pesticides, asbestos, radiation, and others) and for the cancer
treatment industry! Damn the torpedoes -- full speed ahead!
The prevention-is-pointless crowd latched onto the Doll and Peto study
and spread it everywhere. By the end of 2004, the original 1981
Doll-and-Peto paper had been cited in 441 subsequent scientific
papers.[pg. 4] But even more importantly, the federal National Cancer
Institute and the American Cancer Society (which, together, you could
call the "cancer establishment") adopted the Doll-Peto perspective,
that cancer is a lifestyle disease -- the victims themselves are
responsible -- and that prevention of environmental and occupational
exposures is not worth the effort. Remember this was the beginning of
the Reagan counterrevolution and the Doll-Peto paper fit right into
the new ideology -- government is bad, big corporations are good,
we're all individually responsible for whatever bad things happen to
us, and greed is good because it makes the world go 'round. In any
case, the NCI and the ACS largely adopted the Doll-Peto perspective,
and they poured the bucks into new cancer treatments, pretty much
ignoring prevention. Meanwhile, cancer incidence rates climbed
relentlessly -- making the cancer-treatment industry healthier and
wealthier, which allowed it to further erode support for prevention.
Now we are starting to shake off the stupor induced by the misleading
Doll-Peto arithmetic, which pretended to prove that environment and
occupational exposures are of no consequence.
Listen to this marvelously clear-eyed conclusion from the
Clapp-Howe-Lefevre report: "Comprehensive cancer prevention programs
need to reduce exposures from all avoidable sources. Cancer prevention
programs focused on tobacco use, diet, and other individual behaviors
disregard the lessons of science."[pg. 1]
And this: "Preventing carcinogenic exposures wherever possible should
be the goal and comprehensive cancer prevention programs should aim to
reduce exposures from all avoidable sources, including environmental
and occupational sources."[pg. 6]
And this: "Further research is needed, but we will never be able to
study and draw conclusions about the potential interactions of
exposure to every possible combination of the nearly 100,000 synthetic
chemicals in use today. Despite the small increased risk of developing
cancer following a single exposure to an environmental carcinogen, the
number of cancer cases that might be caused by environmental
carcinogens is likely quite large due to the ubiquity [presence
everywhere] of carcinogens. Thus, the need to limit exposures to
environmental and occupational carcinogens is urgent."[pg. 29]
And this: "The sum of the evidence regarding environmental and
occupational contributions to cancer justifies urgent acceleration of
policy efforts to prevent carcinogenic exposures. By implementing
precautionary policies, Europeans are creating a model that can be
applied in the U.S. to protect public health and the environment. To
ignore the scientific evidence is to knowingly permit tens of
thousands of unnecessary illnesses and deaths each year."[pg. 1]
What a blast of fresh air!
The latest strategy from the cancer-creation industries is to claim
that we can't take action to prevent environmental and occupational
exposures because we don't have enough information. We're simply too
ignorant to make a move. More study is needed. [See Rachel's #824,
#825.] Clapp-Howe-Lefevre allow the eloquent writer Sandra
Steingraber to answer this argument. They say, "A main concern for
Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks
at Cancer and the Environment, is not whether the greatest dangers
are presented by dump sites, workplace exposures, drinking water,
food, or air emissions:
"I am more concerned [writes Steingraber] that the uncertainty over
details is being used to call into doubt the fact that profound
connections do exist between human health and the environment. I am
more concerned that uncertainty is too often parlayed into an excuse
to do nothing until more research can be conducted."[pg. 29]
Clapp, Howe and Lefevre go on: "At the same time, uncertainty and
controversy are permanent players in scientific research. However,
they must not deter us from enacting regulations and policies based on
what we know and pursuing the wisdom of the precautionary principle.
This is not new thinking, as demonstrated by Sir Austin Bradford
Hill's 1965 address to the Royal Society of Medicine:
"All scientific work is incomplete [wrote Sir Austin Bradford Hill] --
whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is
liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not
confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or
to postpone action that it appears to demand at a given time."[pg. 29]
Clapp, Howe and Lefevre then offer some guidelines for preventive
(1) The least toxic alternatives should always be used.
(2) Partial, but reliable, evidence of harm should compel us to act on
the side of caution to prevent needless sickness and death.
(3) The right of people to know what they are being exposed to must be
Clapp, Howe and Lefevre observe that "the United States has much to
learn" from the proposed European chemicals policy, known as REACH:
(1) requiring that industry be responsible for generating information
on chemicals, for evaluating risks, and for assuring safety; another
way of saying this is, "No data, no market."
(2) extending responsibility for testing and management to the entire
manufacturing chain -- everyone who uses a chemical has a duty to
familiarize themselves with the consequences;
(3) using safer substitutes for chemicals of high concern; and,
(4) encouraging innovation in safer substitutes.[pg. 29]
In the words of ecologist Sandra Steingraber: "It is time to start
pursuing alternative paths. From the right to know and the duty to
inquire flows the obligation to act."[pg. 29]
But while we're working in clear-eyed mode here, let's take our
exploration a bit further and look this problem squarely in the face.
The U.S. economy and culture are premised on endless growth. If I
loan you $100 in the expectation that you will pay me back $103 next
year, that extra 3% must come from somewhere. That "somewhere" has
physical dimensions -- something must be dug up or grown to produce
the additional 3%. That something must also be moved, processed, moved
again, packaged, promoted and sold, moved again, used, moved again,
and eventually discarded. Even if it is recycled many times,
ultimately it will be discarded into a natural ecosystem somewhere (at
which point nature begins moving it once again). The inescapable
second law of thermodynamics tells us that each of these steps will
inevitably be accompanied by waste, disorder and other disruptive
unintended consequences. Even if you create the extra 3% per year by
providing a "service" instead of a "product," you still require food,
water, shelter, energy, clothing, tools, transportation, commercial
space, medical care, municipal support services (like police, fire,
emergency services, and sewage treatment), leisure activities,
communications and information, schooling, and on and on.
An economy that is growing at 3% per year is doubling in size every 23
years -- requiring, every 23 years, a doubling in the number of
cities, food sources, mines, factories, power plants, vehicles,
highways, parking lots, schools, sewage treatment plants, hospitals,
prisons, discards, trash and dumps. For a very long time this kind of
rapid growth seemed tolerable. But now things are different -- the
earth is full of people and their artifacts. We can no longer throw
things "away" without affecting someone somewhere.
Something else is new as well. The modern, globalized financial
environment (in which money flows easily across international
borders), creates tremendous competitive pressure to attract
investment by increasing return to investors. That in turn creates
pressure to pass costs along to the general public. Economists call it
"externalizing" costs. If I dump my chemicals and make you sick, I
gain if I can get you to pay your own medical bills, and I gain again
if I can get taxpayers to clean up my mess. Firms have a natural
incentive to externalize their costs to the extent possible, but the
present "globalized" financial environment has increased that
incentive greatly, to improve return to investors.
In sum, let us review the pressures that prevent prevention.
(1) In general, it is difficult to make prevention pay, but
remediation can pay handsomely; this is certainly true for the cancer
industry. In general, financial-political-legal incentives are set up
to reward those who create problems and those who supply remedies.
(2) Economic growth entails the continual creation of ever-more and
ever-larger messes. Even if we managed to "green" commerce in every
way we can think of today, damage to nature would still be roughly
proportional to the size of the human economy because the second law
of thermodynamics cannot be evaded. And we now know that damage to
nature gives rise to human disease in myriad ways. (For evidence,
follow leads found here, here, here, and here.) Now that the
is full, a growing economy creates palpably-growing health problems,
including immune system degradation giving rise to cancers.
(3) The modern economy creates irresistible pressure to increase stock
prices, which in turn creates relentless pressure to externalize costs
by hook or by crook.
So let's not kid ourselves. Yes, cancer must be prevented
because for the most part it can't be cured -- it can only be slashed
and burned away at enormous cost, personal, social and monetary.
But saying cancer must be prevented is one thing. Expecting
that it can be prevented within the framework of the modern
economy is another. We can never stop working to prevent cancer -- and
precautionary policies will always make sense no matter what kind of
economy we have -- but until we shift to an economy that doesn't
require growth, we'll find ourselves right where we are now -- on an
accelerating rat wheel. As a result, we can expect to be living with
more and more cancer at greater and greater cost to ourselves and to
our children, accompanied by ever-increasing pain. It is not a pretty
picture. But at least we can now see it clearly.
 Richard Clapp, Genevieve Howe, and Molly Jacobs Lefevre,
Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer; A Review of Recent
Scientific Literature (Lowell, Mass.: University of Massachusetts at
Lowell, The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, September, 2005.
Available here and here and here. Unless otherwise noted,
throughout this issue of Rachel's, footnote numbers inside square
brackets refer to pages in this report.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Grist, Nov. 2, 2005
A GIANT IN SUSTAINABLE-AG IS FORCED TO RESIGN AT IOWA STATE
Seedy business: Who controls research at Iowa State University?
By Tom Philpott
Plunked down in the land of huge, chemical-addicted grain farms and
the nation's greatest concentration of hog feedlots, Iowa State
University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has always
had a tough row to hoe.
Imagine trying to operate an Anti-Cronyism League from Bush's West
Wing, and you get an idea of what the Leopold Center is up against.
Industrial agriculture runs the show in Iowa, sustained by regular
infusions of federal cash and its government-sanctioned ability to
"externalize" the messes it creates. The state grabbed $12.5 billion
in federal agriculture subsidies between 1995 and 2004 -- second only
to Bush's own home state. Iowa leads all states in hog production: It
churned out 14.5 million pigs in 2001 alone, the vast majority from
stuffed, environmentally and socially ruinous CAFOs (confined-animal
Yet since springing to life in 1987 by fiat of the Iowa legislature --
funded ingeniously by state taxes on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide
-- the Leopold Center has become an invaluable national resource for
critics of industrial agriculture and seekers of new alternatives.
Now, however, a sudden purge at the top has called the Center's much-
prized independence from industrial agriculture into question.
The Leopold Center operates under the authority of Iowa State
University's College of Agriculture. Last Friday, the college issued a
press release announcing that the Leopold Center's director of five
years, Fred Kirschenmann, had "accepted a new leadership role as a
distinguished fellow of the center."
The college went on to state that it had named an interim director,
effective Nov. 1.
Kirschenmann himself, however, tells a more interesting tale than
what's contained in the press release's bland prose. He says his move
from director to "distinguished fellow" came suddenly and without his
"On Wednesday [Oct. 26] I received a letter from the interim dean
asking me to resign by Friday and decide by then if I would accept the
position of distinguished fellow at the center," Kirschenmann told me
"I wrote her [the interim dean] back telling her I thought she was
moving too fast, that there wouldn't be time for a smooth transition.
She wrote back that it was a done deal -- she had already named a new
Kirschenmann says the interim dean, Wendy Wintersteen, had been on
Leopold's advisory board for years and had served on the search
committee that hired him in 2000. "She was always very supportive of
what we were doing," Kirschenmann says. "Until about two years ago.
Then she became very critical."
Her critique centered on the idea that in its work the Leopold Center
was neglecting "key stakeholders," Kirschenmann adds. "But she never
really clarified who those stakeholders were."
Might she have been refering to agribusiness interests? "You can draw
your own conclusions," Kirschenmann says. She never cited any reason
for the de facto purge, save for "some verbiage about how I would be
free to pursue my own work without having to worry about
To be sure, Iowa State's College of Agriculture draws agribusiness
cash the way a penned-up pig wallowing in its own waste draws flies. I
have a call into the college for a list of corporate donors; until
that call is returned, let it suffice that this is the sort of
research the college commonly proffers: A study claiming to show that
the genetically modified seed industry deserves a greater "level of
intellectual property protection... than what existed in the North
American seed corn market in the late 1990s." Collaborators: a pair of
scientists from GM seed titan Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a
subsidiary of DuPont.
Here are glowing testimonials from two of the college's "partners":
John Deere and Cargill.
Kirschenmann says he accepted the "distinguished fellow" position
because Wintersteen assured him he could continue doing his own work
on sustainable agriculture. And that work is important. Under
Kirschenmann the Leopold Center bluntly criticized and rigorously
documented the environmental and social calamities being wrought by
Will he continue to be able to do that work at Leopold? "We'll see how
it goes," he told me.
Copyright 2005. Grist Magazine, Inc.
Return to Table of Contents
From: British Medical Journal, Oct. 22, 2005
LEFT BEHIND -- THE LEGACY OF HURRICANE KATRINA
Hurricane Katrina puts the health effects of poverty and race in plain
By David Atkins and Ernest M. Moy
The sinking of the Titanic, during which women in first class cabins
were more likely to survive than those booked into cheaper decks, has
been used to illustrate the effects of income and social class on
health. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Americans have been
shocked and shamed to realise that they still don't have enough
lifeboats for all of our citizens. Live images of uncollected corpses
and families clinging to rooftops made vivid what decades of
statistics could not: that being poor in America, and especially being
poor and black in a poor southern state, is still hazardous to your
This may truly be a "teachable moment" about the impact of poverty and
race on health. The gap in health between white and black Americans
has been estimated to cause 84,000 excess deaths a year in the United
States, a virtual Katrina every week. Because the victims gradually
succumb to various diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease,
alcohol and drug abuse, cancer, and HIV infection, they rarely capture
the public's attention in the way the victims of Katrina have. As a
result, health inequality has persisted despite decades of important
health gains, economic growth, and progress on racial issues in the
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the problems
highlighted by hurricane Katrina are a unique legacy of southern
racism or a problem affecting black Americans or America alone. The
same factors that placed the poorest residents of New Orleans in
harm's way -- unemployment, poverty, neglect of communities, and
alienation -- contribute to health disparities for poor children and
adults and those from minority groups throughout the United States,
in the United Kingdom, and in other Western countries.[4,5] But the
aftermath of hurricane Katrina provides clear lessons about what
changes in policy government and private agencies must make to tackle
Fund prevention, not rescue. The recent UN International Strategy for
Disaster Reduction notes the need to "invest to prevent," yet a
comprehensive plan for protecting the Gulf Coast languished for years
because it seemed too expensive to implement: the costs of hurricane
Katrina to the US treasury are now expected to rise as high as $200
billion. Pressure on healthcare budgets for the poor continues to
squeeze services for primary care and prevention owing to soaring
costs for emergency visits and for admissions to hospital and long
term care, many of which might be preventable with better functioning
systems of ongoing care. Nowhere are the high costs of deferring
investment in health more evident than in a poor state such as
Louisiana, which ranks 48th among 50 states in levels of health
insurance, 45th in public health spending, 50th in overall health and
second in the costs to the federal government of caring for its older
and disabled citizens.[8,9]
Strengthen the infrastructure for public health. The individual
heroism evident among those who responded to the emergency in
Louisiana and Mississippi and in health workers who struggle every day
to meet the needs of poor communities cannot make up for a frayed
infrastructure. Recent reports have called attention to the neglect of
the public health infrastructure in the United States and the United
Kingdom.[10,11] Strengthening this infrastructure will depend on
improving the workforce, information systems, and organisation both
locally and nationally.
Adopt policies that support responsible choices. Democracies cannot
completely protect their citizens from the freedom to make bad
choices. Yet hurricane Katrina's effects vividly illustrate how the
choices available to us differ depending on where we live and how much
money we have. Many who "chose" to stay in the path of the storm had
no cars with which to escape, no faith that their property would be
protected, and no insurance to cover their losses. Similarly,
promoting personal responsibility as the solution to health problems
such as obesity will not work if we do not reduce the barriers to
exercise and healthy diets in poor urban communities, where parks and
supermarkets are less common than fast food chains and stores selling
alcohol. The problem is particularly acute in the US, where efforts to
intervene early against chronic diseases such as hypertension and
diabetes are hampered by a system that continues to leave 45 million
citizens without health insurance.
Improve communication about critical threats to health. The failure of
basic communication after the hurricane fed a downward spiral of the
early recovery efforts. The lack of an authoritative source of
information fostered confusion and rumours which exacerbated the chaos
and sense of panic. Similar challenges hinder efforts to confront
health problems in poor and ethnic minority communities, where a
legacy of distrust of government and medical establishments provides
fertile ground for misunderstanding, myths, and conspiracy theories
about health issues. Rebuilding trust will require actively including
the community in any planning and research which affects them,
improving cross cultural training of health workers, and tapping into
the informal information networks in these communities.
Build strategies that foster accountability. A variety of
investigations will eventually sort out the failings and scattered
successes of the preparations for and response to hurricane Katrina.
And, although our ability to measure health disparities is improving,
we still need better mechanisms to promote accountability for reducing
them. Public and private healthcare organisations and both local and
national governments will need to negotiate their shared
responsibility for a problem that has many sources and no single
Strengthen communities. It now seems that many of the most horrific
stories to come out of New Orleans -- roving gangs of rapists, snipers
firing on helicopters -- were exaggerated or untrue. But the
perception of crime and disorder which impeded the response to
hurricane Katrina also undermines efforts to attack health
disparities. Problems of drugs and alcohol misuse and attendant crime
and violence take direct tolls on health and lower the priority given
by government and other organisations to health issues. The healthcare
sector alone cannot tackle problems which require support from good
schools, businesses, religious institutions, other community
organisations, and law enforcement agencies.[3,12]
In the rush to rebuild in the southern states, Americans should pause
to think more deeply about what it would take to create more equitable
and healthier communities in New Orleans and throughout the affected
areas. It is essential that these lessons are heeded in any plans for
recovery. It is even more important that we and others apply these
lessons to help the many other individuals and communities with poor
health who continue to languish out of the public eye.
David Atkins, chief medical officer, Center for Outcome and
Effectiveness Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville,
MD 20850, USA (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ernest M Moy, senior service fellow, Center for Quality Improvement
and Patient Safety Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality,
Rockville, MD 20850, USA
Declaration of competing interests: DA and EMM are employed by the
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a government research
agency which produces an annual report on healthcare disparities in
the US. The views expressed are solely those of the authors and do not
reflect the official position or policy of the Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality or the US Department of Health and Human
 Satcher D, Fryer GE Jr, McCann J, Troutman A, Woolf SH, Rust G.
What if we were equal? A comparison of the black-white mortality gap
in 1960 and 2000. Health Aff 2005;24: 459-64.
 National healthcare disparities report. Rockville, MD: Agency
for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2005.
 Acheson D. Report of the independent inquiry into inequalities in
health. London: Stationery Office, 1998.
 Blendon RJ, Schoen C, DesRoches CM, Osborn R, Scoles KL, Zapert K.
Inequities in health care: a five-country survey. Health Aff 2002;21:
 Beiser M, Stewart M. Reducing health disparities: a priority for
Canada (preface). Can J Public Health 2005;96(Suppl 2): S4-5.
 Payne AW. At risk before the storm struck. Washington Post 2005
Sep 13: HE01.
 Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
Invest to prevent. 2005.
 United Health Foundation. America's health: state health rankings
 Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Health care financing
review: Medicare and Medicaid statistical supplement, 2003.
 Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st
Century, Institute of Medicine, Board on Health Promotion and Disease
Prevention. The future of the public's health in the 21st century.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2003.
 Wanless D. Securing good health for the whole population: final
report. London: Stationery Office, 2004.
 Smedley BD, Stith AY, Nelson AR, eds. Unequal treatment:
confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Washington,
DC: National Academy Press, 2003.
Copyright 2005 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd
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