This year, rushing to the head of the pack of irresponsible biotech companies was the French corporation Aventis, the maker of Cry9C corn, sold under the name StarLink.
Earlier this year, StarLink corn — which has not been approved for human consumption and is used as livestock feed — contaminated Taco Bell brand taco shells sold in grocery stores, as well other foods. Critics say StarLink corn poses serious allergenic risks to humans, including fever, rashes, and diarrhea. At least 44 people have complained to the US government that they became ill after eating StarLink contaminated food.
The contamination appears to have occurred through cross-pollination of StarLink and other corn crops, or perhaps because StarLink and other corn crops were mixed together in grain elevators.
Undeterred, the company continues to push for expedited EPA approval to put StarLink in the food supply. New evidence submitted to the regulatory agency in October, Aventis said, “verifies that there is more than an adequate margin of safety for StarLink corn — even for especially sensitive population groups (e.g. children and those whose dietary patterns include high consumption of yellow corn).”
British American Tobacco Plc.
One of the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates is to raise the price of cigarettes. That’s why the World Health Organization advocates stiff excise taxes on cigarettes, and why the tobacco industry opposes them.
It also appears to be why the tobacco industry has promoted and managed cigarette smuggling on a massive scale throughout the world, according to evidence made public this year..
According to internal company documents unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the British group Action on Smoking and Health, British American Tobacco for decades engineered a worldwide smuggling scheme, with extensive efforts in Latin America and Asia. BAT, which owns the US company Brown & Williamson, is the world’s second largest tobacco multinational, just behind Philip Morris. The documents are among millions made public in connection with US litigation against the tobacco companies.
As Clive Bates of ASH summarized in testimony before the British House of Commons, BAT undertook a comprehensive, project to promote smuggling worldwide. Bates said the company went so far as to set up warehouses and station marketing personnel near borders with lax customs controls, and to rig complex distribution chains through dozens of jurisdictions to make products nearly impossible to trace.
The BAT documents show primary company officials, including the chairman, were apparently aware of and participated in the smuggling operations.
In one year, BP Amoco made quite a name for itself as a nasty oil company:
- In February, BP Amoco’s Alaska subsidiary — BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. — was hit with a $500,000 criminal fine for failing to report the illegal disposal of hazardous waste on Alaska’s North Slope. The company was also ordered to establish a nationwide environmental management system designed to prevent future violations.
BP Amoco has also paid $6.5 million in civil penalties to resolve allegations that the company illegally disposed of hazardous waste and violated federal drinking water law.
- The company is now constructing a controversial offshore oil project in the Arctic, and heavily lobbying Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
- In April, BP Amoco agreed to pay $32 million to resolve claims that it underpaid royalties due for oil produced on federal and Indian lands since 1988.
- In July, BP/Amoco agreed to pay $10 million to settle a Clean Air Act case.
Earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm commenced a legal action against DoubleClick, Inc., the world’s largest Internet advertising business, and two Web sites that it owns, IAF.net and NetDeals.com.
Granholm alleged that DoubleClick had violated Michigan laws by failing to disclose to Internet users that DoubleClick is systematically implanting electronic “cookies” — files which most sites use to customize a users’ online experience — on the hard drives of users’ computers without their knowledge or consent. The company uses the files to compile profiles on consumers which, potentially, can be linked directly to a consumer’s name, home address, and e-mail account.
So far, DoubleClick has collected about 100 million consumer profiles. The company could sell such profile information to other Web advertisers.
Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
Ford and Firestone knew of at least 35 deaths and 130 injuries related to tread separation on Firestone tires and resulting roll-over accidents involving Ford Explorer SUVs before the US government launched its probe earlier this year. They knew about these cases because they were being sued by the families of the victims. And as a condition of these settlements, Ford and Firestone were demanding that the lawyers who bring these cases not speak to anyone about what they found out during the discovery phase of their cases.
Critics say Ford and Firestone should be criminally prosecuted for reckless homicide in connection with the more than 90 deaths and hundreds of injuries that resulted when 15-inch tires that are standard equipment for the Ford Explorer failed, causing catastrophic accidents around the country.
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, testified before Congress in September that internal documents from Ford show that the company did not make changes recommended by its engineers after early tests showed a tendency for the Explorer to roll over, choosing instead to recommend a lower tire pressure than Firestone had designed its tires for. The lower pressure may have contributed to the tires’ failures.
At least five lawsuits were filed against Ford and Firestone for tread-related rollovers by 1993, and many others followed. Almost all were settled, and settled with gag orders prohibiting the attorneys and the families from disclosing information about the cases to the public or the Department of Transportation, Claybrook said. “There is no question the companies knew they had a problem. But they kept it secret.”
By 1999, Ford — without Firestone — was recalling tires in Middle Eastern, Asian, and South American countries. But neither company did anything about the same problems in the United States until 2000 when the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration began investigating.
More than 35 million people around the world have HIV/AIDS, well over 20 million in sub-Saharan Africa. About 3 million Africans die annually from HIV/AIDS.
In the United States and other wealthy countries, drug treatments enable many of those with HIV/AIDS to survive. But the life-saving drug cocktails are expensive: $10,000 to $15,000 or more per person per year. These prices are unaffordable for all but a tiny few in Africa; for the rest, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis is a death sentence.
Drug companies traditionally use patents and intellectual property protections to block distribution of cheap, generic versions of HIV/AIDS and other drugs. Since the cost of drug production is actually very low, these generic versions can reduce prices by 95 percent or more.
The drug companies’ great fear is not losing money in Africa — where sales are miniscule — but that competition and lower prices in developing countries will generate pressure for competition and lower prices in other countries, especially the United States, where industry profiteering is at its peak.
Glaxo Wellcome, since merged with SmithKline Beecham to create GlaxoSmithKline, has emerged as a particular menace among the drug industry cartel. In August, the company dispatched a threatening letter to Cipla, an Indian generic drug maker, objecting to Cipla’s distribution of a small amunt of Combivir — a combination of two anti-AIDS drugs for which Glaxo claims to hold patent rights — in Ghana.
In November, Cipla announced it would stop exporting Duovir to Ghana, even though it contested Glaxo’s patent claims.
Meanwhile, the death toll mounts.
Lockheed Martin Corp.
In November, the Los Angeles Times reported that on behalf of military contractor Lockheed Martin, Loma Linda University is conducting the first large-scale tests of a toxic drinking water contaminant on human subjects — a step medical researchers and environmentalists called morally unethical and scientifically invalid.
The Times reported that Loma Linda Medical Center is paying 100 people $1,000 each to eat a six-month daily dose of perchlorate, a toxic component of rocket fuel that damages thyroid function and is found in hundreds of water supplies in Southern California.
The Loma Linda subjects are being fed up to 83 times the “safe” level of perchlorate currently set by the state health department, which is expected to review its perchlorate standards in coming months.
The paper reported that a former Lockheed plant is the likely cause of the contamination of water wells in San Bernardino County. In 2001, the EPA plans to begin national testing of water supplies for perchlorate in preparation for setting national regulations on the chemical.
If Lockheed Martin can persuade the state and EPA not to set strict standards for perchlorate allowed in drinking water, the company will save millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
Phillips Petroleum Co.
A massive explosion at a Phillips Petroleum plastics plant in Pasadena, Texas in March killed one person and injured 74. It was the third fatal accident at the sprawling petrochemical complex in the last 11 years. The explosion was also the fourth within the last year at the facility.
The plant employs 850 workers who make plastic resins for use in medical and consumer products.
After a six-month investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed fining the company $2.5 million. OSHA said that “failure to properly train workers” was a key factor in the deadly explosion.
“Unfortunately, this tragedy is not an isolated incident, but one is a series of incidents at this site,” says US Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. “Three workers lost their lives in explosions at this plant in less than a year’s time, and 23 others were killed in a major explosion in 1989.”
The 1989 accident at the Phillips facility spurred Congressional passage of accident preparedness provisions as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments.
One of the provisions required facilities using extremely hazardous substances to publicly report an estimated worst-case accident scenario including the radius of vulnerability around the facility. For the Phillips facility, that worst-case accident scenario involved the butadiene used in their K-resin plant where the accident occurred.
Last August, the Chemical Manufacturers Association (of which Phillips is a member) lobbied for legislation passed by Congress barring the worst-case scenario estimates from public dissemination.
Tyson Foods Inc., IBP Inc., and Smithfield Foods
Things are not right in farm country. Family farmers in the United States are being driven off the land. Big corporations are taking over. Consolidation in the ag business is accelerating.
In a move that even stunned pro-big business allies like the Farm Bureau and US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Smithfield Foods, the largest US pork producer, announced that it was bidding for IBP Inc., the second largest pork producer. On Jan. 1, 2001, the massive chicken processor Tyson outbid Smithfield for IBP, creating an even larger meat megaconglomerate.
The Department of Justice has requested further information from Tyson on the proposed merger, probably because the resulting meat megalith gives Tyson unprecedented power to buy meat cheaply from farmers and charge meat retailers higher prices.
While wrecking havoc on the farm economy, the big hog companies like IBP are also destroying farm country. The rapid growth of factory farms and the resulting mountains of untreated livestock manure are fouling drinking water supplies and causing a public health risk throughout the United States. North Carolina has put a moratorium on new corporate hog farms after waste fouled rivers.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department sued IBP alleging that the meatpacker violated pollution laws at its facility in Dakota City, Neb.
Titan International, Inc.
Titan International produces agricultural, off-road and construction tires, wheels, and assemblies. Approximately 1,000 United Steelworker of America workers at two Titan facilities have struck the company since 1998.
In May 1998, 670 workers at Titan’s Des Moines, Iowa factory went on strike when Titan refused to seriously negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with them. In February 1999, an administrative law judge ruled that the striking workers could not be permanently replaced by management.
The judge found that the company unlawfully denied necessary bargaining information to the union, unilaterally imposed a contract on the workers, moved equipment and jobs from the Des Moines plant, and discontinued insurance to workers on leave when the strike began. The National Labor Relations Board would later issue a complaint charging Titan with unlawfully firing workers at the Des Moines factory for exercising protected rights.
More than 300 workers at Titan’s Natchez, Miss. facility went on strike in September 1998 after Titan fired the entire workforce in a fashion the NLRB has since alleged illegal.
The Steelworkers have organized an intensive corporate campaign against Titan. The union has highlighted the company’s horrendous worker safety record and the company policy of refusing access to Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors who do not have a warrant. The union has pointed to the company’s poor environmental practices.