The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster. It is a disaster of unprecedented scale that has cost lives and livelihoods. The long term impact cannot be known either in terms of the environment or the economy of the region.
The full facts behind what caused the blast and where the blame lies has yet to be told, but in what has come out so far, the theme tends to be that safety was set aside for the sake of profit. One such tale comes from Tyrone Benton.
It wouldn’t be the first disaster where safety was set aside for the sake of profit. In 1984, an accident at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal released Methyl Isocyanate and other toxins into the town affecting an estimated 500 000 residents. Estimates vary on the final death toll, but some put it as high as 15 000 people.
A 1982 safety audit identified 30 faults with the plant. Union Carbide rectified the faults at a sister plant in the US, but took no action in Bhopal.
15 000 people died.
The plant is still sealed off. It has never been decontaminated. Any remaining toxins are left to leach into the groundwater and get into the food chain.
Ten days after the accident, the Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, addressed the US Congress, stressing the company's "commitment to safety" and promising to ensure that a similar accident "cannot happen again".
In the rhetoric over the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the phrase “cannot happen again” is oft repeated. The response of BP has been to stress their “commitment to safety”.
This doesn’t make me feel any better and I am thousands of miles from the pollution. I did not lose friends or relatives in the explosion. I have not lost my livelihood. I will not have to live with the after effects for decades.
I want to make sure that safety is not set aside for profit. I want to see actions by government that reinforce the message that they are serious about making sure that they are making sure that safety is so paramount that, regardless of the industry, such ecological disasters “cannot happen again”.
With pictures of the thick sludge lapping up against the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico on every news bulletin and the stories of hardship and grief of residents, workers and relatives ringing in everybody’s ears, you would be forgiven if you thought that governments everywhere are being extra diligent in making sure that safety is not being set aside for the sake of profit.
You are wrong. Especially in the case of the US Supreme Court who yesterday decided to overturn the ban on Monsanto selling GM modified seeds BEFORE all the safety tests have been completed
Just in case you didn’t catch that last bit, I’ll repeat it. The US Supreme Court decided to let Monsanto sell Genetically Modified seeds to farmers BEFORE they have completed and analysed all the safety tests.
So, Monsanto can start to pull in their dollars BEFORE they have proved that their Genetic Modifications to alfalfa has no safety implications to the environment and to ecological systems.
BEFORE they prove that their Genetic Modifications cannot, under any circumstances, pass to other species.
BEFORE they prove that large scale and repeated use of the weed killer, Roundup, does not have long term environmental impacts – despite this weed killer never having been submitted for test by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
BEFORE they can prove beyond doubt that intensive farming that has huge fields that consist of a single species does not have a catastrophic effect on habitat and disrupts the food chain.
Genetically Modified crops will always raise an emotional debate between those who claim that man is playing god by the manipulation of DNA and those who point to the potential for GM crops to provide huge benefits in feeding ever growing populations. There will be scientists who argue on both sides and eventually scientific data will prove the point one way or the other.
BUT, in this case there is a fundamental difference. The Genetic Modification doesn’t increase yield or require less nutrients. It doesn’t reduce the amount of irrigation required. In this case, it means the crop will be resistant to a single brand of weed killer (which in a stunning case of corporate co-incidence is also produced by Monsanto).
Surely I cannot be alone in looking at this and thinking that somebody is setting aside safety for the sake of profit? Am I alone in failing to understand how selling these seeds BEFORE completing safety tests can demonstrate even the most basic “commitment to safety”? Can anyone explain to me how this decision by the US Supreme Court demonstrates that they wish to ensure that environmental catastrophe “cannot happen again”?