Monthly Archives: July 2015

Self-regulation is not effective: reconsider

From the recent horsemeat scandal, to the frequent withdrawals of medicines which have seriously damaged the health and the banking collapse, it can be seen that self-regulation of food, pharmaceutical and banking corporates is not working. Many other sectors are failing – notably accountancy and the trade in illicit armaments, but a blog is not the medium for a detailed exploration. In the words of Bloomberg Business:

It appears that the standard practice of hiring for-profit inspection companies — third-party auditors, who aren’t required by law to meet any federal standards and have no government supervision – doesn’t work in the public interest. At least five of the requirements for a civilised society are being compromised.

cdcMore information is available about the American food industry’s self-regulation, which has been described as a ‘spectacular failure’. In 2011, the FDA inspected 6% of domestic food producers and just 0.4%of importers. The FDA has had no rules for how often food producers must be inspected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million Americans fall ill each year ‘sickened’ by food, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 killed. The rate of infections linked to foodborne salmonella, rose 10% from 2006 to 2010. The U.S. had 37 recalls of fruits and vegetables in 2011.

UK: strong on ‘trends’ and strategies’ but weak on fact

fsa header

Inferior record-keeping, the rule rather than the exception in Britain, prevents the public from getting a clear picture of levels of food-borne infection.The government’s microbiology website explains that in its statistics table:

  • The title has been changed to reflect that these are laboratory confirmed cases of infectious intestinal disease and not foodborne illness as previously labelled in the old stats provided.
  • The new figures supplied are ‘all cases’, including UK acquired and those that are acquired abroad.

Many chemical companies, including Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have signed up to the industry’s self-policing Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative, which has clear guidelines on wastewater management, but in light of recent revelations (summarised below) it seems that the majority are failing to observe these guidelines.

The Financial Times reports on the dumping of untreated antibiotic waste affecting the health of local communities and contributing to the global rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A major UK government-backed review into antimicrobial resistance (more here) estimates that by 2050, drug-resistant infections could kill 10m people per year globally and reported that the UK’s chief medical officer has spoken of this as a “catastrophic threat”.

“Disturbing” environmental damage in India and China by ‘trusted brands’

An earlier article in the FT reports institutional investors’ concerns over the “disturbing” environmental damage resulting from multinational drug companies manufacturing in India. Many other reports show that pharmaceutical pollution is a huge problem in China, where between 80 and 90% of the world’s antibiotic raw materials are manufactured. In both countries, multinational pharmaceutical plants are failing to treat and manage toxic and drug-rich waste, while their clients – including trusted brands – are ‘turning a blind eye to the problem’. Read more here.

water pollution america

To a lesser extent, European countries, Canada and America (above) also have chemically polluted water.

According to Emma Rosi-Marshall, the lead author of a new Cary Institute study, pharmaceutical pollution in waters has been tracked across the globe leading to disruption of ecosystem of streams, including American rivers in New York, Maryland and Indiana. She said when waste water is moved to sewage treatment facilities it is not treated for the removal of pharmaceuticals. Consequently, streams and rivers are exposed to synthetic compounds including antibiotics, stimulants, antihistamines and analgesics.

Concern about the problem in Eastern Europe is evident in the EU Guidelines on waste disposal and, in 1999, the UNO World Health Organisation issued detailed guidelines in a more readable document, including disposal methods. In section 1.8 it stresses many dangers from ‘improper disposal or non-disposal of expired pharmaceuticals, including contamination of water supplies or local sources used by nearby communities or wildlife’.

The FT on banking: “self-regulation is no regulation”

Banks will never regulate themselves other than cosmetically.  Even if each bank were to agree that it would make collective sense to for each and every bank to observe certain practices and to desist from others, the temptation to defect from the agreement will prove irresistible as soon as the next financial boom starts to purr seductively and the next sure-thing money machine is touted by a new vintage of charlatan quants . . .”

The un-named writer ends: “Self-regulation in the financial sector has been a joke.  It has turned out to be an expensive joke.  Those paying the bill are, unfortunately, not those who were laughing when the joke was told.  It is time to get serious about regulation again”.

prem sikka 4Professor Prem Sikka summarises: “Unchecked, corporate power will continue to result in abuses, scandals and a destruction of the economy. We face a decision: we can have democracy and accountability, or rampant corporate power with enormous private wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a few business executives – but we can’t have both”.

 

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Broad left narrative – 2: Owen Jones

owen jonesCould any reader write a narrative combining Owen Jones’ suggestions for policies, around which a left alliance could coalesce?

  • A living wage is good for workers and for businesses, with better-off customers and taxpayers, who will spend less subsidising poverty wages.
  • A homebuilding programme will reduce the social housing waiting list, create skilled jobs and waste less public money on paying private landlords.
  • Public investment banks could support local businesses currently starved of loans.
  • Concerns over immigration could be addressed through an “immigration dividend”: extra public money for services going to communities with higher levels of migrants.
  • Middle-class commuters resent taxes spent on far higher subsidies than in the days of British Rail. Public ownership – this time democratically involving passengers and workers –would benefit them.

 

The need for a broad left narrative

Compass – like this site – focusses on plans and measures taken to improve the political and economic life of the country.

compass2-logoThe need for a broad left narrative was explored at a recent Compass West Midlands meeting and one speaker recommended an article by Jonathan Freedland.

It described a series of mantras ‘unleashed’ when the Conservatives returned to power – assisted by ‘a press that almost uniformly leans to the right’ – ‘a megaphone amplifying their message’. Simple phrases have been repeated and accepted unquestioningly, becoming assimilated into the collective consciousness. They include:

  • the last government ‘maxed out’ the nation’s credit card;
  • Labour failed to mend the roof when the sun was shining.

And in their own favour:

  • we’re clearing up the mess we inherited;
  • we are determined to balance the books;
  • we will live within our means and
  • we are the party for hardworking families.

‘Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left. Kind regards and good luck, Liam.’

cameron byrne letter

Freedland said that there was no memorable, easily understood response to the charge that Labour’s incontinent spending, rather than the global crash, had ballooned the deficit.

An attender at the Compass meeting suggested one: he said that when Liam Byrne left the traditional informal note to his Treasury successor (see Maudling’s missive) he should have added a truthful rider:

‘Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left, the bankers have had it all’.

But, as the Compass facilitator said, it is easy to criticise; what is needed is a positive, attractive broad left narrative. Owen Jones indicated some areas in Political Concern which will be seen in broad left narrative – 2.

Any other offers?

Democratic development: Devolution Deal for Cornwall

Members of the unitary authority yesterday backed the “Case for Cornwall” which, the Council says, “sets out the increased powers and freedoms the Council wants to secure from the Government to enable Cornwall to take greater control over its own affairs.”

“Politics as usual” is no longer acceptable

Dick Cole at MK Conference 2014
Councillor Dick Cole (leader of Mebyon Kernow the party for Cornwall) – in his keynote speech at the Party’s 2014 Conference, held at New County Hall in Truro, described how the referendum campaign had energised Scottish voters and had shown that “politics as usual” is no longer acceptable.

He told the meeting yesterday that his party would continue to campaign for full devolution for Cornwall – a Cornish Assembly.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who is to visit the Duchy today, has confirmed that Cornwall will gain major powers devolved from central Government.

The Cornishman reports that Mr Cameron – a yearly visitor – said: “This devolution deal marks a major shift for the people who live and work in Cornwall – putting power in their hands and giving them the tools to take charge and make the most of the fantastic potential that Cornwall holds. ”

Under the terms of the deal, Cornwall will have greater powers over areas of public spending which are currently controlled by London. The deal covers a range of key areas including transport, employment and skills, EU funding, business support, energy, health and social care, public estate, heritage and culture. Other areas include:

  • Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly given Intermediate Body (IB) status. Decisions on allocating €603.7m of European funding to projects will now be made locally rather than at Westminster;
  • an agreement to work with agencies in Cornwall on a number of proposals to improve employment and skills opportunities, reshaping training and learning provision, developing new apprenticeship opportunities and improving careers advice for young people;
  • an agreement to support Cornwall’s aim to create a low carbon Enterprise Zone and develop geothermal energy production, as well as working with partners to help address the current constraints on the national grid and to develop proposals to improve energy efficiency in homes;
  • and joining together funding for flood defences from a range of partners, including the Environment Agency and South West Water and the South West regional flood committee, providing a joint investment programme to improve coastal defences.

Mebyon Kernow members have reservations about the deal. They single out the growing influence of unelected and unaccountable entities – such as the Local enterprise Partnership – which have limited democratic legitimacy but nonetheless dominate the deal. Cllr Cole concludes:

dick cole 4“We need to build on the ‘Deal’ and to construct a powerful public campaign for a powerful Cornish Assembly with full democratic control over the whole of the public sector in Cornwall.”

The government should heed the latest scientific findings on climate change

 Scientists and politicians argue fruitlessly about the reality of climate change – failing to appreciate that the measures advocated to alleviate it are undeniably beneficial in their own right and should be put in that place for that reason. If they also diminish climate change that would be a bonus.

Who could deny that putting in place the measures advocated to address climate change – listed below in the Pettitt cartoon – would create a better world?

climate change hoax 2In February, City AM, a business-focused newspaper, reported that the government was planning to wind down its £42m stake in the renewables infrastructure fund Greencoat UK Wind, after investing in the launch of the company in 2013 as part of its drive to build a market for renewable energy assets.

And despite the report by experts on medicine and economics at University College London on the serious threats to human health posed by climate change, published in the Lancet, the chancellor announced that the government is scrapping a green tax exemption enjoyed by renewable energy companies since 2001.

Clive Cookson, Science Editor of the Financial Times, lists some of the findings of the review, adding that “action is needed to avert the direct health impacts of climate change through heat waves, other extreme weather events and the spread of infectious diseases — and indirect effects through factors such as forced migration and crop failures”. This is not the first warning- see the box relating to the NIEH 2010 report.

niehs 2010“Climate change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now.” said Hugh Montgomery, director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, who co-chaired the commission.

Anthony Costello, another director of the UCL Institute for Global Health said: “Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health — and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come”.

We need a government which decides to take measures to build healthy happy communities – rather than selecting those which look good on corporate balance sheets.