Category Archives: Agriculture

Self-employed to be removed from Health & Safety at Work protection

Next week the government is intending to push through legislation which will remove the cover which self-employed people have always received over the last 40 years since the passing of the Health & Safety at Work Act.   Section 3 of this Act currently places a duty on all employers and self-employed people to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of others.   The government is now proposing to change this to: “It shall be the duty of every self-employed person who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description to conduct the undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety”.   This means that any self-employed person who is not on a prescribed list (not yet specified) will have no duties under the Act and will not be able to be convicted of any criminal act, or be issued with enforcement proceedings regardless of any risk that they pose to themselves or others.   This is one of the most dangerous pieces of deregulation on health and safety ever proposed.
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The new EU Commission has marked up a TTIP deal with US as a key objective

The fight over the euphemistically named Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the US Congress successfully blocked over the last year, is about to be pushed forward in a higher gear now that the new EU Commission has made clear their eagerness to drive a deal through with the US over this next year.   The previous Commission had already met with corporations and their lobbyists 119 times, according to FOI requests, compared with just 8 times with civil society groups.   The argument is that TTIP will promote jobs and growth – the same argument that the US used to promote NAFTA, when it actually led to an export of jobs from the US and is only now supported by 15% of Americans.   The other main argument is that it will remove regulation and red tape that gets in the way of trade.   The talk is of ‘regulatory convergence’ which is likely to mean chasing the lowest common denominator in terms of labour, social and environmental standards.
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Why GM when there are known risks but no proven benefits?

Owen Paterson, the right-wing Tory hawk at Defra, has just delivered another forlorn call to the EU to surrender its principles and embrace genetically modified foods.   Why is he so opposed to the deeply entrenched view among the public in every EU country that they don’t want commercial interests messing about with their food unless there are clear, proven and overriding benefits in doing so?   Paterson said nothing new, but merely repeated 4 claims that have been made repeatedly before, namely that (i) GM will increase yields, (ii) will lower the use of pesticides and other chemicals, (iii) is a more efficient technology to reduce the impact of weather and disease, and (iv) is needed to feed the world as global population rises.   All of these claims are demonstrably false.
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Commodity trading: a licence to print money

If living standards are to be the key issue at the next election – very likely when food and energy prices are rising fast and at the same time real wages have fallen 10% in the last 4 years – the political parties will be competing about ways to protect household budgets against excessive price increases whether by subsidies, pooling energy supplies, regulatory controls over prices, tax cuts or whatever.   What is unlikely to be tackled is the one thing that really matters and which we are told is beyond control because it’s in the hands of global markets – namely the dominance of the international physical commodities traders which deal in oil, gas, grain, sugar, soyabeans, cocoa, coffee, copper, coal, iron, zinc and other metals.   Over the last decade the top 20 trading houses have posted profits of $250bn, more than the world’s top 5 carmakers combined.
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Global sharing economy v. deregulated capitalism

An outstanding new analysis has just been published a few weeks ago by a group of experts under the title ‘Sharing the World Resources’.   It is detailed in argument and well-documented, but neither a political manifesto nor an academic utopia.   It is rather a depth examination of money flows in a world increasingly out of control and hijacked by the 1% who have imposed the neoliberal capitalist ideology both in their own countries and across the world.   All of their recommendations will only be achieved after intense struggle, but the great merit of this analysis is that it quantifies the scale of what is currently wrong and spells out the spectrum of change that could be achieved if these colossal money flows could be re-directed.   Here are some of their proposals, none of them particularly new, but calibrating for the first time the capacity for fundamental change.
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Osborne shares: sell now

After yesterday’s champagne-popping as the FTSE-100 rolled past the 6,000 mark, share prices surged, and the Tory press hailed the New Year as the turning point of recovery, comes the cold truth of the next day’s dawn.   There is a very real risk that a febrile recovery in the UK-US will be killed off by sharply rising commodity prices reflecting an inauspicious conjuncture of climate change impacts, unusually cold weather and fast-rising demand in Asia.   It will push up CPI inflation, and if that triggers a rise in interest rates, all bets are off.
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It’s the economy, stupid!

Elections are never quite what they seem on the surface.   Of course the US mid-term elections are a major setback for Obama and the Democrats, but the longer term implications are more nuanced.   The overwhelming issue in the election was the febrile state of the US economy, and now the Republicans are not just the opposition shouting from the sidelines, but under the US constitution now part of the Government itself, with all the responsibilities this entails for dealing with deeply entrenched problems.   It is tragic for Obama that he was the one in pole position when the persisting problems of financialisation, debt and unsustainable trade imbalances finally caught up with the US economy, but now the Republicans will have to share that liability since they will control the purse strings that fund the Obama programme.   And on several other fronts too the position looks more chequered.
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MDGs self-defeating till system changes

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the targets at the turn of the new millennium in 2000 to halve world poverty by 2015 – are self-contradictory  when the system that aspires to the reduction of global need is also the system that generates it in the first place.   The latest, and very serious, example of this is the worldwide rise in food prices and severe food shortages which in 2008-9 tipped 100 million people into starvation, caused by floods, droughts, waves of wildfires, and export bans from the world’s main granaries.   All of these were variously exacerbated by the international trading system, the refusal to mitigate or adapt to climate change, and rich country speculation on food prices.   So what should be done?
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The devil’s seesaw

Latest evidence indicates that the Government realises (but won’t tell us) that Britain faces, not just the most horrendous public spending cuts since the last World War 70 years ago, but also a painful and costly recovery if and when it finally materialises.   Secret talks with the oil industry and with geologists show the Government is seriously worried about ‘peak oil’, i.e. the point at which global oil production reaches its peak and then starts slowly to decline despite steadily increasing demand from China, India and other big developing countries still driven by pell-mell growth.   The price of oil today is $75 a barrel: once global recovery starts it will probably double within a year.
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