new internationalist
issue 186 - August 1988



Mercury poisoners

The Japanese Supreme Court has upheld a High Court ruling that former Chisso Corporation president Kiichi Yoshioka and former plant director Eiichi Nishida were responsible for the death of people stricken by mercury poisoning - the tragedy that became known as the Minamata disease. Yoshioka and Nishida have been sentenced to two years in jail plus three years probation for their part in the tragedy. The 12-year-long court battle over criminal liability ended with the Supreme Court concluding that the head of a corporation which causes such pollution must be held responsible - a ruling which has interesting implications for the Union Carbide management at the time of the Bhopal tragedy.

The Minamata disease was caused by water contaminated by methylene chloride, discharged from Chisso Corporation's Minamata plant. People who ate contaminated fish caught in the local bay developed speech and mobility impairments. Some 1,080 people have died of mercury poisoning and another 2,871 have been recognised as victims of mercury poisoning by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare.

From Mainichi Daily News, excerpted in Consumer Currents No.105, 1988


One small snag...
Butterflies have become the unlikely allies of the Peruvian Government in its war on drug production. Wild swarms of the rare Eloria noyesi butterfly have decimated almost 50,000 acres of illegal coca crops in recent months, costing drug barons an estimated $37 million. The Government has asked entomologists to find ways to propagate the butterflies so it can drop them into inaccessible coca-growing regions. Experts are unsure how to keep the butterflies from spreading to the highland Indians' legal crops.

From New Scientist


Radioactive bribes
Safety officers at nuclear plants in West Germany and Belgium have taken bribes to conceal and falsify documentation of shipments of radioactive waste. In the most serious cover-up, plutonium carried by a West German firm, Transnuklear, is missing and is alleged to have been sold to Libya and Pakistan for making bombs. The holding corporation for Transnuklear has admitted spending some $13 million on bribes to ease these shipments and other consignments of waste sent from West Germany to the Belgian Nuclear Studies centre at Mol.

For its part, the Centre has admitted accepting shipments of nuclear waste that were more radioactive than claimed by accompanying documents or were too full of contaminants to be fit for chemical treatment. Two West German officials of the firms involved have committed suicide leading to speculation that there is more to the cover-up than a few mislabelled shipments.

From New Scientist. 21.1.88


Olympic headaches
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is such a favourite food additive in South Korea that the country's leading brand, Mee Won, is being marketed as 'The Official Monosodium Glutamate of the 1988 Olympics'. However this is one substance you may care to avoid.

MSG is an amino acid-based substance which scientists have linked to transient headaches, flushes, dizziness and in some instances, asthma attacks. The symptoms were first noted in 1968 by a doctor who dubbed them 'The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome', because the additive is so common in Asian cooking.

From Consumer Currents No. 107


Shanghai welcome
China may be opening its borders to tourism, but it can still be a trifle ungracious in its welcome of hotel guests. Recent tourists came across a notice placed under the glass of their bedside table in a Shanghai hotel:


1. Guests are requested to show their own valid papers to prove their identities and to tell the reason for lodging when they check in at the hotel.

2. Every guest has the obligation to abide by the rules and regulations of the hotel, co-operate with the personnel in carrying out their duties and take good care of the hotel property.

3. No guest is allowed to up anyone (sic) for the night or let anyone use his/her own bed at the hotel.

4. No birds, domestic animals or other unsnairy (sic) articles are allowed to be brought into the hotel.

5. No inflammable, explosive, poisonous, radioactive or other dangerous articles are allowed to be carried into the hotel. Nor is burning articles or letting off fireworks and firecrackers permitted in the hotel.

6. Strictly forbid any illegal and criminal activities such as fighting, gambling, drugtaking or prostitution in the hotel. No guest should put up or circulate salacious books, pictures, photos, nor play such recordings or videos.


...So there!

From For Eastern Economic Review, 16.6.88


Action for peace
There are quite a few cookbooks for organizers with recipes for starting a peace group, building membership, fundraising and communicating with the unconverted, but none quite like this. Rather than spelling out the author's own ideas, Christine Peringer has collected first-hand accounts of 184 peace organizations across the length and breadth of Canada. The unique result is a wealth of good ideas spiced with humorous accounts of past mistakes. Included are samples of leaflets, brochures, buttons and bumperstickers. If you don't get cooking after sampling this, you probably never will.

How we work for peace: Canadian community activities, ed. by C Peringer. Peace Research Institute, 25 Dundana Avenue, Dundas, Ontario, Canada. $15 inc. p & p


Why so poor?
Africans should not be living in destitution when the continent's resources are so plentiful, argues Ghanaian economist George B N Ayittey. Africa contains the bulk of the world's diamonds, chromium, cobalt, and manganese; 50 per cent of its gold and phosphates; 40 per cent of its potential hydroelectric power, 70 per cent of its cocoa and 60 per cent of its coffee production together with millions of acres of untilled farmland.

The Ghanaian argues that colonialism, adverse world economic conditions and natural disasters are not so much to blame as incompetent leadership and ineffective policies. The poor performance of state-owned enterprises, the $12 billion spent annually on imported arms and the estimated $20 billion lost in capital flight are symptomatic of the ineffectual policies.

Food production has been declining annually in Africa since 1960 - farmers who receive poor earnings from their crops have no incentive to grow more than they need for their own subsistence. If Africa is to feed itself, argues Ayittey, farming productivity must first be rewarded.

From The Standard, Nairobi

'Despite our great concern about the effect of Colombian cocaine on young Americans, more Colombians die today from diseases caused by tobacco products exported to their country by American tobacco companies than do Americans from Colombian cocaine.'

Dr Peter Bourne President, American Association for World Health


On women's ability to knit:

'I do think it shows that girls have an ability to dissociate what they are doing with their hands from what they are doing with their minds. It is why they are able to carry out repetitive production line jobs which intellectuals find so deadening.'

HRH Duke of Edinburgh

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page

Subscribe   Ethical Shop