News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 43

Important but overlooked news from around the world.


“They hope by using these scare tactics they can persuade policymakers to alter labeling, and they can use the label to drive people away.”

— James Greenwood of the Biotechnology Industry Association, on a new push to label GMO foods (see “Food Safety,” below).


*Top Stories*
The child brides of Kandahar
Cancer is the latest Chechen scourge
Fakin’ it: Officials forge a future in Iraq

*In Context: Wildfires*
Why California must burn

Offshoring meets “onshoring” in the quest for cheap labor

*Food Safety*
Activists seek labels for biotech foods


* The Child Brides of Kandahar

Human rights activists in Afghanistan say arranged marriages involving young girls under 16 still account for half of all marriages in some parts of the country, such as in southern Kandahar province. The tradition is perpetuated by poverty and illiteracy, say activists — problems that are just as systemic.

Many young brides get married without a full understanding of their wedding vows, leading to situations where they sometimes betray their husbands and suffer the consequences.

In Afghanistan a woman who elopes can lose her life.


“Afghanistan: Widespread child marriage blamed for domestic violence”
IRIN (United Nations), October 18, 2007

* Cancer is the Latest Chechen Scourge

Chechnya is experiencing a “cancer epidemic” never before seen in its history, according to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. By anecdotal and official accounts, the incidence of lung, breast, thyroid and skin cancers and other disorders has risen steeply since war broke out in Chechnya. Lung cancer alone is five times higher in Chechnya than elsewhere in the North Caucasus, according to officials.

No “proper” care exists for cancer patients there, so those undergoing chemotherapy must leave the republic.

The epidemic’s origins are a mystery, but some suggest the stress of war could have something to do with it.


“Cancer epidemic in Chechnya”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, October 18, 2007

* Fakin’ It: Officials Forge a Future in Iraq

More than 900 officials in the Iraqi government, including parliamentarians, are obtaining forged degrees to continue to serve in the government and obtain higher salaries, according to Azzaman, an Iraqi news source.

Azzaman quotes Abdullah al-Mawsawi, a cultural attache officer in London, saying the Iraqi Ministry of Education is aware of the problem.

He says he regularly receives degrees to certify that bear stamps from universities that do not exist in the United States. The fake documents are easily obtained at a well-known public market in Iraq.


“Senior officials said to have forged degrees”
Azzaman (Iraq), October 16, 2007


* Why California Must Burn

As the flames spread through San Diego County, looks back at our 2004 article on California wildfire ecology, why the Golden State will always be a fire hazard, and how humans have made it worse.

This is classic reporting — digging into the backstory to take the headlines out of the fragmented “now,” and into the realm of deep context and long-term cause and effect.

“Why California Must Burn”, January 2004


* Offshoring Meets “Onshoring” in the Quest for Cheap Labor

Some major American companies like Northrop Grunman and IBM are finding they can save money by keeping their IT and customer service operations in the U.S. rather than moving them to India — a trend some experts have dubbed “onshoring,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Increasingly, companies are setting up shop in small-town America and training the local workforce — saving money for companies operating out of Silicon Valley or Los Angeles.

Even Wipro Technologies, a software maker based in India, is establishing a center in Atlanta that will employ 100 people.

Customer demand is also driving the trend — IBM opened a technical support center in Twin Falls, Idaho, after complaints about the language skills of employees in India.

The onshoring trend has also been driven by India’s booming economy, which is making it hard for all but the largest U.S. high-tech firms to do business there, according to the Economic Times of India.

“Wage inflation, high workforce attrition, paucity of talent and increased operational costs” are some of the reasons attributed for the shifting market.

The newspaper also notes that since January, the Indian rupee has gained more than 11 percent against the U.S. dollar, making it less cost-effective to set up a small or medium-sized operation in India.

Even as it becomes too expensive for some American companies to outsource to India, Indian companies — that also face stiff competition from China — have in turn started offshoring their call centers and IT departments to other, more affordable nations.

The Guardian notes that multinational banks are now paying Indian companies to ship outsource to countries like Poland, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, where workers speak multiple languages and fill a growing “anytime, anywhere” niche.

Infosys, a multinational IT firm based in India, is hiring 32,000 people around the world just this year, and recruits directly from U.S. and British college campuses.

In many U.S. sectors, meanwhile, outsourcing continues unabated.

A recent survey of 500 large U.S. companies indicated that 60 percent had outsourced some work abroad.

Experts predict that around three million high-tech jobs will have gone overseas by 2015.


“Some firms replace offshoring with onshoring”
Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2007

“Will jobs move back to US from India?”
The Economic Times (India), October 20, 2007

“Firms re-exporting jobs to West as wages shoot up”
Guardian (U.K.), October 14, 2007


* Activists Seek Labels for Biotech Foods

Environmental groups in the U.S. and abroad continue to argue that food products containing genetically modified ingredients ought to be labeled as such, if for no other reason than to give consumer a choice.

Environmental groups in Iowa are leading a campaign to make labeling the law, and have succeeded in getting Hillary Clinton and John Edwards to agree with them.

Biotech companies continue to reject arguments that GMOs could have environmental or health implications, pointing out that the FDA has judged them fit for consumption.

[Critics previously told that FDA testing does not factor in long-term safety concerns, and that the agency has overlooked warnings by its own staff of potential health risks from genetically modified crops. An FDA spokesman said dissent within the agency is a “good thing,” while a federal court found that FDA administrators are entitled to overrule their research staff.]

Both sides of the argument can cite studies that speak in their favor, according to the Des Moines Register.

Absent any legislation, some food companies are already labeling their products non-GMO, while some states have taken it upon themselves to require labeling of certain products sold in their stores.

For example, Alaska passed a bill in 2005 requiring labels on genetically altered fish, while Vermont requires labeling on genetically engineered seeds, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Although an effort to ban GMO ingredients outright passed in California’s Mendocino county, the trend failed to spread widely, and federal farm legislation may undermine state and local laws, according to the Record in Stockton, Calif.

Activists, meanwhile, are pushing an awareness agenda.

Greenpeace has warned officials in the United Arab Emirates against importing products like basmati rice from India that could be genetically modified but are not labeled as such.

The group warned that it also risks re-exporting those goods to other nations, such as many of those in Europe, that ban the import of genetically modified foods.

Currently the UAE has no system to test imported goods for GMOs, although officials say they are now in the beginning stages of developing one, according to Gulf News.


“Genetically altered food: Labels hotly debated in Iowa”
Des Moines Register Oct. 19, 2007

“Genetically modified food imports raise concerns”
Gulf News (UAE), October 7, 2007

“The label debate”
Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2007

“Farm Bill May Ease Modified Crop Ban”
The Record (Stockton), June 18, 2007

“A Grassroots Battle over Biotech Farming”, October 12, 2004

“FDA Critics Cite Biotech Food Safety”, April 15, 2005

Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson

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