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WorldWatch

by
Forerunner, "WorldWatch," November 1999

Safe Water?

According to a reported federal audit, almost 9 out of 10—88%—of violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act are not reported in the government database that is supposed to alert consumers. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that tens of thousands of water system safety violations go undocumented each year, ranging from missed water quality tests to contamination problems.

Genetics

Transgenic soybeans—engineered to resist pests or tolerate herbicides using genes borrowed from other species—have been enthusiastically adopted in the United States since their introduction in 1996. Today, a little over half of American soybeans grow from genetically modified seed, the majority of it produced by Monsanto. Genetically modified corn, cotton, oilseeds and potatoes also are growing in popularity, and everything from transgenic cranberries to papayas are in the works. Food safety experts estimate that fully 60 percent of the processed food products on American store shelves contain genetically modified ingredients. While most of the world is leery of such modifications, the U.S. leads the charge of change.

Prostitution

Germany's prostitutes would be able to claim state pension and health benefits under a draft bill to be introduced early next year in parliament. Prostitution is classified in Germany as a legal but immoral trade, and the proposal would remove the "immoral" classification, says Family Minister Christine Bergmann. "With that, prostitutes should receive the possibility of social coverage." Under German law, prostitutes are required to pay taxes but cannot claim the social welfare state's generous benefits.

Pandemic Flu Threat

Scientists in China and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta say a volatile flu reaching pandemic proportions is 100% sure to come. The only question is when. The type of flu that recently passed from chickens to people in Hong Kong is just such a virus, and projections are that such a flu would kill more than the 1918 influenza epidemic, in which 20-25 million people died. Modern travel makes it possible for a virulent virus to travel worldwide overnight.

Food Fraud

A federal program that supplies meals to millions of children and adults at day-care centers nationwide was pirated by providers who illegally funneled money into their own pockets. The Department of Agriculture's program provides about $1.7 billion annually to serve meals to about 2.4 million children and adults. After a two-year investigation called Operation Kiddie Care, the final audit found severe problems, sparking criminal investigations in 14 states. Auditors discovered sponsors setting up fictitious day-care centers with fake names for children, putting no-show relatives on the payroll and extorting funds from legitimate day-care facilities.

Drought

Central China has been hit by a severe drought that has dried up a major river, damaged crops and left 1.5 million people short of drinking water. Less than an inch of rain fell in September in Henan province, 90% below normal. The region, a major grain-growing area, has been suffering long dry spells this year, and the lack of water and a heat wave have damaged 5.2 million acres of farmland. The Huai River, which flows through Henan and is China's third-largest, has run dry for the first time in 20 years.




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