Monday, 31 July 2017

Childhood for sale

In Agra, girls who are barely pre-pubescent are groomed for sex work and trafficked by their families. A ground report on the eve of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons

At 10 on a hot July morning, a 15-year-old with close-cropped hair walked into one of Agra’s police stations and reported her mother. “She’s trying to sell me,” she said in a small but defiant voice, to the first officer she met. The police didn’t take her too seriously. Children tend to lie and exaggerate, especially when they crave attention, they reasoned.

Sneha’s* mother Sona* is a sex worker. “She would go to hotels to give maalish (massage),” Sneha tells me, recounting how her mother would wait for a call from the dalal (tout) before venturing out at night with a gang of women. She usually returned in the wee hours. Half of what she earned went to the dalal. After separating from Sneha’s father some years ago, Sona married twice again and currently lives with her third husband, Ravi*. A heavy drinker and herself a victim of physical abuse, she routinely abused her daughter. “Three months ago, my mom introduced me to a man she called her fourth husband. But then Ravi called and apologised for beating us up, so we went back to him,” says Sneha, her brown eyes lowered and staring intently at her red kurta, as if to make sense of its pattern of wild flowers.

To escape the abuse, last October she decided to go live with her father and his second wife in Delhi. “We arrived on Dhanteras. After six months with my father, I was made to meet a 35-year-old man, who was introduced as my soon-to-be-husband,” the child says. Her father had been promised a four-wheeler and ₹2 lakh in return. Seeing no other way out, one muggy April night she escaped from her father’s house and boarded a bus to Nizamuddin Station. Squeezing her way into a sweaty unreserved compartment, she finally arrived at Agra Cant station and called her mother. “Where do I come?” Sneha asked.

Having no fixed place as home, her mother worked at different kothis (homes) each month, and Sneha was often left behind to live there and do domestic chores such as clean and mop the floors.

After being moved around for three months, living first with a distant relative, then Ravi and later Sona’s ‘fourth husband’, Sneha was told about 15 days ago that she was soon to be married. “Is it the same man I ran away from?” she asked, only to be told, “No, it’s someone else. You’ll have fun. It’s just that you can never come back to see me.” Recalling some talk she had overhead earlier, about a four-wheeler and some money changing hands, Sneha’s suspicions were aroused. “Are you selling me?” she confronted her mother.

Finally, when she was beaten to a pulp over some runny dal she had prepared, she fled home on the spur of the moment. She chopped her long hair into a crew cut to rid it of lice. That’s when she gathered the guts to walk into a police station and seek help. This was her last wild card.

By the time Neeraj Chouhan, an activist with the NGO Chetna which is in charge of implementing the Central Government’s Childline helpline across Agra, spotted Sneha at the police station, the police had already called the child’s mother. “When home becomes a place that harms, not protects, how can we send her back home?” Chouhan argued with the police. After much persuasion they agreed for a medical examination and for the case to be presented to the Child Welfare Committee. “I’ll go anywhere and do anything you ask me to. But I will not go back home,” Sneha said for the umpteenth time that day, leaning into my recorder for all of us to hear.

****
When parents turn perpetrators In the Bedia community the birth of a girl child is celebrated for the income she will bring home from the sex work she will be made to do (representational photo)

Agra’s infamy
Unicef defines child trafficking as an instance where any person under 18 is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation, either within or outside a country.

There were 9,104 trafficked children in 2015, 27 per cent more than in 2014, according to the National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) 2016 report; the highest number of trafficking cases was reported in West Bengal, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. A State like Uttar Pradesh (UP), where trafficking is steadily rising in cities such as Agra and Lucknow, is also infamous for crimes against women, accounting for 10.9 per cent of all cases reported countrywide.

“Agra has been a prostitution hub since medieval times,” says the district protection officer Luvkush Bhargav. While sex trade is legal in designated spots in the city such as Kashmiri Bazaar, it is illegal to run it out of homes or hotels. “We do regular raids at hotels and other unauthorised centres that function covertly as massage parlours,” he says.

But, clearly, the criminals are coming up with newer methods to outwit the law enforcers.

In a case of abject administrative neglect in June this year, 48 girls from Agra’s Nari Niketan (women’s shelter home) who were rescued from brothels, were released back to their traffickers. Pretending to be relatives, the traffickers managed to convince the girls, many of them minors, to return to them.

****

Grooming them young
Dolly’s* musty home, located among the brick-walled alleys of Agra’s Khurd Basai, has the pungent sting of freshly cut onions. At 1 pm, a group of girls aged anywhere from 15 to 25 are getting dolled up in the opposite room, eyeing us suspiciously. Dolly’s 17-year-old niece Pooja*, who lived with her in the joint family, went missing last month. But her family didn’t file an FIR. She was rescued from a dance bar in Mumbai by Prerna, a sister NGO of Chetna.

Dolly and Pooja belong to the Bedia tribal community, which has traditionally depended on sex work for a living. “It is our clan’s tradition that we have been doing for centuries. Why should we give it up?” asks Dolly. The community is spread across Rajasthan and UP. It celebrates the birth of a girl child, as she will soon become a bread-winner. The men — fathers, brothers and sons — are destined to be their pimps. Some of these men marry outside the community and force the women into sex work, making it another form of trafficking.

The girls are groomed for sex work when they are barely pre-pubescents. They are made to watch pornography by their mothers and aunts, and their bodies are injected with the growth hormone oxytocin (freely available in drugstores) to ensure they develop an adult physique faster than normal. Girls in their early teens look like 18-year-olds. Sexually-transmitted diseases are rampant and they are all too often victims of sexual violence.

“We send our girls far away from us, so that they can practise prostitution without a feeling of shame and also stay away from family members who might take advantage of them,” says Dolly.

The Bedias have one rule. The girls will be given the choice to either marry and settle down, or become sex workers and never marry. “Although it sounds democratic, the truth is they are too young to be making that choice. By then they have been deprived of schooling and brainwashed to believe that this can be their only way of life,” says Narendra Parihar, Childline coordinator for Agra.

There have also been instances of Bedia sex workers eventually falling in love and marrying, as Pooja’s sister Poonam* did. A mother of two, she is currently in a Mumbai prison for running an unauthorised prostitution racket.

Pooja is at a shelter home in the city. The NGOs helping her are faced with a dilemma: Pooja was rescued only because she was a minor, not because she wanted to opt out. If they send her back home, as her family desires, she will go right back to sex work.

For Parihar, the hardest part is walking away knowing that nothing can be done to help the Bedia girls unless there is a willingness on their part to opt out. The task is made all the more harder when it’s the parents who are the pimps and society fails to give them a second chance.

Most of the Bedia children do not go to school. The ones who do, register themselves with Thakur as their last name, to avoid the discrimination that comes with their own caste name.

****
Trapped The Ministry of Women and Child Development’s Childline helpline gets two to three calls a month from children who want to break free from child marriage or prostitution enforced by their own parents

Carefully set traps
Back in Dolly’s house, the girls in the opposite room continue to appear guarded. Nisha* and Palak* have come from Rajasthan to work as “parlour girls”. They live in the room “on rent”. They say their ages are 22 and 25, respectively, but they look barely 16 and 18. When asked what work they do, they indistinctly mutter the words “maalish” and “henna”. They earn ₹500-1,000 a day. Would they be interested in learning some other professional skill for a living? Nisha looks up, momentarily interested. Palak shakes her head. Do they miss their parents? Nisha’s eyes fill up and there is a long silence. “I will see them for Rakhi, I think” she finally says, softly. Dolly comes in and they immediately freeze.

“Sometimes all the signs are telling, but we need clinching evidence to get the police to back us up when we do a raid,” says Parihar. “Each month we get two or three calls from children who believe they have been violated in cases of either child marriage or trafficking. Two years ago we never heard about these cases. Today the kids reach out,” he adds.

“We have no dreams,” says Ram*, a 60-year-old Bedia in rural Shamshabad who is a father of four. The tiny two-bigha patch he owns is barely enough to feed his family. The family cannot even afford three square meals a day. Both his daughters are in Mumbai. One of them is married and visits him once a year with her husband and child. She sends him money regularly, although the family insists it is not earnings from sex work. The second daughter works in a dance bar. The last they saw of her was when she left the village 10 years ago, when she was still in Std VI. “Some years ago we spoke on the phone. I asked her to tell me her whereabouts. I told her I could come get her. But she refused and then stopped calling me,” says Leela*, Ram’s wife.

Parihar points out that many of the girls continue in this line of work of their own volition. “It’s a lifestyle they get used to. To wear expensive things and earn this much at such a young age. They think their job is only a small price to pay to lead the good life.”

At the district hospital, Sneha sips on a Frooti while mounting a scooter, sandwiched safely between Chauhan and a woman constable. She waves as they zip out of the gate and flashes a broad smile. In her eyes there is a glimmer of hope and the spunk to dream.

*As this article goes to print, a child welfare committee has allotted Sneha shelter in the government-run Rajkiya Balika Griha in Kanpur. As the case is still under investigation, she will live there and learn a vocational skill to make her employable when she turns 18 and a court approves her release.

(*Names have been changed to protect identities)

(Source: The Hindu BL)

Love unlike religion is unconditional: Kamal Haasan on Akshara's interest in Buddhism

A few news reports suggested that Akshara Haasan had converted to Buddhism.

Actor Kamal Haasan who has declared himself as an atheist several times recently took to Twitter to ask his daughter, Akshara, if she'd "changed her religion".

Akshara had reportedly told a newspaper that she had converted to Buddhism as she was drawn to its principles.

Responding to the media reports, Kamal tweeted asking Akshara if she'd changed her religion and also added that he loved her all the same.

"Love unlike religeon (sic) is unconditional. Enjoy life" the actor said.

Hi. Akshu. Have you changed your religeon? Love you, even if you have. Love unlike religeon is unconditional. Enjoy life . Love- Your Bapu

Akshara replied to her father, clarifying that she was still an atheist and that she was drawn to Buddhism as a way of life.

Hi. Akshu. Have you changed your religeon? Love you, even if you have. Love unlike religeon is unconditional. Enjoy life . Love- Your Bapu
Hi bapuji. No, still an atheist. Although i agree with budhism as it is a way of life and in an individuals way of life.

Hi bapuji. No, still an atheist. Although i agree with budhism as it is a way of life and in an individuals way of life.

On Anbudan DD, a talk show on Vijay TV, Shruti Haasan, Kamal's elder daughter and Akshara's sister, had said that she was the only believer in the family who went to temples regularly.

While his contemporary Rajinikanth is quite religious, Kamal has prided himself on being a rationalist who has rejected religion. Over the years, he has been accused of hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus as well as Muslims because of his statements and films, with the actor alleging that all of it was politically motivated.

Akshara is currently looking forward to the release of her Tamil film Vivegam, in which she has acted with Ajith. She has also worked as an assistant director previously and made her Bollywood debut with Shamitabh in which she acted along with Dhanush and Amitabh Bachchan.

The open-minded exchange between father and daughter on a volatile subject like religion has created a stir on Twitter, with people applauding them but also asking why they couldn't have discussed this in person.

(Source: TNM)

India Today magazine cover goes viral in China, triggers Photoshop battle

The cover of the July 31 issue of the India Today magazine has gone viral in China. The cover that has a map of China in the shape of a large chicken also has a smaller Pakistan by its side, again in the shape of a chick, in green. 

The covers of the India Today magazine have always been iconic, ingenious and often controversial.
The cover of the July 31 issue of the India Today magazine has gone viral on Chinese social media platform Wiebo, the country's substitute for Twitter, and the Chinese are not pleased with the cover.
The latest issue of the India Today magazine has the map of China, in red, in the shape of a big chicken and a smaller chick -- Pakistan, in green -- by its side, along with captions that read "China's new chick" and "How China is buying out Pakistan with massive new investments and why India needs to worry", below it.

India Today magazine July 20 issue cover that has gone viral in China

The Chinese are fuming seeing the cover. Their main contention is that the map on the cover doesn't show Tibet and Taiwan as its part. In retaliation, there are op-eds, sharply criticising the magazine and India as a whole, being written on Chinese newspapers, and Chinese social media users Photoshopping their answers on to India Today magazine covers.



View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

.@IndiaToday cover (left) goes viral on Weibo, GT ed Hu Xijin puts out video attacking it, & Chinese users post mockup in revenge (right)

All this while there is a tense standoff between the Indian and Chinese troops at Doklam.

Meanwhile, the India Today magazine cover on China and Pakistan's growing friendship has been selected as the 'The Cover of the Day' by The Society of Publication Designers (SPD), New York.

Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, India Today Group, said, "Getting featured in SPD, New York, reflects on India Today's commitment to set international standards in journalism. Powerful take on pertinent issues is the hallmark of impactful reportage and insights. For India Today, we are happy that we have serviced the Thinking Indian well."

An article on China's Global Times said, "Such hysterical geopolitical imagination is nothing new. What is new, however, is the erroneous exclusion of Tibet and Taiwan from Chinese territory."

It also said, "China and India are currently locked in a border standoff. Some Indian elites understandably hate China and want to carve away Tibet and Taiwan. But they know this is an impossibility, so they are reduced to drawing an illustration. It is more ludicrous when the magazine proudly proclaimed that the cover was selected as the "The Cover of the Day" by the Society of Publication Designers, New York."

A report in the South China Morning Post read, "But Chinese netizens griped over the exclusion of Taiwan and Tibet from China's map. The Chinese government claims sovereignty over both places, considering Taiwan a renegade province and Tibet an autonomous region, but there are long-standing political tensions over the government's control of these areas."

The Taiwan News, a Taiwanese news outlet, however, welcomed India Today's cover. A report said, "In a bizarre reversal of fortune, instead of the usual erroneous inclusion of Taiwan in a map of China, the cover of the latest issue of the magazine India Today, not only excludes Taiwan from Chinese territory, but it also carved away Tibet from its posterior, while a tiny green chick in the shape of Pakistan stands behind it."

The outlet also included comments of Taiwanese netizens, who were glad to see the new map.

Sample these:
"This is the correct version of the map."

"India has finally done a positive thing that the world can look up to."

"China really gets worked up if there's no Taiwan."

"Come and eat Indian curry today."

"That's a good cover, why not buy one?"

(Source: India Today)

How Shiva was transformed from a meat-loving deity to a vegetarian god

And why banning the sale of meat along the Kanwariya route is specially ironic.

Kembavi Bhogayya, a worshipper of Shiva, was once visited by the god himself, but in the guise of a stranger carrying a dead calf. The stranger requested Bhogayya to cook the meat of the calf and he complied. Preparing several delicious dishes out of it, Bhogayya served them to the stranger.

But the Brahmins in Bhogayya’s village gathered and condemned him for cooking beef. They attacked his house with sticks and threatened him to leave the village immediately. Hearing the commotion, the stranger disappeared and Bhogayya left the village angrily.

The story (which shares many similarities with the spate of mob lynchings in India currently) is part of the Basava Purana, written in the 13th century CE by Palkuriki Somanatha. The epic is the primary text of the Lingayats, who worship Shiva in the form of a linga (phallus).

Unlike the gory turn to the recent episodes of mob violence in India, this story had a happy end. Bhogayya’s exit from the village was followed by the exit of all the lingas, leaving death and penury behind. Realising their folly, the Brahmins apologised to Bhogayya. His homecoming was followed by the return of the lingas and prosperity to the village.

Meat matters
Another aspect of Bhogayya’s tale also stands in contrast to the story in India today.

Last week, several publications reported that the government in Uttar Pradesh had banned the sale of meat and eggs in Dadri. This was done to facilitate the Kanwar Yatra, an annual march to the Ganges in Haridwar, where devotees collect water from the holy river in pots that is then offered to Shiva. The pilgrimage is undertaken during the month of Shravan (which falls in July-August), dedicated to Shiva.

The ban is ironical, given Shiva’s penchant for meat (as the above story shows) and highlights how Hindutva’s forced vegetarianism runs contrary to the beliefs and practices of several Indic sects.

Shiva, a Puranic god, started small as Rudra (meaning savage or wild) in the Rig Veda. A minor god, with only two and a half hymns dedicated to him, Rudra is attractive, with a tawny complexion and matted hair. A forest dweller and an ace archer, he hunts and eats his prey. Rudra gains prominence in the Yajur Veda (particularly the Krishna Yajur Veda, one of the two sections the text is grouped into) where he acquires several names, including Shiva, and many traits perceived as sinister. Much like how Krishna was transformed from a tribal deity to a supreme god in the Puranic tradition, here Rudra is merged with a non-Aryan mountain deity.

Thus, from being a well-built muscular god, he becomes an old and poor dwarf with disheveled hair. Interestingly, he also starts displaying opposing characteristics such as being the protector of cattle (pashupati) as well as the slaughterer of cattle (pashughna), traits that signify and embody in Shiva the duality of the world.

In the Atharva Veda, the gruesome associations multiply. Rudra is said to delight in the offering of certain body parts, such as the liver of sacrificial victims. He is also hailed as the god of thieves and cheats and the lord of demons.


His role as a destroyer becomes more prominent in Puranic literature. The supreme being of fierce wrath, Rudra-Shiva now holds a trident, is dressed in tiger skin and sits next to his powerful consort, Shakti (known variously as Parvati and Uma). His macabre traits are heightened in the Mahabharata, with references to him being “extremely violent in temper, fully armed…greedy of cooked meat and rice…quarrel maker…hungry for foetus-flesh like a jackal”. In another episode, Bhishma explains the function of Shiva as one who would end the world by “devouring the creation”. Shiva’s fondness for meat is further emphasised when Jarasandha, a devotee of Shiva, keeps kings as captives only to kill them and offer their flesh to Shiva.

Shiva’s meat-eating habits find a clear voice in the Vedas as well as the Puranas, but his association with wine-drinking seems a later appendage. Although Shiva lives in Mount Mujavat, which is also the place where the intoxicating Soma plant grows, he is not described as consuming the Soma drink in the Puranic literature.

In post-Puranic literature, Shiva not only consumes intoxicating drinks but also smokes marijuana. Furthermore, his consort, Shakti, complements Shiva’s preference for meat by consuming the flesh of humans and animals alike.

Taming of the deity
The transformation of the northern half of the subcontinent from a pastoral (12th century BCE) to an agricultural (6th century BCE) economy is reflected in the changing food habits of the gods. Whereas meat was an important offering for the pastoral Vedic gods, the sedentary Puranic gods were largely vegetarian. It is interesting to note that such a change is not reflected in Shiva’s personality. Shiva’s meat eating habits become more defined in the early Puranic literature. Therefore, it is unclear as to when the vegetarianism acquired by Brahmins and other upper castes tamed the wild Shiva.

By the time later Puranas were written (8th century CE) the change was complete. For the high tradition, defined by Brahmins, Shiva became a vegetarian god. The sects offering meat to Shiva as a prayer ritual, such as the Kaula Kapalikas and the Kalamukhas, were declared heretical according to the Skanda Purana. Not only did the Kapalikas drink wine and eat meat out of human skulls, they also indulged in sexual practices prohibited by Brahmanism. Similarly, philosopher Abhinavagupta’s Kashmir Shaivism required the consumption of wine and meat to perform Kula yoga to please Shiva. Bhogayya and his tradition of Virashaivism were also heretical for this reason.

The community of Kanphata Jogis that Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh – where restrictions on food stalls along the Kanwar Yatra route have been imposed – belongs to also has a history of eating meat and drinking wine as part of the ritual worship to Shiva.

Despite the enforced vegetarianism, Shiva’s association with meat has persisted. A devotee of Shiva himself, perhaps Adityanath could learn much from Tamil poet and saint Appar, one of three famous Nayanars (Shaivites), who in the sixth century penned:

“Why roam in forest and town?
Why practice extreme penance?
Why give up meat, why stare into space?
The Lord’s blessing is yours only if you say,
He is wise.”

(Source: Scroll)

In 1966, The Beatles were banned from the Philippines because they declined a breakfast invitation

After the Beatles released their album Rubber Soul at the end of 1965 and then recorded Revolver, they decided to embark on a world tour. These two albums contained music that, according to the group members, was quite difficult to perform onstage. That challenge was, however,  overshadowed by a crisis that the band faced in the Philippines when their very lives were at risk.

In July 1966 the Beatles toured the Philippines and unintentionally snubbed First Lady Imelda Marcos. Accustomed to high praise if not worship, she invited the group to attend a breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace in Manila, expecting the group to attend without hesitation.  When the Beatles were presented with the invitation, however, they asked their manager, Brian Epstein, to politely decline it on behalf of the group, with an explanation that it had never been their policy to accept such “official” invitations.


Soon after, the band realized that the Marcos regime had rarely heard “no” from anyone–and there would be consequences. Imelda Marcos was infuriated when she found out that her grand planned party of 200 guests would not include the Beatles as special guests. Interestingly enough, the Philippine television and radio stations broadcast the snub. Shortly after, all of the Beatles security police suddenly disappeared. Epstein called for an interview, trying to make an apology on Chanel 5 at the Manila Hotel. But when his interview was about to be aired, the state-controlled channel blacked out.

The hotel where the group stayed was attacked by angry fans, so the Beatles and their entourage had to swiftly make their escape to the Manila International Airport on their own. Reportedly, while they were walking down the halls of the hotel, the staff lined up and shouted angrily at them in Spanish and English.

When they approached the terminal and tried to move through, little groups of demonstrators came up, grabbing at the Beatles and trying to hit them. The band members were pushed around by the hostile crowd and their road manager, Mal Evans, suffered a few physical injuries as he was beaten and kicked. Later, Ringo Starr stated that people from the crowd were spitting at them. The Beatles managed to join a group of nuns and monks, and, trying to hide among them, checked in for their flight as quickly as they could. Other members of their entourage were also physically attacked, suffering small injuries.

The Beatles said later that they couldn’t even differentiate between the angry mob and the police who were carrying guns and also tried to attack them. Lennon reported that he was hearing people screaming, “You are treated like ordinary passengers!” as they pushed the band members and their team around. He noted that actual “ordinary passengers” were not treated as badly.
Imelda Romualdez-Marcos with former President Ferdinand Marcos and family during the 1965 inauguration
Paul McCartney said, “When we got on the plane, we were all kissing the seats. It was a feeling as if we’d found sanctuary. We had definitely been in a foreign country where all the rules had changed, and they carried guns. So we weren’t too gung-ho about it at all.” Ringo reportedly remembered being afraid of going to jail.

Once the group boarded the plane, Epstein and Evans were ordered off, and Evans feared that he would be imprisoned or even executed. Epstein was forced to pay tax authorities £6,800, the money they had made from their Manila shows, and also had to sign the tax bond verifying the exchange before being allowed back on the plane.

John Lennon said about the Philippines, “If we go back, it will be with an H-bomb. I won’t even fly over the place.”

(Source: The Vintage News)

Toxic chocolate

If you have a sweet tooth, you may have read studies talking about the health benefits associated with eating moderate amounts of chocolate. But our research has found a potential health risk in popular chocolate products that’s been flying under the radar – some chocolate contains toxic metals like lead and cadmium.

As You Sow has conducted independent laboratory testing of 70 chocolate products for lead and cadmium. We found that 45 of the 70 chocolate products contain lead and/or cadmium above the safe harbor threshold of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65). Based on these results, we have filed notices with 18 manufacturers, including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Mondel─ôz, Lindt, Whole Foods, Kroger, Godiva, See’s Candies, Mars, Theo Chocolate, Equal Exchange,  Ghirardelli, Earth Circle Organics, and more, for failing to provide the legally required warning to consumers that the products contain cadmium or lead, or both.

No level of lead is safe for children. Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades. Lead is linked to a variety of neurological impairments, including learning disabilities, seizures, and a lower IQ. Developing fetuses and children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because their brains are in critical growth and development stages.

“As underscored by the Flint disaster, humans have contaminated our environment with lead, and now we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves and our children, who are the most vulnerable of us, from every possible exposure,” said Sean Palfrey, MD,  a pediatrician and Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “Young children and pregnant women especially should avoid exposure to lead.”


Cadmium can cause damage to the kidney, liver, and bones, while also impairing neurobehavioral development. Lead and cadmium are both listed under the act as reproductive toxins.

California law ensures consumers receive warnings before they are harmed. To protect consumers, companies should take immediate steps to remove these toxic heavy metals from their products or, at a minimum, to provide consumers with warnings according to Proposition 65. If the heavy metals are not removed, people need to be informed so they can protect themselves and their families.

Consumers’ input is important to food manufacturers and we, as consumers, should make companies aware that we take this issue seriously. If your favorite manufacturer is on the warning-required list, call, tweet, or otherwise ask them to remove or reduce the heavy metals from their products. Investors should also consider potential risk if they own shares of these companies.

As You Sow, a consumer health protection organization, commissioned an independent state-certified laboratory to measure levels of lead and cadmium in 50 chocolate products available at retailers across California. The chart below reflects testing of chocolate that was performed in 2015 and 2016. The colors of the chart indicate whether, pursuant to test results, the product requires a warning under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

* The asterisk reflects testing that was performed in 2016.


Manufacturer
Product
Warning Required 

Alfred Ritter Gmbh & Co Kg
Ritter Sport 73% Cocoa Fine Extra Dark Chocolate with fine cocoa from Ecuador
Lead and Cadmium*


Endangered Species Chocolate, LLC
Endangered Species Chocolate Natural Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa
Lead and Cadmium*


Equal Exchange, Inc.
Equal Exchange Organic & Fairly Traded Dark Chocolate Very Dark (71% Cacao)
Lead and Cadmium


Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Ghirardelli Chocolate Premium Baking Bar 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate
Lead and Cadmium*


Godiva Chocolatier, Inc.
Godiva Chocolatier 85% Cacao Extra Dark Chocolate
Lead and Cadmium


Hershey Company
Dagoba Organic Chocolate New Moon Rich Dark Chocolate (74% Cacao)
Lead and Cadmium*


Hershey Company
Dagoba Organic Chocolate Eclipse Extra Strong Dark Chocolate (87% Cacao)
Lead and Cadmium*


Kraft Foods Global, Inc.
Cote D'Or 86% Noir Brut Belgian Dark Chocolate Confection
Lead and Cadmium*


Lake Champlain Chocolates
Lake Champlain Chocolates Dark Chocolate Organic (57% Cocoa)
Lead and Cadmium*


Lindt & Sprungli (Usa) Inc.
Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa Extra Dark Chocolate Bar
Lead and Cadmium*


Lindt & Sprungli (Usa) Inc.
Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark Chocolate Bar
Lead and Cadmium*


Mars, Incorporated
Dove Eggs Dark Chocolate Silky Smooth
Lead and Cadmium*


Mondelez International, Inc.
Green & Black's Organic Dark 85% Cacao Bar
Lead and Cadmium*


Newman's Own Organics- The Second Generation, Inc.
Newman's Own Organics The Second Generation Super Dark Chocolate Premium Organic Chocolate 70% Cocoa
Lead and Cadmium*


See's Candies, Inc.
See's Candies Premium Extra Dark Chocolate Bar 62% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Taza Chocolate
Taza Mexicano Super Dark Direct Trade 85% Dark
Lead and Cadmium


The Kroger Co.
Private Selection 72% cacao Dark Chocolate Swiss Bar
Lead and Cadmium


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar 85% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Dominican Republic 70% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate 73% Cacao Super Dark
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company

Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Tanzania 73% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Peru 60% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Ecuador 66% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Venezuela 70% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Papua New Guinea 70% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Whole Foods Market, Inc.
365 Everyday Value Organic Dark Chocolate Coconut 56% Cacao
Lead and Cadmium*


Whole Foods Market, Inc.
Whole Foods 72% cacao Organic Dark Chocolate & Almond Tanzania Schoolhouse Project
Lead and Cadmium


Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier
Bissinger's All natural 60% dark chocolate, whole almonds
Lead*


Cadbury Uk Ltd
Cadbury Mini Eggs Royal Dark Dark Chocolate With A Crisp Sugar Shell
Lead*


Cadbury Uk Ltd
Cadbury Royal Dark Dark Chocolate Indulgent Semi-Sweet
Lead*


Creative Natural Products, Inc.
Chocolove Extra Strong Dark Chocolate- 77% Cocoa Content
Lead*


Creative Natural Products, Inc.
Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate Bar 70% Cocoa Content
Lead*


Endangered Species Chocolate, LLC
Endangered Species Chocolate Natural Dark Chocolate (72% Cocoa)
Lead*


Godiva Chocolatier, Inc.
Godiva Chocolatier 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Lead*


Godiva Chocolatier, Inc.
Godiva Chocolatier 50% Cacao Dark Chocolate Sea Salt
Lead


Hershey Company
Hershey's Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate
Lead*


Moonstruck Chocolate Co
Moonstruck Solid Dark Chocolate Hand-Painted Calico Bunny
Lead*


Moonstruck Chocolate Co.
Moonstruck Dark Chocolate Chile Variado (68% cacao)
Lead


See's Candies, Inc.
See's Candies 4.5 oz Sitting Rabbit Dark Chocolate
Lead*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Swiss 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Lead*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Pound Plus 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Lead*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar Toffee With Walnuts and Pecans (70% cacao)
Lead


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Pound Plus- Dark Chocolate
Lead*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Sao Tome 70% Cacao
Lead*


Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's Single Origin Chocolate Passport Ghana 70% Cacao
Lead*


Vosges, Ltd.
Wild Ophelia All Natural New Orleans Chili Dark Chocolate Bar (70% cacao)
Lead


Earth Circle Foods Dba River Canyon Retreat Inc.
Earth Circle Organics Organic Balinese Cacao Nibs Cold Pressed
Cadmium


Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Twilight Delight (72% Cacao)
Cadmium*


Hershey Company
Scharffen Berger Extra Dark Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate (82% cacao)
Cadmium*


Hershey Company
Scharffen Berger Semisweet Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate (62% cacao)
Cadmium*


Mars, Incorporated
Dove Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate Bar
Cadmium*


Taza Chocolate
Taza Wicked Dark 95% Stone Ground Organic Chocolate
Cadmium*


Theo Chocolate
Theo Organic Fair Trade Pure 85% Dark Chocolate
Cadmium*


Albertson's, LLC (SuperValu, Inc.)
Wild Harvest Organic Rich Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
No warning required


DeMet's Candy Company
Flipz 50% cacao Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzels
No warning required


Ferrero USA Inc.
Ferrero Collection Fine assorted Confections
No warning required


Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Ghiradelli Intense Dark Midnight Reverie (86% Cacao)
No warning required


Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Ghirardelli Chocolate Milk Chocolate Eggs
No warning required*


Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Ghirardelli Chocolate Premium Baking Bar 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate
No warning required*


Hershey Company
Hershey's Kisses Milk Chocolate
No warning required*


Hershey Company
Hershey's Milk Chocolate Eggs
No warning required*


Hershey Company
Hershey's Solid Milk Chocolate Snapsy Snap-Apart Bunny Easy To Snap And Share
No warning required*


Jo's Candies
Jo's Candies Dark Chocolate Covered Graham Crackers All Natural
No warning required


Kraft Foods Group, Inc.
Toblerone Swiss Milk Chocolate Bar with Honey and Almond Nougat
No warning required


Lindt & Sprungli (USA) Inc.
Lindt Excellence A Touch of Sea Salt Dark (with Fleur de Sel sea salt crystals)
No warning required


Lindt & Sprungli Gmbh (Germany)
Lindt Gold Bunny Milk Chocolate
No warning required*


Mars, Incorporated
CocoaVia Daily Cocoa Extract Supplement
No warning required


Mars, Incorporated
Snickers
No warning required


Mars, Incorporated
Snickers Bar
No warning required*


Mars, Incorporated
M&M's Chocolate Candies Milk Chocolate, Made with Real Milk Chocolate
No warning required*


Mars, Incorporated
Dove Solid Milk Chocolate Bunny Silky Smooth
No warning required*


Mondelez International, Inc.
Green & Black's Organic Milk Chocolate (34% Cacao)
No warning required*


Mondelez International, Inc.
Toblerone of Switzerland Milk Chocolate with Honey and Almond Nougat
No warning required*


Mondelez International, Inc.
Green & Black's Organic Milk Chocolate (34% Cacao)
No warning required


Nestle Holdings, Inc.
Ovaltine Classic Malt Mix
No warning required


Nestle Holdings, Inc.
Nestle Crunch
No warning required


Nestle Holdings, Inc.
Nestle Crunch Milk Chocolate with Crisped Rice
No warning required*


Russell Stover Candies, LLC
Russell Stover Milk Chocolate Break-Apart Bunny
No warning required*


Starbucks Corporation
Starbucks Dark Chocolate covered grahams
No warning required*


The Hershey Company
Hershey's Kisses Milk Chocolate
No warning required


The Hershey Company
Reese's Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
No warning required


Whitman's Candies, Inc.
Whitman's Solid Milk Chocolate Rabbit
No warning required*

(Source: As You Sow)

Britain to ban sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040

Plans follow French commitment to take polluting vehicles off the road owing to effect of poor air quality on people’s health

Britain is to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 amid fears that rising levels of nitrogen oxide pose a major risk to public health.

The commitment, which follows a similar pledge in France, is part of the government’s much-anticipated clean air plan, which has been at the heart of a protracted high court legal battle.

The government warned that the move, which will also take in hybrid vehicles, was needed because of the unnecessary and avoidable impact that poor air quality was having on people’s health. Ministers believe it poses the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, costing up to £2.7bn in lost productivity in one recent year.

Ministers have been urged to introduce charges for vehicles to enter a series of “clean air zones” (CAZ). However, the government only wants taxes to be considered as a last resort, fearing a backlash against any move that punishes motorists.

“Poor air quality is the biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK and this government is determined to take strong action in the shortest time possible,” a government spokesman said.

“That is why we are providing councils with new funding to accelerate development of local plans, as part of an ambitious £3bn programme to clean up dirty air around our roads.”

The final plan, which was due by the end of July, comes after a draft report that environmental lawyers described as “much weaker than hoped for”.

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, will be hoping for a better reception when he publishes the final document on Wednesday following months of legal wrangling.

A briefing on parts of the plan, seen by the Guardian, repeats the heavy focus on the steps that can be taken to help councils improve air quality in specific areas where emissions have breached EU thresholds.

Measures to be urgently brought in by local authorities that have repeatedly breached EU rules include retrofitting buses and other public transport, changing road layouts and altering features such as roundabouts and speed humps.

Reprogramming traffic lights will also be included in local plans, with councils being given £255m to accelerate their efforts. Local emissions hotspots will be required to layout their plans by March 2018 and finalise them by the end of the year. A targeted scrappage scheme is also expected to be included.

Some want the countrywide initiative to follow in the footsteps of London, which is introducing a £10 toxic “T-charge” that will be levied on up to 10,000 of the oldest, most polluting vehicles every weekday.

Sources insisted that while the idea of charges were on the table, there was no plan to force councils to introduce them, and that other measures would be exhausted first.

They hope the centrepiece of Wednesday’s strategywill be the plan to ban diesel and petrol sales completely by 2040, in line with Emmanuel Macron’s efforts across the Channel.

The French president took the steps to help his country meet its targets under the Paris climate accord, in an announcement that came a day after Volvo said it would only make fully electric or hybrid cars from 2019 onwards.

That decision was hailed as the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine’s dominance of motor transport after more than a century.

Prof David Bailey, an automotive industry expert at Aston University, said: “The timescale involved here is sufficiently long-term to be taken seriously. If enacted it would send a very clear signal to manufacturers and consumers of the direction of travel and may accelerate a transition to electric cars.”

Britain’s air quality package also includes £1bn in ultra-low emissions vehicles including investing nearly £100m in the UK’s charging infrastructure and funding the ”plug-in car” and “plug-in grant” schemes.

There will also be £290m for the national productivity investment fund, which will go towards the retrofitting, and money towards low-emission taxis.

The report will also include an air quality grant for councils, a green bus fund for low carbon vehicles, £1.2bn for cycling and walking and £100m to help air quality on the roads.

The strategy comes amid warnings that the UK’s high level of air pollution could be be responsible for 40,000 premature deaths a year.

A judge had said the government’s original plans on tackling the issue, which included five clean air zones, were so poor as to be unlawful. The government was asked to present a new draft policy to tackle air pollution from diesel traffic before the election.


It was then called to court to explain why it had made a last-minute application to delay publication of its draft policy until after the election.

James Eadie QC, representing the government, said the policy was ready to be published but it would be controversial and should therefore be withheld until after the election.

“If you publish a draft plan, it drops all the issues of controversy into the election … like dropping a controversial bomb,” he said, adding that it could risk breaching rules about civil service neutrality and lead to the policy being labelled a Tory plan.

However, judges said the government did have to publish a draft plan with the final version needed by the end of July.

May’s draft contained few concrete proposals and did not specify the cities and towns where polluting vehicles might face charges, the level of any charges or the scope or value of any scrappage scheme.

Instead, the plan put the onus for action on local authorities: “Local authorities are already responsible for improving air quality in their area, but will now be expected to develop new and creative solutions to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, while avoiding undue impact on the motorist.”

Analysis in the documents showed increasing the number of CAZs from the current six planned to 27 would make by far the greatest impact in cutting pollution and provide cost benefits of over £1bn. The CAZ policy would cut more than 1,000 times more NO2 than a scrappage scheme, even if that scheme required old diesels to be replaced by electric cars.

But it required local authorities to exhaust all other options before introducing CAZ charging for diesel vehicles, such as removing speed bumps and retrofitting buses.

The coalition government had already set out a vision for almost every car and van to be ultra-low emission by 2050 – a move which the government acknowledged would require “almost all new cars and vans sold to be near-zero emission at the tailpipe by 2040”. So it is unclear to what extent the new pledge will further boost Britain’s ability to achieve air quality requirements.

ClientEarth, the campaign group that has successfully pursued the government through the courts over the UK’s air pollution crisis, gave a cautious welcome to the announcement but said ministers must take immediate action to tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis.

“The government has trumpeted some promising measures with its air quality plans, but we need to see the detail,” said CEO James Thornton. “A clear policy to move people towards cleaner vehicles by banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans after 2040 is welcome, as is more funding for local authorities.

“However, the law says ministers must bring down illegal levels of air pollution as soon as possible, so any measures announced in this plan must be focused on doing that.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been calling for tougher measures to tackle air pollution, which kills 9,000 people a year in the capital.

A City Hall source was sceptical about the government’s announcement. “We need to look at the full details but what Londoners suffering from the terrible health impacts of air pollution desperately need is a fully-funded diesel scrappage fund – and they need it right now.”

Areeba Hamid, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The high court was clear that the government must bring down toxic air pollution in the UK in the shortest possible time. This plan is still miles away from that.
“The government cannot shy away any longer from the issue of diesel cars clogging up and polluting our cities, and must now provide real solutions, not just gimmicks. That means proper clean air zones and funding to support local authorities to tackle illegal and unsafe pollution.”

(Source: The Guardian)