Tuesday, May 14, 2013

WikiLeaks: Monsanto lobbied on taxpayers’ dime

Jane Michalek (R) drinks soup during an eat-in
protest in front of the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration's Center for Food Safety and
Applied Nutrition in College Park, Maryland
April 8, 2013. (Reuters)
WikiLeaks: Monsanto lobbied on taxpayers’ dime
May 14, 2013 | RT

United States diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the US Department of State lobbied across the globe on behalf of the Monsanto company and other biotech corporations that peddle genetically-modified crops.

Nonprofit consumer protection group Food & Water Watch published a report on Tuesday that demonstrates a partnership between the federal government and a number of controversial biotech companies that have slowly but surely pushed their GMO products on a number of new countries in recent years.

At center stage in the report is Monsanto, the St. Louis, Missouri-based makers of genetically-modified crops and genetically-engineered seeds that has continuously generated criticism as of late over its practices both on the growing field and in a court of law. Monsanto is among the most valuable corporations in the US, yet has relentlessly sued small-time farmers across the world over alleged patent violations, often forcing independent agriculturists to go out of business. Legislation signed into law last month provided litigation immunity to GMO companies including Monsanto, and on Monday the Supreme Court sided with the corporation when ruling on a landmark patent infringement case.

The US Department of State is selling seeds instead of democracy,” Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter told reporters. “This report provides a chilling snapshot of how a handful of giant biotechnology companies are unduly influencing US foreign policy and undermining our diplomatic efforts to promote security, international development and transparency worldwide. This report is a call to action for Americans because public policy should not be for sale to the highest bidder.”

Food & Water Watch published their findings this week after combing through the roughly 260,000 State Department cables that the whistleblower website first began publishing in 2010, but notes that their statistics specifically come from memos not classified as “secret” or higher.

For the most part, wrote the nonprofit, “The State Department strategy sought to foist pro-biotech policies on foreign governments” using a four-prong approach: promote biotech business interests; lobby foreign governments to weaken biotech rules; protect US biotech exports and press developing world to adopt biotech crops.

As the cables are analyzed, though, the efforts the State Department undertook to advocate for Monsanto demonstrate a willingness to put a US-based company’s profits about the interests and health of those residing in foreign nations.

In a cable sent from the Slovakian consulate in 2005, the State Department is told that the local post “will continue its efforts to dispel myths about GMOs and advocate on behalf of Monsanto.” In 2009, a cable out of Madrid, Spain announced that Monsanto had made “urgent requests” to fight off an anti-GMO opposition campaign that posed problems to the biotech industry. Other revelations show pro-GMO efforts waged by the US on behalf of the biotech industry in Hong Kong, the European Union, Egypt and elsewhere.

The State Department’s efforts impose the policy objectives of the largest biotech seed companies on often skeptical or resistant governments and public, and exemplifies thinly veiled corporate diplomacy,” alleged Food & Water Watch.

When Food & Water Watch scoured those cables, they concluded that the State Department was conducting off-the-radar negotiations that didn’t seem to advance democracy or American ideals — instead, rather, it found evidence of lobbying used to advance the agenda of thriving US companies that have already purchased the approval of much of Washington.

It’s not surprising that Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow want to maintain and expand their control of the $15 billion global biotech seed market, but it’s appalling that the State Department is complicit in supporting their goals despite public and government opposition in several countries,” Ronnie Cummins, executive director of Organic Consumers Association, said in the press release accompanying the report. “American taxpayer’s money should not be spent advancing the goals of a few giant biotech companies.”

Of the 926 State Department cables analyzed by Food & Water Watch, the group found Monsanto appeared in more than 6 percent of the memos, shining light on how a federal agency “worked especially hard to promote the interests” of an outside company.

When reached for comment by Reuters, Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said, "We remain committed to sharing information so that individuals can better understand our business and our commitments to support farmers throughout the world as they work to meet the agriculture demands of our world's growing population.” The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

As RT reported previously, that so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” signed into law last month was co-authored by a senator that has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the company — a revelation that didn’t surprise many given that another important figure in Washington, Justice Clarence Thomas, served as an attorney for the corporation before he was nominated to the high court only to eventually preside over a case involving his former employer. But according to Food & Water Watch, the relationship between Monsanto and the government extends beyond Congress and the Supreme Court. In a statement published on Tuesday to accompany their report, Food & Water Watch wrote that the cables detail “how the US State Department lobbies foreign governments to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operates a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology and challenges commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules — including opposing genetically engineered (GE) food labeling laws.”

This week’s report comes just one day after Justice Thomas and the Supreme Court sided with Monsanto in reaching a decision in a landmark patent suit. In the case, the high court said that an Indiana farmer infringed on Monsanto’s patent rights by using specially-made seeds he obtained second-hand without signing a contract with the company. That ruling, however, came just days after the company was hit with comparably bad news: on Friday, the US Department of Agriculture ordered an extra round of tests for new GMO breeds being developed by Monsanto and Dow, putting on hold plans to release to the public laboratory-made crops that can withstand heavy dousing of dangerous pesticides. Both companies want to make available crops that are resistant to the chemicals 2,4-D and dicamba, a move that environmentalists fear will prompt farmers to use more of these toxins.

"The danger that 2,4-D and dicamba pose is a real threat to crops…nearly every food crop," Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold, told Reuters last year.

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