U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for overseas lobbying that promotes controversial biotech crops developed by U.S.-based Monsanto Co and other seed makers, a report issued on Tuesday said.
A review of 926 diplomatic cables of correspondence to and from the U.S. State Department and embassies in more than 100 countries found that State Department officials actively promoted the commercialization of specific biotech seeds, according to the report issued by Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer protection group.
The officials tried to quash public criticism of particular companies and facilitated negotiations between foreign governments and seed companies such as Monsanto over issues like patents and intellectual property, the report said.
The cables show U.S. diplomats supporting Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, in foreign countries even after it paid $1.5 million in fines after being charged with bribing an Indonesian official and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 2005.
One 2009 cable shows the embassy in Spain seeking “high-level U.S. government intervention” at the “urgent request” of Monsanto to combat biotech crop opponents there, according to the Food & Water Watch report.
The report covered cables from 2005-2009 that were released by Wikileaks in 2010 as part of a much larger release by Wikileaks of a range of diplomatic cables it obtained.
Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said Monsanto believes it is critical to maintain an open dialogue with government authorities and trade groups in other countries.
“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,” he said.
State Department officials had no immediate comment when contacted about the report.
Food & Water Watch said the cables it examined provide a detailed account of how far the State Department goes to support and promote the interests of the agricultural biotech industry, which has had a hard time gaining acceptance in many foreign markets.
“It really goes beyond promoting the U.S.’s biotech industry and agriculture,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It really gets down to twisting the arms of countries and working to undermine local democratic movements that may be opposed to biotech crops, and pressuring foreign governments to also reduce the oversight of biotech crops.”
But U.S. officials, Monsanto and many other companies and industry experts routinely say that biotech crops are needed around the world to increase global food production as population expands. They maintain that the crops are safe and make farming easier and more environmentally sustainable.
PROMOTION THROUGH PAMPHLETS, DVDs?
The cables show that State Department officials directed embassies to “troubleshoot problematic legislation” that might hinder biotech crop development and to “encourage the development and commercialization of ag-biotech products”.
The State Department also produced pamphlets in Slovenia promoting biotech crops, sent pro-biotech DVDs to high schools in Hong Kong and helped bring foreign officials and media from 17 countries to the United States to promote biotech agriculture, Food & Water Watch said.
Genetically altered crops are widely used in the United States. Crops spliced with DNA from other species are designed to resist pests and tolerate chemical applications, and since their introduction in the mid 1990s have come to dominate millions of acres of U.S. farmland.
The biotech crops are controversial with some groups and in many countries because some studies have shown harmful health impacts for humans and animals, and the crops have been associated with some environmental problems.
They also generally are more expensive than conventional crops, and the biotech seed developers patent the high-tech seeds so farmers using them have to buy new seed every season, a factor that makes them unappealing in some developing nations.
Many countries ban planting of biotech crops or have strict labeling requirements.
“It’s appalling that the State Department is complicit in supporting their (the biotech seed industry’s) goals despite public and government opposition in several countries,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of nonprofit organization Organic Consumers Association.
“American taxpayer’s money should not be spent advancing the goals of a few giant biotech companies.”
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)
Monsanto have an impressive history of committing corporate crimes [. Recent Monsanto crimes include:
BST or rBGH marketed by Monsanto as Posilac is a genetically engineered hormone designed to make cows produce more milk. Large amounts of research indicate that BST use has serious implications for the health and welfare of dairy cattle, including making cows more prone to mastitis and sores .
Because of evidence that BST milk may cause breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer in humans, it is banned in Europe. Monsanto is trying to overturn the ban .
Contaminating our food with GM crops
As the market leaders in GM crops it is Monsanto who have been largely responsible for contaminating the global food chain with GM crops. The long term health effects of eating GM crops are as yet unknown.
Contaminating our environment with GM crops
The long term effects of Monsanto’s GM crops on the environment are as yet unknown. In areas where RoundUp Ready crops are being grown commercially, herbicide tolerance is being spread to neighbouring crops and wild plants by cross pollination. Rather than reducing the amount of chemicals used in farming RoundUp Ready crops are locking farmers into a chemical dependant farming system .
Several scientific studies have suggested that the Bt technology utilised by Monsanto in their Bollgard, YieldGard and NewLeaf insect resistant crops may kill ‘non-pest’ insects such as the Monarch butterfly .
Having encountered increasing opposition to GM technology in the developed global north, Monsanto have put more energy into pushing their products in the developing global south. An example of this being the attempt by Monsanto/Mahyco to rush their Bt insect resistant cotton through the Indian government’s regulatory process and on to the market. The decision on allowing commercial growing of Bt cotton was postponed for a year in the face massive opposition from Indian farmers and NGOs all over the world .
Monsanto holds a patent for ‘terminator’ technology. Terminator technology involves the genetically engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds thus forcing farmers to buy new seed every year, rather than saving their own seed from year to year. Monsanto has said it will not use this technology but still holds the patents and may use it in future .
Corporate Bully Boys
Monsanto don’t like the thought of anyone publicly disagreeing with them or worse still pulling a fast one on them. Where their GM crops are being grown commercially Monsanto have paid a small army of private investigators to check whether farmers are growing their GM crops without permission. Monsanto have successfully sued a Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser for supposedly planting GM oil seed rape without a license agreement. Percy claims that he has never planted GM crops on his land and that any GM crops on his land are a result of cross pollination from GM crops grown on neighbouring farms. He is launching a counter suit against Monsanto .
In 1997 2 TV journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre who had been making a documentary on the dangers of Monsanto’s BST were fired by their employers Fox TV. Fox TV had come under pressure from Monsanto to change the content of the documentary, when Wilson and Akre refused to be muzzled they were sacked .
In 1998 Monsanto took out a wide ranging SLAPP (Stategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against activists from Genetix Snowball. At the time Genetix Snowball were engaged in a campaign of accountable, non-violent direct action against GM crops. The injunction was designed to intimidate members of the public into not taking direct action against Monsanto’s UK GM field trials .
In 1998 the environmental journal the Ecologist was due to publish a special edition attacking Monsanto. However, the Ecologist’s printers – Penwells of Saltash, Cornwall, destroyed the 14,000 print run without notice fearing liable action from Monsanto .
Climate Change Co-option
Monsanto have seen the potential for new markets for their GM products within the mechanisms of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change . Since 1998 Monsanto has been one of the principle corporations attempting to hijack the UN climate change negotiations for its own ends. Monsanto claims that its products offer high tech solutions in the battle to reduce CO2 emissions. Monsanto hopes to gain carbon credits in two ways.
1. Monsanto claims that wide spread use of RoundUp Ready crops will reduce the need for ploughing thus keeping large quantities of CO2 locked in the soil.
2. Monsanto hopes to be a major provider of GM trees for forestry ‘carbon sinks’ (large areas of forests planted to soak up CO2 emissions). Monsanto are close to commercialising RoundUp Ready trees and are rumoured to be developing carbon absorbing trees and plants.
 for further information see “2001: A Seed Odyssey: Annual Update on Terminator and Traitor Technology Suicide Seeds: Not Dead Yet!” available online from RAFI http://www.rafi.org
 see http://www.percyschmeiser.com/ for more information
 see http://www.foxbghsuit.com/ for more information
 see http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/gs/ for more information
 to read the Ecologist Monsanto edition go to http://dhushara.tripod.com/book/upd/umar99/monsan/ecol1.htm
A not so Green story for St. Patricks day
The US House of Representatives is expected to weigh in on the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for Fiscal year 2013 this week, and included within the act lies the “Farmer Assurance Provision,” a small subsection that has so far earned opposition from hundreds of thousands family farmers, environmental interest groups and other advocates. Those hoping to defeat the bill have gone so far as to dub the provision the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
Small time agriculturists have increasingly spoken out against biotech companies in recent years, as giants like Monsanto have made millions off of genetically engineering crops that traditional plants simply can’t match up with. Additionally, Monsanto has taken a slew of farmers to court over questionable patent infringement suits, almost always winning the help of high-powered attorneys. Now if the Farmer Assurance Provision is approved by Congress, GMO companies will once again be allowed an advantage from their friends in Washington.
If the provision is approved this week, biotech companies won’t have to wait for federal approval to test and plant laboratory-made crops, instead being allowed to carry on with even selling such crops until the government elects to tell them otherwise.
“The provision would strip federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially hazardous GE crop while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) assesses those potential hazards,” explains a letter to the House that has been signed by dozens of food businesses and retailers, as well as interest groups and agencies representing family farmers. “Further, it would compel USDA to allow continued planting of that same crop upon request, even if in the course of its assessment the Department finds that it poses previously unrecognized risks.”
The group Food Democracy Now has started a campaign on their own and is asking opponents of the bill to sign on with an amendment to the appropriations bill, the DeFazio Amendment, which would ensure that judicial oversight will continue to apply to GMOS.
The Farmer Assurance Provision, says the group, “strips the rights of federal courts to halt the sale and planting of genetically engineered crops during the legal appeals process.”
“The judicial review process is an essential element of US law and serves as a vital check on any Federal Agency decision that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Yet this provision seeks an end-run around such judicial review by preemptively deciding that industry can set its own conditions to continue to sell biotech seeds, even if a court may find them to have been wrongfully approved.”
In the letter undersigned by the ACLU, National Organic Coalition and others, the signees say,
“Far from safeguarding farmers, the only parties whose interests are ‘assured’ by this rider are those of GE crop developers.”
Monsanto has already proven it has friends in Washington, as a landmark patent case currently before the Supreme Court is expected to go in favor of the biotech giants. Now opponents of the pro-GMO provision in the appropriations bill are calling the amendment the “Monsanto Protection Act” and hope that a grassroots campaign will keep the industry leaders from having one more unfair advantage over small time farmers.
Meanwhile, the market value for Monsanto Company hit a 52-week high on March 11, and is expected to continue with that kind of momentum throughout 2013, predicts Zacks Consensus Estimates.