MONSANTOpoly, Part 2: Corrupt to the Core
by Marc Belisle
“Follow the money.”
– ‘Deep Throat,’ All the President’s Men
Bush Sr. kept his word to help out Monsanto as described in Part 1: Sowing Dependence. In 1992, he deployed Vice President Dan Quayle to announce that the US government’s policy on genetically modified foods is that they are no different from other foods and don’t require any special regulation or even labeling. Americans have been buying foods genetically modified by Monsanto ever since, whether they realize it or not.
Americans also may not realize that they have a government politically modified by Monsanto, through the revolving door. The threshold between Monsanto’s management, legal and communications teams and the federal government, particularly regulatory agencies, is less of a secret passage and more of an industrial cargo bay. Since Reagan, dozens of top Monsanto people have held important positions in every administration, particularly in the FDA, USDA and EPA, but also in Justice, Energy, Commerce, Labor, Defense, Homeland Security, the FBI, international trade negotiation delegations, and White House advisory roles, and many have gone back and forth.
One of the key players who revolves around and around is Michael R. Taylor. According to The Huffington Post, Taylor wrote the policy that Dan Quayle announced in 1992. Anarticle, posted privately whose author claims it was published in The Ecologist but was removed after Monsanto threatened The Ecologist, disclosed the now publically available information that Taylor worked for ten years as a corporate attorney for King & Spalding, a firm advising Monsanto. There, he wrote a report on ways Monsanto could skirt laws to use Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) without having to label the milk. In 1991, he left the law firm to work in the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy. In the documentary Genetic Roulette, Public Interest Attorney Steven M. Druker and author Jeffrey M. Smith claim that after a lawsuit forced the release of 44,000 secret internal FDA memos, it became apparent that while Taylor helmed FDA policy, the FDA hid its own scientific findings on the potential dangers of BGH and other GMOs, overruled its scientists, claimed that “scientific consensus” supported BGH when the opposite was true, and approved BGH to be marketed without labeling, circumventing the FDA’s normal testing regime. Meanwhile, BGH was being banned in Canada, Japan, Australia and all EU countries. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, BGH is linked to colon, prostate and breast cancer.
Taylor wasn’t the only Monsanto hand on the FDA’s deck while BGH was being approved. According to Think Progress, “The hormone was approved in the US after Monsanto employee Margaret Miller oversaw a report on its safety, took a job at the FDA, and promptly approved her own report. Another Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, later wrote the USDA’s organic food standards, allowing irradiated and genetically modified foods to label themselves as organic.”
Taylor continues to switch public and private hats to this day. From 1994 to 1996, Taylor was Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA. From 1996 to 2000, Taylor worked as Monsanto’s Vice President for Public Policy. In 2009, President Obama returned him to the FDA as a senior advisor, and in 2010, he wasappointed Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Monsanto’s response to critics’ charges that it has undue influence on the government is that they “ignore the simple truth that people regularly change jobs to find positions that match their experience, skills and interests.” This is true enough, but most people applying for a job couldn’t write in their cover letter: “I worked for you a few years back. While I was there, I advocated for an uncritical blanket approval of a biologically unprecedented change to the food chain. In my current job, I implemented that change, which I understand has been quite a boon for your stock shares. I hope you remember me.”
The overall effect of the revolving door has been to intimidate and sideline those within government outside of Monsanto’s fold who favor a methodical approach to biotechnology. In the documentary, “The World According to Monsanto,” Dan Glickman, Bill Clinton’s Agriculture Secretary from 1995-2000, says,
“In the early years that I was involved in the regulation of biotechnology … there was a general feeling in agribusiness and inside our government in the US if you weren’t marching lockstep forward in favor of rapid approvals of biotech products, rapid approvals of GMO crops, then somehow you were anti-science and anti-progress. I think there were a lot of folks in industrial agriculture who didn’t want as much analysis as probably we should have had because they had made a huge amount of investments in the product. … I had a lot of pressure on me not to push the issue too far. But I would say even when I opened my mouth in the Clinton Administration I got slapped around a little bit by not only the industry but also some of the people even in the Administration. In fact, I made a speech once … saying we needed to more thoughtfully think through the regulatory issues on GMOs and I had some people within the Clinton Administration, particularly in the US Trade area that were very upset with me. They said, ‘how could you in Agriculture be questioning our regulatory regime?’”
The huge amount of investments Glickman refers to have certainly paid off. Monsanto is ranked 206th on the Fortune 500 list. Its profits last year were over $2 billion, more than a 14% increase in a year, so it has plenty of money to diversify its investments into things like a big chunk of Congress. In 2012, Monsanto made contributionsranging from $1,000 to $13,000 to 61 House candidates ad 27 Senate candidates. The total contributions were $384,500. However, if donations to and from PACs and other proxies are included, donations may be over $1 million. Eight legislators own stock in Monsanto and two are former Monsanto advisors. Additionally, in the decade from 2002 to 2012, Monsanto spent $52.5 million on lobbying.
Monsanto’s investment in Congress matured this March when, without any hearings, Congress passed a bill to prevent a government shutdown that included an unrelated rider. The NY Daily News explains that the rider
“would seem to place the commercial concerns of Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically modified crops and seeds, above the authority of U.S. judicial system.
In effect, the provision, which opponents call the Monsanto Protection Act, would limit the ability of judges to stop Monsanto or the farmers it sells genetically modified seeds from growing or harvesting those crops even if courts find evidence of potential health risks.”
Imagine if Congress passed an “Auto Protection Act” stipulating that courts couldn’t stop manufacturers from selling cars even if they were shown to have faulty brakes. According to Mother Jones, the bill was written by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo), who happens to be one of the largest recipients of Monsanto donations. A 2006 report by Public Citizen says Blunt is “a legislative leader who not only has surrendered his office to the imperative of moneyed interests, but who has also done so with disturbing zeal and efficiency.”
SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas
Since you can’t rely on Congress or the White House, if you have a problem with Monsanto, you’ll have to take them all the way to the Supreme Court. There, your case will likely be decided by former Monsanto lawyer and Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, who, in 2010, penned the majority opinion inMonsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, a key case that allowed Monsanto to prevent its individual farmers from saving their own seeds. In the same case, future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan inexplicably advocated on behalf of Monsanto in her capacity as Solicitor General, even though the government was not a defendant in the case. Thomas has joined the majority in finding for Monsanto in at least two other cases.
Through contributions, lobbying and aggressive staffing rotations in both parties and all three branches, Monsanto keeps the federal government in check and holds it in balance. But that’s not the limit of Monsanto’s power. Monsanto has also cultivated a great deal of influence over universities. A report published in Salon shows that in universities with agriculture departments around the country, Monsanto funds research, funds professorships, donates to schools, and also has revolving door influence in university hierarchy, just as it does in the federal government. For example, the report states that South Dakota State’s president is on Monsanto’s board of directors. Professors and students outside of the Monsanto sphere are sidelined just as Secretary Glickman was in the Clinton Administration. In the report, one anonymous PhD student at a land-grant university was told more than once that she should study something Monsanto would fund. She wanted to research organic agriculture in farmers markets. Her academic adviser told her that her “best bet was to write a grant for Monsanto or the Department of Homeland Security to fund my research on why farmer’s markets were stocked with ‘black market vegetables’ that ‘are a bioterrorism threat waiting to happen.’”
The Salon report describes a peer-reviewed study that found that corporate-funded nutrition research is 4-8 times more likely to reach conclusions favorable to the funder. And the Salon report cites evidence that any scientist who reaches conclusions Monsanto doesn’t like can expect to be told to find new funding. In Genetic Roulette, authorEric Holt-Giminez argues that Monsanto uses its influence to deny tenure to professors critical of GMOs, and scientist Elaine Ingham describes how after speaking to the UN about dangers posed by GMOs, she was told that if she wasn’t “heart and soul into this technology” then she “didn’t belong at Oregon State University.” She claims that Monsanto seeks to shred the credibility and reputation of any scientist who criticizes GMOs.
But research on GMOs is extremely difficult to even begin in the first place. According to Jeremy Bloom, Monsanto systematically blocks funding for research on its crops and denies the use of any of its seeds for research purposes. The government doesn’t do much research on the risks of GMO crops either. According to Dean DellaPenna in National Geographic, “only one percent of USDA biotech research money goes to risk assessment.”
Monsanto also allegedly has critical news reports removed from mainstream media. According to a report,corroborated by Jeffrey Smith in the Huffington Post, a team of investigative journalists, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, working for a Fox News station in Florida had just completed filming an expose on the dangers posed by BGH. Just before the report was to air, a Monsanto lawyer in New York faxed a letter warning of “dire consequences for Fox News” if the report aired. Akre claims that Fox was worried about getting sued and losing advertising. Wilson claims that his manager asked him if he’d ever tell anyone if the story was pulled. He says management told them to make certain changes to the report in accordance with the way the lawyers wanted it written, regardless of what their research showed. Wilson says he refused to make the changes. The management threatened to fire him, and he threatened to report them to the FCC. Wilson says that management then offered him hush money. Akre says, “He was going to offer us the rest of our year’s salary if we agreed not to talk about what Monsanto had done, to not talk about the Fox corporate response in suppressing the story, and to not talk about the story, not talk about BGH, again, anywhere.” They refused the money and were told to rewrite the story with the lawyers present. Akre says the lawyers replaced words like “cancer” with phrases like “human health implications.” Akre says anything critical of Monsanto was either removed or minimized. The reporters claim they were made to rewrite the piece 83 times. They believed the lawyers were stalling for a window in their contracts. Then Fox announced the journalists were fired. The journalists took Fox to court and were initially granted whistleblower status, but on appeal they lost this status and ultimately lost their legal case on the grounds that falsifying news reports is not against the law.
Monsanto’s influence is astounding. The corporation wields political, financial, legal and communications power, along with donations, creative staffing, alleged threats, intimidation and bribery, and alleged censorship to great effect. The evidence shows that, ultimately, Monsanto’s business interests were not simply deregulated. Since the Reagan Administration, Monsanto has built its own regime of strict regulation over government, academia and media, to ensure that they serve its corporate interests, or are neutralized. In every relevant sphere of society, critics allege that Monsanto infiltrates institutions, sidelines those outside of its circle, rams through its agenda, blocks research and undermines critical inquiry of its products and actions, threatens its critics and silences dissent. One reason the Monsantopoly must stack the deck in its favor so thoroughly is because of what would happen if well-funded large-scale research informed the public of what Monsanto’s products do to the environment, farms and farmers.
Next up, Part 3: Seeds of Destruction will look at what Monsanto has done to America’s amber waves of grain.