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)
If you thought it was “Blood for Oil“–you’re wrong. It was far, far worse.
Because it was marked “confidential” on each page, the oil industry stooge couldn’t believe the US State Department had given me a complete copy of their secret plans for the oil fields of Iraq. Actually, the State Department had done no such thing. But my line of bullshit had been so well-practiced and the set-up on my mark had so thoroughly established my fake identity, that I almost began to believe my own lies.
I closed in. I said I wanted to make sure she and I were working from the same State Department draft. Could she tell me the official name, date and number of pages? She did.
Bingo! I’d just beaten the Military-Petroleum Complex in a lying contest, so I had a right to be stoked.
After phoning numbers from California to Kazakhstan to trick my mark, my next calls were to the State Department and Pentagon. Now that I had the specs on the scheme for Iraq’s oil – that State and Defense Department swore, in writing, did not exist – I told them I’d appreciate their handing over a copy (no expurgations, please) or there would be a very embarrassing story on BBC Newsnight.
Within days, our chief of investigations, Ms Badpenny, delivered to my shack in the woods outside New York a 323-page, three-volume program for Iraq’s oil crafted by George Bush’s State Department and petroleum insiders meeting secretly in Houston, Texas.
I cracked open the pile of paper – and I was blown away.
Like most lefty journalists, I assumed that George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq to buy up its oil fields, cheap and at gun-point, and cart off the oil. We thought we knew the neo-cons true casus belli: Blood for oil.
But the truth in the confidential Options for Iraqi Oil Industry was worse than “Blood for Oil”. Much, much worse.
The key was in the flow chart on page 15, Iraq Oil Regime Timeline & Scenario Analysis:
“…A single state-owned company …enhances a government’s relationship with OPEC.”
Let me explain why these words rocked my casbah.
I’d already had in my hands a 101-page document, another State Department secret scheme, first uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, that called for the privatization, the complete sell-off of every single government-owned asset and industry. And in case anyone missed the point, the sales would include every derrick, pipe and barrel of oil, or, as the document put it, “especially the oil”.
That plan was created by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists and neo-cons working for the Heritage Foundation. In 2004, the plan’s authenticity was confirmed by Washington power player Grover Norquist. (It’s hard to erase the ill memory of Grover excitedly waving around his soft little hands as he boasted about turning Iraq into a free-market Disneyland, recreating Chile in Mesopotamia, complete with the Pinochet-style dictatorship necessary to lock up the assets – while behind Norquist, Richard Nixon snarled at me from a gargantuan portrait.)
The neo-con idea was to break up and sell off Iraq’s oil fields, ramp up production, flood the world oil market – and thereby smash OPEC and with it, the political dominance of Saudi Arabia.
General Jay Garner also confirmed the plan to grab the oil. Indeed, Garner told me that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired him, when the General, who had lived in Iraq, complained the neo-con grab would set off a civil war. It did. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld replaced Garner with a new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, a partner in Henry Kissinger’s firm, to complete the corporate takeover of Iraq’s assets – “especially the oil”.
But that was not to be. While Bremer oversaw the wall-to-wall transfer of Iraqi industries to foreign corporations, he was stopped cold at the edge of the oil fields.
How? I knew there was only one man who could swat away the entire neo-con army: James Baker, former Secretary of State, Bush family consiglieri and most important, counsel to Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the House of Saud.
(One unwitting source was industry oil-trading maven Edward Morse of Lehman/Credit Suisse, who threatened to sue Harper’s Magazine for my quoting him. Morse denied I ever spoke with him. But when I played the tape from my hidden recorder, his memory cleared and he scampered away.)
Weirdly, I was uncovering that the US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq’s oil fields. That’s right: The oil companies did NOT want to own the oil fields – and they sure as hell did not want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.
There was no way in hell that Baker’s clients, from Exxon to Abdullah, were going to let a gaggle of neo-con freaks smash up Iraq’s oil industry, break OPEC production quotas, flood the market with six million barrels of Iraqi oil a day and thereby knock its price back down to $13 a barrel where it was in 1998.
Big Oil simply could not allow Iraq’s oil fields to be privatized and taken from state control. That would make it impossible to keep Iraq within OPEC (an avowed goal of the neo-cons) as the state could no longer limit production in accordance with the cartel’s quota system..
The problem with Saddam was not the threat that he’d stop the flow of oil – he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq’s sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.
The James Baker Institute quickly and secretly started in on drafting the 323-page plan for the State Department. In May 2003, w ith authority granted from the top (i.e. Dick Cheney), ex-Shell Oil USA CEO Phil Carroll was rushed to Baghdad to take charge of Iraq’s oil. He told Bremer, “There will be no privatization of oil – END OF STATEMENT.” Carroll then passed off control of Iraq’s oil to Bob McKee of Halliburton, Cheney’s old oil-services company, who implemented the Baker “enhance OPEC” option anchored in state ownership.
Some oil could be released, mainly to China, through limited, but lucrative, “production sharing agreements”.
And that’s how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about “blood for oil”, but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward.
Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits.
And they’ve succeeded. Iraq, capable of producing six to 12 million barrels of oil a day, still exports well under its old OPEC quota of three million barrels.
The result: As we mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion this month, we also mark the fifth year of crude at $100 a barrel.
As George Bush could proudly say to James Baker: Mission Accomplished!
* * * * * * *
Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures’ Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review.
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