If you have a feeling that genetically modified (GM) foods are being forced upon the population by a handful of business interests and vociferously defended by the scientists that work in the agriculture industry or at the research institutions it funds, you might be onto something.
The zeal with which GM proponents evangelize transgenic seeds (and now, transgenic food animals) is so extreme that they are even pouring vast sums of money to defeat popular efforts to simply label GE foods – like the nearly $50m spent to defeat the popular 2012 ballot measure to label GE foods in California, Proposition 37. What’s more, it’s not just happening in the United States. I am the head of Food & Water Watch, and we have spent months looking at the extent to which the US State Department is working on behalf of the GM seed industry to make sure that biotech crops are served up abroad whether the world wants them or not.
Our report analyzes over 900 State Department diplomatic cables from 2005 to 2009 and reveals how far the US government will go to help serve the seed industry’s agenda abroad, knowing that resistance to GMOs worldwide is high.
Here are some of the tidbits gleaned from our comprehensive look at the cables:
• Between 2007 and 2009, annual cables were distributed to “encourage the use of agricultural biotechnology”, directing US embassies to “pursue an active biotech agenda”.
• There was a comprehensive communications campaign aimed to “promote understanding and acceptance of the technology” and “develop support for US government trade and development policy positions on biotech” in light of the worldwide backlash against GM crops.
• Where backlash was high, some embassies downplayed efforts. In Uruguay, the embassy has been “extremely cautious to keep [its] fingerprints off conferences” promoting biotechnology. In Peru and Romania, the US government helped create new pro-biotech nongovernmental organizations.
• The State Department urged embassies to generate positive media coverage about GE crops. Diplomatic posts also bypassed the media and took the message directly to the public; for example, the Hong Kong consulate sent DVDs of a pro-biotech presentation to every high school.
• The State Department worked to diminish trade barriers to the benefit of seed companies, and encouraged the embassies to “publicize the benefits of agbiotech as a development tool”.
Monsanto was a great beneficiary of the State Department’s taxpayer-funded diplomacy, helping pave the way for the cultivation of its seeds abroad: the company appeared in 6.1% of the biotech cables analyzed between 2005 and 2009 from 21 countries. The embassy in South Africa even informed Monsanto and Pioneer about two recently vacated positions in the agency that provided biotech oversight, suggesting that the companies advance “qualified applicants” to fill the position. Some embassies even attempted to facilitate favorable outcomes for intellectual property law and patent issues that would benefit the company.
The cables also show extensive lobbying against in-country efforts to require labeling of GM foods. In 2008, the Hong Kong consulate “played a key role” in convincing regulators to abandon a proposed mandatory labeling requirement. One in eight cables from 42 nations between 2005 and 2009 addressed biotech-labeling requirements.
What’s more, the US government is now quietly negotiating major trade deals with Europe and the countries of the Pacific Rim that would force countries to accept biotech imports, commercialize biotech crops and prevent the labeling of GM foods.
The vast influence that Monsanto and the biotech seed industry have on our foreign affairs is just one tentacle of a beast comprised by a handful of huge corporations who wield enormous power over most food policy in the United States.
It’s no accident that we’re here: a farm policy of “get big or get out” that has been going on for decades has only benefited big companies that are becoming more and more consolidated. They wield unprecedented power over the market, at times putting small and midsized farmers out of business and favoring factory farms and the cultivation of GM commodities that fuel them – GM corn and soy, which are also the cornerstone of junk foods produced and sold worldwide.
Thanks, Monsanto. And thanks, State Department. Not only are you selling seeds, you’re selling out democracy.