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7-Misc: Cracks in U.S. biotech politics appear

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TITLE:  U.S. farmers pinned down in crossfire on biotech
SOURCE: Peoria Journal Star, U.S.
DATE:   May 25, 1999

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U.S. farmers pinned down in crossfire on biotech battlefront

The fight over global acceptance of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) in food, to quote one loquacious commentator,
only gets curiouser and curiouser. Witness recent events on the
biotech battlefront. In a meeting with Monsanto boss Robert
Shapiro, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman chided biotech's
biggest big boy over his company's disastrous European public
relations campaign last year to boost GMO food. Glickman
reportedly suggested U.S. agriculture would be better served if
Shapiro simply stopped chattering about biotech foods because
every time he opened his mouth U.S. farmers lost millions more
bushels of ag exports.

Although Congress has no plans to vote on "fast track" trade
authority this year, trade talks continue and appear to be aimed
at getting a deal that would not require congressional approval.
This "backdoor" approach, says one critic, is being pushed by
biotech multinationals with the able assistance of the U.S. State
Department, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. But the above-mentioned strategy got a
severe setback when European officials challenged U.S.
negotiators' claim that American consumers have adopted biotech
foods lock, stock and never-rotting tomato. "The Europeans
basically jammed that idea down the U.S. negotiators' throats"
during trade talks in Paris and Brussels last month, explains an
American who witnessed the face-off. The Americans quickly
confessed their hyperbole.

All this corporate and governmental bullying has left U.S.
farmers squarely in the middle: They continue to adopt GMO
technology rapidly even as foreign concerns over biotech foods
now threaten American ag exports and U.S. farm prices. How did
this happen? In the usual way, say sources who have watched
global biotech food talks since the mid-1990s: Big companies with
billions invested in GMO research and business deals used
governments to steamroller biotech opponents. This strategy is
explained in full detail in the May 1999 issue of usually staid
Le Monde Diplomatique, a widely respected French foreign affairs

In a withering attack on the current bilateral trade talks
between the EuropeanUnion and the United States, author Christian
De Brie documents how "capital" --big money corporations -- are
driving the world trade and biotech debate. "The war being
prosecuted," writes De Brie, "with the support of their
governments, by transnational corporations on both sides of the
Atlantic for the conquest and domination of world markets is
becoming increasingly brutal and has no regard for laws . . .

"Talks conducted behind closed doors without democratic control
aim for a hastily signed final agreement (that hopes) to hand
over all human activities to capital, without let or hindrance,
thereby stripping the EU, member governments and local
authorities of their ability to pursue their own policies, be
they economic, social, cultural or environmental." And, De Brie
notes, it's often done through easily agreed-upon, mostly benign
words or phrases like "transparency, deregulation,
liberalisation, opening of markets, (and) good governance," whichare, in fact, "only matters for countries and their citi
ens, never for large corporations."

Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith made a similar
observation long ago when he wryly said true socialism in America
begins when the corporate jets touch down in Washington, D.C.
But, says Niel Ritchie of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy inMinneapolis, cracks are appearing between the big
company, big governmentalliance to push biotech food. "When it
comes to food and GMOs, even the free trade hawks in Europe are
deeply divided," Ritchie offers, "yet U.S. officials and the
multinationals keep pounding them. The beef hormone issue brought
this difference to a head, and the Europeans decided they've had
just about enough of the multinationals." Thus the EU's anti-U.S.blast last month in Paris and Brussels.

Odd as it might seem, Ritchie views the EUs growing resentment of
big company hardball -- and the U.S. government's waterboy role
in it -- as a hopeful sign the biotechbattle now might be on
track to get resolved. "Finally there issome recognition that
these issues aren't going away, and they must be addressed
directly, openly and fairly with all points of view as part of
the debate," he says. "I take that as a good sign." If so,
American farmers could emerge as victors. If not, and the tough
talk and corporate muscling continues, American farmers will
emerge as victims.

Alan Guebert's column appears on this page each Tuesday.
His e- mail address is


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