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9-Misc: Monsanto lobbies to keep the status quo for gene-altered crops

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TITLE:  Monsanto lobbies to keep the status quo for gene-altered crops
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA, by Bill Lambrecht
DATE:   11 Sep 2005

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Monsanto lobbies to keep the status quo for gene-altered crops

WASHINGTON -- Sometimes a company's lobbying success is best measured by
what doesn't happen: tighter regulations kept off the books, tax
loopholes left open, hot-button issues never debated or investigated.

Take, for example, Monsanto Co., the agricultural and biotech giant based
in Creve Coeur. Despite years of controversy over Monsanto's genetically
modified seeds, there hasn't been a single congressional hearing on
legislation calling for labeling genetically modified foods, even as much
of Europe, Japan and several other nations adopted labeling laws.

Monsanto lobbyists have worked hard to preserve the current system in
which its gene-altered products are treated as essentially equivalent to
regular crops - and therefore don't need any additional labeling.

Among area companies, Monsanto was by far the biggest spender on
lobbying, dishing out more than $18.5 million from 1999 through 2004. In
2004, Monsanto had nine in-house Washington lobbyists on its payroll,
along with another 13 at private firms.

Over the years, Monsanto has become known for its connections in
Washington, hiring high-ranking government officials and a former member
of Congress, Rep. Toby Moffett, D-Conn. Among those lobbying for Monsanto
last year were Peter Scher, who served in the administration of President
Bill Clinton as the top negotiator and troubleshooter on global
agriculture trade deals in which Monsanto had a huge stake.

Monsanto has generally deployed its phalanx of lobbyists on three fronts:
shaping regulations that apply to its genetically modified crops; prying
open European and other foreign markets for genetically modified foods;
and winning legislative battles to tailor the federal agriculture budget
critical to its business. More than other St. Louis companies, Monsanto
and its lobbyists have to navigate Washington's regulatory maze because
three federal agencies regulate its gene-altered farm products.

Michael Dykes, a top Monsanto in-house advocate, said the company's
lobbyists didn't try to influence the scientific review process (their
scientists do that). But they do try to shape the policies that dictate
how those reviews unfold - what steps are necessary to get a new biotech
product to market, for example.

Even as European nations continue to maintain a ban on most genetically
modified crops, Monsanto has pressed for more government-approved uses of
its technology in the United States. In June, the company won approval
from the Agriculture Department for its latest product - alfalfa that is
genetically engineered to tolerate a Monsanto-developed herbicide that
kills weeds but not the alfalfa.

The agriculture giant is now in the midst of a controversial battle to
commercialize a herbicide-tolerant grass that could be a big seller to
golf courses. Monsanto is working with another company, Scotts Co., on
that issue, and they have already run into opposition. Because grasses
are wind-pollinating perennial plants, they are difficult to contain and
could pose a contamination threat, critics say.

Bill Freese, a research analyst for the environmental group Friends of
the Earth, said the grass could produce "super weeds" that are resistant
to herbicides.

Monsanto lobbyists exercise considerable influence over the regulatory
process, Freese said, even though the rule-making might appear to be more
driven by facts and less by politics.

"They have tremendous clout with the government," Freese said.

Monsanto's Dykes said his work on the special grass focused on keeping
interested lawmakers abreast of the approval process, not on talking to

"We would brief legislators and staff ... on what the process is, what
we're doing, how our scientists are engaged," he said.

Monsanto has a track record of political victories. Three years ago, for
example, the White House sided with the company and others in the
industry in their effort to avoid costly recalls and other repercussions
if there's accidental contamination during field trials of gene-altered crops.

The effort by Monsanto and others in the biotech business began after the
StarLink scandal in 2000, when discovery in human food of genetically
modified corn approved only for animals sparked a recall of dozens of
foods and a financial disaster for a company, Aventis CropScience.

The biotech companies' efforts paid off: In 2002, President George W.
Bush's administration issued a directive to three federal agencies asking
them to write regulations allowing unapproved materials in commercial
seed and commodities "if they pose no unacceptable environmental risk."

Although it was a key win for the biotech industry, the battle isn't
over. Critics argue that the policy prejudged environmental tests and
posed health threats to consumers, and they are now lobbying the agencies
to write tight rules on the issue.

"We don't want to see a blanket approval for contamination," Freese said.

Monsanto, of course, is also weighing in. "We're trying to advocate a
sound regulatory process as to how to effectively manage this issue,"
Dykes said.


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