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Guardian (London) writes about Monsanto political clout



Biotech food giant wields power in Washington

John Vidal on the politics of the GM food industry

Guardian (London)Thursday February 18, 1999

While European scientists, politicians, and pressure groups furiously
debate the merits of GM foods, there is barely any discussion in the US,
the home of the $50-billion-a-year bio-technelogy industry.

The US government, which actively promotes the industry worldwide and
accepts millions of dollars a year from Monsanto and other companies,
maintains there is no health or environmental risk.

But the foods have been introduced with very few people being aware of
them, and Monsanto, the leading food revolution company, is widely
regarded as one of the world's most innovative, successful and responsible
companies.

It employs 25,000 people, including 1,900 scientists, gives freely to
charities and foundations, and pays for science theme parks.

It is a hero on Wall Street where in the four years since its visionary
chief executive, Bob Shapiro, took over and started launchung its GM
products on the world market, it has seen its share price soar and its
market capitalisation grow to more than $26 billion.

The science-friendly corporate image of environmental responsibility has
been built on its very close links to political parties, say Monsanto
critics. The company is one of three big funders of Clinton's
Welfare-to-Work programme, and there is a constant exchange of staff
between the government, the company and the regulatory bodies.

Its access to power isbarely questioned. Scientists are widely trusted and
what is good for corporations is seen as good for everyone. A Monsanto
board member chaired Clinton's presidential campaign.

Another senior executive mapped US pesticide policy, and a third was a top
Clinton aide. The company also donates heavily to both main political
parties and pays lobbyists to represent its interests at every point.

Like other corporations it quite legally gives money to congressmen who
sit on food safety and regulatory committees.

Betty Martini, of the consumer group, Mission Possible, which watches
Monsanto's activities in the US, said: 'The Food and Drug Administration,
which regulates the US food industry, is so closely linked to the biotech
industry now that it could be desribed as their Washington branch office.'

Monsanto executives agree that they work closely with the government but
say that the regulatory system is based on sound science. 'It's tough to
get anything through', says a company spokesman.

The company, with other biotech firms, paved the way for public acceptance
of GM technology up to 10 years ago by preparing 'educational' information
for schools and investing heavily in science museums.

Meanwhile it and other companies were lobbying global organisations to
prohibit the worldwide labelling of GM foods. US embassies around the
world are known to lobby for the industry in most countries

But the first stirrings of revolt are now being heard. US activists are
targeting company chiefs, and the powerful Union of Concerned Scientists
is calling for more caution.

The health and environmental risks are under-appreciaed, says Dr Marion
Mellon of the UCS. 'Billions of dollars have been devoted to developing
the technology but few resources have been put into understanding its
effects.'

Meanwhile unexpected environmental results in the US are worrying farmers,
and the rapidly growing healthfood and organic farming industry. This
month, 89,000 packets of organic tortilla chips had to be destroyed after
being found to contain GM organisms. It is believed that they were
'contaminated' by a nearby field of GM maize.

The US requires that no GM foods be labelled, and allows biotech companies
to largely police themselves. After heavy lobbying, the biotech industry
has persuaded 14 states to pass laws to prevent the 'spreading of false
and damaging information about food'.

The heavily subsidised US food industry is thought to be worth more than
$300 billion a year and its acceptance of the GM revolution is almost
complete. Fifty million acres of land was grown with GM crops, last year
in the US, much of it soyabean and maize.

Acreage is expected to double within two years and grow exponentially for
at least five years.


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