Monsanto’s Hostile Takeover of the USDA

If you had any lingering doubt about who controls the food supply, the answer was made painfully clear yesterday when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its “Decision to Fully Deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa.” For years, a fight has been waging over Monsanto’s desire to plant genetically-engineered alfalfa seeds. (Most alfalfa is fed to cattle, which is why it’s so lucrative.) The court battle even found its way to the US Supreme Court, that’s how much is at stake. Thanks to organic food advocates fighting however they could, Monsanto has thus far been stymied.

Until this month, when the political pressures were brought to bear on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. (Many others who follow this issue closely have written about this topic, so I am going to borrow liberally from them to give you a sense of the seriousness of this decision.)

In the wake of USDA actually considering reasonable restrictions to be placed on how Monsanto could plant its potentially contaminating crops, the bio-tech and business world went crazy, calling for Secretary Vilsack’s head. From this Forbes piece, “Sack Vilsack“:

Something is very wrong at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The secretary, Tom Vilsack, is letting hypothetical claims by organic farmers–who produce less than 1% of the nation’s farming output–cripple an important and environmentally beneficial technology, the genetic engineering of crop plants.

Here’s how the CEO of Organic Valley describes the politics:

The biotech industry has waged a complete war on the Secretary of Agriculture for following the Supreme Court order and for the consideration of a co-existence proposal. They used all their influence to have the Secretary’s job challenged. There here have been op-eds in major papers and magazines (“Sack Vilsack,” Forbes), special meetings with the White House, grilling by the Justice Department, endless lobbying, and on Thursday of last week, a Congressional member forum was held where the Secretary was taken to the wood shed and asked repeatedly why he had not approved RR-alfalfa sooner.

Tom Philpott, at Grist, on why we should care:

Thursday’s announcement marks a complete USDA cave-in to the biotech industry’s demands, and yet more evidence that Obama wants to be seen as a friend to powerful business interests — at the expense of smaller, less powerful interests like organic alfalfa and dairy growers, and, in this case, of the public interest….

Yet there are a couple of glaring problems. Alfalfa is a prolific pollinator, meaning that GM alfalfa can easily cross-breed with non-GM alfalfa. If organic producers find their crop contaminated with GM material, they risk losing their organic certification and, likely, their livelihoods. The organic dairy industry, which relies on a steady supply of organic alfalfa, would also be imperiled…

It’s worth checking out this recent Food & Water Watch report on the gusher of cash the biotech industry spends on D.C. lobbying. The industry spent more than a half billion dollars on lobbying between 1999 and 2009, FWW reports. In 2009 alone, the GMO giants dropped a cool $71 million pushing its agenda. It’s also worth noting the number of Monsanto-related people now working in key policy positions in the USDA.

Ronnie Commins, of the Organic Consumers Association: (read all of this one)

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation’s 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America’s organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it’s time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto’s controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for “coexistence” with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

OK, so if you weren’t already, now is the time to get active. None of us can smugly claim that we eat organic food and so have no worries. Not only is the health of everyone who eats at risk, the livelihoods of farmers are also at stake, not to mention the threat of environmental contamination. But the bigger picture and real lesson to take from this major setback is this: It does not matter who sits in the White House. The only different between this administration and the previous one is that alternatives were considered before the inevitable caving to Big Agribusiness.

How to get active? Start with the Organic Consumers Association, which led the fight to preserve organic standards years ago. Another good organization to support is the Center for Food Safety, which is vowing to go back to court. The fight goes on. Time to join in.

One Response to “Monsanto’s Hostile Takeover of the USDA”

  1. [...] Monsanto’s Hostile Takeover of the USDA (Michele Simon at Appetite for Profit) [...]

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