When the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) met in Chicago last week they were, no doubt, elated to hear that the U.S. State Department would be aggressively confronting critics of agricultural biotechnology.
Wouldn't you think the State Department might have more pressing issues than carrying water for Monsanto and the rest of the biotechnology industry?
Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs noted that the State Department was ready to take on the naysayers. In addition to confronting the critics, Fernandez stated they would be building alliances (presumably with the biotech industry and foreign governments), anticipating roadblocks to acceptance and highlighting the science.
Highlighting the science, that's rich, to this point the only "science" they can highlight is the fact that nearly 100% of the commercially available genetically modified (GM) crops worldwide are engineered to be insecticidal, resistant to herbicide application, or both.
The State Department and its allies promote GM as a way for the developing world to feed itself, but the four predominant GM crops (corn, soy, cotton and canola) are not specifically human food crops, they are used for animal feed, biofuel, fiber and processed food.
They would like us to believe that the "science" will deliver more nutritious food, higher yielding crops, drought resistant crops and an end to world hunger. These claims however, are not based in science, but only on " the promise", or "the hope" of GM doing what its supporters claim it can do.
The science, or lack thereof, that we should take note of is the glaring lack of regulation of GM crops and the serious questions about their safety. Nina Fedoroff, Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted "We preach to the world about science-based regulations but really our regulations on crop biotechnology are not yet science-based."
We should not be surprised that the U.S. State Department is again, on the stump, promoting biotech crops. It would be difficult to say how long the the U.S. government has been aggressively promoting biotechnology, specifically GM crops, but certainly since the commercialization of GM soy in 1996.
In 2004 the State Department launched a website which was part of a State Department initiative to "encourage broader adoption and acceptance of biotechnology in the developing world", according to Deborah Malac, then chief of the Biotechnology and Textile Trade Policy Division of the State Department.
USDA is also actively promoting biotechnology with a website that supports bringing biotechnology to the "worldwide marketplace".
Even the U.S. Senate is getting into the act, promoting, even mandating GM technology to the developing world. Senate Bill 384, The Global Food Security Act, would amend the Foreign Assistance act of 1961 to read "Agricultural research carried out under this act shall include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including GM technology".
While USDA assures us that the products of biotechnology and the chemicals they depend on are safe, scientists within USDA, the State Department and theAdministration question that view.
So why does the U.S. government promote the interests of the biotechnology industry over the best interests of peoples health, the environment and the food security of the developing world?
Easy answer, the biotechnology industry has a high profit margin and they know how to influence government policy.
Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer and activist from Wonewoc, WI and a WK Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow.