U.S. Presses Europe to Worship Genetically Modified Foods

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When it comes to the federal government's eagerness to advance the genetically modified food agenda of Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and other agribusinesses, nothing is sacred—not even the pope.

While the recent media hubbub caused by WikiLeaks might have focused on the war in Afghanistan and American opinions of various world leaders, the flood of diplomatic cables contained numerous communications showing that Bush administration officials were doing everything in their power to undermine the E.U.'s ban on genetically modified (GM) crops.

In some cases, U. S. diplomats went so far as to do Monsanto's bidding directly.

In 2008, the State Department's special adviser on biotechnology lobbied Vatican insiders to persuade the pope to declare his support of bioengineered foods, according to a report in The Guardian. "Opportunities exist to press the issue with the Vatican and in turn to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world," said one government cable. Ultimately, the pontiff declined to bestow his blessing.

France was given a particularly rough ride. Craig Stapleton, a former buddy and business partner of President Bush who was named ambassador to France, suggested that the U.S. start a full-blown trade war in support of the administration's corporate friends. In response to French moves in 2007 to ban GM corn, Stapleton wrote, "Country team Paris [the U. S. diplomatic corps in France] recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits." With its strong anti-GM stance, France was no doubt one of the worst of the "worst." Acknowledging that it would take a protracted effort to change European minds, Stapleton went on, "Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices."

In some cases, U. S. diplomats went so far as to do Monsanto's bidding directly. One cable quoted in The Guardian mentioned that Monsanto had requested "renewed U.S. government support of Spain's science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level U. S. government intervention." Spain was regarded as a pro-GM member of the E.U. A cable from the U.S. embassy in Madrid stated that "If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow." So far, the E.U. has remained steadfast.

None of these pro-GM pressure tactics would have benefited the American public. But the corporations stand to cash in big time if the E.U. biotech policy changes. The Obama administration has a similarly close relationship with Big Ag . According to Sourcewatch, Monsanto spent more than $4.5 million lobbying and nearly $200,000 on political donations in 2007/2008. Despite the lack of concrete results, it would be hard to argue that it wasn't money well spent.

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Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.
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