Originally published at Moral Low Ground
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the unrestricted use of genetically modified (GMO) alfalfa. USDA secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that farmers can plant the GMO seeds anywhere they wish, posing a serious new threat to organic farmers whose non-GMO crops are now at greatly increased risk of contamination.
The USDA decision marks a reversal from its previous GMO policy, which favored geographic restrictions on where modified crops could be grown. This policy, called “coexistence” by Vilsack, momentarily endeared him to food industry critics. But Thursday’s decision only re-confirms that the Obama administration is all too willing to do the bidding of the powerful corporate interests that control not only the purse strings of campaign funding but also, increasingly, government policy itself.
Tom Philpott, senior food and agriculture writer at Grist.org, writes:
The industry is demanding that the USDA allow unrestricted planting of the alfalfa, which mainly serves as feed for cows. Alfalfa represents a lucrative opportunity for Monsanto, because it’s a massive crop, covering about 20 million acres, about 7 percent of U.S. cropland.
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.
The second problem is so-called “superweeds” — weeds that develop resistance to Roundup, Monsanto’s flagship herbicide. Such weeds are already rampant in the South, where Monsanto’s Roundup Ready cotton holds sway, and are moving into the Corn Belt, which is blanketed by the tens of millions of acres with the agrichemical giant’s corn and soy seeds. The rise of superweeds is unleashing a virtual monsoon of dodgy poison cocktails onto affected farmland.
Do we really want to subject organic growers and dairies to possible contamination and loss of their livelihoods, plus risk unleashing superweeds on another 20 million acres?
Evidently, for Vilsack, the answer is yes.
Philpott also notes that the biotech industry has spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Washington since 1999, with $71,000,000 being spent in 2009 alone.
It should come as no surprise, then, that President Obama has appointed leading agribusiness and biotech figures to important posts in his administration. Islam “Isi” Siddiqui, a pesticide-pushing executive from the powerful lobbying group CropLife International, vigorously lobbied against the labeling of GMO foods. According to Mother Jones, CropLife America (CLA), the domestic arm of CropLife International, participated in closed-door talks in 2004 with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on permitting pesticide testing on children. This shocking study was named the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study– or CHEERS for short. It examined how chemicals can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed by children ranging from babies to 3 years old.
Islam Siddiqui was also a vocal critic of First Lady Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden. Siddiqui’s CLA said the thought a pesticide-free, healthy organic garden made them “shudder.” Siddiqui lambasted the First Lady for not using “crop protection products” in her garden and even wrote to her extolling the virtues of conventional (read pesticide-contaminated) agriculture.
And how did President Obama rebuff this poison-pushing pesticide lobbyist whose organization supported testing dangerous chemicals on infants and who dissed his wife? He nominated him for Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of United States Trade Representative (USTR). In his new capacity, Islam Siddiqui is leading the US corporate charge to flood the world with cheap, chemical-poisoned, genetically-messed American food exports, destroying the livelihoods (and sometimes the health) of uncounted millions of dirt-poor farmers and other people in every corner of the globe.
Another alarming Obama agricultural appointment is National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) chief Roger Beachy. Before he was tapped by the President to head this important research and education agency, Beachy collaborated with Monsanto to develop the world’s first genetically modified food crop, a disease-resistant tomato. This Monsanto shill now wields considerable power over government agricultural research. Says Grist.org’s Tom Philpott: “Essentially, the public face of Monsanto’s research efforts now has his fingers on the USDA’s research purse strings. Score a big one for agribusiness!”
Like the military-industrial complex, the healthcare-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex and various other corporate-industrial complexes, the agricultural-industrial complex is a very real and very influential force that is growing more powerful with every passing day. Although President Obama campaigned promising to curb the power of special industry lobbyists, even telling Iowans that “We’ll tell [packaged food giant] ConAgra that it’s not the Department of Agribusiness,” once in power, his policies proved remarkably similar to George W. Bush’s. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which party enjoys the preponderance of power in Washington. They’re both equally indebted to and more or less equally responsive to the corporate interests that brought them to power. With the US Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that now allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of American elections, the cancer of corporatism is only going to spread unchecked until it destroys our once-vibrant democracy. There’s an old political maxim that says “dance with the one who brung ya.” It’s no wonder, then, that President Obama is doing the GMO two-step.