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GM crops – faster than ever

According to an article by Anthony Gucciardi published (Feb 29th) on the ‘Nation of Change’ website a move by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) will lead to ‘speedier regulatory reviews’ for genetically modified products such as those made by Monsanto.

In March, these new rules – which will cut current approval times in half – will be published by the Federal Register at which point they’ll become law. This will enable GMO products to enter the global food supply much faster than before.

The reasons cited in support of this (according to Michael Gregoire, USDA deputy administrator) include a need to overcome ‘public interest, legal challenges, and the challenges associated with the advent of national organic food standards’. In this case, for ‘public interest’ read activist organisations trying to educate the public over the dangers of GMO crops; ‘legal challenges’ includes US farmers sueing Monsanto over genetic contamination; and ‘the advent of national organic food standards’ means legislation which currently impedes the route of GM products to market.

In other words, all these challenges lead to unpleasant delays in – heck, it’s a free market economy, right? – reaping the profit.

Several other countries have a much less rigorous approval process than the US, and therefore GM crops and seeds get to the point of sale much faster. According to Steve Censky, chief executive officer of the American Soybean Association, this move is designed help Monsanto (and other biotechnology giants) overcome the competition.

Why is this happening?

If Monsanto didn’t have a strong lobbying position within the Obama administration, changes like this would be much harder to put into effect. However, there are currently several key pollitical players perfectly placed to give things a helping hand. Here are some of them:

Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary
A leading advocate for Monsanto, genetic engineering and factory farming while he was the governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack has been lauded for ‘promoting biotech’ by none other than Barak Obama, who appointed him to the post of Agriculture Secretary.

Vilsack has a miserable history of promoting a potentially dangerous form of agricultural biotech: pharma crops, plants genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals. In 2002, a ‘pharma’ maize crop contaminated half a million bushels of soybeans grown in the same field the following year, and in Iowa the USDA ordered the burning of 155 acres of ‘conventional’ maize due to suspected contamination from pharma. The same company, ProdiGene, produced the pharma crops behind both events.

However, according to Tom Vilsack, suggestions that pharma crops should be kept away from food crops are ‘over-reacting and attempting to hamstring that industry’.

Michael Taylor, Senior Adviser to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Commissioner on Food Safety

Michael Taylor was Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto from 1998 until 2001. His appointment as FDA’s Senior Adviser generated almost 40,000 letters of complaint from the Organic Consumers Association. He’s a shining example of a direct connection between Monsanto (and other similar companies) and the government agencies that are supposed to regulate them.

Roger Beachy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture doesn’t require congressional approval. Nevertheless, as its director Roger Beachy is in pole position to steer future US agricultural research.

In 2009, at the time of his appointment to the NIFA, Beachy was president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, a non-profit arm of Monsanto that was funded by them with a whopping $70 million pledge.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

But hey – they’re the good guys, right? Well, maybe they’re just a little misguided in some areas. Either way, the Gates Foundation is one of Monsanto’s key non-profit partners, and owns 500,000 Monsanto shares. They are indirectly and directly responsible for the investment of millions of dollars for research and investment in GM programs in Africa and elsewhere, as well as – read on:

Rajiv Shah, Director, USAID (US Agency for International Development)

Previously, Shah was the agricultural programs director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s also on the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Appointed last year by Obama, despite having only 6 months government experience behind him, Shah has already set in motion the diversion of millions of dollars to Food Inc., Monsanto and others.

Shah is involved in many of the links between the Foundation, Monsanto and Danforth Plant Science Center – for instance, while employed by the Gates Foundation, he supervised Lawrence Kent, previously the director of international programs at Danforth, and Monsanto VP Robert Horsch, a leading scientist in plant engineering.

Elena Kagan, Supreme Court Justice

When Elena Kagan was Obama’s Solicitor General, she was supposed to represent the interests of the American people in matters coming before the Supreme Court.

In the ‘Monsanto vs. Geertson Seed Farms’, where Geertson’s case was that GE alfalfa produced by Monsanto would permanently contaminate their GE-free seed, Kagan instead took Monsanto’s side.

She is now a member of a Supreme Court which includes former Monsanto laywer Clarence Thomas.

So bend over, put your head between your knees…

All of the above is even more disturbing alongside White House panel’s recent warning that consumers should avoid the carcinogenic pesticides found in conventional (and genetically engineered) crops by choosing organic alternatives.

So far, genetic engineering has not given us a single crop which has improved nutrition, health values or stress-resistance. Instead, they have all been modified to withstand (or produce) pesticides – usually produced by the company that engineered them in the first place.

Organic farmers, however, simply by selecting and breeding from their best plants, have given us a vast range of crops with improved nutrition, health values and stress-resistance. And of course, being organic, pesticides aren’t part of the picture.

For more information, see:
http://www.organicconsumers.org/usda_watch.cfm

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