We know Monsanto and other biotech giants have been pushing genetically modified crops around the globe, but new diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last week make it clear how entangled our government is in corporate agricultural interests.
U.S. diplomats have certainly been making an effort to protect GM interests abroad. Truthout reports:
Several cables describe "biotechnology outreach programs" in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.
The promotion of agricultural biotechnology in dozens of countries was referenced in U.S. embassy documents ranging from 2005 to 2010. France, in particular, seems to be a major target since it has been slow to adopt GM crops despite outside pressure.
A 2008 cable summarizes a French documentary, "The World According to Monsanto," that attacks the U.S. biotech regime, including the "revolving door" between Monsanto and the U.S. government which has allowed little government oversight over biotech products. The cable reads:
The film argues that Monsanto exerted undue influence on the USG. Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman is interviewed saying he had felt that he was under pressure and that more tests should have been conducted on biotech products before they were approved. Jeffrey Smith, Director, Institute for Responsible Technology, who is interviewed says that a number of Bush Administration officers were close to Monsanto, either having obtained campaign contributions from the company or having worked directly for it: John Ashcroft, Secretary of Justice, received contributions from Monsanto when he was reelected, as did Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health; Ann Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture, was director of Calgene which belonged to Monsanto; and Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, was CEO of Searle, a Monsanto subsidiary; and Justice Clarence Thomas was a former lawyer for Monsanto.
Clearly disturbed by these points, embassy diplomats requested "that Washington agencies provide talking points" so the officers could respond to the documentary on an "if asked" basis. They didn't want to draw attention to the film, but instead focus on "the positive role ag biotech can play in meeting world food needs." Sounds like Monsanto's PR claims … straight from the mouths of government officials (do they get commission for that?).
Talking points are one thing. Systematic retaliation against dissenting countries is another. You see, when it came to French efforts to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety, a more aggressive reaction resulted, as shown in a 2007 cable released by WikiLeaks in December 2010. Craig Stapleton, former ambassador to France under the Bush administration, "asked Washington to punish the EU countries that did not support the use of GM crops," reported AlterNet. Stapleton wrote:
Country team Paris 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.
Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices.
So not only were U.S. diplomats working on behalf of the biotech industry, they were also advocating threatening other governments who didn't follow suit.
It's not exactly breaking news that corporate and government power are intertwined at the federal level. But even for us dealing with whistleblowers every day, it's astonishing to see more evidence of how commonplace it is for corporate marketing to be propelled on government dollars.
Sarah Damian is New Media Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.