GMO Foods: kernels that may be of interest

By Kenda Swartz Pepper | Published: February 7, 2010

You may recall from previous posts the role Michael Taylor played in affecting your food.  As of January 2010, the new Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA is none other than Michael R. Taylor.  Good ole’ Mike. Mikey mike mike. The Mikester.  Mikemonger. The Mike-man makin’ messages.

One may feel a special closeness – a bond even – with this guy.  After all, if you recall, in November 1993 during the Clinton administration, while in the FDA, he helped put Bovine Growth Hormone into your milk.  Taylor was the leader (I use that word loosely) in banning the labeling of GM products.  Oh, and for more than ten years he worked for Monsanto. He was intimately involved in some bad food policy, which makes you, the consumer, intimately involved with the outcome of his decisions.

Here’s some scoop on Mike Taylor and other government associations with Monsanto

In 1994, the FDA, while in the sack with Monsanto put out a message to grocery stores and dairy farmers who weren’t using rBGH:

Do not label milk as free of the hormone.

Shortly thereafter (within a matter of weeks) Monsanto sued two milk processors that labeled milk as free of the hormone according to a New York Times article.

Here is a snippet of Michael Taylor’s political and corporate journey according to Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News dated March 17, 1994:

It is no accident that the FDA and Monsanto are speaking with one voice on this issue. The FDA official responsible for the agency’s labeling policy, Michael R. Taylor, is a former partner of King & Spaulding, the Washington, D.C. law firm that has brought the lawsuits on behalf of Monsanto. Taylor, a lawyer, is a classic product of the revolving door. Starting in 1980, he worked for the FDA for 4 years as executive assistant to the commissioner. In 1984 he joined King & Spaulding and remained there until 1991; during that time the law firm represented Monsanto while the company was seeking FDA approval of rBGH. In 1991, President Bush’s FDA Commissioner, David A. Kessler, Jr., revolved Taylor back into FDA as assistant commissioner for policy. Kessler himself was retained by President Clinton, as was Taylor. In February 1994, Taylor signed the FEDERAL REGISTER notice warning grocery stores not to label milk as free of rBGH, thus giving Monsanto a powerful boost in its fight to prevent consumers from knowing whether rBGH produced their milk.

The article continues on about Monsanto’s vice-like grip on the government with threats of pulling out of agriculture biotech if the administration doesn’t stand up to opponents of bovine growth hormone use.  So?  Well, Monsanto was aware of the Clinton Administration’s eagerness to boost the economy with GM foods.  They were prepared to exploit it.  Not that I agree with either party.

So, fast-forward to January 2010.  And how did this guy Michael Taylor get into the current administration?  In my opinion, this decision places the path in pathetic.  Hey, Obama, what happened to The Change I can Believe In? Some love was lost with that decision….among others.

Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat and Food Politics has a different and much more optimistic take on Taylor’s appointment. I’m still not sold. His record shows too much evidence of juicing.

There were several players in the Bush (Sr. and Jr.) Administrations that were closely tied to Monsanto.  These associations include former USDA Secretary 2001 – 2005,  Ann Veneman (was on the board of directors of Calgene Pharmaceuticals), Deputy Administrator for EPA– Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances 2001 – 2003, Linda J. Fisher (former Executive VP of Government Affairs for Monsanto), and current Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas (a former Monsanto attorney).  This list goes on to include George W cronies former Attorney General, John Ashcroft (received the largest campaign contribution that Monsanto ever gave to any 2000 political candidate) and Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld (former president of Searle, a subsidiary of Monsanto). And the list goes on and on…  Oh the tangled web we weave.

Check out Political Friendster and Sourcewatch for some additional tasty morsels.

Interestingly enough, the government pretends that GMOs can be regulated (not that they’ve tried).  But how do they prevent GMO crops from cross-pollinating with nonGMO crops? Maybe Monsanto will find a way to genetically modify the wind.

Money Grows on Trees

I am fantasizing about the day when some innovative scientist develops a genetically modified Money Tree.  When that day arrives, I will support GMOs and promptly buy me some Money Tree Seeds.  I will start a Money Tree farm with a wide variety of trees ranging from the Euro Tree to the Yen Tree.  I will incur patent infringement by cleaning my Money Tree Seeds and handing them out for free to all my friends and to people I pass by on the street.  By the time the lawful grip of Monsanto catches up with me, I will have grown a money tree SO tall that I can climb up up up and live in a castle high above the clouds.

Okay, so money doesn’t grow on trees in the literal sense, but it certainly does in a figurative way – on GM Papaya trees.  Money also grows on soy and on corn.  Lovely golden nuggets to fill Agrochemical’s pockets.  Oh and by the way, there are numerous other varieties of GM trees that are currently being tested in the field.  The Institute of Science in Society claims that GM forests could be the ultimate threat to humans and the planet.   But money talks.  With the Agrochemical companies it speaks with a loud, obnoxious, piercing threat.

Top Agrochemical Companies

According to the Fortune for 2009, the Chemical Industry was the 23rd fastest growing industry for growth in revenues ranking behind the Pipelines industry (#1),  Petroleum Refining (#3),  Energy (#6), Health Care Insurance (#13), and Food and Drug Stores (#21).

With a 7.1 increase in revenues from 2008, Chemical Companies were closely aligned with the likes of Utilities (Gas and Electric) and Pharmaceuticals both weighing in at a 7.00% increase in revenues and ranking #25 and #26 respectively.

What’s most interesting to me is how Monsanto, a corporation claiming to be a seed company is ranked #4 for revenues and profits in the Chemical Industry.  Trailing behind the likes of PPG Industries, Dupont and Dow.  Monsanto #4 in the Chemical Industry.  Not too shabby for a seed company.

Monsanto ranks 235 in the Fortune 500.

I was hard-pressed to find consolidated information – that was also free – about the world’s top agrochemical companies.  There were several sites that offered a report for a fee.  I wonder why?  Perhaps simply because the folks who wrote the report want to be compensated for their research?   Report Linker offers several fee-for reports.  I thank ETC and GMWatch for offering some good scoop available to the public – no fee.

In a November 2008 report by ETC (out of Canada) entitled Who Owns Nature?, the world’s six largest agrochemical manufacturers, who control nearly 75% of the global pesticide market, are also seed industry giants.  These include Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont and of course Monsanto.  These companies are gene giants.

According to an article on GM Watch, the bottom line is

Patented gene technologies will not help small farmers survive climate change, but they will concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit public sector research and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

In an October 2009 article from the Guardian

in the space of less than three decades, intellectual property rights have been applied to 82% of the global seed market, according to data collected by campaign group ETC.

Three companies now control nearly half of the total global market in proprietary seeds, worth $22bn (£13.5bn) a year. In 2007, the US-based Monsanto accounted for nearly a quarter of the total global market (23%), followed by another American company, DuPont (15%) and Swiss-headquartered Syngenta (9%).

Just six companies –the above three plus Bayer, BASF and Dow AgroSciences – control three-quarters of the global agrochemical market.

The article continues on with how these companies have been engaged in litigation with each other.  DuPont is claiming that Monsanto operates as a monopoly.  I could’ve told them that.

Some New News

January 2010:  Forbes names Monsanto Company of The Year. Oh.  Hooray. Hmmm… whose soul had to be sold for that selection?

Forbes article is entitled: The Planet Versus Monsanto. Sadly, for the planet, there is a lot of truth in that statement.  And Monsanto seems to be winning.  The first line of this article reads:

Monsanto’s first round of attackers said its seeds were evil.  Now the charge is that Monsanto’s seeds are too good.

Talk about word placement to lead a reader!  This is how they define a bullying monopoly?  Their seeds are ‘too good’?  Sheesh.  This has little to do with the seeds being too good and mostly to do with the fact Monsanto controls the seeds – leaving almost no other alternative.  The article continues to carry on with statements such as

Farmers complain about Monsanto’s prices, but they still purchase the seeds.

Let’s clarify…the farmers HAVE to purchase the seeds.  This article makes the reader believe the complaining farmers want to purchase those seeds.  That they’re all eagering lining up at the seed store.  While perhaps some farmers do want to purchase Monsanto seeds, many farmers find themselves out of other viable options.

The article adds how 90% of US soybean crops and 80% of US corn and cotton crops are from the seeds of Monsanto. Remembering all the while that it is Monsanto’s economic accomplishments not ecological accomplishments that helped them land as Forbes Company of the Year.

In its fiscal 2009 Monsanto sold $7.3 billion of seeds and seed genes, versus $4 billion for second-place DuPont. Monsanto, of St. Louis, netted $2.1 billion on revenue of $11.7 billion for fiscal 2009. Its sales have increased at an annualized 18% clip over five years; its annualized return on capital in the period has been 12%. Those accomplishments earn it the designation as FORBES’ Company of the Year.

My apologies go out to Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Ventria Bioscience and DuPont for not giving you more floor time, because I absolutely positively consider your level of social responsibility to be nearly as deplorable as that of Monsanto.

3 responses to “GMO Foods: kernels that may be of interest

  1. To suggest Ann Veneman had ties with Monsanto is false and misleading. Please correct this error. Ann Veneman served on the board of Calgene. She left the Calgene board prior to Monsanto purchasing it. Please don’t stretch the truth in your efforts to try and play politics. Your facts are wrong — quit spreading lies and step up to the plate and correct your errors. Thank you!

  2. Sorry Kevin, but I have to let our author stand on this one. Ann was in fact tied to Monsanto; it does not mean she worked for Monsanto. Her legacy of influence with them is not false or a lie. Veneman championed biotech foods and bought into the idea that it would one day feed the world (which it never has, even after 10 years). She has also been praised by Carol Foreman, a former Monsanto lobbyist, in her appointment to the Bush administration. Like it or not, the ties that surround Ann and likely most of the pro-biotech politicians are insidious. To suggest she did not have ties is objective: how can one not have ties and champion what Monsanto does?

  3. Pingback: What’s Monsanto Up To These Days? |

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