by Carey Gillam
May 14, 2013
U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for
overseas lobbying that promotes controversial biotech crops
developed by U.S.-based Monsanto Co and other seed makers, a report
issued on Tuesday said.
A review of 926 diplomatic cables of correspondence to and from the
U.S. State Department and embassies in more than 100 countries found
that State Department officials actively promoted the
commercialization of specific biotech seeds, according to the report
Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit
consumer protection group (Biotech
Ambassadors - How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed
Industry’s Global Agenda).
The officials tried to quash public criticism of particular
companies and facilitated negotiations between foreign governments
and seed companies such as Monsanto over issues like patents and
intellectual property, the report said.
The cables show U.S. diplomats supporting Monsanto, the world's
largest seed company, in foreign countries even after it paid $1.5
million in fines after being charged with bribing an Indonesian
official and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 2005.
One 2009 cable shows the embassy in Spain seeking "high-level U.S.
government intervention" at the "urgent request" of Monsanto to
combat biotech crop opponents there, according to the Food & Water
The report covered cables from 2005-2009 that were
released by Wikileaks in 2010 as
part of a much larger release by Wikileaks of a range of diplomatic
cables it obtained.
Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said Monsanto believes it is
critical to maintain an open dialogue with government authorities
and trade groups in other countries.
"We remain committed to sharing
information so that individuals can better understand our
business and our commitments to support farmers throughout the
world as they work to meet the agriculture demands of our
world's growing population," he said.
State Department officials had no
immediate comment when contacted about the report.
Food & Water Watch said the cables it examined provide a
detailed account of how far the State Department goes to support and
promote the interests of the agricultural biotech industry, which
has had a hard time gaining acceptance in many foreign markets.
"It really goes beyond promoting the
U.S.'s biotech industry and agriculture," said Wenonah Hauter,
executive director of Food & Water Watch.
"It really gets down to twisting the
arms of countries and working to undermine local democratic
movements that may be opposed to biotech crops, and pressuring
foreign governments to also reduce the oversight of biotech
But U.S. officials, Monsanto and many
other companies and industry experts routinely say that biotech
crops are needed around the world to increase global food production
as population expands.
They maintain that the crops are safe
and make farming easier and more environmentally sustainable.
THROUGH PAMPHLETS, DVDs?
The cables show that State Department officials directed embassies
legislation" that might hinder biotech crop development and to
"encourage the development and commercialization of ag-biotech
The State Department also produced
pamphlets in Slovenia promoting biotech crops, sent pro-biotech DVDs
to high schools in Hong Kong and helped bring foreign officials and
media from 17 countries to the United States to promote biotech
agriculture, Food & Water Watch said.
Genetically altered crops are widely used in the United States.
Crops spliced with DNA from other species are designed to resist
pests and tolerate chemical applications, and since their
introduction in the mid 1990s have come to dominate millions of
acres of U.S. farmland.
The biotech crops are controversial with some groups and in many
countries because some studies have shown harmful health impacts
for humans and animals, and the crops have been associated with
some environmental problems.
They also generally are more expensive than conventional crops, and
the biotech seed developers patent the high-tech seeds so farmers
using them have to buy new seed every season, a factor that makes
them unappealing in some developing nations.
Many countries ban planting of biotech crops or have strict labeling
"It's appalling that the State
Department is complicit in supporting their (the biotech seed
industry's) goals despite public and government opposition in
several countries," said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of
nonprofit organization Organic Consumers Association.
"American taxpayer's money should not be spent advancing the
goals of a few giant biotech companies."