by Isabella Kenfield
August 18, 2009
Isabella Kenfield is an
analyst at Americas Program and an associate at the Center for the
Study of the Americas in Berkeley, California.
She can be reached at
Michael R. Taylor’s appointment by the Obama administration to the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) on July 7th sparked immediate debate and even
outrage among many food and agriculture researchers, NGOs and activists.
Vice President for Public Policy at
Monsanto Corp. from 1998 until 2001,
Taylor exemplifies the revolving door between the food industry and the
government agencies that regulate it. He is reviled for shaping and
implementing the government’s favorable agricultural biotechnology policies
during the Clinton administration.
Yet what has slipped under everyone’s radar screen is Taylor’s involvement
in setting U.S. policy on agricultural assistance in Africa.
Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda
Gates foundations, Taylor is once
again the go-between man for Monsanto and the U.S. government, this time
with the goal to open up African markets for genetically-modified (GM) seed
In the late 70s, Taylor was an attorney for the United States Department of
Agriculture, then in the 80s, a private lawyer at the D.C. law firm King &
Spalding, where he represented Monsanto. When Taylor returned to government
as Deputy Commissioner for Policy for the FDA from 1991 to 1994, the agency
approved the use of Monsanto’s GM growth hormone for dairy cows (now found
in most U.S. milk) without labeling.
His role in these decisions led to a
federal investigation, though eventually he was exonerated of all
Taylor’s re-appointment to the FDA came just after Obama and the other G-8
leaders pledged $20 billion to fight hunger in Africa over the next three
“President Obama is currently embedded in a bubble featuring some of
the fervent promoters of the biotech industry and a Green Revolution in
Africa,” says Paula Crossfield in the Huffington Post.
Before joining Obama’s transition team, Taylor was a Senior Fellow at the D.C. think tank
Resources for the Future, where he published two documents on U.S. aid for
African agriculture, both of which were funded by the Rockefeller
The Rockefeller Foundation funded the first Green Revolution in Asia and
Latin America in the 1960s, and in 2006, teamed up with the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation to launch the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
In Taylor’s 2003 paper “American Patent Policy, Biotechnology, and
African Agriculture: The Case for Policy Change,” he states:
Revolution largely bypassed sub-Saharan Africa…African farmers often face
difficult growing conditions, and better access to the basic Green
Revolution tools of fertilizer, pesticides, improved seeds, and irrigation
certainly can play an important role in improving their productivity.”
In an interview with
AllAfrica.com, Obama echoed Taylor’s sentiment:
still frustrated over the fact that the Green Revolution that we introduced
into India in the '60s, we haven't yet introduced into Africa in 2009."
as Crossfield points out,
“There are very good reasons why we have never
introduced a Green Revolution into Africa, namely because there is broad
consensus that the Green Revolution in India has been a failure, with Indian
farmers in debt, bound to paying high costs for seed and pesticides,
committing suicide at much higher rates, and resulting in a depleted water
table and a poisoned environment, and by extension, higher rates of cancer.
If President Obama is lacking this information, it is his cabinet that is to
While AGRA may not benefit African farmers, it will certainly benefit
Some estimate that Monsanto controls 90 percent of the global
market for GM seeds. In Brazil, 54 percent of all soybeans are produced with
Roundup Ready© seeds, and in 2008, the country began spraying
more pesticides and herbicides than the U.S.
There is evidence that in 2003,
Monsanto sold a Brazilian senator a farm for one-third of its market value
in exchange for his help to legalize the herbicide
glyphosate (the world’s
most widely used herbicide), sold by the corporation as Roundup©.
Monsanto controlled 80% of the Brazilian market for glyphosate, having
elevated the price by 50% since its legalization.
The “penultimate draft” of Taylor’s 2002 paper was reviewed by Dr. Robert Horsch, a Monsanto executive for more than 25 years, who left in 2006 to
work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
concern of this report is how innovative seed technology derived from
patented tools of biotechnology can be developed and disseminated for the
benefit of small-scale and subsistence African farmers.”
Taylor’s 2005 paper “Investing in Africa’s Future: U.S. Agricultural
Development Assistance for Sub-Saharan Africa,” was co-authored by the
executive director of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa (PCHPA).
Founded in 2000 and based in D.C., PCHPA is a consortium of public-private
interests (Gates is one of its primary funders) that includes, among many
others, Halliburton, several African heads of state, administrators from
several U.S. land grant universities, the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID) and Monsanto.
According to its web site,
Taylor and Horsch both sit on PCHPA’s advisory committee. Horsch continues
to be listed as Vice President for Product and Technology Cooperation for
Monsanto, and a member of PCHPA’s working group for Capacity Building for
Science and Technology.
Taylor writes of the need to change “archaic, near-subsistence agricultural
economies” with a “market-oriented approach and the promotion of thriving
His recipe is
globalized, industrial agriculture:
agricultural research,” “markets for agricultural inputs and outputs”,
“build rural roads and other physical infrastructure”, and “build
agricultural export capacity and opportunity.”
Taylor fails to adequately
address how liberalized agricultural policies and unfair U.S. agricultural
subsidies have been responsible for the bankruptcy of millions of African
farmers. Instead, he maintains,
“the financial impact of U.S. domestic
cotton subsidies on Mali farmers dwarfs the impact of development assistance
from USAID and other agencies.”
“Private investment and entrepreneurship are widely understood to be
essential. The role of public investment is to provide the critical public
goods needed to make private effort attractive and rewarding.”
Taylor maintains that due to the constraints of USAID, which has its funds
allocated through congressional earmarks and is squeezed by the wards in
Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. needs an alternative funding strategy for
African agricultural development assistance.
His proposal is to broaden the
reach of the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency
established in 2004 by President
George W. Bush to implement the
Challenge Account (MCA).
“MCC is a new government corporation that operates
under a different institutional and policy framework and receives funds that
are not earmarked,” says Taylor.
“The MCA was intended to depart sharply
from traditional U.S. development assistance by providing large amounts of
assistance to select countries that create an enabling environment for
economic growth through market-oriented, pro-growth policies.”
countries make up about half of the MCA-eligible countries.
In June 2008, the Rockefeller Foundation issued a press release about the
“historic collaboration” between MCC and AGRA.
“MCC’s investments in
agriculture and in public infrastructure such as roads and irrigation
complement AGRA’s investments in providing the rural poor with seeds and
fertilizers to increase their incomes and production,” said MCC’s CEO
Ambassador John Danilovich.
The MCC-AGRA partnership focuses on five areas,
“advancing agriculture research, multiplication of seed, and
distribution of inputs and technologies to small-scale farmers,” and
“building roads, irrigation and other agriculture-related infrastructure.”
As it arrived in D.C., the Obama Administration received
a report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs titled “Renewing American Leadership in
the Fight Against Hunger and Poverty: The Chicago Initiative on Global
The report was funded by the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation and co-authored by its senior fellow Catherine Bertini.
“The United States should thus remain willing to support research on all
forms of modern crop biotechnology by local scientists in Sub-Saharan
Africa,” it reads.
Taylor’s 2007 paper, published by PCHPA and titled “Beating Africa’s Poverty
by Investing in Africa’s Infrastructure,” is cited in the Chicago Council
report and listed as “key reading on African development” in its appendix.
The Chicago Council report makes five specific recommendations, the third
“increase support for rural and agricultural infrastructure,
especially in Sub-Saharan Africa,” with a related priority to “accelerate
disbursal of the Millennium Challenge Corporation funds already obligated
for rural roads and other agricultural infrastructure projects.”
While people have been debating about whether Michael R. Taylor might
support labeling of GM foods (as he is aware, a moot point in the U.S. due
to widespread contamination by GM pollen), he has been literally writing the
book on U.S. agricultural aid to Africa.
While the motives, beliefs and
interests of Taylor, the
everyone in support of a Green Revolution in Africa are debatable, those of
Monsanto are not.
“Once attached to a pool of foreign aid money, the pressure to open markets
to biotechnology will be substantial,” points out Food First policy analyst
But what will be the human and environmental costs of unleashing a Green
Revolution in Africa?
According to the Chicago Council report, the,
respected science academies” have concluded that “genetically engineered
crops currently on the market present no new documented risk either to human
health or to the environment.”
Unfortunately, this is false, and the world
cannot afford for Obama to follow the advice of those who support a Green
Revolution in Africa.
In May, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a
moratorium on GM foods:
“several animal studies indicate serious health
risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with
cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein
formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal
According to a study published by the Union of Concerned Scientists this
year, GM seeds do not produce higher yields than conventional seeds.
they pose serious ecological risks, especially from genetic contamination
from pollen. In the U.S., it is becoming impossible for the organic food
industry to certify non-GM foods. In July in South Africa, three varieties
of Monsanto’s GM corn produced seedless plants on over 200,000 hectares of
land for about 250 farmers.
Monsanto had sold some of the seeds to
commercial farmers and also given some to resource-poor, rural families.
GM crops also require more chemical spraying than conventional crops, and
weeds are developing tolerance to glyphosate, requiring higher and higher
According to a recent editorial in the New York Times,
are connecting the dots with evidence of increasing abnormalities among
humans, particularly large increases in numbers of genital deformities among
newborn boys… Apprehension is growing among many scientists that the cause of
all this may be a class of chemicals called
Glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor.
In March, a molecular biologist at the
University of Caen named Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini published the results of a
study that found Roundup causes cells to die in human embryos.
doses diluted a thousand times, the herbicide could cause malformations,
miscarriages, hormonal problems, reproductive problems, and different types
of cancers," said Dr. Seralini.
In April, Dr. Andrés Carrasco, an
embryologist at the University of Buenos Aires, published his findings that
even very low doses, glyphosate can cause brain, intestinal and heart
defects in frog fetuses.
Taylor’s solution to halt hunger in Africa is for its farmers to
industrially produce commodities for global markets in order to generate
cash to purchase toxic food at a supermarket. Yet if his goal is to meet the
immediate food and nutritional security needs of poor people in sub-Saharan
Africa, and given that most of them live in rural areas, his perception of
appropriate land use is flawed.
AGRA assert that the most effective approach to fighting hunger
in Africa would be to prioritize the agroecological production of healthy
food by and for small-scale, peasant farming families, who would sell their
surplus to local, regional and national markets, without being subject to,
Family farms employ more people per acre than industrial farms do, and
diversified small and medium farmers are more ecologically and economically
resilient than those cultivating a monoculture cash crop.
Local food systems
consume less fossil fuel. Whereas the patenting and planting of GM seeds
threaten humanity’s collective agrogenetic heritage, in a world without
Monsanto, millions of family farmers would be the guardians of agrobiodiversity and indigenous farming knowledge.
One has to ask:
given its support for Taylor, Monsanto and a new Green
Revolution in Africa, does the Obama administration’s foreign agricultural
aid program truly represent ‘change we can believe in’?
As Ben Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, a U.S.
La Via Campesina, cautioned,
“As an African American farmer who has
visited farmers in Africa many times, I am deeply concerned that much of
the Obama Administration’s pledge to spend $1 billion on agriculture
research will be wasted on biotech research that benefits Monsanto more
than it does small-scale farmers.”