Is Our Money Being Used to Pimp for Monsanto?
So why is the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs (EEB), Jose Fernandez, making speeches that sound like Monsanto talking points? His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America. Now he heads up the Bureau of EEB, which works “to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad.” And part of such prosperity, according to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.
Within EEB lies the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Textile Trade Affairs (ABT), which has worked to promote biotechnology for nearly a decade. The word biotechnology was added to the office’s name in 2003. ABT seeks to address “barriers and opening markets for American farm products, contributing to the development of effective food aid policies, promoting rural development and increasing agricultural productivity through biotechnology.”
Among other things, ABT is responsible for doling out half a million dollars per year in Biotechnology Outreach Funds. This amounts to pennies compared to the overall federal budget, but it goes a long way, as grants are often around $20,000 apiece, especially considering the cumulative impact of their use in promoting biotechnology around the world each year since 2003. Biotech Outreach Fund requests for 2010 included:
- A request from the U.S. embassy in Ecuador for $22,900 to fly five Ecuadorian journalists to the U.S. “to participate in a one-week biotech tour” to influence public opinion of biotechnology.
- A request from the U.S. embassies in Brazil and Mozambique for $64,590 to hold a trilateral three-day seminar on biotechnology in Maputo, Mozambique.
- A request from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia for $5,500 to bring biotechnology experts from South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and possibly the U.S. to a workshop on biotechnology held by the Ethiopian government.
The requests above were revealed in secret cables leaked by WikiLeaks. While the cables did not divulge which requests were accepted, they do tell the story of State Department employees whose jobs consist of promoting biotechnology around the world. Between 2005 and 2006, then senior adviser for agricultural biotechnology Madelyn E. Spirnak traveled to Guatemala, Egypt, Slovenia, Taiwan, Turkey, South Africa, Ghana, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland to promote biotechnology.
In South Africa, Spirnak spent a week meeting with “government officials, researchers, private sector representatives and officials from the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to discuss agricultural biotechnology and biosafety issues.” The private sector representatives referred to include Monsanto and Cargill. According to a leaked State Department memo, Spirnak learned that the government of South Africa was planning to hire several new people to work on GMOs. The memo reads—“Note: we informed both Pioneer [DuPont] and Monsanto the following day about the two new positions and they immediately saw the benefits from encouraging qualified applicants to apply.”
The State Department promotion of biotechnology comes from the top. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice before her sent out annual memos to all U.S. embassies outlining State Department policy on biotechnology. In December 2009, Clinton wrote, “Our biotech outreach objectives for 2010 are to increase access to, and markets for, biotech as a means to help address the underlying causes of the food crisis, and to promote agricultural technology’s role in mitigating climate change and increasing biofuel production.”
ABT’s work dovetails with that of another State Department agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID’s work on biotechnology has focused on two main goals—developing GMOs for introduction in the Global South and pushing nations in Asia and Africa to write biosafety laws. Biosafety laws, a common theme in leaked State Department memos discussing biotechnology, basically mean laws that keep Monsanto’s intellectual property rights on genetically engineered crops safe.
USAID’s work funding the development of GMOs began in 1990, when it funded the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (now known as ABSP I), a project based at Michigan State University’s Institute for International Agriculture that ran until 2003 but was continued in a successor project (predictably called ABSP II) that continues today.
Like its predecessor, ABSP II is funded by USAID. However, unlike ABSP I, it is led by Cornell University. ABSP II, which is ongoing, includes among its partners a number of U.S. universities, research organizations in partner countries, NGOs, foundations and several corporations—including Monsanto. ABSP II projects include the development and commercialization of GM crops like a disease-resistant potato in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia; Roundup-Ready Bt cotton in Uganda (similar to the GM cotton already grown in the U.S.); and perhaps the most controversial, Bt eggplant, intended for India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Using Monsanto’s technology, Bt eggplant includes a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in its DNA. Like the bacteria, the eggplant will produce a toxin that kills insects that prey on it. Bt is a commonly used organic insecticide. When the bacteria is applied by organic farmers, it lasts for a short time in the environment, killing the insects but ultimately having little impact on the agroecosystem, and giving the insects no real opportunity to evolve resistance to the toxin. When the gene is engineered into a crop, the crop produces the Bt toxin in every cell during the entire duration of its life. As of 2011, there are now reports of insects evolving resistance to Bt in genetically engineered crops in the U.S.
MAHYCO (Maharashta Hybrid Seed Company), which is 26 percent owned by Monsanto, applied to grow Bt eggplant commercially in India, but the application was denied after massive public outcry. India is the center of origin for eggplant, the country where the crop was first domesticated, and home to incredible biodiversity in eggplant. Adoption of Bt eggplant threatened both the loss of biodiversity as farmers traded their traditional seeds for new GM ones, as well as the genetic contamination of traditional seeds and perhaps even wild eggplant relatives.
Now, Bt eggplant is facing opposition in the Philippines, where anti-GMO activists have destroyed Bt eggplant in protest. The Filipino NGO SEARICE (Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment), which works on the conservation of traditional varieties and on expanding farmers’ rights, also opposes the introduction of Bt eggplant. (And, back in India, the government of India has now gone on the offensive, filing a biopiracy suit against Monsanto over the Bt eggplant.)
Given the two decades of State Department support for GMOs—and its bullying behavior toward countries that don’t wish to grow them or eat them—the question isn’t why a senior State Department official is making a major speech extolling biotechnology, but rather, why the State Department isn’t listening to experts, including U.S. citizens, who provide evidence countering the usefulness and safety of biotechnology and supporting alternative methods of agricultural development. For a government department that frequently calls for science-based policy, ignoring the totality of evidence on biotechnology is not very science-based.
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By Richard B. Primack
Weather patterns across the U.S. have felt like a roller coaster ride for the past several months. December and January were significantly warmer than average in many locations, followed by February's intense cold wave and a dramatic warmup.
The leaves on this cherry tree have suffered damage from a late frost. Richard Primack, CC BY-ND
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Masters
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America's infrastructure a C- grade in its quadrennial assessment issued March 3. ASCE gave the nation's flood control infrastructure – dams and levees – a D grade. This is a highly concerning assessment, given that climate change is increasingly stressing dams and levees as increased evaporation from the oceans drives heavier precipitation events.
Figure 1. Debris fills the Feather River from the damaged spillway of California's Oroville Dam, the nation's tallest dam, after its near-collapse in February 2017. The Oroville incident forced the evacuation of nearly 190,000 people and cost $1.1 billion in repairs. California Department of Water Resources
Figure 2. The L-550 levee on the Missouri River overtopping during the spring 2011 floods. USACE
By Jacob Carter
On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it will be rescinding secretarial order 3369, which sidelined scientific research and its use in the agency's decisions. Put in place by the previous administration, the secretarial order restricted decisionmakers at the DOI from using scientific studies that did not make all data publicly available.
Science Rising at Interior<p>The rescinded secretarial order is not the only notable victory we have seen from the DOI recently. The Biden administration has moved swiftly to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/biden-interior-department-haaland.html" target="_blank">restore consideration of climate change</a> in its decisions, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/biden-expected-to-reverse-trump-order-to-shrink-utah-national-monuments" target="_blank">reverse assaults on our public lands</a>, and <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/biden-halts-trump-rule-gutted-landmark-bird-protection-law" target="_blank">taken actions to protect our nation's wildlife</a>. These decisions, unlike many made at the DOI over the past four years, have been informed by science—and President Biden's pick to lead the DOI, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, has <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/22/politics/haaland-confirmation-remarks/index.html" target="_blank">promised in her confirmation hearing</a> to continue to make decisions that are guided by science.</p><p><strong>Saving Migratory Birds</strong></p><p>One of the parting gifts of the prior administration was a <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/jacob-carter/outgoing-administration-gave-thumbs-up-to-migratory-bird-massacre-its-time-to-reverse-the-damage" target="_blank">reinterpretation of a long-standing rule that protected migratory bird species</a>. For decades, the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Migratory Bird Treaty Act</a> (MBTA) had protected migratory bird species, which are in decline in the US, by allowing the DOI to fine industries that failed to take proper precautions to protect migratory birds. For example, <a href="https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/threats-to-birds/entrapment-entanglement-drowning.php#:~:text=An%20estimated%20500%2C000%20to%201,trays%2C%20and%201%25%20spills." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not placing proper netting over oil pits</a>, which can result in the death of migratory birds. The rule, however, was reinterpreted by the prior administration such that industries could only be fined if bird deaths were "intentional" and not if they occurred incidentally due to a lack of precautions.</p><p>The prior administration, in its final days, also <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2021/03/endangered-species-recovery-interior-deb-haaland/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eliminated protections for the northern spotted owl</a>, which is currently listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a threatened species. More than 3 million acres of the owl's habitat were removed from protection to pave way for timber harvesting. Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/biden-interior-department-haaland.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stated that she had received</a> "…several calls from wildlife biologists who are in tears who said, 'Did you know this is happening? The bird won't survive this."</p><p>The Biden administration, following the best available science, has delayed the implementation of both rules.</p><p><strong>Restoring Public Lands</strong></p><p>In 2017, two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante of Utah, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/us/trump-bears-ears.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were reduced in size by some two million acres</a>, the largest reduction of federal land protection in our nation's history. Later, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/climate/bears-ears-national-monument.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">internal emails at the DOI</a> would show that these actions were not a product of following the best available science, and were instead guided by a push to exploit oil and natural gas deposits within the boundaries of the protected land. In particular, the decision did not consider the archaeological importance of the protected lands or their cultural heritage. Sidelining these facets of this decision is likely what <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2021/02/biden-orders-review-of-trumps-assaults-on-americas-natural-treasures/?utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=naytev&utm_medium=social" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prompted a review of the reductions</a> by the Biden administration.</p>
Bringing Science Back Across the Administration<p>Beyond the Interior department, the Biden administration has taken quick steps to bring science back to the forefront of decisionmaking across the federal government. In January, President Biden signed a <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/memorandum-on-restoring-trust-in-government-through-scientific-integrity-and-evidence-based-policymaking/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">presidential memo</a> to strengthen scientific integrity and evidence-based decisionmaking. The memo, among many other positive steps for science, has initiated a review process on scientific integrity policies that should be finalized toward the end of the year. Given the <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">unprecedented number of times we documented political interference in science-based decision-making processes</a> over the past four years, such a review, and the subsequent recommendations arising from it, are clearly warranted.</p><p>The Biden administration also has formed multiple scientific advisory groups to help make choices informed by the best available science to protect public health and our environment. This includes advisory groups on critical issues such as <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/memorandum-on-restoring-trust-in-government-through-scientific-integrity-and-evidence-based-policymaking/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">scientific integrity</a>, <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/02/10/president-biden-announces-members-of-the-biden-harris-administration-covid-19-health-equity-task-force/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">COVID-19</a>, and <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2021/02/04/495397/mapping-environmental-justice-biden-harris-administration/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">environmental justice</a>. The administration also is moving quickly to <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/biden-transition-updates/2020/12/17/938092644/biden-to-pick-north-carolina-regulator-michael-regan-to-lead-epa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appoint qualified leaders</a> at science-based agencies and has asked the heads of agencies to expeditiously establish scientific integrity officials and chief science officers.</p><p>In addition to rescinding the secretarial order at DOI, the Biden administration has also rescinded several other anti-science actions taken over the past four years. Among the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/02/24/executive-order-on-the-revocation-of-certain-presidential-actions/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">many anti-science executive orders reversed by President Biden are </a>an order that directed agencies to arbitrarily cut their advisory committees by one-third and another that required agencies to cut two regulations for every new regulation they issued.</p><p>There has been a lot of progress for science-based decisionmaking over the past six weeks, with more expected as qualified individuals are appointed to head science-based agencies. And yet we know through our research that <a href="https://www.sciencepolicyjournal.org/uploads/5/4/3/4/5434385/berman_emily__carter_jacob.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">every administration has politicized science-based decisionmaking to some extent</a>.</p><p>We will continue to watch, demand, and ensure that science guides the critical decisions being made by the Biden administration. Our health, our environment, and our safety depend on it.</p><p><em><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/author/jacob-carter#.YED_bRNKjt0" target="_blank">Jacob Carter</a> is a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from the <em><a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/jacob-carter/science-wins-at-the-interior-department" target="_blank">Union of Concerned Scientists</a>.</em></em></p>
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
Six major U.S. electricity utilities will collaborate to build a massive EV charging network across 16 states, they announced Tuesday.
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