The United States of Monsanto

Last night, I was on BlogTalkRadio with former Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell talking about WikiLeaks, secrecy, and democracy. As a way to illustrate how the secrecy of diplomatic cables hides a great deal of undemocratic ideas, I raised the emphasis State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy placed in a hearing on WikiLeaks on State’s role in pitching US business.

This formal channel between Washington and our overseas posts provides the Department and other U.S. Government agencies crucial information about the context in which we collectively advance our national interests on a variety of issues. For example, these communications may contain information about promoting American export opportunities, protecting American citizens overseas, and supporting military operations.

I pointed out that WikiLeaks had revealed that our diplomats had proposed a “military-style trade war” to force Europeans to adopt Monsanto’s controversial products.

The US embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country which opposed genetically modified (GM) crops, newly released WikiLeaks cables show.

In response to moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in late 2007, the ambassador, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of former US president George Bush, asked Washington to penalise the EU and particularly countries which did not support the use of GM crops.

“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.

“The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” said Stapleton, who with Bush co-owned the St Louis-based Texas Rangers baseball team in the 1990s.

Here’s another example of how our government bureaucracy has decided that Monsanto and highly subsidized American cotton growers are more important than things like funding heating oil for the poor or teachers. {h/t Raj Patel)

On February 18, Republicans in the House of Representatives defeated an obscure amendment to the House Appropriations bill by a 2-to-1 margin. The Kind Amendment would have eliminated $147 million dollars that the federal government pays every year directly to Brazilian cotton farmers. In an era of nationwide belt tightening, with funding for things like education and the U.S. Farm Bill on the chopping block, defending payments to Brazilian farmers may seem curious.

These subsidies are the compromise the US and Brazil have concocted to resolve a trade dispute: Brazilian cotton growers won a case against US cotton subsidies. In response, Brazil proposed suspending its Intellectual Property obligations. Instead, our government effectively agreed to subsidize Brazilian growers to make sure we can continue to pay silly cotton subsidies here in the US without endangering Monsanto’s royalties in Brazil.

In WTO language, Brazil was allowed to suspend its obligations to U.S. companies under the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This constituted a major threat to the profits of U.S. agribusiness giants Monsanto and Pioneer, since Brazil is the second largest grower of biotech crops in the world. Fifty percent of Brazil’s corn harvest is engineered to produce the pesticide Bt, and Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Pro is a popular product among Brazilian corn farmers. By targeting the profits of major U.S. corporations, the Brazilian government put the U.S. in a tough spot: either let the subsidies stand and allow Brazilian farmers to plant Monsanto and Pioneer seeds without paying royalties, or substantially reform the cotton program. In essence, Brazil was pitting the interests of Big Agribusiness against those of Big Cotton, and the U.S. government was caught in the middle.

The two governments, however, managed to come up with a creative solution. In a 2009 WTO “framework agreement,” the U.S. created the Commodity Conservation Corporation (CCC), and Brazil created the Brazilian Cotton Institute (BCI). Rather than eliminating or substantially reforming cotton subsidies, the CCC pays the BCI $147 million dollars a year in “technical assistance,” which happens to be the same amount the WTO authorized for trade retaliation specifically for cotton payments. In essence, then, the U.S. government pays a subsidy to Brazilian cotton farmers every year to protect the U.S. cotton program—and the profits of companies like Monsanto and Pioneer.

Now, how did our country decide this kind of insanity is really in the “national interest”? Who decided Monsanto was a more worthy American “citizen” than the poor and the children?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    US taxpayers are paying more than $100 million in subsidizes to American cotton growers, to enrich them directly and to make their products artificially and illegally cheaper on the international market. As in tax avoidance, the largest firms benefit disproportionately to all others. (It might also lower the price of finished goods made with cotton. That’s hard to tell, since the cotton or yarn is shipped offshore to be spun, woven, mixed with other materials, cut and sewn into clothes and whatnot, and sold globally.)

    Consequent to that documented illegality, rather than stop it, the US taxpayers are paying protection money – fines and penalties, characterized as “voluntary payments” – to Brazilian cotton growers for the damages our illegal subsidies to domestic cotton growers generate.

    That’s the sort of cost-benefit analysis that could only come from a rightwing think tank or a military contractor.

    I guess no one volunteered the option of stopping those original subsidies and saving middle class American taxpayers $300 million. How many months unemployment compensation would that pay for?

    Of course, that’s only one example of the insanity of our current “farm” support programs. (Read Big Ag, including ADM, and its principal seed and chemical suppliers.)

    Europe has similar nonsensical supports. It’s called the “Common Agricultural Policy” or CAP. At least Europeans admit that the CAP is neither “common” nor about agriculture. It is an explicit social policy intended to subsidize smaller farmers in rural districts, to reduce their unemployment and further march to the city, which would exacerbate urban housing and unemployment problems and fundamentally change the social mix of traditional societies. There, too, Big Ag does what it can to grab the biggest piece of the pie.

  2. hotdog says:

    A bag of healthy groceries in Europe costs about 1/2 of what it does in the United States. These guys are their own form of mafia.

    • bko1 says:

      Just what I was gonna say! Everything makes sooo much more sense when you see the financial world as a consortium of syndicate criminals. Consider the line “measured rather than vicious”. VICIOUS? Was that an option?

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Big Ag is one of the great beneficiaries of our “farm” support programs, though the latter, as is true in Europe, are justified as a benefit intended for the proverbial family farm. When Big Ag, like ADM, plants and harvests, the bulk of what it spends money on is seed and chemicals from other arms of Big Ag and Big Chemical.

    One of Big Ag’s top priorities is to spread it’s GM business model globally. That’s easy in developing countries. They have small elites that are relatively easily manipulated, allowing Big Ag’s “patented” seeds and proprietary chemicals to be sold there. Dumped on the market, they overwhelm local providers, obtain a monopoly, then raise prices on seeds, chemicals and royalties due on the growing of any plants that contain any fraction of their patented “life forms”.

    Europe was the big stumbling block to the globalization of that business model. Europeans, the French, for example, take food and good eating as seriously as we take war or domestic spying. What goes or doesn’t go into food there, or beer in Germany, is considered vitally important.

    In the US, we think salt-laden crisped rice or crushed, flaked corn is serious breakfast food. (Yea, I know, the Brits think that about baked beans on toast.) Such foods, and the billions spent to market them, have generated the disease known as the Western Diet, responsible for salt-induced high blood pressure, malnutrition and obesity in many countries.

    Europeans do not like genetically modified crops. They think the idea is nonsensical that patented seeds means that the patent holder controls any descendant crop, no matter how feral, that contains any of its genetic content. Stories in Europe and India about farmers losing entire crops – or being made to pay ruinous royalties – because they plants grown from windblown seeds from neighboring GM crops are not fiction.

    Big Ag’s campaign to overcome EU societal and governmental reluctance to accept their food and agriculture models has become a high priority for the USG and its State Department. That that would express itself as a “trade war” to impose those American corporate models of food and how to grow it really is something that average Americans and Europeans would want to know a lot about.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Humans rely on a handful of food crops for the vast bulk of their diets: rice, corn, wheat, potatoes, for example. Europeans rationally worry that genetic modifications to traditional food crops will not only make those crops more expensive. It will have unintended consequences for the modified plants; their non-GM cousins; the insects, birds and other plants that interact with them in the fields; and for the people who eat them. Big Ag-funded studies that deny such complications are taken as seriously as cancer studies funded by tobacco lobbyists.

      A further complication is the narrowness of the genetic supply of some of the plants that comprise the human global food chain. Modern Corn/maize, for example, is not remotely like its natural predecessors. It does not reproduce naturally. It has to be propagated by humans.

      The simplest way for Big Ag to do that is to replicate seeds from a single parent. That can be enormously profitable, especially if the parent seeds are patented and genetically modified. Entire fields, an entire state, might contain seeds from one or two genetically identical sources. That rests a very heavy object on a very narrow, tippy base. It makes Europeans uncomfortable. It ought to make us uncomfortable, too.

      • PJEvans says:

        There hasn’t been naturally-spreading maize for many centuries – they can’t even get a handle on how long it’s been around, except it’s at least 3000 years. (You can breed plants in ways that amount to GM, without any technology at all.)

    • PJEvans says:

      That’s happened in Canada, too (the punishment of farmers whose saved seed might possibly accidentally have Monsanto’s patented genes in them – because Monsanto is patenting genes in wind-pollinated crops).

    • bobschacht says:

      When my Mother (now deceased) and I went to the scene of her great grandfather’s farm in Wisconsin, we saw one huge corn field stretching over hill and dale. My Mother’s immediate comment was to the effect “That’s not how we used to do it.” Of course, the farms she knew when she grew up were much smaller than today’s farms, and mechanized farm machinery was, then, a recent invention. Gardening was as important as field crops. The key was *variety.* Like, not putting all your eggs in one basket.

      “Modern” agriculture is “monoculture.” It is, in fact, the practice of putting all your eggs in one basket. You just have to hope that nothing happens to your basket. Monsanto is very happy to provide your basket. And the eggs in your basket. But it wants to control your basket. And your egg supply. And it wants to control all the eggs laid by the Monsanto chickens that grew from the eggs from your Monsanto basket, no matter whether the rooster father was a Monsanto rooster or not. In other words, they want Full Control over the genome, even if the genome was not (entirely) their creation.

      This deadly game is being played out in the Americas with corn. In the birthplace of modern corn on the cob, agriculture is a messy business. Corn pollen blows where it will, from one field to the next. If any one farmer adopts Monsanto’s miracle corn seeds, if ANY pollen from the resulting Monsanto corn is blown into the neighbor’s field and fertilizes ANY of the unfortunate neighbor’s corn, Monsanto can claim the entire crop and bill the unfortunate neighbor(s) for the cost of all seed and God only knows what else. We are indeed in a Brave New World.

      Bob in AZ

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        That might be why Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World is one of the perennially most banned books in America. (Excuse the gardening pun.) I think it just missed the American Library Associations top ten for last year. It’s been on that list almost every year since 1931. I’m sure its critique of free love has something to do with it, too. (The list was just released, which is why it’s on the tip of my fingers.)

        Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed made the top 10. Imagine, corporate America’s most fervent followers wanting to ban how hard it is to get and keep a low-paying job. Who could have predicted?

        I guess that’s also a reminder that the Catholic Church and Boston are not the only organizations that lobby heavily to ban books and views that offend the local PTB.

      • thatvisionthing says:

        Hey fatster, comments are closed there, so this is o/t here but reply to your comment.

        It reminds me, kinda, of a story from a quilt book, Texas Quilts Texas Treasures. There’s a c1883 quilt that’s identified as an Ohio Rose quilt (kind of a catch-all name for rose quilts, like Rose of Sharon or Wild Rose) made by this woman when she was age 10. The blocks have a very simplified design — a center “flower” in cross arms of bloopy buds. I put flower in quotes because the center is just a big black circle, with the four buds arms coming off it.

        She was born in Tennessee and came to Texas at age 7… During her trip from Tennessee the family stayed at Fort Graham in Bell County and Ada later told her children about “camping out” on the frontier and how she was afraid of the Indians.

        Cross reference to description for the quilt block “Radical Rose” in Hall/Kretsinger:

        After the second year of the Civil War, talk of radicals and radicalism was heard on all occasions and a famous quilt-maker put a black center in the patch she was making and called it a “Radical Rose.” Inasmuch as the freeing of the slaves was the cause of more than half the trouble she thought it was only fair that they should be represented in some way, so after that she put a black center in all her “Radical Rose” patches.

        The Radical Rose block could be kin to the quilt block the 10-year-old made, though grown up and elaborate. The black center is smaller, the four bud arms much more complex — you can imagine the arms as petals and the black center as the button (small old b/w pic, hard to tell). But the 10-year-old’s quilt is stunning. Not a heart of love that you would expect a rose quilt to be, but a heart of stark void. I guess fear. Great dilated pupils. That must have been her life. I wonder if that’s a southern quilt motif that might go back to Jackson? It’s a strange thing to make a flower of.

        Fast forward, imagine 10-year-olds in the Pentagon making Extremist Roses or Terrorist Roses.

        • fatster says:

          Thnx ever so much. Women told much history in those quilts of long ago. I found Radical Rose updated for the Civil War and quotations from the quilter here on p. 118 (pagination in right-hand margin). Jackson has certainly inspired some research over the past few days, from his hideous Indian Wars to states’ rights to quilts.

  4. Peterr says:

    Now, how did our country decide this kind of insanity is really in the “national interest”? Who decided Monsanto was a more worthy American “citizen” than the poor and the children?

    Ummm . . . I think I may have had something to do with it.

    The details are here.

    My bad. Sorry about that.

  5. marksb says:

    Who decided Monsanto was a more worthy American “citizen” than the poor and the children?

    How much money do the poor and children donate to politicians?
    There it is. Always the money.

  6. JTMinIA says:

    Hey, I like Monsanto and GM crops, so I wish you hippies would tone it doen a bit. But, then again, I’m allergic to bee-stings and failed biology, so I don’t see any use for the little buzzing buggers. Your opinion may vary.

          • Gitcheegumee says:

            I suspect that JT left off the snark tag..or thought that it would have been automatically understood as such.

          • Frank33 says:

            If it was snark then I feel apologetic…But it so tough to fight the polluters and emotions run high.

            Except at Daily Kos where emotions are tightly controlled by K-Street. I was banned, sigh… I think I got disappeared there because of some comments I made about a GMO website. I referred to the corporate propagandists there as “Shills in training”. There was also a BP spill post where I linked Corexit and Peter Peterson and Goldman Sachs. Some fools there just did not understand why that was important.

      • Petrocelli says:

        Easy Buddy … AFAIK, JTMinIA is a friend.

        If that’s changed, BlogMommy or Bmaz will correct me.

  7. Frank33 says:

    I think this is the same Patrick Kennedy who explained the Underwear Bomber attack on Flight 253. It was a US False Flag Op. Kennedy did not give the reasons for the attack and US government assistance to Undie. So theories are
    1) The Global War on Terror and Clash of Civilizations had not had a high profile attack, since the ISI joined forces with CIA agent Headley to murder 200 people Mumbai in Nov. 2008.

    2) Sell more X-ray scanning machines and permit government agents to sexually molest anyone. Police State du jour.

    3) Justify another war in Yemen, and justify the extra judicial murder of Awlaki, the mastermind of Undie. Awlaki himself was another double agent working for the US.

    Mr. Kennedy now works for Monsanto as does the entire US government. Kennedy is promoting Monsanto’s attempt to poison agricultural genomes. Monsanto wants to control all seed crops. They are among the biggest corporate criminals on the planet.

    The US government endangers its own citizens by supporting Monsanto. But the US government is also waging war against foreign governments who do not cooperate with Monsanto and allow environmental and genetic poisons.

    Citizens now are officially slaves to a corrupt government of, for, and by the neo-conservatives and their corporate patrons.

  8. hackworth1 says:

    Roundup

    http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/roundup-weed-killer-is-toxic-to-human-cells.-study-intensifies-debate-over-inert-ingredients

    GM Roundup-resistant soy beans are grown in South America on razed rain forest lands. American Big Ag is multinational.

    When it rains, Roundup poison washes onto the land of neighboring peasants – killing their crops and spoiling their land.

    When the natives are finally run off their land, Big Ag steals it and plants more Roundup resistant Frankenplants.

  9. Gitcheegumee says:

    Ah, Monsanto…where to begin?

    Actually, the most informative piece I have ever read , by Bill Engdahl, is an excellent beginning. (In fact,I bought a book he wrote about Terminator seeds.)

    The backstory on the development of these seeds,and the investors and lawmakers who played ,and continue to play, an important role in the politicization and proliferation of this issue is not to be missed.

    I cannot recommend this piece highly enough:

    Monsanto Buys ‘Terminator’ Seeds CompanyMonsanto Buys ‘Terminator’ Seeds Company. by F. William Engdahl. Global Research , August 27, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=3082 – Cached –

    Also:
    Monsanto – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to Terminator seed controversy‎: In June 2007, Monsanto acquired Delta & Pine Land Company, a company that had patented a seed technology nicknamed …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto – Cached – Similar

  10. ComradeRutherford says:

    “Who decided Monsanto was a more worthy American “citizen” than the poor and the children?”

    The Republicans and their wholly-owned subsidiary, the Democratic Leadership, that’s who.

    Since when are poor people and children American Citizens? They don’t pay taxes, they don’t work for a living, just a drain on society! Good thing the GOP are trying to overturn those awful child labor laws. Children should be forced to work for their education and meals.

    “Evil: Slugs! HE created slugs! They can’t hear. They can’t speak. They can’t operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?”

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As with the coverage of America’s wars, it’s usually easier to get information on the GM debate in the European press. There are several English language dailies, the Guardian and Independent among them.

    The Dutch, French and Germans are sometimes violently anti-GM because of their strong farm lobbies, because of the perceived threats to them of foreign intervention in the socially and economically protected life of farms, and because of the actual and potential threats posed by GM crops and the business models behind them.

  12. marksb says:

    The frustrating thing for me is that Monsanto-type AG dirty tricks and the resulting political lawlessness is not a focused issue to be countered. It’s largely a steady erosion of rights that operates by rules changes and little sentences slipped into this bill or that AG bill. We have nothing cohesive to fight against, without a large and effective lobbying organization to pay attention and alert the People Who Care.

    Maybe posts like this are a Good Start. Thanks Marcy.

  13. JTMinIA says:

    I’m glad some of you got it and I’m hugely disappointed that every sarcastic post, no matter how obvious, requires a tag. It almost seems as if, while I was joking that I failed biology and can see no use for bees, some of you must really have failed biology.

    To be 100% clear, I’m one of those people that suspects the recent waves of bee (and other creature) deaths will ultimately be linked to GP crops and/or pesticides. If you want to call me JTMinBldg7 from now on, that’s fine. (But then I’ll probably have to explain to some people what “Bldg7” is a reference to….)

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Use of novel pesticides, with known, explicit warnings about their adverse effects on bees, would seem to be prime a culprit in a matrix of causes. The most persuasive argument I’ve seen hypothesizes that they decrease bees’ resistance to opportunistic parasites and infections, dramatically lowering survival rates.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Read “marketing campaign to hand them over to Wall Street”. That’s worked out well in the past; should do so in the future, although one must formally acknowledge the tongue-in-cheek warning every broker hides their promises behind: “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”

  14. JohnLopresti says:

    In CA there are ~10 counties in which there have been GMO ban measures on the ballot, or the first efforts to organize to do so. Conservative Republican legislators have worked to make laws banning county supervisors from blocking gmos. Democratic legislators have drafted laws to shield nonGMO ag from punitive lawsuits brought by GMO ag producers in instances of environmental drift of pollen.

    In one rural county which banned gmos by 2/3 vote, there were 45,000 registered votors overall. The agribusiness lobbying entity CropLife America donated >$300,000 to convince voters there that gmos are wonderful. Sourcewatch has a diminutive article about CropLife.

    In one of the premium wine producing counties a subsequent election saw loss of a gmo ban by a 3/5 margin. This county has a substantial ag production economy. A series of fictitious campaign organizations aggregated >$500,000., much of it sourced out of state, and mailed fuzzy friendly Palin-esque literature to 235,000 registered voters. A common analysis of why the gmo-ban measure failed was a falsehood contained in much of the agrichemical originated campaign literature; it scared people taking medications by claiming a gmo ban would end availability of those pharmaceuticals. The pro-gmo political strategies are adept and specious; and the aggregation of agrichemical entities is waging a mosaic of disproportional misinformation campaigns to win small skirmishes before a recognition of how unregulated gmos are reaches voter consciousness.

  15. wavpeac says:

    From one of my favorite books “Ishmael” :

    “The premise of the Taker story is the world belongs to man…The premise of the Leaver story is man belongs to the world.” page 239

  16. Gitcheegumee says:

    FWIW,Clarence Thomas was at one time a lawyer for Monsanto.

    Also, this may be of particular interest:

    Daily Kos: Monsanto: The Donald Rumsfeld of Corporations. A brief …Apr 12, 2009 … Donald Rumsfeld never served on the board or held any office at Monsanto, but Monsanto must occupy a soft spot in the heart of the former …
    http://www.dailykos.com/…/-Monsanto:-The-Donald-Rumsfeld-of-Corporations-A- brief-history – Cached

    Donald Rumsfeld – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaDonald Rumsfeld was born on July 9, 1932, in Evanston, Illinois, …. In 1985, Searle was sold to Monsanto Company. Rumsfeld is believed to have earned …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Rumsfeld – Cached – Similar

    Racketeering Charges Filed Against Donald Rumsfeld & MonsantoNov 7, 2006 … Racketeering Charges Filed Against Donald Rumsfeld & Monsanto 1.MONSANTO MEN in USA Government 2.Racketeering charges filed against Donald …
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_3329.cfm – Cached – Similar