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Half a billion & 300+ lobbyists: How biotech keeps Congress in line

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by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

Biotech lobbying expendituresThe 50 biggest biotech and agrochemical trade groups spent over $572 million from 1999 to 2010 on lobbying. That’s more than half a billion dollars! According to a new report from Food & Water Watch, the annual rate was a steady $30-$40 million per year until about 2006, when this industry apparently began courting Congress in earnest — as the annual figure nearly doubles between 2006 and 2010. And as Business Week reports, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) — the world's largest biotech lobby group — spent over $2 million in the third quarter of 2010 alone, lobbying Congress as well as the National Institute of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture Department, Health and Human Services Department, Food and Drug Administration and other agencies, to keep genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals unregulated and on the market.

Featured in Food & Water Watch’s report are the usual suspects: Monsanto, Syngenta, Novartis, BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Dow and CropLife America. (PAN folks might remember CropLife from Obama’s appointment of that pesticide trade association's Islam Siddiqui to be Chief Ag Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Office — over the objections of nearly 100,000 concerned citizens). 

The revolving door spins fast and furious, moving suits from public office to industry board rooms and back at a dizzying pace. We know this. Just last week, in fact, former EPA head Stephen Johnson joined the board of Scott's Miracle-Gro, the world's largest lawncare pesticides company. But after decades of doing this work, I was still astounded at the sheer scale: the food and biotech industry has hired 13 former Senators and Representatives and more than 300 former congressional and White House staffers as lobbyists.

The demands of this small army? Fast-track approval of cloned food and genetically engineered (GE) animals; no labeling of GE ingredients in food; rules to block other countries from taking action to regulate GE foods within their own borders; tightening of the noose of intellectual property rules by criminalizing farmers who save seed while cementing protection of and profits from corporate patents; and disregarding the preferences of a great majority of the American populace.

As Food & Water Watch reports:

  • 90% of Americans want GE foods labelled, up from the 87% who already wanted labelling two years ago.
  • 91% say FDA should not allow GE pigs, chicken and cattle into the food supply, and 78% say FDA should not approve GE salmon.
  • Last week, a coalition of groups including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, the Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now and CREDO Action submitted over 350,000 consumer comments to the FDA and President Obama, urging them to reject approval of GE salmon.

Stay Tuned » In a few days, I will head to Washington D.C. to testify at the final U.S. Departments of Justice and Agriculture hearings on corporate concentration of power in the food system. Stay tuned for an action alert inviting you to join me and make your voice heard in Washington.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman's blog

is PAN's Senior Scientist and Director of the Grassroots Science Program. Follow @MarciaIshii

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Lovechilde wrote:

Great post!

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