by Food & Water Watch
In the last decade, the United States has pursued foreign policy objectives on food and agriculture that benefit a few big seed companies. This commonly takes the form of the U.S. State Department exercising its diplomatic prestige and bully pulpit to pressure foreign governments to adopt policies favored by the agricultural biotechnology companies.
Food & Water Watch’s comprehensive analysis of State Department diplomatic cables reveals a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology overseas, compel countries to import biotech crops and foods that they do not want, and lobby foreign governments — especially in the developing world — to adopt policies to pave the way to cultivate biotech crops.
Between 2007 and 2009, the State Department sent annual cables to “encourage the use of agricultural biotechnology,” directing every diplomatic post worldwide to “pursue an active biotech agenda” that promotes agricultural biotechnology, encourages the export of biotech crops and foods and advocates for pro-biotech policies and laws. One strategy memo even included an “advocacy toolkit” for diplomatic posts. Embassies could leverage their pro-biotech efforts by coordinating with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID, an independent agency under the State Department’s authority), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies. The cables are nearly identical from the Bush to the Obama administrations: promoting biotech agriculture is a non-partisan, pro-corporate foreign policy with long-term State Department support.
In Peru and Romania, the U.S. government helped create new pro-biotech nongovernmental organizations to advocate for biotech crops and policies. Most embassy contacts were with local officials, but the second most frequent audience for diplomatic outreach was pro-biotech industry representatives and scientists. Food & Water Watch found that embassy outreach efforts targeted biotech industry and scientists about three times more frequently than farmers and legislators and four times more often than nongovernmental organizations or the public.
The biotech industry promises that GE crops will increase farm productivity, combat global hunger and strengthen economic development opportunities, all with a lighter environmental footprint. In reality, the shift to biotech crops in the United States has delivered increased agrichemical use and more expensive seeds. Although many scientists, development experts, consumers, environmentalists, citizens and governments dispute the benefits of this controversial technology, the State Department merely spouts industry talking points.
The State Department used the 2008 global hunger crisis as a new, urgent justification to promote biotech crops. In 2009, the State Department initiatives were complemented by a new USAID “Feed the Future” initiative that included a partnership with biotech seed and agribusiness companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Cargill and Syngenta and major foundations to reduce world hunger.
The State Department encouraged embassies to deploy departmental experts to “participate as public speakers on agbiotech” and fund conferences, workshops and seminars to promote biotech acceptance. State Department officials and invited experts participated in nearly 169 public events in 52 countries between 2005 and 2009.
The four goals of Biotech Diplomacy
- Promote biotech business interests
- Lobby foreign governments to weaken biotech rules
- Protect U.S. biotech exports
- Press developing world to adopt biotech crops
Corporate Diplomacy and Monsanto’s Goodwill Ambassadors
The biotechnology industry is a core constituency for the State Department’s biotech diplomatic outreach. The State Department confers with biotech interests, advocates on behalf of specific biotech seed companies and directs outreach efforts to energize the biotech and agribusiness industries. The seed companies, including Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and Dow Agrochemical, are more commonly mentioned in the biotech cables than food aid (6.9 percent of the cables and 4.4 percent, respectively). Some cables explicitly described the collaboration between the embassies and the seed companies.
The State Department worked especially hard to promote the interests of Monsanto, the world’s biggest biotech seed company in 2011.94 Monsanto appeared in 6.1 percent of the biotech cables analyzed between 2005 and 2009 from 21 countries. The State Department exercised its diplomatic persuasion to bolster Monsanto’s image in host countries, facilitate field-testing or approval of Monsanto crops and intervene with governments to negotiate seed royalty settlements.
Pushing Biotech on the Developing World
The State Department has been instrumental in promoting pro-biotech laws and policies in the developing world. U.S. embassies have offered technical advice, provided legislative language, lobbied to enact pro-biotech laws and helped create pro-biotech regulations. In 2005, the embassy in Brazil claimed that its “intensive outreach was an important catalyst” for the law that legalized GE cultivation.
In 2009, the USAID launched a $3.5 billion “Feed the Future” partnership with biotech seed and agribusiness company partners — including Monsanto, DuPont, Cargill and Syngenta and major foundations — to reduce world hunger. This partnership has invested heavily in Africa. In 2010, DuPont agreed to help develop supposedly high-yield GE corn for sub-Saharan Africa funded by the USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of the same project, Monsanto donated the genetic material for a promised drought-tolerant corn to be offered royalty-free to African farmers.
The U.S. government and Monsanto have funded biotech crop (GMO) research since the early 1990s. Syngenta and the Rockefeller Foundation began funding insect-resistant corn research with a Kenyan research institute in 2001, and the Gates Foundation joined the project by 2008. Some of the research efforts have been high-profile scientific failures, but even unsuccessful biotech research programs were used to open the door to GE commercialization.
Combining Diplomatic Carrots With WTO Sticks
The State Department has targeted the European Union’s reluctance to allow the cultivation or importation of biotech crops or foods as the key to forcing developing countries to accept agricultural biotechnology. The EU represented a lucrative export market for biotech crops, and forcing the EU to accept these imports would assuage fears in the developing world about losing exports to the EU if they cultivated GE crops. The United States successfully challenged the EU’s biotech approval rules and EU member states’ unwillingness to approve GE crops at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The State Department aggressively pressed the EU to comply with the WTO ruling by weakening its biotech rules.
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- Revealed: How US State Department ‘Twists Arms’ on Monsanto’s Behalf (commondreams.org)
- WikiLeaks Cables Reveal U.S. Government Planned To “Retaliate & Cause Pain” On Countries Refusing GMOs (collective-evolution.com)
- Sunday Read: Biotech Diplomacy (foodpolicyforthought.wordpress.com)
- RT: New cables ‘expose’ US govt lobbies worldwide for Monsanto, other GMO corps (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- WikiLeaks: Monsanto lobbied on taxpayers’ dime (rt.com)
- Leslie Hatfield: New Analysis of Wikileaks Shows State Department’s Promotion of Monsanto’s GMOs Abroad (huffingtonpost.com)