and Robert Weissman
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman wanted to address the National Press Club
in Washington, D.C. to rave about the biotech industry and its wonders, he
called Gene Grabowski.
a former Associated Press reporter and currently a spokesperson for the Grocery
Manufacturers of America, sits on the Press Club’s speakers committee.
was happy to oblige Glickman’s request. After all, GMA and Glickman are bosom
buddies on the issue of biotech foods — they both agree that since biotech
foods are no different from conventional foods, there is no need for labeling.
week, Glickman addressed a National Press Club ballroom packed with biotech
industry and agribusiness executives, with reporters bringing up the rear.
he didn’t disappoint them. Glickman hyped the benefits of biotech foods, and
downplayed the risks. The title of the speech reflects his affection for the
industry: "How Will Scientists, Farmers, and Consumers Learn to Love
Biotechnology, and What Happens If They Don’t?"
reporters misinterpreted Glickman’s "five principles to guide the oversight
of biotechnology in the 21st century" — an arm’s length regulatory
process, consumer acceptance, fairness to farmers, corporate citizenship, and
fair and open trade — as meaning the government was serious about reining in an
industry that has run roughshod over public health concerns.
fact, the speech could have been written — was it? — by the Biotechnology
Industry Association (BIO) or its member companies such as Monsanto and
day after Glickman’s speech, a reporter asked BIO president Carl Feldbaum
whether the speech represented a "big blow" to the biotech industry.
was a good speech," Feldbaum said. "We are quite comfortable with his
five principles. As you get into the details, I could not find much to quibble
with. It is in no way a blow to the biotech industry. It was quite
the speech was over — and the pro-biotech audience loved it — we joined a
group of reporters to seek some clarifications from the Secretary.
asked Glickman why the USDA spent $100,000 to help develop the terminator seed
technology — if farmers plant these seeds, still in final development, the
resulting crop would produce seed that is sterile, and farmers would be forced
to buy new seed from the companies.
first, Glickman handed the question over to his aide, Keith Pitts. But we wanted
Glickman to answer the question.
certainly don’t like the name of it — it scares the hell out of me,"
so the name scares you. But what about the technology itself? Does that scare
the hell out of you?
need to study this," he said.
sir, do you think this technology should be allowed onto the market?
Glickman associate yells that "he has answered the question."
Glickman realizes he hasn’t answered the question.
the future, we have to be very careful at USDA so that we don’t finance the kind
of arrangements that exclude family farmer choices," Glickman said.
his speech, Glickman made the point that genetically engineered foods are
already in the food supply. For 1998 crops, 44 percent of U.S. soybeans and 36
percent of U.S. corn were produced from genetically modified seeds.
you concerned Mr. Secretary that we are already eating genetically modified
foods without knowing it, without it being labeled?
may be, I don’t know if you are or not," Glickman responded. "I eat
everything. If anything is there, I eat it. I presume it is safe and good."
and large, people have confidence in this country’s system of food safety
regulation," Glickman said. "The FDA is viewed as independent."
the FDA is being sued for allowing biotech foods on the market without adequate
review. And the man who approved the foods at the FDA came to the FDA from a law
firm where he represented Monsanto, and after his stint at the FDA, he went to
work directly for Monsanto’s Washington office, where he sits today.
I can say is that the food system is safe," Glickman said.
was dismissive of the Europeans for opposing biotech imports from the United
States. "When you go over there [to Europe] the attitude is — don’t
confuse me with the facts," Glickman said.
fact, European concerns about food safety are grounded in a moral and ethical
belief system foreign to corporatists like Glickman.
Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) has raised the question — "do we have the
right to experiment with, and commercialize, the building blocks of life?"
personally have no wish to eat anything produced by genetic modification, nor do
I knowingly offer this sort of produce to my family or guests," Prince
Charles has said.
asked about Prince Charles’ critique, Glickman was flip.
don’t ask him to be Prince, and he doesn’t ask me to be Secretary,"
boarding the elevator to leave the Press Club, USDA communications director Tom
Amontree accused us of being "rude" and not "nice."
what sense were we rude?
are rude because you were being "very argumentative" and you were
asking "leading questions," he says.
view is that Glickman is being rude to the American people by kowtowing to a
powerful and reckless industry that is playing genetic roulette with our future.
He is recklessly running roughshod over the precautionary principle, which
should underpin our regulation of technology. The precautionary principle says,
in brief: If you have scientific uncertainty, and if you have the suspicion of
harm, then act with caution. Glickman has thrown caution to the wind. Who will
hold him accountable?
Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.
They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the
Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org)