The recent carnage to the American people's way of life began more than 30 years ago when the Reagan administration crafted deliberate policies that stopped enforcement of antitrust laws at the Department of Justice, encouraged an orgy of corporate mergers and launched a three decade assault on common sense government oversight. Since that time, politicians of both parties have embraced the radical notion of "free" markets that decoupled risk from accountability.
Occupy Wall Street was born out of a legitimate frustration with the collusion between Big Business and elected officials of the U.S. government. And nowhere is that collusion so great as in food and agricultural production where four firms control 84 percent of beef packing, 66 percent of pork production and one company, Monsanto, controls patents on more than 93 percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn grown in the U.S.
Ironically, on the day that Occupy Wall Street launched, I was in San Francisco at a conference appropriately named "Justice Begins with Seeds" to discuss the problems of excessive corporate control over our food supply. The incredible growth in the use of genetically modified (GMO) seeds and the excessive corporate influence of biotech seed companies have in Washington was high on the agenda. Much like the ubiquitous credit default swaps of the mortgage crisis, which became toxic assets for the global economy, this new technology of GMO seeds is less than two decades old, but already appears in an estimated 75 to 80 percent of processed food that Americans eat everyday.
In 2011, an estimated 94 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of corn, 90 percent of cotton, 93 percent of canola and 95 percent of sugar beets produced in the U.S. contain GMOs. And since most items in the grocery store include common ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils made from corn, soybeans, cottonseed and canola, with 8 out of every 10 bites of processed food, Americans are consuming genetically engineered foods without knowing it.
Despite a recent Reuters poll showing that 93 percent Americans support mandatory labeling of GMO foods, politicians in Washington and Monsanto lobbyists have so far blocked this basic right.
Even now, more than 50 countries around the world require labeling of GMOs, including citizens in the European Union, Japan, Russia and even China.
Food Democracy Now! recently released an exclusive, never before seen video taken in 2007 of then Senator Barack Obama promising a room full of more than 400 Iowa farmers and rural activists that if elected he would immediately work to label food that "has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they're buying."
Incredibly, President Obama made this comment during the Iowa caucus, in a mostly rural state with a leading agricultural economy, which he won by a wide margin and helped launch him to the White House. With the national conversation now raging about corporate influence it's curious that he hasn't kept his promise since taking office.
In another portion of the speech, more widely circulated, Obama offered the hope that his administration would differ vastly from the administrations before him.
"For far too long, you've had to listen to politicians tell you one thing out on the campaign trail, and then close the door and do another thing in Washington when they make rural policy. You're sending your message, but sometimes you can't get through because there's a lobbyist who's already on line," professed Obama.
Four years later however, the shine of Obama's victory has worn off, leaving many of us to wonder if this isn't the most agribusiness friendly administration yet. The approval in one year of three new biotech crops (GMO alfalfa, sugar beets an ethanol corn) and a Roundup Ready bluegrass for lawns represents the same threat that financial deregulation and the resulting economic crash does to our food supply.
Even this week, more news of the Obama administration's love affair with food and crop biotechnology is making the rounds, with an announcement last Monday that the Food and Drug Administration recommended the commercialization of GMO salmon (despite flawed scientific research). Currently the evaluation is under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget, but if the administration is as cavalier with GMO salmon as they have been with other GMO crops, the first genetically engineered animal could be a plate near you soon.
At the same time the Obama administration has decided to "plow ahead" with the indiscriminate approval of GMOs, a flood of recent studies have disproven several previous claims by the agricultural biotech industry, such as the perilous rise of superweeds, insects becoming resistant to the genetically inserted insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and a disturbing report out of Canada that found that93 percent of pregnant mothers tested had the genetically engineered Bt toxin in their blood, something biotech scientists claimed was impossible.
In the 1990s, when agricultural biotech companies wanted to make sure nothing got between them and profits, they rotated executives into high-ranking positions in government to help write the rulesthat govern approval of GMO crops.
In the most famous example, former Monsanto attorney and super lobbyist Michael Taylor oversaw biotechnology regulations at the Food and Drug Administration that placed rBGH, a synthetic hormone, in the milk supply, despite the objections of agency scientists, and implemented the policy declaring genetically engineered foods to be "substantially equivalent" to naturally bred seeds and animals, the main Catch 22 of why GMOs are not required to be labeled in the U.S.
Currently, Michael Taylor is back at the FDA as the Food Safety Czar. So much for closing the revolving door.
For everyone who eats, the events that brought down our banking system and the lack of accountability for those who rigged the rules in their favor should be lessons in the making. Today's system of industrial agriculture has become too concentrated, while corporations and commodity groups are continually advocating for the same type of policies and practices that outsource the risk onto society while privatizing all the profit.
Rather than encourage a diversified portfolio in agriculture, the Obama administration and the USDA are doing everything in their power to put all of global agriculture's eggs in the biotech basket.
If people and elected officials think the collapse of the global economy was a disaster, wait until it happens to our food supply. The truth is, if people really knew about the collusion behind what they were eating, both parties would be in the streets. For some reason, Obama has so far sided with chemical and biotech seed giants like Monsanto, who keep insisting that Americans should be dining in the dark. It's time to remind President Obama of his promise, after all there's nothing more important than the food that we eat and feed our families. And some things are worth fighting for.
Dave Murphy is the founder of Food Democracy Now!, a sixth generation Iowan, and an advocate for sustainable agriculture.