Why Is the State Department Using Our Money to Pimp for Monsanto?
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In South Africa, Spirnak spent a week meeting with "government officials, researchers, private sector representatives and officials from the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to discuss agricultural biotechnology and biosafety issues." The private sector representatives referred to include Monsanto and Cargill. According to a leaked State Department memo, Spirnak learned that the government of South Africa was planning to hire several new people to work on GMOs. The memo reads: "Note: we informed both Pioneer [DuPont] and Monsanto the following day about the two new positions and they immediately saw the benefits from encouraging qualified applicants to apply."
The State Department promotion of biotechnology comes from the top. Both Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice before her sent out annual memos to all U.S. embassies outlining State Department policy on biotechnology. In December 2009, Clinton wrote, "Our biotech outreach objectives for 2010 are to increase access to, and markets for, biotech as a means to help address the underlying causes of the food crisis, and to promote agricultural technology's role in mitigating climate change and increasing biofuel production."
ABT's work dovetails with that of another State Department agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID's work on biotechnology has focused on two main goals: developing GMOs for introduction in the Global South and pushing nations in Asia and Africa to write biosafety laws. Biosafety laws, a common theme in leaked State Department memos discussing biotechnology, basically mean "laws that keep Monsanto's intellectual property rights on genetically engineered crops safe."
USAID's work funding the development of GMOs began in 1990, when it funded the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (now known as ABSP I), a project based at Michigan State University's Institute for International Agriculture that ran until 2003 but was continued in a successor project (predictably called ABSP II) that continues today.
Like its predecessor, ABSP II is funded by USAID. However, unlike ABSP I, it is led by Cornell University. ABSP II, which is ongoing, includes among its partners a number of U.S. universities, research organizations in partner countries, NGOs, foundations, and several corporations -- including Monsanto. ABSP II projects include the development and commercialization of GM crops like a disease-resistant potato in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia; Roundup-Ready Bt cotton in Uganda (similar to the GM cotton already grown in the United States); and perhaps the most controversial, Bt eggplant, intended for India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Using Monsanto's technology, Bt eggplant includes a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in its DNA. Like the bacteria, the eggplant will produce a toxin that kills insects that prey on it. Bt is a commonly used organic insecticide. When the bacteria is applied by organic farmers, it lasts for a short time in the environment, killing the insects but ultimately having little impact on the agroecosystem, and giving the insects no real opportunity to evolve resistance to the toxin. When the gene is engineered into a crop, the crop produces the Bt toxin in every cell during the entire duration of its life. As of 2011, there are now reports of insects evolving resistance to Bt in genetically engineered crops in the United States.
MAHYCO (Maharashta Hybrid Seed Company), which is 26 percent owned by Monsanto, applied to grow Bt eggplant commercially in India, but the application was denied after massive public outcry. India is the center of origin for eggplant, the country where the crop was first domesticated, and home to incredible biodiversity in eggplant. Adoption of Bt eggplant threatened both the loss of biodiversity as farmers traded their traditional seeds for new GM ones, as well as the genetic contamination of traditional seeds and perhaps even wild eggplant relatives.