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How MNCs use 'unfair means' to speed up highly hazardous introduction of GMOs

Robert Kennedy Jr
By Bharat Dogra* 
While several reputed scientists of great integrity have consistently spoken against GM (genetically modified) crops and a lot of evidence regarding their harmful impacts has accumulated, one argument that has been often used to still promote their spread is that after all GM crops have been spread the most widely in the USA, and so there must have been some case for allowing such wide approval.
The reality is that the way in which GM crops have been approved in the USA presents an alarming case of collusion between government authorities and very high levels and big corporate interests. Both of them have seen patented, centralized GM crops as a means of increasing control on world farm and food system.
Due to this reason and on the basis of this understanding between both sides a system of collusion and mutual support has evolved, leading to government regulators either neglecting their duty of careful scrutiny and regulation, or else they being removed to make room for other more pliable persons in regulation posts.
In this context it is very interesting and very useful to hear what Robert Kennedy, Jr., nephew of former President John Kennedy, has stated very recently in an interview regarding environment and health regulating authorities in the USA. Robert Kennedy Jr. has for long been a senior environmental lawyer who is widely admired for his uncompromising efforts to protect health and environment from the profit driven agenda of very powerful interests.
He has stated (interview with Freddie Sayers, May 2023):
“I have spent 40 years litigating against the agencies, the regulating agencies in the US, so that I can tell you that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is effectively run by the oil industry, the coal industry and the pesticide industry.
“When I was on the trial team that brought the Monsanto cases, and we ended up with a $13 billion settlement after winning three trials, we uncovered that the head of the pesticide division at the EPA was secretly working for Monsanto and was running that agency to promote the mercantile ambitions of that business rather than the public interest. He was killing studies, he was fixing studies, he was ghost writing studies, and that is true throughout the agencies.”

As people's consciousness about the hazards of GM crops grew, many GM products from the USA were being refused by its trading partners. This alarmed GM giants, and gave them additional reason to push GM crops in important developing countries so that alternative sources for supply of non-GM products, or products not contaminated by GM crops cannot emerge.
The crucial thing to understand is that the US Government and the big GMO (genetically modified organisms) companies there have established close links so that there are unwritten directives from the highest levels not to deny clearance to GMOs on environment, health and related grounds.
Henry Miller, who was formerly in charge of biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, USA) stated, "In this area, the US government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do." This support given by the governments further greatly increases the power of MNCs to push their hazardous products and technologies in their quest for dominance.
Corruption also enables MNCs to achieve quick results. People wonder why there has been a rapid spread of GM crops in the USA, even though several scientists (in addition to farmers and activists) have opposed GMOs there as well.
An idea of the various forces responsible for this can be had from a complaint the US Securities and Exchange Commission had filed in the US courts stating that a leading GMO company had bribed 140 officials between 1997-2000 to obtain environmental clearances for its products. The company admitted this charge and paid a penalty of US $ 1.5 million.
When scientists spoke against GM crops, their voice was stifled using several unethical way
A report by a major US financial risk assessor Innovest has stated:
"It is understandable that the US Government has essentially taken the industry position on GE (Genetic Engineering) safety and labeling... US Government support for GE crops appears to stem from the fact that the crops are mostly US-developed and the GE companies have made substantial financial contributions to US politicians and political parties.
“This is not said as a criticism of politicians, but rather of the campaign finance-system, which allows politicians to accept money from the firms they are supposed to regulate. Money flowing from GE companies to politicians as well as the frequency with which GE company employees take jobs with US regulatory agencies (and vice versa) creates large bias potential and reduces the ability of investors to rely on safety claims made by the US Government.
“It also helps to clarify why the US Government has not taken a precautionary approach to GE and continues to suppress GE labeling in the face of overwhelming public support for it."

Eminent scientist Dr. Pushpa Bhargava has written:
“According to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Monsanto bribed at least 140 Indonesian officials or their families to get Bt cotton approved without environmental impact assessment. In 2005, the firm paid $ 1.5 million in fine to to the US justice department for the graft. This is one of the many penalties that Monsanto has paid in its country of origin in spite of its close ties with the US government and its various regulatory agencies.”
In the case of a genetically engineered drug to increase milk production, the FDA approved this drug despite being in possession of highly damaging information of its adverse impact on animal and human health. In 1990 the House Committee of the US investigated the issue and charged that the concerned company and the FDA “have chosen to suppress and manipulate animal health test data -- in efforts to approve commercial use."
What is even more important is that when scientists spoke against GM crops, their voice was stifled using several unethical ways. Jeffrey Smith reports in the context of the experiences in the USA, the country where GM crops have spread the most:
“The FDA (the Food and Drug Administration of the USA) was fully aware that GM crops were meaningfully different. That, in fact, was the overwhelming consensus among the technical experts in the agency. The scientists agreed that genetic engineering leads to “different risks” than traditional breeding and had repeatedly warned their superiors that GM foods might create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects."
The scientists’ concerns were kept secret in 1992, when FDA policy was put into place. But seven years later, internal records were made public due to a lawsuit and the deception came to light. The agency’s newly released 44,000 pages revealed that government scientists’ “references to the unintended negative effects… were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists.”
They further revealed that "the FDA was under orders from the White House to promote GM crops and that Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney and later its vice president, was brought into the FDA to oversee policy development. With Taylor in charge, the scientists’ warnings were ignored and denied."
The story of U.K. is no less shocking, adds Smith. In the mid-1990s, the UK government commissioned scientists to develop an assessment protocol for GM crop approvals that would be used in the UK and eventually by the EU. In 1998, three years into the project, the scientists discovered that potatoes engineered to produce a harmless insecticide caused extensive health damage to rats. The pro-GM government immediately cancelled the project, the lead scientist was fired and the research team dismantled.
It is due to the likely use of unfair means to speed up highly hazardous introduction of GMOs that citizens need to be very vigilant on this issue of the greatest importance for food security, livelihoods and environment.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food', ‘Man over Machine' and ‘A Day in 2071’

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