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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/21/09

The 2009 Food 'Safety' Bills Harmonize Agribusiness Practices in Service of Corporate Global Governance

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Message Nicole Johnson

"I think it's time to de-professionalize the public debate on matters that vitally affect the lives of ordinary people. It's time to snatch our futures back from the "experts." Time to ask, in ordinary language, the public question and to demand, in ordinary language, the public answer."
-- Arundhati Roy, Power Politics

It's enough to make you so queasy you lose your lunch. HR 875, the "Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009," is a head-spinning piece of legislation that would radically change the structure of the US government's regulatory agencies, usurping states rights to federalize food inspection and determine what agricultural practices are permissible. Considerable concern has been voiced about what this bill would mean for small and medium sized farmers, organic farming, the future of conventional and organic seeds, the food localization movement, and even home gardens. HR 875 would give regulators the power to enter private property, which is conveniently redefined as "premises," and impose enormous fines for noncompliance. Though not discussed in the corporate media, numerous articles about it appear on the internet, launching a debate about whether or not Monsanto is behind the bill.

In response to these articles, Brad Mitchell, a member of Monsanto's public relations staff who writes for the company's new blog -- a less-than-stealth effort to counter the public's deep distrust of the predatory corporation -- has gone on record stating that Monsanto has absolutely nothing at all to do with the bill.

Brad's assurances aside, experience dictates that taking Monsanto at its word is patently foolish. But for those who need a bit more proof, like the Organic Consumers Association and Food and Water Watch, let's settle the issue, once and for all: Who crafted the legislation and what do they hope to gain by it? Would it really make our food safer as it claims, or would it make mandatory the industrial agricultural practices that are the root cause of the food-borne illnesses it claims to vanquish? And what else might be at stake?

After a series of well-publicized cases of food contamination – E. coli-tainted meat, melamine-adulterated pet food and baby formula, salmonella-infected peanut butter – the public has been well primed to look toward Congress to fix a poorly funded and insufficiently staffed food safety inspection system. And, right on cue, a crop of "food safety" bills gets dumped our way. The most controversial and transformational of these pieces of legislation, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro's HR 875, can be traced directly to recommendations made by the Trust for America's Health, a non-profit organization sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Trust for America's Health has produced reports that serve as blueprints for a major restructuring of the agencies involved in overseeing food safety policy as well as eye-popping changes to the public health system. Its recommendations also have also made their way into the other food safety bills that have been recently introduced in Congress: SB 425, the "Food Safety and Tracking Improving Act;" HR 814, the "Trace Act of 2009;" and HR 759, the "Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009."

While the vaguely worded HR 875 gives the appearance of being a reasonable attempt to fix the problems outlined, a close inspection of the blueprints on which they are based --and a bit of knowledge about the industry players who crafted them -- reveals critical clues about how the public health system would be transformed for the benefit of biotech, pharmaceutical and agribusiness giants. Non-profit foundations have long served as effective tools for corporate wealth to influence public policy, providing the means to guarantee outcomes that enrich corporations at the public's expense. The global pharmaceutical and consumer product company Johnson & Johnson's tax-exempt foundation is no different.

Tayloring the Message: The Trust for America's Health

The public should familiarize itself with three key reports produced by The Trust for America's Health: "Keeping America's Food Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food and Safety System at the US Department of Health and Human Services,"(1) "Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food Supply from Farm-to-Fork,"(2) and the "Blueprint for a Healthier America: Modernizing the Federal Public Health System to Focus on Prevention and Preparedness."(3)

President Obama's nominee for Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Margaret Hamburg, MD, sits on the board of directors at the Trust for America's Health. Hamburg, a well-connected player in the public health field, also serves on the board of directors of the Rockefeller Foundation. Among other things, the Rockefeller's vast fortune is responsible for funding foundations and institutes that spread unsafe genetically-engineered food crops around the world.(4) Sadly, those who hoped that Obama's election would herald positive changes have repeatedly found themselves duped: the deep corporate ties of his appointees guarantee a continuation of corporate control over the US government, a veritable concierge service on steroids for private interests.

A notable craftsman at the Trust for America's Health is none other than the notorious Michael R. Taylor, JD. Taylor penned a paper included as an appendix of "Keeping America Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food Safety System at the Department of Health and Human Services" called "Restructuring Food Safety at HHS: Design and Implementation." In it, Taylor prescribes the creation of a new Food Safety Administration that consolidates all safety functions formerly performed by a host of other government regulatory agencies and institutes on a federal level the use of industry-friendly "risk assessment" methods.

Monsanto's Jack of All Trades

Most people who know Michael Taylor's name recall that he worked as Monsanto's lawyer at King & Spalding for years before being appointed to the FDA to oversee the swift introduction into the marketplace of GMOs. He did so by ramming through a faux scientific regulatory conceit called "substantial equivalence."

Industry-independent scientists have rightly criticized the concept of substantial equivalence as an inappropriate method for determining safety, calling it "a pseudo-scientific concept because it is a commercial and political judgment masquerading as it if were scientific. It is, moreover, inherently anti-scientific because it was created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests. It therefore serves to discourage and inhibit potentially informative scientific research."(5)

FDA scientists at the Division of Food Chemistry and Technology wanted to see testing performed to ensure that GMO foods didn't increase levels of naturally occurring toxins, create new, previously unidentified toxins, increase the tendency to gather toxic substances from the environment such as pesticides or heavy metals, and alter the level nutrients.(6) Ignoring their scientific objections, the politically-appointed Taylor let loose GMO technology on the nation of guinea pigs without requiring any legitimate safety and toxicology investigations to protect public health. He also ensured that the public would remain ignorant of GMOs in their food by instituting a no-labeling policy. Now, almost 80% of the food sold in grocery stores contains GMOs. Monsanto subsequently rewarded Taylor for his government work by making him its Vice President of Public Policy.

These days, we find that Taylor has morphed from Monsanto's VP into a "research professor" at George Washington University School of Public Heath and Health Services. He also spends his time writing policy at a number of industry-funded think tanks, including Resources for the Future, Resolve Inc, the Food Safety Research Consortium, and the Alliance to End Hunger,

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Nicole Johnson is a researcher and activist living in Ventura county, California. Her kids wish she would go back to painting and stop worrying so much about the world.
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