This is a first for American Presidential politics. Several of the candidates will be attending an Iowa Organic Independence Day Celebration that aims to put the issues of food safety and consumer rights on the table.
The Obama, Edwards, Clinton and Richardson campaigns will all participate in tonight's Des Moines event, sponsored by The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods.
In an ongoing effort to raise awareness and make this part of the dialog and debate in the 2008 election, there will be a series of events involving the Presidential candidates as the campaign season continues, but a lot of excitement surrounds this as the first.
No one can argue that it isn't about time that food politics actually expanded to include a discussion of what it is we are actually being asked to swallow. Certainly in my view it is long overdue.
The rest of the world has had the public discussion of genetically altered foods for a decade. The world press has covered it as a key political issue in everything from trade talks to consumer product labeling and it has been conspicuously absent from any discussion in America.
At long last my fellow Americans, we will be joining the ranks of the developed world and addressing our right to know what we are swallowing. It's a story that would have me following closely no matter what, but the history of Monsanto's success is owed in large measure to the efforts of President Clinton and that will make all the difference.
The subject will prove an especially interesting challenge for Senator Clinton, as she uses her eight years as part of "the White House Team" to bolster the argument for experience for the job of Commander in Chief and all the good experience will carry with it much of the baggage from the bad.
When Monsanto introduced its first altered food product, milk from cows treated with a growth hormone made a genetically engineered E.coli bacteria, there was a huge backlash from consumers. Many were concerned about drinking milk from treated cows. Some were worried that the company that brought us PCBs, dioxins and Agent Orange wasn't a group they wanted handling their foods.
American consumers were not alone in worrying and their fears were not unfounded. The United Nations Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) had twice, unanimously, upheld a ban on the hormone dairy treatment because it was shown to increase risks for diabetes, breast and colorectal cancers and a series of other life threatening health effects.
Food safety and medical experts were in agreement about the dangers to the consumers, as well as mastitis and infections for the cows. These side effects for the animals fell within definitions for animal cruelty and were outlawed in Germany on that basis alone.
The hormone treatment sold under the patented name of Posilac by Monsanto had one single effect, it increased the volume of milk the cows could produce. But American dairy farmers had been suffering from surplus dairy and record low prices and farmers were not anxious to add to their financial woes and to try a product that at best had little appeal with consumers.
The situation for Monsanto was grim, a product no one needed or wanted, from a company no one trusted, would have ruined the chances of success right off the bat. Any other business faced with those prospects would have been doomed but that where it pays to have friends in high places. The hormone milk would have disappeared right then if it were not for the efforts of the Clinton White House and their factory farming friends from Arkansas.
The stakes were high too. At the time Consumers' Union estimated that Monsanto's bovine growth hormone, rBGH, could earn the company $550 million a year in the United States and another $1 billion a year internationally. That was provided they could sell it.
When Bill Clinton was elected to the Presidency he was replaced as Arkansas Governor by Jim Guy Tucker. Poor ole Jim Guy would eventually step down, well be handcuffed and hauled out, convicted of fraud in one of the Whitewater trials, that was one of the many Arkansas based scandals that involved the Clintons but never got the full investigation it deserved but now we can revisit the era at our leisure.
Jim Guy's sister, Carol Tucker Foreman was a lobbyist for the petrochemical industry and former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Iif there's anything that can make a toxic product a best seller, its a few well funded lobbyists who revolve in and out of government. Carol founded a front groups to market to the dairy industry and the successes she had became Washington legend. Got Milk?
Foreman's Dairy Coalition with a happy logo and an aggressive agenda, set out to promote the benefits of hormone treatments. The wonder drug could turn cows from lactating cycles of nine months, interrupted by calving, into non-stop milking machines, able to go years without a break in production.