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Senators and Biotech Front Group Working Together

From: The Rake, July 2004 (www.rakemag.com/angle/detail.asp?catID=40&itemID=18724)
Good Intentions >> Don’t Panic, It’s Not Organic
[July 2004] by Hans Eisenbeis


Here’s how petro-chemical agribusiness is fighting back: Getting dirty.
It’s nice to see former Senator Rudy Boschwitz still flying the flannel after all these years. Like any self-respecting legislator on the receiving end of a populist pink slip, he’s gone quietly into the private sector. There, the glad-handing, expense accounts, and corporate logrolling aren’t scrutinized by every craven reporter and party activist (as if there is a difference) with an axe to grind. For a price, a former senator will throw his considerable weight behind just about any cause, even a specious one. Today, Boschwitz is taking up the cause against alternative farming techniques.

What on Earth could possibly be wrong with organic food? You’d be surprised. We recently learned that among Mr. Boschwitz’s many roles in public service, he is the chairman of something called the Center for Global Food Issues. We must admit that under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t have noticed. But he stepped out from behind the curtain few weeks ago, in a letter to the Star Tribune complaining about that paper’s intolerable position on food that contains genetically modified organisms—hybrid corn and other produce usually identified through the cautionary acronym “GMO.” According to the letter, Boschwitz and a CGFI colleague named Dennis Avery believe that GMOs can have a positive impact on Third-World economies and farming by increasing yields of pest-resistant crops. This sounds perfectly reasonable. Why, then, is it so creepy to realize that Boschwitz and Avery are shilling for the companies that stand to profit the most from the idea? Perhaps it is because the truth is not even salient, because they have forfeited their authority; they are essentially writing advertisements for their corporate benefactors.

The Center for Global Food Issues is run by the Hudson Institute, a conservative “think tank” that is funded by Cargill, Monsanto, Novartis, and McDonald’s—among many other corporations. A full list of Hudson’s underwriters reads like an all-star roster of petro-chemical agribusiness.

If mercenary lobbyists like Boschwitz and Avery actually believed what they say about the benefits of big-business farming, we think they would be less disingenuous in their rhetoric. In promoting their brand of high-volume, low-quality, non-sustainable agriculture, they are shameless about arguing all sides. All is fair in love and war; agribusiness has been taking it in the gut for a decade now. Why wouldn’t they marshal their forces to fight back against the insidious tide of hippy-dippy paranoia about proven modern farming techniques? (The only thing petro-chemical farming ever killed was the family farm, duh!)

Boschwitz and Avery say that genetically modified crops are preferable because they reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides; suddenly and inexplicably, they are worried about Third-World farmers trudging through their fields with backpack sprayers. This is surely a recent and isolated case of dementia, rather than a prick in their conscience, since their supporters continue to claim that glyphosate herbicides and pesticides are perfectly safe for man and beast alike. This old saw is still a good one, it turns out. Many experts agree that GMOs—excused as a technology that would make pesticides and herbicides obsolete, after that nasty business with DDT a few years back—actually increase farmers’ reliance on chemicals. As GMOs have spread around the world, pesticide use has increased. How odd.

There’s more of this brand of double-talking dishonesty. Organics are wasteful and inefficient, says the Center for Global Food Issues, because they allegedly require a lot more acreage to produce the same yield as “conventionally grown” produce. This is the first we’ve heard that Cargill, Monsanto, ADM and the rest are worried about land-use issues and the preservation of wilderness and wetlands. (They might ponder the considerable evidence that monoculturing—planting millions of acres of the exact same hybrid of, say, “Roundup Ready” corn—is destroying the basic building block of biology: diversity.)

Worst of all, the Cargills of the world have cynically peddled at least one Dennis Avery prevarication. Avery invented and spread the falsehood that organic foods are less safe than non-organic foods (because, he said, they use manure as a fertilizer—which conventional agribusiness does too, but never mind). In a widely syndicated article, he cited an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that organic foods are eight times more dangerous with regard to bacteria like E. coli. The problem was, that source is a CDC scientist named Paul Mead. Mead never said anything of the kind. He merely hung up on Avery when he called to beg someone at the CDC to confirm his views on the matter. In fact, the CDC subsequently clarified the issue, and retractions were published all around: Avery’s claim was as bogus as it was self-serving. No less an authority than the New York Times gave Avery the public scolding he deserved.

So what is the honorable former senator doing in the same byline as this industry flack who is prone to stretch the truth, or simply invent his own? Funny how these sorts of people never seem to espouse beliefs that are independent of their corporate benefactors—or undertake any “public service” that isn’t somehow connected to commercial interests.