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Biotech lobbying dollars have secured market for genetically modified foods, study suggests

by Chris Hinyub, published

A new study has analyzed the lobbying activities of biotech companies and food patent holders since 1999. While the findings aren't surprising, they are enlightening as to why regulatory agencies and the U.S. Congress have shown the biotechnology industry such statutory favoritism.


     “The food and agriculture biotechnology industry has been flexing its financial political muscle to ease the regulatory oversight of genetically modified foods,” say the authors in a report issued by Food & Water Watch.


They continue:


     “Lobbying efforts for some of these firms and groups have included approval of cloned food and genetically engineered food, animals and livestock. Companies are also fighting to eliminate or prevent labeling on genetically modified foods in the United States and preventing other countries from regulating genetically modified foods. These efforts have dovetailed with lobbying to tighten intellectual property law protections over patented seeds and animals in attempts to further benefit the biotech industry.”


According to data compiled by Food & Water Watch, the 50 largest biotech companies and the top-two agrochemical trade associations have spent more than $572 million in campaign contributions over the last decade. Their report states that biotech interests:


     “have hired a bevy of well-connected lobbying shops — including at least 13 former members of Congress and over 300 former congressional and White House staffers — to promote genetically modified food and agricultural products.”


Here are some more of their findings:


     The top food and agricultural biotechnology firms spent more than $547 million lobbying Congress since 1999 as lobbying expenditures and PAC contributions to biotech-friendly advocacy groups rose twofold, from $35.0 million in 1999 to $71.0 million in 2009.


     In 2010 alone, these firms employed over 100 lobbying companies as well as their own in-house lobbyists.


     These biotechnology interests donated $22.4 million to congressional candidates between 1999 and July 2010, averaging about $2 million a year.


The effectiveness of the “hush-money” doled out by the Biotechnology Industry Organization – the special interest lobby for the industry – is apparent when one considers the disconnect between the sentiments of a vast majority of Americans towards GMOs and those of a few, unelected bureaucrats at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who happen to set the food policy.


To illustrate this point, the authors of the study remind us that a 2010 Lake Research Partners poll found that 78 percent of Americans believe the FDA should not approve genetically engineered salmon. Two years earlier, the New York Times and CBS News conducted a poll which found that 87 percent of Americans support the labeling of any food product that contains genetically modified ingredients.


Even though awareness of the genetic modification process has caused some scientists to question the safety of such patented lifeforms, invoking an ever expanding body of research which confirms the danger they pose to our health (and the health of our environment), the FDA has stood behind every genetically altered product the industry has brought forth, ignoring numerous requests for the agency to study their potential risks, and roadblocking attempts by consumer organizations to pass laws to label GMO ingredients.


You can download the report here in PDF format.

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