* Report critical of State Dept for promoting biotech crops
* Monsanto interests mentioned in cables
* State Dept. says its work is routine
By Carey Gillam
May 14 U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for
overseas lobbying that promotes controversial biotech crops
developed by U.S.-based Monsanto Co and other seed
makers, a report issued on Tuesday said.
A review of 926 diplomatic cables of correspondence to and
from the U.S. State Department and embassies in more than 100
countries found that State Department officials actively
promoted the commercialization of specific biotech seeds,
according to the report issued by Food & Water Watch, a
nonprofit consumer protection group.
The officials tried to quash public criticism of particular
companies and facilitated negotiations between foreign
governments and seed companies such as Monsanto over issues like
patents and intellectual property, the report said.
A U.S. State Department official said it routinely
coordinates trade and investment matters to support U.S. firms,
including "providing assistance in opening markets, leveling the
playing field, protecting intellectual property rights, and
resolving trade and investment disputes."
Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said Monsanto believes it is
critical to maintain an open dialogue with government
authorities and trade groups in other countries.
"We remain committed to sharing information so that
individuals can better understand our business and our
commitments to support farmers throughout the world as they work
to meet the agriculture demands of our world's growing
population," he said.
The cables show U.S. diplomats supporting Monsanto, the
world's largest seed company, in foreign countries even after it
paid $1.5 million in fines after being charged with bribing an
Indonesian official and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices
Act in 2005.
One 2009 cable shows the embassy in Spain seeking
"high-level U.S. government intervention" at the "urgent
request" of Monsanto to combat biotech crop opponents there,
according to the Food & Water Watch report.
The report covered cables from 2005-2009 that were released
by Wikileaks in 2010 as part of a much larger release by
Wikileaks of a range of diplomatic cables it obtained.
Food & Water Watch said the cables it examined show the
government going to great lengths to support and promote the
interests of the agricultural biotech industry, which has had a
hard time gaining acceptance in many foreign markets.
"It really goes beyond promoting the U.S.'s biotech industry
and agriculture," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of
Food & Water Watch.
U.S. officials, Monsanto and many other companies and
industry experts routinely say that biotech crops are needed
around the world to increase global food production as
population expands. They maintain that the crops are safe and
make farming easier and more environmentally sustainable.
PROMOTION THROUGH PAMPHLETS, DVDs?
The State Department also produced pamphlets in Slovenia
promoting biotech crops, sent pro-biotech DVDs to high schools
in Hong Kong and helped bring foreign officials and media from
17 countries to the United States to promote biotech
agriculture, Food & Water Watch said.
Genetically altered crops are widely used in the United
States. Crops spliced with DNA from other species are designed
to resist pests and tolerate chemical applications, and since
their introduction in the mid 1990s have come to dominate
millions of acres of U.S. farmland.
The biotech crops are controversial with some groups and in
many countries because some studies have shown harmful health
impacts for humans and animals, and the crops have been
associated with some environmental problems.
They also generally are more expensive than conventional
crops, and the biotech seed developers patent the high-tech
seeds so farmers using them have to buy new seed every season, a
factor that makes them unappealing in some developing nations.
Many countries ban planting of biotech crops or have strict