By Allison Hibbs
Monsanto, the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation long reviled by organic farmers, environmentalists and conscientious foodies worldwide, has drawn more than the usual amount of rancor in recent months. While assailants are hoping the media blitzkrieg will prove as damaging to the company as they claim that its bioengineering and genetic modification practices are to the planet, that hope may prove optimistic in light of its cozy relationship with the United States federal government. Efforts to diminish that relationship have led to the recent circulation of more than one petition calling for the dismissal of FDA Food Safety Czar, Michael Taylor, a former top Monsanto executive.
One reason for the recent outrage is a perceived “crusade” by the FDA against small raw milk dairy farmers, many of whom are Amish, even as they overlook repeated violations by larger, industrial producers. CREDO, a publication of Working Assets, began a campaign in late January to educate and motivate consumers to sign a pledge beseeching President Obama to expel Taylor from the administration.
CREDO believes that the FDA’s efforts would be better spent enforcing food safety regulations at the largest industrial producers, where it claims that “antibiotic resistance has run amuck,” rather than focusing so much of the administration’s efforts on sting operations to arrest small dairy farmers.
The petition had garnered 151,160 signatures as of SuperBowl Sunday, 75 percent of its 200,000 goal.
Another petition circulating on Twitter and Facebook had reached a total of 220,000 signatures by game time, far surpassing its original goal of 75,000. Written and circulated by Frederick Ravid, this petition includes a longer letter to the president, expressing opposition to the his administration’s appointment of Taylor three years ago.
“Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks,” reads the letter. “This is a travesty.” Pointing out that Taylor was in charge of policy regarding the widely-opposed bovine growth hormone and that he fought against the requirement for disclosures on milk from cows that had been treated with the hormone, Ravid goes on to decry Monsanto as a company directly threatening the health and well-being of US citizens.
Reinforcing these concerns are WikiLeaks documents that surfaced last year implicating the Bush administration in questionable tactics used against countries in Europe to impel them to purchase Monsanto GMO products that they were resisting. Other documents imply that the US government considered putting pressure on the Pope to come out in favor of GMO foods. If any such actions were taken, they have proven largely unsuccessful and Monsanto has been repeatedly thwarted in France, Germany and the UK.
Additionally, lawsuits have been brought against the biotech giant by India and Canada for biopiracy and biocontamination, respectively; and a group of 270,000 American organic farmers are also suing the company for biocontamination. Ironically, the move is intended to protect these farmers against possible patent-infringement lawsuits brought by Monsanto over GMO seeds that have migrated to – and compromised – their lands.
For all of these reasons (and more), Monsanto has been voted Worst Company of 2011 by Natural Society, and the public seems increasingly to agree. As the acrimony grows, it is beginning to look like the corporation’s PR department has some serious damage control to do if it hopes to retain any influence over government activity. It is, after all, an election year and Obama may not have the luxury of ignoring so many voters crying “Why, O, why?”