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Monsanto poses challenges to democracy

Corporate interest often interferes with policy in democratic, capitalist societies. Affluent firms command a substantial influence over legislation that impacts their revenue, often at the expense of popular consensus.

The global march last weekend to protest the Monsanto Company’s crusade against labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is, in the broadest sense, a popular backlash against the disproportionate balance of power that multi-billion dollar, international corporations often leverage to fulfill their agendas.

Monstanto’s track record is dubious and has certainly warranted scrutiny. The agriculture giant has a vested interest in a wide variety of global farming activity, including yield enhancement, pesticide production and viral resistance of crops, all of which have resulted in multiple instances of public resentment, the most recent of which involves mandatory labeling of genetically altered food.

According to a Reuters/NPR poll in 2010, 93 percent of Americans support labeling foods that contain genetically altered crops. The
discrepancy between public opinion and the status quo can be explained by two competing theories. Either the polling methodology used by seasoned media organizations is flawed, or there is an active lobbying effort designed thwart the democratic process.

Washington is no stranger to revolving door politics, and Monstanto is no exception. Sixteen of 22 of the corporation’s lobbyists, who spent $5,970,000 on persuasive legislative efforts in 2012, according to, have previously held government jobs.

Michael Taylor, the Deputy Commissioner for Foods for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was former head of Monstanto’s food and drug law practice, and was appointed to the FDA position by President Barack Obama in 2013. Coincidently, Obama was ranked No. 2 in political action committee contributions from Monstanto between 2011 and 2012.

Despite leaked FDA findings that genetic engineering of crops has produced evidence of environmental and health hazards, the FDA’s hush policy on labeling is echoed by Congress, which overwhelmingly rejected a bill last week “to permit States to require that any food, beverage or other edible product offered for sale have a label on indicating that the food, beverage or other edible product contains a genetically engineered ingredient.”

Even at the state level, corporate opponents have chimed in to silence popular opposition. A 2012 California ballot measure, known as Proposition 37, proposed disallowing the practice of marketing genetically modified foods as “natural.” Opponents of the measure, primarily corporate giants such as Monstanto, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods, claimed the measure would “hurt local farmers and small businesses” and insinuated it would “create a new government bureaucracy, costing taxpayers millions.”

The proposition failed with a margin of less than 3 percent, with corporate opposition campaign contributions amounting to $46 million compared to a flimsy $9.2 million from proponent organizations, primarily composed of concerned organic food advocates and businesses.

It appears that much of the delay and resulting outcry over altered food labeling is not representative of the American mainstream but rather an agenda propagated by a strong corporate interest in keeping legitimate public concerns about the implications of GMOs out of the realm of public policy.