The Monsanto Corporation is the world’s largest and most powerful corporation in the agricultural and genetically modified foods industries. Monsanto is a multi-billion dollar corporation (reporting nearly $12 billion in sales during 2011), that owns patents in GMO [genetically modified organism] crops and biopesticides/bioherbicides. If you have eaten processed foods (ex. cereal) in the last few years, most of which contain high-fructose corn syrup, you have eaten a Monsanto product. Monsanto regularly deals with the United States government—it must comply with FDA food and safety regulations and it also receives federal funding for research.
The need to comply with government rules and the search for government money that Monsanto faces has led them to push for increased levels of involvement with federal agencies. Monsanto lobbyists and executives have attached themselves to state-level politicians and have successfully garnished high-level advising posts in the government. By infiltrating the regulators and grant-issuing agencies, Monsanto associates sway public policy in the favor of their employer (or future employer, as many of these people go back to work in the private sector after serving as a regulator).
Numerous government agency appointments by the Obama administration are of people who were previously, or are currently employed by Monsanto . While there are dozens of such point of overlap between Monsanto and federal agencies, the three most important appointments by the Obama administration are that of Michael Taylor, Roger, Beachy, and Islam Siddiqui—all three of these Monsanto affiliates were appointed to high level, influential positions within the federal government.
In 2009, the Obama administration appointed Michael Taylor—the previous vice president of Monsanto and a current Monsanto lobbyist—as senior advisor to the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] Commissioner. After serving a year as an advisor, Taylor was named the Deputy Commissioner for Foods for the FDA. It is inarguable that this appointment constitutes a massive boon for Monsanto and an undeniable conflict of interest for Taylor. Taylor is a lobbyist for Monsanto and is being paid by the agri-giant while he is supposed to be working for the FDA. This conflict of interest begs us to ask, is Taylor working for the public, or is he focused upon helping his private sector employer reduce its regulatory burden and improve its profitability? Taylor’s connection to Monsanto is not a secret, and we can conclude that the Obama administration knew who they were appointing when they did it.
Roger Beachy—the Director of the Danforth Plant Science Center (a Monsanto affiliate)—was appointed by the Obama administration as the Director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA,a department of the USDA, focuses on funding research and innovation in agriculture, as well developing efficient methods of food production As the primary grant-writing division of the USDA, the NIFA department has the ability to grant or reject agricultural research grants. By giving Beachy the Directorship of the NIFA, the Obama administration gave a Monsanto associate the most powerful position in the organization which allocates agricultural research grants. Needless to say, this appointment is a great boon for Monsanto and will likely result in favorable consideration for Monsanto Co. during their pursuit of government research grants.
In 2010, Islam Siddiqui—a Monsanto lobbyist—was appointed to the post of Agriculture Trade Representative by the Obama administration. Trade representative are tasked with promoting trade of goods within their appointed field (ex. Agricultural trade reps promote the export of American crops). As Monsanto has a controlling interest in American corn production, the appointment of a Monsanto lobbyist to the position of trade representative is a large boon for the corporation. Siddiqui’s government job is to promote the export of American crops and his Monsanto job is to promote the sale of Monsanto crops—it is undeniable that these two jobs present a conflict of interest and will likely lead to Siddiqui representing Monsanto’s interests as though they are the interests of the United States.
While Obama’s administration has a history of appointing agri-business agents to federal posts, the Romney campaign surely will follow suit; Romney has a business history with Monsanto (they were his first large corporation to hire him as a business consultant) and the Romney campaign has named several Monsanto agents to its “Agricultural Advisory” committee. This committee, which is tasked with advising Mitt Romney on all issues relating to agriculture and agri-business, is staffed by “experts” on the field. The experts who staff Romney’s advisory committee come directly from the agro-business industry and represent a huge level of cooperation between Romney and big agri-business. Of the Agricultural Advisory committee “experts”, none are farmers and all are agri-business or food processing executives.
Randy Russell, the top lobbyist for Monsanto Co., has been appointed to this committee and will likely stay if Romney wins the election. Russell’s involvement in Romney’s agricultural advisory committee represents a direct line between the Romney campaign (and thus his presidency) and the Monsanto Corporation. The simple fact that the top lobbyist for Monsanto has been given a top-level advisory job with the Romney campaign is not unprecedented, but it does pose the worrying question: Where does the Romney agricultural policy begin and the lobbying efforts of Monsanto end?
Unfortunately, the appointment of industry lobbyists and executives to federal regulatory agencies and posts is nothing unusual. As shown by the fact that both Romney and Obama have appointed lobbyists to high-level federal posts demonstrates that this phenomenon is bipartisan, and it is unlikely to stop any time soon. Regardless of which major candidate wins the next presidential election, it appears that Monsanto will have a rather large foot in the door for it to influence American Agricultural and food policies. Given the fact that processed foods are very difficult to avoid (go to your nearest supermarket and try to find food items that don’t have “high-fructose corn syrup”), the issue of this revolving door is extremely important—our regulators should work to protect our, and our families’, ability to eat safe foods, not the profits of a private corporation.