(Health Secrets Newsletter) Presidential elections are a time to pay homage to the idea that the candidates represent a real choice. But at least in the area of our food, this season’s candidates appear woefully alike — the actions of both revealing a double standard that strikes at the heart of the notion that all men are created equal. When it comes to what’s on the table, Obama and Romney have one standard for themselves and other elites, and quite another for the people they are supposed to represent.
When it comes to Obama, the record is crystal clear, especially when considering his actions rather than his words. Although he made comments about the importance of labeling food items containing GMO’s while campaigning for votes in 2008, once he became President, he has done everything in his power to pave the way for GMO’s. In the federal agencies holding tremendous power over our food, the FDA and the USDA, his administration has installed people coming directly from Monsanto, the world leader in GMO development.
Roger Beachy was installed as director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Beachy came directly to this position from the Monsanto Danforth Center, and he still serves on the board of trustees for the Center. Monsanto’s Danforth Center is where most of the research is done to create new, patentable genetically modified products.
Michael Taylor was installed as deputy commissioner of the FDA, and became the food-safety czar. Like Beachy, Taylor came directly from Monsanto, but he had a previous history with the FDA in which he advocated to block labeling of products coming from cows treated with synthetic growth hormones. He was also instrumental in overturning the Delaney clause, a part of federal law since 1958 that prohibited any chemical that had shown to be carcinogenic to any degree from being added to food.
Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The Organic Consumers Association has noted that as governor, Vilsack repeatly demonstrated preference for large industrial farms and GMO crops. He originated the seed pre-emption bill which effectively blocked local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops would be grown. He was the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group.
In his article Meet Monsanto’s Number One Lobbyist: Barack Obama, Jon Rappaport identifies several other lesser Obama administration appointments that include two from Monsanto, one from the biotech giant, DuPont, and one from the Gates Foundation, a major contributor to GMO agricultural research.
These appointments insured a steady stream of at least 10 approvals for GMO’s over the past four years, including many against which the opposition was quite strong, such as Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, sugar beets, and Bt soy; Syngenta’s GMO corn for ethanol, and Bt cotton; and Pioneer’s GMO soybeans. On the horizon are approvals for GMO salmon and apples.
Meanwhile in the White House, eating organic is the rule and has been at least since the 2008 campaign during which Michelle Obama told reporters in an surprisingly candid moment that her family had been eating organic for the past year. When she arrived in Washington, one of the initial activities of the First Lady was to rip up the White House lawn to put in an organic garden to feed her family and to provide top quality produce for state events.
What about Romney? Since he does not currently have the visibility of a sitting president, there is less evidence to go on, but what there is makes it pretty clear that he and Obama see eye to eye on this issue.
Romney’s ties to Monsanto, now dubbed the worse company in the world by those concerned with the state of the food supply, date back to the 1970’s when the corporation was trying to shed its image as a scorched-earth chemical company, following a series of environmental disasters. Monsanto hired Bain & Company to help them clean up their public image and re-emerge as an agribusiness company. Romney, new at Bain, was assigned to Monsanto, where he showed his acumen at recreation. In gratitude John W. Hanley, then CEO of Monsanto, contributed $1 million to Romney’s first investment pool at Bain Capital. According to Wayne Barrett’s article for the Nation, Hanley was the only business executive beyond the Bain founding family to have such influence on Romney’s career. Monsanto continued to be a best friend to Romney until 1985, when he was succeeded by Richard Mahoney.
Barrett also notes that during the presidential primaries, Romney named an eleven member Agricultural Advisory Committee and packed it with Monsanto connections, including its number one Washington lobbyist, Randy Russell. Russell’s firm has represented Monsanto since its rebirth.
Then there’s the long list of names with whom Romney has cultivated close ties, and who also have close ties with Monsanto. Several of those most prominent on the list are part of the body politic in Missouri, the world headquarters of Monsanto.
So what do the Romney’s have on their tables? They, like the Obama’s, are privileged to eat organic. Peter Alexander reporting for the Today show and speaking of Romney’s campaign jet says, “sources close to the campaign tell me the shelves are stocked with a wide variety of healthy fair…Everything’s organic, I’m told, including the ingredients to Romney’s favorite, peanut butter and honey sandwiches.”
In a 2002 profile of Ann Romney from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, published by Mother Jones.com, “Mrs. Romney was introduced to several practitioners of holistic medicine, who persuaded her to adopt alternative therapies. She now eats organic food and very little meat. She practices reflexology and undergoes acupuncture treatments. She credits the lifestyle with turning her health around.
Of course having a double standard when it comes to food is nothing new among presidents. Obama and Romney are merely following the precedent set by Bill Clinton, under whose administration GMO’s first began to gain stream, and George W. Bush, who stoked the fire. Both of them ate organic, according to the executive White House chef. The food served in their White Houses was locally grown and supplied, or came from the garden on the roof of the White House where produce was gown. Both wagyu and grass-fed beef were frequently served.
So the Obamas have inherited the double standard from their predecessors, and if Romney takes over in 2013, you can expect more of the same — public promotion and endorsement of GMO’s for us, but organic on their own tables.
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