In her June 25 keynote address to the BIO International Convention in San Diego, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for genetically engineered crops. She earned a standing ovation by saying that the biotech industry suffers from a public perception problem and that it just needs “a better vocabulary” in order to persuade GMO skeptics who don’t understand “the facts” about genetic engineering.
Coverage of the convention included a video of Clinton, in which she equates the age-old practice of cross-breeding — the crossing of compatible parent plants within the same species — with modern genetic engineering, the lab procedure in which the genetic code of an organism is changed by inserting “foreign” DNA from a completely unrelated plant, animal or microorganism into the genome of the host organism.
In the same video, Clinton also perpetuates industry claims that as global warming leads to more droughts, GMO crops will feed the world. She focuses on GE drought-resistant seeds.
There are three glaring problems with Clinton’s promotion of GE drought-resistant crops. First, drought-resistant seeds and crops are still in the experimental stage and make up a miniscule portion of GMO crops on the market. More than 95 percent of GE crops are corn, soy, alfalfa, canola and sugar beets, used in animal feed and in processed food products, such as high-fructose corn syrup. These crops are engineered to produce their own Bt toxins in every cell or else to withstand massive doses of herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, which are sold to farmers as companions to their GMO seeds.
Second, attempts to engineer seeds to thrive during droughts largely have failed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Monsanto’s DroughtGard, the only drought-resistant crop approved by the USDA so far, produces “only modest results, and only under moderate drought conditions.”
Third, according to experts at global organizations, such as the Food & Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty, a transition to sustainable, regenerative agriculture — not genetic engineering — is not only the most practical way to feed the world but is absolutely essential if we want to slow and eventually reverse global warming.
That brings us to other statements Clinton made at the convention, endorsing the Obama administration’s climate plan and calling out the media for giving too much attention to climate-change skeptics.
If Clinton believes global warming is a critical issue that must be addressed, then she must stand with the scientists who warn that our industrial model of chemical-intensive agriculture is a major culprit in global warming and that we cannot reverse global warming unless we transition away from industrial, monoculture-based production to sustainable, regenerative alternatives.
As consumers grow more knowledgeable about the link between food produced using toxic chemicals and the declining health of the U.S. population, they are looking more closely at those politicians who side with and take money from the biotech industry. Clinton’s ties to the biotech industry date back to the 1970s, when she was a partner in the Rose Law Firm, which represented Monsanto.
A recent ABC News poll revealed that 52 percent of Americans believe food containing GMOs are unsafe, while 13 percent are “unsure.” On mandatory GMO labeling laws, Americans are clear: 93 percent want labels.
By all accounts, if Clinton throws her hat into the ring in 2016, the Democratic nomination is hers. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, independent, libertarian or tea partier, you will need to choose between Clinton and her opponent.
If she runs, Clinton will have a decision to make: Will she side with the biotech industry on GMOs and GMO labeling laws, or will she risk potential campaign contributions from the biotech and food industries by siding with the vast majority of Americans, of all political stripes, who believe the science that says GMO foods, and the pesticides and herbicides used to grow them, are hazardous to their health?
Katherine Paul lives in Freeport and is the associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, a national consumer advocacy group campaigning for health, justice and sustainability.