In a speech before the world’s largest biotechnology gathering on Wednesday, Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and for federally-sourced financial subsidies designed to keep companies from leaving the U.S. She also declared her desire to get industry representatives around a table to have an “intensive discussion” about “how the federal government could help biotechs with insurance against [financial] risk.”
The global biotech industry grew 11 percent last year with revenue of $262 billion. Acknowledging the “Frankensteinish” depictions communicated by those in opposition to the use of GMOs in agriculture, Clinton did not attempt to argue against their many warnings. Instead, she suggested that the negative perceptions of GMO agriculture could be fought if a more positive spin were promoted. Clinton suggested to the thousands of industry people in the room that “‘drought resistant’ sounds like something you’d want” instead of “genetically modified.”
Clinton supports “[GMO] seeds and products that have a proven track record.” She specifically acknowledged the type of drought-resistant seeds she championed during her tenure as the U.S. Secretary of State. During her speech at the San Diego Convention Center a group protesting against GMO foods marched outside. At least 26 countries ban GMOs from their agricultural land and/or their marketplaces.
Critics point to a number of issues against the use of GMOs in agriculture, starting with the warning that genetic engineering interrupts a food plant’s genetic code, thus possibly creating toxins, allergenic agents or altering the nutritional value of the food produced. Another warning is that pollens from GMO plants are inevitably released into the atmosphere, thus pollinating non-GMO plants and forever altering the latter’s more pristine genetic codes.
A third warning from critics is that GMOs can actually kill other organisms. For example, corn genetically modified with the Bt toxin (the intention was for the plant to manufacture its own pesticide) has been found responsible for the destruction of monarch butterfly larvae. Similar impacts could effect other plant and animal species, critics say.
Perhaps the most sinister argument of the anti-GMO crowd is that the trend is the final blow in the century-long global decline of small farmers. Power, they say, is concentrated with the very few corporations that own the patents for the plant seeds, and this dictates in farmers an addictive dependency on the must-be-purchased seeds and chemical inputs. Indeed, many see the epidemic of Indian farmers committing suicide (270,000 between 1995 and 2012) as being sourced in the inevitable abyss of debt generated by the requirement to buy ever-more-costly chemicals and GMO seeds.
Clinton charges an average of $200,000 per speech and her support for GMOs was made clear in last week’s 65-minute presentation. After her speech the overflow lunch crowd heard California Governor Jerry Brown tell all who would listen of his desire for their industry to see California as friendly to biotech. Brown told the industrials not to worry, that “I’m holding the line (on taxes and regulations).”
By Gregory Baskin