Unless you have been living in a hole for the last few months, you have undoubtedly heard about the multitude of leaked diplomatic cables that served as an early Christmas present to the world, courtesy of the muckraking website WikiLeaks. While the majority of the attention surrounding these “leaks” have been devoted to the many diplomatic cables concerning U.S. wars currently being fought (Afghanistan and Iraq, in case you needed a reminder) as well as a few embarrassing trivial matters between diplomats abroad, but buried deep within the WikiLeaks kerfuffle were a few interesting diplomatic matters concerning genetically modified (GM) foods and the attempt by certain U.S. diplomats and multinationals to make these foods more appetizing to the European Union (E.U.).
One of the key players in this controversy was the Vatican (the seat of all that is wholly and catholic in this world). It seems that, according to a report in The Guardian UK, in 2008, the State Department’s special adviser on biotechnology lobbied Vatican insiders to persuade the pope to declare his support of bioengineered, or GM, foods. “Opportunities exist to press the issue with the Vatican and in turn to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world,” said one government cable. Ultimately, the pontiff declined to bestow his blessing. Back as far as 2003, Bush administration officials were bending over backwards to undermine Europe’s distaste, and ultimate ban, on GM crops and foods. Then, Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, heralded the advent of GM foods saying they were “a blessing” and that GM foods hold the answer to world starvation and malnutrition (Archbishop Martino has since withdrawn support of GM foods and the U.S. involvement in getting these foods into European markets, but this decision seems to be more political than it is moral). The motivation behind heavily lobbying the Vatican was largely because many Catholic bishops, spread throughout the developing world, have been strongly opposed to GM crops, and the intent was to change the minds of these bishops, and in turn change the minds of the masses.
The lobbying effort by U.S. multinationals (Monsanto, DuPont, etc) and U.S. Diplomats didn’t stop at the Vatican’s doorstep. France, always a soft opponent of U.S. foreign policy, was also a target. The Guardian also reported that in response to moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in late 2007, the ambassador, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of former US president George Bush, asked Washington to penalize the EU and particularly countries which did not support the use of GM crops. Stapleton also advocated a trade war with France over the issue, as a way to support the corporate friends of the Bush administration. It is fair to say that none of these attempts to push GM products on the E.U. would have had any beneficial results for the American public (American agribusiness maybe, but not taxpayers). However, if Europe had been swayed, those corporations (and their loyal lobbyists) would have stood to make some serious bank.
It is also worth noting that while there was a certain amount of nefarious activity involving the promotion of the GM agenda going during the previous administration, the current administration, according to The Atlantic and Soucewatch, has a similarly close relationship with Big Ag. Monsanto spent more than $4.5 million lobbying and nearly $200,000 on political donations in 2007/2008. Still, GM crops are banned in the EU, and losing popularity here in the United States. However the battle wages, secrets are buried, and God (supposedly) smiles on us all – the natural as well as the GM.