Washington, DC – Over the last decade, top food and agriculture biotechnology firms and trade associations spent over half a billion dollars – $572 million – in campaign contributions and lobbying Congress in support of controversial industry projects like genetically engineered (GE) food animals, according to a new analysis by national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions and lobbying expenditures by biotechnology interests more than doubled during this time.
“The public needs to know that despite their concerns with eating genetically engineered (GE) foods, there’s a powerful industry spending hundreds of millions to promote products like GE salmon,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Over the last few months, our coalition has collected over 350,000 petitions from consumers who oppose FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon. Yet sadly, each of these consumers would have to pay around $1,500 to match the biotech industry’s lobbying influence.”
The analysis comes less than a week before the FDA will close its public comment period on the first GE animal to be approved for human consumption, AquaBounty salmon. The FDA could approve the controversial product as early as Nov. 23.
In addition to promoting GE foods, biotech lobbyists work to prevent foreign governments from banning or limiting the products and fight requirements that they be labeled for consumers.
FDA labeling of AquaBounty salmon has been a hotly contested issue. Despite consumer concerns, the agency currently does not require it. According to an NPR article published earlier this week, a survey of more than 3,000 people (conducted for NPR by Thomson Reuters) revealed that 9 out of 10 people believe GE foods should be labeled. The majority said they would not eat a genetically engineered fish, labeled or not.
Food & Water Watch’s analysis also exposed intricate relationships and financial connections between well-connected lobbyists and former high-ranking legislators who lobby Congress and the federal agencies. According to the analysis, food and agriculture biotechnology firms and trade associations have hired on as lobbyists at least 13 former members of Congress and over 300 former congressional and White House staffers through well-connected lobbying shops.
The consumer group’s analysis comes on the heels of its release of startling U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service emails (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request) revealing the agency scientists’ disbelief that the FDA would approve AquaBounty salmon. With regards to GE fish escapes, one Fish & Wildlife Service geneticist was quoted saying, “Maybe they [the FDA] should watch Jurassic Park.”
“It seems the FDA is more interested in pandering to lobbyists then listening to the American public and the other federal agencies it is required by law to consult with,” Hauter said.
At least 30 House members and 13 senators have expressed concern with the FDA’s review process for GE salmon, with many calling for its outright prohibition.
On Monday, Nov. 22, a coalition of groups including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, the Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now and CREDO Action will submit over 350,000 consumer comments to the FDA and President Obama, urging them to reject the approval of genetically engineered salmon.
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.