USA: Former Monsanto Lobbyist Appointed to Represent Consumers on GE Food Issues

Publisher Name: 
San Francisco Chronicle

Leading consumer and environmental groups are fuming because the Clinton
administration has appointed a former Monsanto Corp. lobbyist to represent
U.S. consumers on a transatlantic committee set up to avoid a trade war
over genetically engineered foods.

U.S. farmers have planted millions of acres of corn and other crops that
have been genetically engineered to resist pests, and the growers want to
export such produce freely. But in Europe, where genetically altered crops
have been dubbed Frankenfoods, governments have imposed labeling rules and
safety tests that have restricted U.S. imports.

Friction between the United States and Europe over the foods issue
torpedoed last year's World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle and
now threaten to erupt into a transatlantic trade war.

In a last-ditch effort to settle their differences, U.S. and European
leaders agreed in May to create a 20-person Biotechnology Consultative
Forum, representing pro and con interests on both sides of the Atlantic.

In a letter appointing the U.S. members of this advisory forum, Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright asked them to suggest a compromise on labeling,
safety testing and other regulatory issues, and to present it to the next
U.S.- European economic summit in December.

To build support for this compromise effort, the State Department asked
environmental and consumer opponents of bioengineered foods to nominate
their representatives to the biotech powwow.

But this gesture backfired when the State Department ignored the nomination
of consumer representative Michael Hansen -- a scientist with Consumers
Union -- and instead gave the post to Carol Tucker Foreman, a Capitol
insider who recently took over food issues for the Consumer Federation of
America after 18 years as a lobbyist.

What angered critics most is that during her lobbying days, Foreman helped
Monsanto -- the firm most closely identified with genetically engineered
foods -- win approval for bovine growth hormone, a chemical that stimulates
milk production.

''We think it's a big mistake to appoint a person to represent consumers
who's been so closely tied to the biotech industry,'' said Dan Seligman,
the Sierra Club's representative on trade issues.

A U.S. government official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the State
Department is aware of the flap created by Foreman's appointment but
believes the committee -- which includes Norman Borlaug, the father of the
''green revolution'' -- represents ''a broad range of civil society.''

Foreman, 62, was on vacation, and associates at the Consumer Federation of
America said she could not be reached for comment.

But federation Executive Director Stephen Brobeck called it ''absurd'' to
suggest that Foreman, who has worked on Capitol Hill for 40 years, would be
beholden to Monsanto because she did some ''modest consulting'' for the
company five years ago.

''I would challenge anyone to identify any statement or action since she's
returned to CFA that did not serve the public interest,'' Brobeck said.
''People in this town move between the private, public and nonprofit sector
all the time.''

Foreman's career exemplifies Capitol Hill's revolving door.

An Arkansas native, Foreman came to Washington in 1961 as a Senate staffer,
became executive director of the Consumer Federation of America in the
early 1970s and was appointed an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department
of Agriculture during the Carter administration.

In her government role, Foreman earned praise and criticism from consumer
colleagues. Foreman helped persuade Congress to eliminate a co-payment
requirement that had kept millions of people from getting food stamps. But
she also relaxed poultry inspection rules that favored big chicken farmers
like Arkansas' Tyson Foods.

But what really irked critics is what Foreman did after she left USDA in
1981 to form her own lobbying firm. In addition to helping Monsanto get
USDA approval for bovine growth hormone, she also lobbied for Olestra,
Procter & Gamble's fat substitute, and consulted with tobacco giant Philip
Morris.

Critics concede that Foreman's corporate involvements never damaged her
Democratic Party credentials and marvel at how her Arkansas roots
--her brother is Jim Guy Tucker, the former Arkansas governor and
Whitewater figure -- enhanced her access in the Clinton administration.

''It didn't surprise me at all when the White House nominated her to this
international committee,'' said John Stauber, co-founder of the Center for
Media and Democracy, a Madison, Wis., nonprofit that tracks lobbyists.

''She's trusted and tight with the Democratic Party, she isn't threatening
to industry and she has managed to retain consumer credentials,'' Stauber
said. ''Who better to try to smooth over these differences (between Europe
and the United States) and make the world safe for the export of
genetically engineered foods?''

A source close to the transatlantic commission said Foreman was chosen
because she is a pragmatic dealmaker who is more interested in compromise
than confrontation.

Some of Foreman's critics also seem to prefer that the transatlantic
compromise effort fail. Lori Wallach, a trade specialist with Public
Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said if
U.S.-European differences over genetically engineered foods spark a trade
war, it could topple the entire WTO framework which, in her view, favors
corporate profits over worker and consumer interests.

Meanwhile, those who want the commission to achieve a compromise are
running out of time. The first meeting of the transatlantic forum probably
won't occur until September because many of the European members are on
vacation.

''My hope for the forum is to bring the United States around to regulatory
approval and labeling policies that are more consistent with the European
policies,'' said Rebecca Goldburg, a scientist with Environmental Defense,
a nonprofit advocacy group. Goldburg was appointed by the State Department
to fill the environmental slot on the transatlantic committee.

''But we have an incredibly broad charge and a limited amount of time,''
she said.

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture
  • 106 Money & Politics
  • 181 Food and Agriculture