November 9, 2013
Monsanto’s Friends in High Places
by Hunter Lewis
on November 9, 2013
Note: The following is adapted from Hunter Lewis’s new book Crony
Capitalism in America,
now available in
the Mises Store.
companies hope to send an employee into a government agency to
influence regulation. How much better if the employee can actually
shape government regulation to promote and sell a specific product!
Monsanto seems to have accomplished this — and much more.
Taylor is among a number of people with Monsanto ties who have worked
in government in recent years. He worked for the Nixon and Reagan
Food and Drug Administration in the 1970s, then became a lawyer
representing Monsanto. In 1991, he returned to the FDA as Deputy
Commissioner for Policy under George H. W. Bush, and helped secure
approval for Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine (cow) growth
hormone, despite it being banned in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia,
and New Zealand.
was only a start for Taylor. He also did not like some producers
advertising their milk as bovine-growth-hormone-free. That seemed to
put Monsanto’s product in an unfavorable light. So in 1994 he wrote a
guidance document from within the FDA requiring that any food label
describing the product as bovine-growth-hormone-free must also
include these words: “The FDA has determined ... no significant
difference has been shown between milk derived from [BGH] and
non-[BGH] supplemented cows.”
apparently did not concern Taylor that this new pronouncement by the
FDA was unsupported by either Monsanto or FDA studies. A private
company making any such unsupported claim could have been charged
with fraud. But since it came out of the FDA, milk producers would
place themselves at legal risk by not printing it on their label.
moved to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the mid-1990s.
During this period, he tried to persuade the FDA and Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) to take a further step and make it illegal for dairies
to make any claim to a bovine-growth-hormone-free product. Failing in
that, he reached out to state governments to make such a claim
illegal at the state level. This was finally blocked by a court
decision in Ohio that there was indeed a “compositional difference”
between BGH and non-BGH-treated milk. Long before this 2010 ruling,
Taylor had returned to Monsanto as a vice president, and then
returned to President Obama’s FDA, first as Senior Advisor on Food
Safety and then Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
story, however, is not just about milk, or even mainly about milk.
During his second posting at the FDA, as Deputy Commissioner for
Policy 1991–1994, Agency scientists were grappling with questions
about the overall safety of genetically engineered foods (often
labeled Genetically Modified Organisms). As Jeffrey Smith notes,
memo after memo described toxins, new diseases, nutritional
deficiencies, and hard to detect allergens. [Staff scientists] were
adamant that the technology carried “serious health hazards,” and
required careful, long-term research, including human studies. ...
Agency, under Taylor’s and later under others’ leadership, simply
ignored these findings. No human studies were required. GMO foods
were allowed to enter the food supply unregulated by the FDA and
barely regulated by the USDA, which views them as an important US
export product. By 2012, in the US, 90 percent of sugar beets
(representing half of overall sugar production) was GMO, 85 percent
of soybeans (which are to be found in 70 percent of all supermarket
food products), and 85 percent of corn, including the corn used to
make high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener used in most soft drinks
and processed foods.
few scientists trying to conduct independent research on GMO often
found their careers damaged. Most food research, conferences, and
fellowships are funded by “Big Food” companies including Monsanto,
which has a chilling effect. Even sympathetic colleagues may be
reluctant to back those who dare speak out.
who persevered in conducting independent research, often abroad,
reported worrisome findings. An Austrian study found that mice fed
GMO corn seemed fine in the first and second generations, but by the
third were sterile. A Russian study of hamsters fed GMO soybeans
found a similar result. Could human beings exhibit a similar, delayed
response? No one knows. Another, unrelated study showed that the
pesticide used in large quantities on engineered Roundup Ready crops
is toxic to male testicle cells and threatens both testosterone
synthesis and sperm count.
the same time that the FDA tries to remain as silent as possible
about GMOs, the US Department of Agriculture and other parts of the
US government are doing everything they can to promote them. The USDA
under both George W. Bush and Obama has sought to accelerate what is
already an automatic rubberstamp for new GMO products, to
“deregulate” them (including grasses such as alfalfa that cannot be
restricted to the planted area), and to provide immunity from
lawsuits over the spread of GMO crops to adjoining organic farms.
Immunity from lawsuit was especially ironic. For years, GMO producers
had threatened, intimidated, sued, and in every imaginable way
attempted to bully adjoining farmers. If any of the patented seeds
drifted and were found on the neighboring farm, that farmer would be
charged with “theft.” The clear message: buy the patented seeds or
face destruction through legal costs. Remarkably, courts were buying
this specious argument. But finally the persecuted began to
counter-sue successfully, and the USDA immediately rushed to provide
legal immunity to the GMO producers in the form of an insurance
policy that organic farmers would have to buy and that would be their
only available form of compensation.
we have chosen to focus on the remarkable revolving door career of
Michael Taylor at the FDA and Monsanto, because it has potentially
affected the future health of hundreds of millions of people, stories
like his are not uncommon. A Chicago
Tribune article from 2012 is headlined: Chemical Firms
Champion New EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Expert. It
describes how Todd Stedeford worked at the EPA from 2004–2007 under
the George W. Bush administration, then joined chemical firm
Albemarle Corp. While at Albemarle, which makes flame retardants, he
defended chemicals used in many products and even suggested that the
standard set by the EPA for flame retardants was 500 times too high.
Having returned to the EPA in 2011, under President Obama, he is now
“in charge of a ... program studying whether dozens of industrial
chemicals, including flame retardants, are too dangerous.” One
must ask: what was the EPA thinking when it made this appointment?
Ruckelshaus, twice EPA head, once said that “at EPA you work for a
cause that is beyond self-interest. ... You’re not there for the
money, you are there for something beyond yourself.” But on
leaving the EPA, he himself became a Monsanto director. Meanwhile the
Geneva-based Covalence group placed Monsanto dead last on a list of
581 global companies ranked by their reputation for ethics.
look at some Monsanto representatives and their positions in
Suzanne Sechen, worked on Monsanto-funded academic research
A primary reviewer for bovine growth hormone in FDA
Linda J. Fisher, VP, lobbyist for Monsanto
Assistant Administrator at EPA
Michael Friedman, MD, Sr. VP, GD Searle, subsidiary of Monsanto
Acting Commissioner of FDA
Marcia Hale, international lobbyist, Monsanto
Assistant to President under President Clinton
Michael (Mickey) Kantor, director
Secretary of Commerce and US Trade Representative under
William D. Ruckelshaus, director
Head of EPA under both Presidents Nixon and Reagan
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Lewis is cofounder of Against Crony Capitalism. He is the former CEO of
Cambridge Associates and the author of eight books, including two new
books, Free Prices
Now! and Crony
Capitalism in America: 2008-2012. He has served on boards
and committees of 15 not-for-profit organizations, including
environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as
well as the World Bank. See Hunter Lewis's article
can subscribe to future articles by Hunter Lewis via this RSS
(October 12, 2010).
Ibid., (September 11, 2012).
Michael Hawthorne, Chicago
Tribune (September 10, 2012).
Oral History interview, Ruckelshaus article,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com, (January 28, 2010).