Truth about Trade & Technology is a US-based group with a "grassroots" pro-GM campaign led by influential members of the farming community. But when Truth about Trade fulminates against "ignorance and deceptive propaganda" on the GM issue "spread by entrenched special interests" some might consider it more than a little guilty of projection. Not least as it is led by a man who has been accused of consistently selling out ordinary American farmers and jumping into bed with agribusiness.
Truth about Trade & Technology - a GM WATCH profile
(for links to sources)
The Iowa-based organisation Truth about Trade & Technology describes itself as 'a grassroots farm organisation' and 'a nonprofit advocacy group led by American farmers narrowly focused, issue specific - as we support free trade and agricultural biotechnology'. (Statement of Purpose)
The main feature of its website is a news section offering the latest GM-related headlines, plus regular weekly commentaries by its Chairman, Dean Kleckner - 'Kleckner Speaks Out', and more occasional comment pieces from other members of its board. Kleckner's commentaries are also circulated on the internet, most often via the pro-GM listservs AgBioView and Agnet.
According to Truth about Trade's website, 'In the 21st century, trade and technology are inextricably linked... concerns about technology, both feigned and authentic, are increasingly used to justify protectionism. These fears are not based upon scientific fact, but upon a mixture of unfortunate misunderstandings owing to ignorance and deceptive propaganda spread by entrenched special interests.'
In a speech to the annual meeting of CropLife America, which is led by the major GM and agrochemical giants, Dean Kleckner warned that progress in promoting biotechnology was painfully slow, 'Whenever we seem to make some progress--such as a figure of Tony Blair's significance coming down firmly on the side of science -- we also have to endure the agonizing experience of watching millions of Africans starve because their political leaders can't make reasonable and humane decisions.' The context of this remark was African leaders refusing to accept GM grain as food aid. Despite the implications of Kleckner's statement, there is no evidence that anyone has starved because of a country's concerns over GM-contaminated food aid, although there has been considerable criticism of the US's exploitation of the food aid issue for trade purposes.
Other similarly emotive but unsupported claims have been made on the Truth about Trade website, eg 'Did you know that thousands of children starve every day? ...it isn't because of a worldwide shortage of food. It is because of a worldwide shortage of trade and technology.' Kleckner has also said, 'We ought to ask those who demagoge the issue of biotechnology, how many vitamin A deficient blind children will you allow to achieve your objective? How many iron deficient women must die in childbirth for your direct-mail fund raising efforts? How many more lives will you sacrifice for your "cause"?'
Kleckner also claims, 'We have researched the protesters and where they get their money. What we find is that there aren't a lot of people involved but they're loud, well-organized and well-funded... Truth About Trade will continue to dig and ferret out information on these and other anti-agriculture groups. We intend to shine a very bright light on these groups and hold them accountable for their actions.'
Kleckner's own background is as an American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) leader, having served until 2000 as AFBF president for fourteen years. This followed ten years as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. Several other board members of Truth about Trade also have notable Farm Bureau connections, including Craig Lang who became president of the Iowa Farm Bureau in 2001.
With nearly five million members the AFBF is the nation's largest farm organization and is said to be among the most powerful special interest groups in Washington, DC. But many, if not most, of its members are not farmers at all, having become members simply by buying its products, such as insurance, via a Farm Bureau company.
In fact, while posing as a nonprofit organization whose tax-subsidised activities are intended to improve the lot of American farmers, the Farm Bureau is in reality a gigantic agribusiness and insurance conglomerate. Its stock portfolio includes such agribusiness giants as Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Monsanto, Phillip Morris, Dupont, Novartis and Dow. (see 'Rightwing business in farm overalls')
The Farm Bureau's massive financial interests are said by some to help it promote a self-serving and extreme political agenda. In 1968 Representative Joseph Resnick of New York, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Rural Development, described the Farm Bureau, which was was founded originally in the early 1900s by the New York Chamber of Commerce, in this way:
'What might once have been a conservative, business-oriented organization is now considerably more. By my calculations, the Farm Bureau is the most efficient conduit now in existence for the dissemination of right-wing propaganda.'
Resnick also declared the Bureau to be 'a perfect sewer-line for transporting right-wing ideology, particularly to our young people.'
The Farm Bureau has passed resolutions opposing, amongst other things, the Voting Rights Act - the cornerstone of US civil rights protection, the Equal Rights Amendment, gun control and an increase in the minimum wage. The anti-civil rights resolution was approved while Dean Kleckner was AFBF President. (see 'Farm Bureau is a Front')
In recent years Farm Bureau leaders have expressed increasing antagonism towards environmentalism and some Farm Bureaus have been notable amongst those who have formed alliances with the so-called 'Wise Use' movement to lobby against environmental regulations. (see 'The war against the greens')
In 2000 the Farm Bureau leadership, including Kleckner, was the subject of an investigative 'Sixty Minutes' report by CBS news. Among the issues CBS investigated were some of the Iowa Farm Bureau agribusiness financial ties, including $3.5 billion in FBL Financial Services - a Farm Bureau related company that is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
FBL Financial Group has given thousands of stock options to its directors, including the presidents of 14 state Farm Bureaus. According to the CBS report, Ed Wiederstein, when president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, received a 'couple of hundred thousand bucks from stock options' that he cashed in in 1998, a year of severe economic hardship for Iowa farmers.
According to farmers quoted in the CBS programme, the Farm Bureau's investments have placed them in the pocket of corporate America. Iowa farmer Linus Solberg told CBS, 'All [the Farm Bureau's] decisions are made for corporate America because they own part of it".
According to Mississippi Farm Bureau farmer, Fred Stokes, 'Farm Bureau has the same relationship to its members as Sears and Roebuck does to its customers'. When it was discovered that the national Farm Bureau's Washington lobbyists had sent a letter opposing a moratorium on agribusiness mergers to all Congressional members, the Mississippi Farm Bureau passed a resolution 'rebuking' the Farm Bureau's national leadership for 'conflicts of interests.'
According to Stokes, 'The national Farm Bureau policy book is full of statements expressing concern about concentration of market power and monopoly in agribusiness. Yet AFBF president Dean Kleckner and the national staff consistently sell out their members and jump in bed with agribusiness.' (see 'Lords of the Land')
According to John Hansen, when president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, 'I've been working on farming concerns for 30 years and I can't think of a major issue where the Farm Bureau didn't have the same position as the grain and meat processors. It's impossible to represent the interests of food producers (farmers) as well as food processors like ConAgra, IBP and ADM. The two groups' economic interests are almost always at odds.'
This kind of dissatisfaction within AFBF's membership, along with the worsening farming crisis, is said to have resulted in Dean Kleckner being removed as AFBF president. Kleckner subsequently developed his role as Chairman of Truth about Trade. Kleckner has also written articles promoting GM crops for Tech Central Station and appeared on a number of platforms, including an event at Cancun which also featured the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Greg Conko and which was organised by Consumer Alert.
Another Truth about Trade board member is Bill Horan who also currently serves as a board member for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). According to NCGA spokesman Stewart Reeve, Syngenta, Monsanto and others contributed about 11 percent of the NCGA's $7 million budget in fiscal year 2001.
Horan is also a past president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and also has strong Farm Bureau connections - he's a past president of the Calhoun County Farm Bureau. Horan's also on on the board of the Iowa Ag Finance Corporation.
Bill Horan is a partner in the Horan Brothers Agricultural Enterprises based in Iowa, which has been among the most aggressive states at trying to build a bio-pharming industry, involving crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals. Horan has been at the centre of that campaign and on the Truth about Trade website, Bill Horan says he foresees that corn could 'become the main vehicle through which the pharmaceutical industry develops the next generation of wonder drugs'.
Horan Brothers have already grown GM corn for Meristem Therapeutics, a French biotechnology company. The corn has been genetically engineered to produce an enzyme for treating digestive disorders caused by cystic fibrosis.
The idea of growing drugs in food crops has come in for strong criticism, particularly since errors involving the biotech company ProdiGene led to the contamination of soybeans and non-GM corn in 2002 with a corn engineered to produce an experimental pig vaccine. 155 acres (63 hectares) of corn had to be burned and 500,000 bushels (175,000 cubic meters) of soybeans destroyed.
A strongly-worded editorial in the normally pro-GM journal, Nature Biotechnology, warned the biotech industry not to be so foolish as to 'grow your drug-corn in the Corn Belt'. Doing so, it suggested, was not 'really so different from a conventional pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical manufacturer packaging its pills in candy wrappers or flour bags or storing its compounds or production batches untended outside the perimeter fence'. (Drugs in crops - the unpalateable truth) Yet Horan and Truth about Trade project pharma corn as the inviting future for farmers in the Corn Belt.
Some looking at Truth about Trade might suspect that when it fulminates against 'deceptive propaganda' on the GM issue 'spread by entrenched special interests', it was more than a little guilty of projection.