Trump’s Task Force on Rural Prosperity Is Yet Another Sham
The Trump Administration is going to war again on International Trade. This time it’s to go after overseas regulations blocking the export of GMO crops into Europe and China, among other places, all in the name of – no kidding – ‘rural prosperity’.
As with many government initiatives that need covering up to go forward, this one has a misleading name. It’s “Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity”. It was established on April 25, 2017, by Presidential Executive Order. The Task Force’s intended purpose is, according to the order, to “identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote in rural America agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security, and quality of life.”
The order goes on to reference the need for coordination internally within the government, and for the preparation of a report summarizing the findings and recommendations.
It all sounds good, but at least a few of the sections give a clue to what the real agendas appear to be. These include item (ii) above regarding advancing “innovations and technology for agricultural production”, item (ix) covering the ability to gain private access to water from previously-protected public lands, item (xi) about the export of agricultural products, and item (xiii)’s notes about dealing with “hurdles associated with access to resources on public lands for the rural communities that rely on cattle grazing, timber harvests, mining”.
The agenda became even clearer when the Task Force started its work. A group supposedly dedicated to Rural America might take as its first step some assessment of what Rural America and its farming communities really need. Instead, it took on the role of Government battering ram on behalf of America’s Agribusiness behemoths.
During the first meeting of the task force back in June, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer drove the point home as clearly as possible. “We are going to bring cases at the WTO and other venues, we’re going to insist that any barrier be science-based, and the United States will increase exports,” he said. The phrases about “science-based” are agribusiness codewords for the Genetically-modified Crop development community’s push to combat opposition to sales of GMO seed varieties and related crops. Much of Europe already has bans in place regarding the use of GMOS and/or their connected herbicide ‘partners’. Many of Monsanto’s patented seed varieties work hand-in-hand with its glyphosate-based herbicides, and Europe in particular has been putting in more and more regulation banning the import and use of glyphosate and GMOS. Other regulations, while less restrictive, still require clear labeling of a product which includes GMOS as having some genetically-engineered components. Agribusiness also wants to stop that, for fear the labeling will cause some decrease in sales.
For the GMO Agribusiness giants, another battle line had been drawn with China, a country which has in the past been anti-gmo and slow to approve genetically-modified crop products coming through its borders. Only a few years ago, China blocked more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn already on its way to China, because the shipments included an unapproved GMO variety created by Syngenta. The U.S. farmers who had planted the seed have an ongoing class-action lawsuit with Syngenta, which alleges the company convinced them to plant the seed before crops based on it had been approved for sale internationally.
On these fronts, the role of the task force is not about Rural America at all. It is instead about using World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and other threats, to shove down Europe and Asia’s throats that they need to accept the deadly cocktail of GMO crops and/or GMO seeds plus their toxic glyphosate herbicide partner, which at least much of Europe feels is a scientifically-proven carcinogen.
The way the task force will do this is on the grounds of ‘science-based arguments’, saying that since the GMO products being shipped to Europe or Asia are deemed ‘safe by science’ within the U.S., that Europe and Asia cannot block them even if ‘their science’ says something different. The rationale will be that unless there is unequivocal proof of harm that the countries either need to accept the shipments based on existing trade law, or pay major damages. It could – and likely will – become a very ugly set of arguments.
There are also the concerns expressed overseas with respect to shipments of raw seeds and herbicides themselves. When GMO seeds are put into use, they are patented products of the companies which provided them. Residual seed from the fields can be blown across to other farmlands where non-gmo crops were
grown, and some of those seed will grow. The GMO seed companies then sue the non-gmo seed users over patent infringement, which of course they offer to settle in return for the formerly non-gmo crop growers converting to using GMO seed. For countries other than the U.S., the argument on that is that it should be within a country’s rights not to accept GMO seed, in the same way it would easily reject poultry contaminated with avian flu. The agribusiness companies of course reject all that as a hypothetical problem not covered by trade agreements anyway. They will once again wave the WTO banner to force their way in again.
Supposing the agribusinesses have their way, eventually, is the end result then at least going to be good for Rural America, as the executive order requires that as a primary goal of the new Task Force? Will the ‘adoption of [those] innovations and technology for agricultural production’ support ‘long-term sustainable rural development’, as part (ii) of Sec. 4 of the orders says it must? Hardly.
So far, virtually every piece of the sales pitch about using GMO seed and the herbicides designed to work with them has been a lie. As some examples:
“It will mean more jobs.” -- Not true. As GMOS have overtaken market share of most of the large-volume crops in the United States, such as corn, cotton, and soybeans, the farms involved have become increasingly industrialized, with jobs decreasing at faster rates than ever before.
“The seed may cost more, but the increased yields will more than make up for it.” – Not true. In fact numerous studies, including a study conducted by the Department of Agriculture just a few years ago, have shown that yields are not only not ‘substantially better’ using GMO seeds and herbicides together, in some cases the yields are even worse with GMOS.
“It helps provide increased food security.” – Not true. With GMOS now dominating their markets, where there once might have been hundreds to even thousands of different varieties of seeds, the presence of so many species helped minimize the chance of a single regional weed or pest being able to take out an entire type of crop. Now, with the narrowing of the number of different varieties just because of the economies of scale agribusiness demands, the crops are more vulnerable than ever before to an upstart weed or pest emerging which has at least some increased immunity to the herbicides or pesticides set up to work with existing GMOS.
“It’s safe for the environment”. – Not true. Not only has the herbicide shown up in dangerous amounts in the final GMO crops themselves, the environmental damage caused by increasingly-larger applications of the herbicides is spreading. It is bad enough that traces of glyphosate are showing up now in a wide variety of non-gmo products in the U.S., For example, even Ben and Jerry’s ice cream had traces of glyphosate in amounts big enough to be of concern, in recent tests from just a few months ago. The herbicides also have the problem that in large quantities they tend to sterilize the soil, making the ecosystem of bugs, weeds, and birds that feed on them die off or go elsewhere. Add more herbicide to kill the more resistant new weeds and the situation gets even worse.
As for the rest of the agenda outlined in the Task Force, more will be learned about precisely how ‘rural America’ focused it really is. The sections about being able to access public lands more easily, for agricultural use to access water, for grazing lands for herds of cattle, pigs and more, and for easier access for the energy industry to frack for gas, drill or scrape from tar sands for oil, and run pipelines with impunity, for the most part seem once again to be more about big business than about the individual rural farmer.
With Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue, from the Perdue agribusiness family, chairing the Task Force, one can expect even more givebacks to corporations of all kinds as the work proceeds. There is also now a target of October 22 that Perdue has now set for the report to be complete, so one can also expect some near-term information leaking from the committee on all the other things it intends to do.
The one thing you likely won’t be hearing about is anything important that is truly just to benefit Rural America. Because despite the name of the Task Force, that group is already showing up as perhaps the least important stakeholder this Task Force cares about.