Trump’s Task Force on Rural Pros­per­ity Is Yet An­other Sham

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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.

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