Friday, February 17, 2012
White House shields industry strategy memo on GE crops
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
February 17, 2012
White House Refuses to Reveal Scope of Partnership with Monsanto and Cohorts
Washington, DC — The Obama White House’s work to push regulatory approvals behind the scenes for genetically-engineered (GE) crops should be publicly known, according to legal briefs filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For the past five months, PEER has been litigating to force release of documents detailing the activities of a White House-led “Agriculture Biotech Working Group” consisting of officials from ten agencies dedicated to promoting GE agriculture.
The Working Group is chaired by the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) which has only released tiny fragments of materials to PEER in its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. OSTP still refuses to divulge lists of agenda items, schedules and other indicia of its work on GE issues.
While not a member of the Working Group, the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), whose most prominent member is Monsanto, the world’s leading GE seed company, appears to be intimately aware of the White House actions, as indicated by snippets of correspondence surrendered by OSTP. Indeed, the White House is withholding a portion of an email it received from a BIO lobbyist on the grounds that it would reveal “trade secrets” and confidential business information. To justify that stance, OSTP has submitted a sworn affidavit dated January 20, 2012 from BIO General Counsel Thomas DiLenge claiming its disclosure “would create substantial competitive harm” by –
“…revealing BIO’s strategy to those who disagree with BIO’s advocacy objective. BIO operates in an advocacy environment in which there are many organizations that oppose the use of biotechnology, particularly in the agricultural arena, and that seek to persuade federal, state and local agencies to restrict the technology’s use. If this information were released, competitors could imitate or seek to counteract BIO’s strategy and further their own contrary agendas at the expense of BIO and its members.”
Despite its sensitivity, the BIO affidavit maintains the email was sent to the White House “inadvertently.”
“We suspect the reason an industry lobbyist so cavalierly shared strategy is that the White House is part of that strategy,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass, who is arguing the email should be a public record. “The White House’s legal posture is as credible as claiming Coca Cola’s secret formula was ‘inadvertently’ left in a duffel bag at the bus station.”
PEER became involved because the White House Working Group was pressuring the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to plant GE crops on scores of national wildlife refuges, as part of an effort to rebut foreign government concerns about planting these crops. PEER and other groups are now suing to block these plantings.
“The White House should let the public know what it is doing in the name of the public,” Douglass added, noting that PEER has previously settled similar suits with the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the State Department after these agencies deferred to OSTP as the custodian of Working Group files. “Despite its rhetoric about science-based decision-making, this White House appears to be doing everything in its power to thwart prudent scientific, economic and public health examinations of consequences of removing barriers to the spread of GE crops, even on nature preserves.”