This is a Call to Action for a Non-Hierarchical Occupation of Monsanto Everywhere
Whether you like it or not, chances are Monsanto contaminated the food you ate today with chemicals and unlabeled GMOs. Monsanto controls much of the world's food supply at the expense of food democracy worldwide. This site is dedicated to empowering citizens of the world to take action against Monsanto & it's enablers like the FDA, USDA, EPA, GMA, BIO, and the processed food companies that use Monsanto's products.
The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
Food and Drug Administration
5100 Paint Branch Parkway
College Park, MD 20740-3835
cc: Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Food
Dear Commissioner Hamburg:
We write to you with the invitation to come join us for some delicious Stone Soup that we will prepare on Monday, April 8, outside the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, Maryland. At 1pm we would like you to address our concerns about the labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in the United States of America. We will bring a small public address system and will provide you with an opportunity to speak to those gathered about why the FDA refuses to change its outdated policies concerning the labeling of genetically modified (“GMO”) foods. We promise to be respectful. We are genuinely hungry for answers to our concerns.
As you very well know, your administration purports man-made, patented genetic technology in our food does not constitute a “material difference” to require a byline on a food label. This is a grossly benighted position that has evoked an eruption of public protest and media investigation for over a decade. This position leads us to ask: whom does the FDA aspire to protect? You owe the American people an explanation for why U.S. policy on GMO labeling keeps us ignorant of whether our food has been genetically modified, while citizens in other countries around the world are granted the right to make informed decisions based on accurate food labels.
Americans from all over the country will bring ingredients to make the Stone Soup on the public sidewalk outside the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.. Before they add their ingredient(s) to the pot, they will have the opportunity to address you and your staff members in order to express why they want genetically engineered foods to be properly labeled in America. The soup will be 100% vegan and we will compile a thorough ingredient list to show how easy it is to make an honest food label.
We expect some may come to speak about the pending disapproval of the genetically engineered Aquabounty Salmon and we hope staff members will consider listening to these oral comments, as well as accept hand-deliveries for docket FDA-2011-N-0899. As a novel drug that is bypassing the normal clinical research phases that drugs overseen by your administration normally require, there needs to be much more dialog with the American public in order to provide absolute proof that the food adulterants used to produce synthetic meat for human consumption are safe enough to not require mandatory GMO labels.
While we have asked everyone to bring their own bowls and spoons so that our picnic will not generate unnecessary waste, we will bring you and Michael Taylor your own bowls & spoons because we genuinely desire your presence. Our upcoming picnic has a purpose that we hope you and your staff members will fully acknowledge and embrace, which is Americans want the FDA to require GMO labeling. Moreover, we hope your staff members feel empowered to engage in a friendly dialog with us over a bowl of delicious Stone Soup.
By offering you organic food, we are not trying to bribe you or your administration in any way. Rather, we wish to speak with you through the act of sharing of a communal meal. Our sharing of food is symbolic of our peaceful demonstration of free speech, and thus an expression of one of the myriad fundamental freedoms we cherish as citizens. We hope you feel welcomed by our invitation, and that this letter inspires you and your staff to join us in the spirit of camaraderie between fellow eaters.
“The FDA has the opportunity and authority to do right by the American public. When issuing its rule requiring radiated foods to be labeled, FDA stated in broad terms that a decision to require labeling is not just based on the physical changes to the food but also on whether consumers view such information as important, and whether the omission of label information may mislead a consumer. The fact that the FDA has already adopted this broad interpretation of “material” facts demonstrates that [GMO labeling] is a reasonable – and therefore permissible – interpretation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).”
We are unaware of any official reply that was generated from your administration. Before we arrive on Monday, April 8, to prepare the Stone Soup, we would love a response posted on the FDA website because, frankly, we are really hungry for some answers.
Shareholders for Monsanto gathered on the campus of the Creve Coeur agri-giant’s world headquarters Thursday to elect members of the company’s Board of Directors.
Approximately eight demonstrators, calling themselves Occupy Monsanto, spent several hours Thursday afternoon holding signs and banners along Olive Boulevard. The group was protesting Monsanto’s use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and its lack of transparency in research.
Adam Eidinger, speaking on behalf of Harrington Investments and the Pesticide Action Network, read a statement to protesters before heading inside to speak to other shareholders. Eidinger said he owns 75 shares of Monsanto stock.
Eidinger said he was going to speak to the shareholders about transparency in labeling, research and business practices.
His speech read, in part:
The way forward is by upholding the Company’s pledge to transparency. First, this means following the lead of other Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Walmart and begin to stream over the Internet audio and video of all future shareholder meetings. Second, the Company should cease its efforts to stymie legislative solutions that provided increased transparency around GMO foods. States like Washington, Hawaii, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont and even here in Missouri have legislative solutions in the works. These efforts should be embraced by the Company, not fought off with lobbyists and lawyers. Third, the Company needs to provide scientists access to the Company’s seeds and existing body of research. Let independent scientist provide the much needed peer-reviewed studies, so the public at large believes this Company is being truly transparent.
Eidinger quoted Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant from an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Grant said “we (Monsanto) needs to do a much better job explaining where food comes from.” To view the full WSJ interview, click here.
Monsanto Annual Shareholder Meeting
800 Lindberg Road
Creve Coeur, MO
January 31, 2013
Good Afternoon. I am here speaking on behalf of Harrington Investments, the Pesticide Action Network and my 75 shares . Our resolution for consideration by fellow shareholders addresses serious and potential risks associated with our Company’s genetically engineered crops, the toxic chemicals applied to these crops, and the related civil liability our Company may face due to their continued sales.
I realize our resolution is the same as last year and is unlikely to receive enough votes today to pass. So instead of speaking to the merits of the resolution or the Board’s prepared response, I am going to use my limited time to inform fellow shareholders that a massive tidal wave of consumer rejection of foods derived from our company’s patented technology has yet to crash down, but will soon.
What I am speaking of is a historic re-ordering of what crops farmers will be permitted to grow and the near-complete collapse of our customer base if we don’t change our business practices. Customers in our value chain are beginning to reject our patented technology due to the unsustainable consequences its use brings for human health and that of our soil and water.
First of all, why is our Company and it’s industry partners as a whole so vigorously hostile to new independent, peer-reviewed research? Last Fall, Dr. Seralini’s research clearly showed that rats fed this Company’s NK603 corn over their lifetime had serious health issues versus rats fed the control, a non-genetically engineered diet. We know the Company’s Technology Agreement does not permit farmers to give their seed away to scientists for research purposes. But in order for Monsanto to uphold its official pledge of “Transparency,” the Company’s patented technology must be scrutinized by scientists in every country in the world, without restrictions. The Company must embrace all research, in all its forms, to be truly transparent with current and future customers.
It is clear from the research of Dr. Seralini, that exposure to glyphosate and our Roundup Ready family of herbicides in only trace amounts of drinking water was linked to severe tumors in these rats over a lifetime of feeding. Moreover, our Company’s own rat feeding trials were woefully inadequate in measuring the long-term health risks of foods derived from our Company’s technology because our studies took place over only 90 days versus a rat’s entire lifetime as shown in Dr. Seralini’s study. To dismiss long-term animal feeding studies that were reviewed by the same scientific journal that years earlier did not reveal the long-term impacts of eating GMOs in Monsanto’s own studies is another example of this Company being two-faced and opaque. Customers, government regulators, and concerned scientists deserve nothing less than crystal-clear transparency from this Company. This starts by welcoming research by scientists who may be critical of our patented technology.
Secondly, last year I warned shareholders and the Board of Directors that the Company’s misguided hostility to safe food activists and farmers was fueling a consumer backlash. There was the Just Label It campaign, which last year sent over 1.1 million petition signatures to the FDA requesting labels for GMO foods. This effort led by Stoneyfield Organic CEO Gary Hirshberg, set the record for the most public comments on a petition to the FDA ever. And most recently social media campaigns have emerged, like the GMO Inside campaign, which urges grocery shoppers to label the suspected GMO foods and post the photos to Facebook and Twitter, as they have done by the thousands.
And then there was Proposition 37 in California. When I asked you Mr. Grant straightforwardly last year, “How much would this Company spend to defeat the California Right2Know Ballot initiative,” you refused to answer my question. Today fellow shareholders I am displeased to report our company wasted $8.2 million dollars to defeat transparency in food labels. Spending millions of dollars through lies and misinformation is not the way to stop the customer backlash towards GMOs. It’s only made it worse. Shareholders need to take this breech of trust very seriously.
While the proposition to label GMO foods in California failed to pass by a slim margin, people now say that if this Company was so proud of its patented technology, it would demand labels just as much as grocery shoppers do. This paradox exists because the Company is not being transparent with itself. This blatant denial of the wishes of customers in our value chain has the fuel to generate a wild fire of grassroots activism against this company. Customers recognize the lack of transparency in our food labels means there must be something to hide and they are wising up to the fact that its our patented technology that is being concealed.
For that matter why is this a closed-door meeting and no video feed made available to the hundreds of millions world-wide who eat our patented technology? Why must we meet in secret if the Company truly embraces transparency?
Since last year’s shareholder meeting we know more than 6 million Americans have voted & signed petitions demanding more transparency in food labels. This voting block is not going away because they vote three times a day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Throughout 2012 there were over 150 large-scale protests against this Company’s opaque & undemocratic control of global food policy. There were at least 50 protests at Monsanto facilities world-wide this past September 17 alone and just this last Tuesday there were thousands who took to the streets of Argentina protesting this company. Unless things begin to change and become more transparent, these protests will increase in size and number. Mr. Grant, the grassroots are Roundup resistant.
The way forward is by upholding the Company’s pledge to transparency. First, this means following the lead of other Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Walmart and begin to stream over the Internet audio & video of all future shareholder meetings. Second, the Company should cease its efforts to stymie legislative solutions that provide increased transparency around GMO foods. States like Washington, Hawaii, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, and even here in Missouri have legislative solutions in the works. These efforts should be embraced by the Company, not fought off with lobbyists & lawyers. Third, the company needs to provide scientists access to the Company’s seeds & existing body of research. Let independent scientists provide the much-needed peer-reviewed studies, so the public at large believes this Company is being truly transparent.
A video published yesterday on the Wall Street Journal’s website, Mr. Grant said quote “we need to do much better job explaining where food comes from” We wholeheartedly agree. From independent scientific experimentation to honest food labels to streaming future shareholder meetings, this Company needs to look inward and become transparent.
Thank you for your time and I will answer questions shareholders may have.
2012 was the year the lights came up on the biotech industry. Its claims, its tactics and its products all came under scrutiny and some of its biggest PR fairytales bit the dust. Here are some prime examples.
1. Fleeing Europe: The biotech bubble needs to appear to be constantly expanding but in early 2012 came the news that the GM and chemicals giant BASF was pulling its GM division out of Europe because it was facing opposition “from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians.” BASF also announced it was stopping the commercialization of its GM Amflora potato, one of only two GM crops authorized for cultivation in the European Union. The crop had been a commercial flop. The industry’s only other crop grown in Europe, Monsanto’s Mon810 GM maize, continued to face bans in a number of countries including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, France, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Poland. Even GM crop trials are in decline and with BASF quitting Europe they’re expected to decline still further.
2. Meltdown in India: Bt cotton in India has been claimed as one of the industry’s biggest success stories but in 2012 the PR claims completely fell apart. First, a leaked agriculture ministry advisory to cotton-growing states admitted, “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.” Two new award winning films also helped expose the truth about GM cotton in India to a wider audience. So too did a powerful report from India’s Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, after its committee members visited five States, examined thousands of documents and talked to large numbers of farmers and experts. The 31 MPs also met around a hundred widows of Bt cotton farmers, including 14 in a village promoted by Monsanto as a model for Bt cotton’s success. It turned out the farmers in Monsanto’s “model village” wanted a ban on Bt cotton. The shocked MPs issued a unanimous report saying GM crops were not the right way forward for India and called for an immediate ban on all GM crop trials. Not long afterwards an expert panel of scientists set up by lndia’s Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on GM crops.
3. Opposition grows in the US: Everyone knows about California’s referendum on the labeling of food containing GM ingredients, which was narrowly lost in the face of a massive advertising blitz by its industry opponents. But it took all kinds of lies, dirty tricks and a cool $45 million to kill off the initiative, and still 48.6 percent of voters supported it. Worse still for the industry, the controversy it stirred up helped spread GMO awareness nationwide. Many other states and local governments are now picking up the fight for GMO labeling, while the national Just Label It campaign has already submitted over a million signatures to the FDA asking the agency to require the labeling of GM foods. Some activists even took to the supermarket aisles to label GMO foods themselves. The industry has also been facing street protests across the US, with at least 60 protests targeting Monsanto on the anniversary of the Occupy movement.
4. Opposition grows worldwide: In 2012 protests against GM crop trials and the biotech industry’s activities took place across the globe. And although 60 countries already have GM food labeling, important new breakthroughs were achieved in: India, which is to introduce labeling for the first time in 2013; South Africa, where GM labeling is being tightened up to help enforce food industry compliance; Brazil, where the courts forced the multinational food company Nestle to label GM ingredients in its products; and Turkey, where mandatory labeling is to be extended to include GMO-fed animal products.
5. The reality of GM farming overwhelms public relations – nature cannot be fooled: US farmers are having to use still more pesticides to try and save their crops as infestations of rootworms have exploded on GM (Bt) corn engineered to eradicate them. “I lost $25,000 in yield,” said Charles Sandager, a Minnesota farmer. “They are going to outsmart us, them bugs.” Likewise, in order to combat the ever proliferating numbers of herbicide-resistant superweeds, the GM industry is preparing to roll out crops resistant to older and even more toxic herbicides, as well as to multiple herbicides. Washington State University agronomist Charles Benbrook says what the GM industry is doing “makes about as much sense as pouring gas on a fire to put it out.” Benbrook’s research shows that GM crops, far from cutting agrochemical use in the US as the industry likes to claim, have unleashed a pesticide gusher.
6. Toxics exposed: Among the toxic herbicides GM crops are now being engineered to resist is 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange. Research has shown 2,4-D to be an endocrine disruptor, and has linked exposure to cancers, neurological impairment and reproductive problems. As a result, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have banned it, but the new wave of 2,4-D-resistant GM crops will massively increase the exposure of farmworkers and consumers to this dangerous herbicide. In 2012 there was also growing evidence of the dangers of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide, which with the considerable help of GM Roundup Ready crops is the most heavily used herbicide worldwide: + Glyphosate found in people’s urine - A German university study found significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers. All had concentrations of glyphosate at 5 to 20-fold the limit for drinking water. News of this study came not long after the publication of a study confirming glyphosate was contaminating groundwater. Last year also saw the publication of two US Geological Survey studies which consistently found glyphosate in streams, rain and even air in agricultural areas of the US. Glyphosate has also been found circulating in women’s blood and can even cross the placental barrier and so reach the developing fetus. + Glyphosate and Roundup damage DNA in human mouth cells – A 2012 study by Austrian researchers raises concerns over the safety of inhaling glyphosate, one of the most common ways in which people are exposed to the herbicide in the GM soy-producing countries of South America. + Glyphosate damages nerve cells – A new study adds confirmatory evidence to previous studies that found a correlation between Roundup exposure and Parkinson’s disease. + Roundup can cause amphibians to change shape - A 2012 study found that tadpoles exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of Roundup grew abnormally large tails. + Roundup kills rat testicular cells - A new study showed that at low doses Roundup reduced testosterone by 35% in mature rats. At high doses, it destroyed testicular cells. + Roundup harms beneficial gut bacteria – A study by scientists at Leipzig University found that Roundup negatively impacted the gastrointestinal bacteria of poultry in vitro. The researchers found that highly pathogenic bacteria resisted Roundup, whereas beneficial bacteria were moderately to highly susceptible to it. The study provides a scientific basis to farmer reports of increased gastrointestinal disease in animals fed GM Roundup Ready soy. + Roundup probably causes birth defects, according to a new peer reviewed paper published in the Journal of Environmental and Analytical Toxicology
7. Monsanto guilty of false advertizing: An advertisement for Roundup that Monsanto placed in Dutch newspapers made a number of misleading claims, according to the Dutch Advertising Code Commission. Earlier in the year, the Advertising Standards Council of India concluded that Monsanto’s claims of economic benefits to farmers from its GM cotton were baseless. Monsanto has also previously been found guilty of using wrong, unproven, misleading and confusing claims to promote either its GM crops or Roundup by advertizing watchdogs in the UK, South Africa and France.
8. Unethical research practices and scientific fraud: In December the Chinese authorities sacked three officials who had approved and conducted a controversial US funded research project that involved testing GM golden rice on school children. The officials were punished for “violating relevant regulations, scientific ethics and academic integrity.” The Chinese investigation into how the research was conducted has also provided evidence that contradicts the claims made about how much golden rice was fed to the children in a paper on the study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. As a policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has commented, “Either the researchers are lying about this now or they lied about it in their paper. It’s a serious offence either way.” Earlier in 2012 came the retraction of a study by researchers at the Monsanto-backed Danforth Center that claimed to have found a way through genetic engineering to boost the protein content of cassava. The retraction occurred “after researchers failed to find any supporting data to back up [the paper's] claims.” In late 2012 there was also news of researchers studying the Bt toxins used in GM crops having doctored images in a whole series of published papers. Neither of the researchers involved seems to be facing the sack, although one of the researchers is having to step down as head of their university’s Committee on Bioethics! In October of 2012 came the headline, “Top GM researcher falsified patent claim to grab national award.” Back in February 2012 there was yet another remarkable headline, “Untangling India’s Bt cotton fraud: ICAR’s top research institutes and GEAC [the key GM regulator] exposed in Bt cotton research scam.” The scam apparently involved, among other things, stealing a Bt cotton gene from Monsanto, but Monsanto itself and various Indian agricultural universities also stand accused of theft - criminal biopiracy – in the case of another GM crop. And that’s all in just the last 12 months! Some see all this as the result of an over-commercialised public science sector, while others suspect it is the inevitable by-product of GM crops being based on a fraud themselves – a massively hyped technology rooted in entirely false premises.
9. Seralini publishes explosive GMO/Roundup study: Prof Gilles-Eric Seralini’s research found serious adverse health impacts in the rats fed Monsanto’s GM corn (NK603) and/or small amounts of the Roundup herbicide that the crop was engineered to withstand. Wave after wave of dubious criticism, fuelled and orchestrated by those with industry connections, attempted to silence the questions raised by the long-term study, as well as to stifle scientific discourse and get the paper retracted. But as the dust starts to settle over the controversy, the study not only remains unretracted but there is a growing recognition of the need for long-term studies on GM crops of the sort Seralini has conducted. Worst of all from the biotech industry’s point of view, their supporters’ savage attacks on Seralini’s study have exposed the fact that a careful comparison of Seralini’s research with Monsanto’s own safety trials shows that if the Seralini experiments are considered insufficient to demonstrate harm, then those carried out by Monsanto cannot prove safety. This is because, whatever its limitations, Seralini’s study was conducted to generally higher scientific standards than the studies underlying GM food approvals. As a result, the attacks on Seralini’s study are bound to fuel calls for mandatory long-term testing of all GMOs and their associated pesticides before they’re commercialized, as well as bringing into question all existing GM crop approvals.
10. Regulatory capture exposed: The other damaging consequence for the biotech industry of the attacks on Seralini and the rush by the likes of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to reject the study, has been the resulting exposure of the double standards of regulators who have accepted Monsanto’s studies claiming safety for their products at face value while demanding that public researchers like Seralini prove any harm from GM crops beyond all doubt. This is why 140 French scientists in a public statement published in Le Monde, declared that it was contrary to all scientific ethics to damn an experimental protocol when it gave results that were not wanted, while accepting it when it gave results that were. EFSA’s behaviour has also brought further focus on the problems of regulatory capture and of serious conflicts of interest among the regulators. This was already an open scandal, not least after EU member states earlier in 2012 had had to refuse the nomination of an ex-Monsanto employee to EFSA’s management board. By the end of 2012 there was growing awareness of the extent of regulatory dysfunction and the scandal of government agencies doing exactly what multinational corporations ask them to do.
You wonder why we think petitions are a waste of time? Watch what happened on October 11, 2012, when OCA Political Director Alexis Baden-Mayer attempted to deliver petitions for GMO labeling:
We are told the arrest was for trespassing (When? Where? How are we supposed to deliver petitions in person?). We’ll update this entry with any further details…
Text from YouTube:
There’s no more basic right than petitioning the government – but not if there’s no one to receive the petitions. And so it was with the petition that called for the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO). Plenty of people want to know what they are eating and want food labeling to indicate if the food has been genetically modified.
But in this Instant Film, the story gets [interesting] when a couple of Jewish “missionaries” coincidentally roll up at the White House and ask to see the President, then perform the Jewish Tefillin ritual which consists of strapping a small box containing Torah verses to the head and arm of Adam, one of demonstrators, whispers to them about how GMO foods are not Kosher and how the insecticides now genetically engineered into corn, are killing the bees. But all this does not go unnoticed by the uniformed Secret Service, who become increasingly impatient, with a demonstration, now blocking an entrance, that seems to be spiraling out of control. But instead of arresting those blocking the entrance, they arrest the person trying to deliver the petitions, Alexis Baden-Mayer from the Organic Consumers Association.
A spokesman for the East Wing declined to comment on the record about the petition delivery or Mrs. Obama’s position on Prop. 37. And when she delivers the petition to the White House at 3:00 PM, Baden-Meyer will not be meeting with anyone from Mrs. Obama’s East Wing staff or the Let’s Move! campaign, she said, but rather with Stephanie Valencia, the Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement.
Three members of Congress have called for a federal investigation into possible conflicts of interest involving three officials of the Food and Drug Administration, which approved a controversial genetically engineered Monsanto Corp. drug last year. All three agency officials had some ties to Monsanto before coming to the FDA, but an agency spokesman denied there was any misconduct.
In a letter Friday to the General Accounting Office, Reps. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calf.), David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) asked the watchdog agency to conduct a 30-day review of the FDA’s approval of recombinant bovine somatotropin (bST), a substance that increases milk yields in cows.
“A troubling pattern of unanswered questions is emerging that suggests an altogether too cozy relationship between some FDA officials central to this food safety decision and their close dealings with the Monsanto Company,” Sanders said in a statement.
The letter- which cites an anonymous March 16 complaint ostensibly written by members of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)- asks the GAO to probe the roles of three “key” FDA officials in the approval of the Monsanto drug.
The highest ranking is Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for policy, a past FDA employee who rejoined the agency in 1991 from the Washington law firm King and Spalding, which represents Monsanto. Also named was Margaret A. Miller, deputy director of the agency’s office of new animal drugs. The letter characterized her as “a former Monsanto company employee” who wrote the FDA’s opinion on why milk from bST-treated cows should not require special labeling.
A third staff member, Susan Sechen, was described as a data reviewer at the FDA who had worked as a graduate student for a Cornell University professor who conducted Monsanto-sponsored research on bST.
Anti-biotechnology activist Jeremy Rifkin first made the charges about Taylor in February, when he petitioned the FDA to rescind the approval of bST and investigate the three staff members’ role in the agency’s policy.
On March 15, FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler sent Rifkin a four-page letter stating that “none of the activities of Mr. Taylor cited in your petition were in violation of any applicable law or regulation, or were otherwise inappropriate … I believe that Mr. Taylor’s behavior adhered to all applicable ethical standards.”
Kessler said that Taylor had not been “intimately” involved in Monsanto’s efforts to obtain approval, as Rifkin charged, and that he was involved in the FDA’s bST policy only in the final stages of review.
Kessler attached a nine-page memo by FDA ethics official Jack M. Kress supporting that position. Upon arrival at the FDA in the summer of 1991, Taylor recused himself for one year from taking part in any agency action dealing directly with Monsanto or any other King and Spalding clients.
Some longtime agency critics found the charges against Taylor misplaced. Sidney Wolfe, a physician who heads the Public Citizen Health Research Group here has filed complaints with the FDA about revolving door ethics issues concerning other officials. But he said yesterday that “It’s barking up a silly kind of tree to be going against Mike Taylor.”
Wolfe said that “as far as we’re concerned, he’s done a perfectly good job.” Wolfe compared Rifkin’s charges to saying that anyone who worked for a drug company and began working for the FDA should not be allowed to say anything about drugs in general- a stance that Wolfe characterized as “preposterous.”
As for the two other FDA employees named in the House members’ letter, agency spokesman Jim O’Hara said there was no impropriety. “As we have learned of these allegations, we have looked at them. The appropriate safeguards against conflict of interest have been taken,” O’Hara said.
Miller was no involved in the decision to approve bST, and Sechen’s involvement with the bST review was approved at the outset by the FDA’s ethics and program integrity division, which “determined that there was no a conflict of interest based on the information they were provided,” O’Hara said.
Although reluctant to comment in the face of a possible investigation, Taylor said yesterday that “I would welcome any scrutiny of my actions.”
Much of the material used in the lawmakers’ letter, including the anonymous CVM letter alleging Miller’s conflict of interest, came from Rifkin, a long-standing opponent of bST. Bill Goold, a spokesman for Sanders, said the search of scientific literature relied upon by Sander’s staff in drafting the letter came from Rifkin’s organization.
Rifkin has fought against the approval of bST for more than seven years as a part of an all-fronts assault against biotechnology. He called his ethical charges “a significant scandal” that he said showed moral weakness at the top of the organization. “We want Kessler’s resignation,” Rifkin said yesterday. He said that the nine-page ethics memo by FDA’s Kress was “people in government trying to protect their own.”
Sanders and Obey have previously taken stands against the approval of bST and its use without consumer labels that identify the milk as coming from cows treated with the drug.
But many Capitol Hill staff members were surprised to see Brown- who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee- as a signer of the letter.
Sources familiar with the process said key committee staff members felt they had been end-run by activists. One congressional aide said staff members who normally would be informed of such an action were unaware that Brown had signed the letter.
“George’s issue is with the process of approval. He wants to make sure people are squeaky-clean,” the aide said. Brown did not see the FDA response to the Rifkin petition before signing the Sanders letter, an aide said. Obey said yesterday that he had seen the FDA response and “I’m frankly not impressed.”
Some acquaintances of Taylor were incredulous that the official would be the object of ethical scrutiny. “There’s no more ethical person in this town than Mike Taylor,” said Wayne Pines, a former FDA official who now consults with companies on FDA matters. “Mike would never get involved in a situation in which there’s a conflict- that’s such a no-brainer.”