I have followed and been involved with developments at the national level
on the ag-food-technology-environment-policy front since the late 1970s. I
think there was a sea-change in the 1980s, a decade of virtually non-stop
attacks by Reagan, and later Bush, on the federal government. Both the
science-based agencies and Congress changed incrementally over the 12 years
Republicans ran government. Senior officials, all sympathetic to the
business community and dedicated to limiting the ability of agencies to act
on the public's behalf, cooperated with the trade associations,
consultants, the Hill, Washington lobbying crowd to punish gov't
scientists/officials who got off the reservation. They also were tireless
in finding better ways to ball up the administrative process with lots of
rules, hurdles, impossible burdens of proof, opportunities for industry to
counter adverse findings by government by collecting more data which, if
nothing else, could be reliably counted on to delay actions by another 5-10
That's why EPA still cannot get high-risk, 1950s era pesticide technology
off the market, despite the clear mandate of the FQPA and all the great new
chemistry farmers can use, not to mention bioIPM and other "management
based solutions to management based problems," to borrow one of your
important contributions to the Sanet dialogue.
The beginnings of the pro-biotech stance in the federal government
occurred in the mid-1980s, again with and through the business-dominated,
by then seemingly permanent Republican power structure. Clinton's victory
was most unexpected and obviously shook things up. But Gore had been a
biotech booster already for over a decade, and things just continued to
evolve in the same way.
Despite almost 8 years of Democratic control, the ex. branch agencies are
still dominated by the career officials/staff that came in during the
Republican years. I see little difference in how USDA and EPA agencies, at
the staff level, function today compared to 1992 when Clinton was elected.
If the Dems hold the White House, another 4 years might be enough to start
to bring some new blood and new commitment to federal agencies. Don't hold
your breadthe though.
And last, a huge part of the problem in the U.S. has been the collapse of
Congress as a meaningful partner in the policy process. I worked for the
Congress 1981-1984. Back then, despite the craziness of the EPA scandal
and attempts to rewrite virtually all environmental and public health laws,
the place had integrity, the members could have intelligent discussions and
often did work out good solutions through an open bipartisan process.
Beginning with the Jim Wright episode, Congress basically tore its guts out
live on camera, and is now overwhelmed with the stench of what it has
brought upon itself. It's a miracle they can get a budget passed. As the
ex. branch agencies and Congress have gone south, other forces -- mostly
the permanent influence bureaucracy in D.C. -- have filled the void. So,
if you wonder why Glickman's speech and USDA policy is so biased, look no
further than who is investing in influencing the message. The biotech
business community has spent hundreds of millions on D.C. "corporate
affairs" and these affairs have become those of government.
I hear there is more news yet to break on the Glickman speech, what was in
it, what was not and why. Perhaps we should return to these themes when
the story unfolds, as I suspect it will soon.
Charles Benbrook 208-263-5236 (voice)
Benbrook Consulting Services 208-263-7342 (fax)
5085 Upper Pack River Road firstname.lastname@example.org [e-mail]
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 http://www.pmac.net
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