The USDA recently approved a form of industrial corn that upsets the North American Miller’s Association, who warn that contamination would have “significant adverse impacts.”
Why did Enogen, which is used for ethanol production, get approval?
The answer has something to do with the surge in lobbying activity from Swiss biotech firm Syngenta, during which they created campaign funding relationships with almost every high-ranking agricultural official in Congress.
From 2000 to 2010, Syngenta spent a remarkable $15.4 million on campaign contributions through its PAC and both direct and third party lobbying activities.
The two pharmaceutical giants sold off their agribusiness divisions, which then merged into Syngenta, incorporating in Switzerland during the year 2000.
By taking on the assets and productions of both companies, Syngenta was an immediate corporate colossus in the 'Crop Protection' industry. It is now the world's leading corporate producer of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.
With a primary $5,000 donation from Astra-Zeneca's PAC, 'Syngenta PAC' was formed in Delaware, a tax-shelter state.
The creation of a political action committee provided Syngenta with a legally sanctioned financial mechanism inside the U.S. through which to funnel corporate money and distribute it as campaign contributions.
In 2000, Syngenta made no donations to any candidates but, as Paul Minehart, a spokesman for Syngenta confirms, the company was in the beginning stages of developing the enzyme that would become Enogen.
Syngenta PAC raised roughly $66K in the 2002 cycle and donated just over $5K of it to House and Senate candidates of both parties.
However an analysis of Syngenta's giving for the year demonstrates a clear focus on giving to Republicans in states with larger agricultural industries.
In addition, Syngenta made its first PAC to PAC donation, of what would be many, to a group called CropLife America that represents the interests of the crop protection industry on Capitol Hill.
The company also spent $1.66 million on lobbying activities for the year, $1.42 of it directly and $280,000 of it through private lobbying firms.
In addition to the $1.56 million it spent on lobbying, Syngenta gave to 35 House and 7 Senate race, expending $647,000 in total to the campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
An analysis of their targeted giving however, shows a focus on incumbent Republicans in key agricultural states.
In that vein of spending, 2004 marked the first election cycle that Syngenta made its first PAC to PAC contribution to an organisation called CropLife America that represents the interests of the crop protection industry on Capitol Hill.
CropLife gave money through their PAC to many of the same candidates chosen by Syngenta in 2004, a trend that has continued during every election since.
That enzyme would become Enogen.
The announcement was likely welcome news to Syngenta stockholders who could foresee a raise in their share prices if the company could effectively enter the natural energies market with a breakthrough product.
Syngenta's accumulated investment in Enogen's research and development was still accruing as they began to roll out plans for a product that would clearly need regulatory approval from United States regulatory agencies to realise revenues and justify the company's long term investment.
The company's FEC filings for the year show that $9,202 of the PACs money came from 'Individual Donors' and the rest from Syngenta's corporate funds.
However, a closer look at the filing details shows that every individual donor who gave to Syngenta PAC that year was an employee of Syngenta. In fact, other than the $5,000 from Astra Zeneca in 2000, no money has ever been donated by anyone other than Syngenta employees or the company itself.
$5,000 of the money spent in 2006 went to the campaign PAC of Rep. Collin Peterson (R-MN), a powerful member in agricultural legislation from a farming, Midwestern state.
Peterson had received money from Syngenta in previous elections and was involved with a few of the bills that Syngenta lobbied on in The House during 2006.
Peterson also received $3,500 from CropLife America which, in turn, was the recipient of $1,000 from Syngenta PAC during the same election cycle.
With the 2010 shift in majority to the Republicans, Peterson was named Chairman of The House Committee on Agriculture, the congressional body that most closely oversees the USDA.
Where they contributed to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) who, like Colin Peterson, was an influential legislative voice in agricultural matters.
Lincoln was a frequent recipient of Syngenta's donations and her PAC 'Leadership in the New Century' was a frequent recipient of money from CropLife America, including $7,000 in 2006 alone.
In 2010, Lincoln appeared at an even in Memphis, where she received a check from Syngenta made out as a charitable donation to a local food bank of which she had long been a vocal supporter.
Lincoln was named the incoming Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee in 2009, but despite more large contributions from both Syngenta and CropLife America, she lost her seat in a surprise upset during the 2010 election.
Recently, Lincoln announced that she has taken a position on the board of Entergy, an energy company with a burgeoning financial interest in 'Green Energy,' that includes ethanol production.
Yet, despite a large amount in lobbying expenditures ($1.24 million), Syngenta did not register lobbying activity on one single bill before either body in Congress.
CropLife America received $3,000 for the cycle and their list of recipients again closely matched Syngenta's, with Collin Peterson and Blanche Lincoln, among many others, as recipients.
In last year's elections, Syngenta spent more than $100,000 on direct campaign giving for the first time after restrictions were lifted on corporations. They also renewed their lobbying on bills before Congress, registering activity on almost 40 separate issues up for debate in both the House and Senate as the approval process for Enogen picked up steam.
With Colin Peterson manning the gavel for the House Agricultural Committee and CropLife America very active in most of the Congressional elections throughout 'The Corn Belt,' Syngenta received FDA approval for Enogen in August but the USDA decided to continue its debate on the enzyme's safety as a food-grade technology.
Syngenta cooperated with the agency and, despite issues with the disclosure of some of their findings, received their controversial approval in February.
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