With yesterday's approval of the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon — the first genetically-engineered animal for human consumption — the door has opened for other GE livestock to enter the market.
And that means anti-GMO groups, which like to portray themselves as both green and kind, will be forced to reconcile their opposition with projects that have clear animal welfare and environmental benefits.
Because it's not just about Monsanto and RoundUp Ready corn any more. It's about livestock developed by public institutions — as opposed to easily-vilified chemical corporations — with traits that are hard to hate.
Like cows born that are born hornless, eliminating the de-horning process that both dairy farmers and animal activists hate. Cattle resistant to sleeping sickness, a disease that kills some 3 million animals annually in Africa, and requires large doses of drugs to cure. Poultry resistant to avian flu, which wiped out millions of chickens and turkeys in the U.S. this year. Pigs that can produce enough milk to successfully nurse their full litter, reducing piglet mortality. Cows and pigs that more efficiently utilize feed, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and frees up land for other purposes.
As these “public good” projects start coming forward, the biotech debate will necessarily be reframed. Is it any wonder that the anti-GMO groups are desperate to stop them? They don't want to lose their cash cow — the fear-mongering, anti-corporate campaigns that keep donations flowing to their coffers.
Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch wasted no time in soliciting donations to wage a legal battle against the FDA, which approved the salmon after a 20-year review that cost AquaBounty some $80 million.
Heck, even Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has taken a few tips from her pals at Center for Food Safety, adopting the group's strategy of creating and exploiting fears about GMOs as a fundraising tool. In an email sent to constituents this week, Tulsi ominously warns:
huge agribusiness corporations hide their use of GMOs and keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.
It was followed by the big red CONTRIBUTE button to “Help Tulsi Win.”
Anti-GMO groups like Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety can win even when they lose if they sue federal agencies, because they can recover legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
In one case, Earthjustice successfully argued that it obtained "excellent results" — despite failing to secure the permanent injunctive relief it sought — and was therefore entitled to a "fully compensable fee." According to court documents, Earthjustice has submitted bills that included time spent on spent on clerical tasks, public relations, press releases, soliciting clients and other matters unrelated to litigation.
In some cases, legal fees in excess of $2 million have been awarded.
If they file in expensive places like the San Francisco Bay Area, they get to charge fees that are the going rate for that market. Earthjustice's Achitoff, for example, gets to charge $400 an hour more in the Bay Area than he does in Hawaii.
In one case, Earthjustice and CFS sought these “enhanced” hourly rates for counsel: Paul Achitoff, $650; Andrew Kimbrell, $650; Will Rostov, $575; Isaac Moriwake, $525; Greg Loarie, $450; George Kimbrell, $410; Kevin Golden, $410; Paige Tomaselli, $385; Kateryna Rakowsky, $350; and law clerks, $150.
And we'll never know just how much these supposed nonprofits bring in from public donations to these legal campaigns, because they don't have to disclose.
Though it's generally accepted that corporations should be required to disclose everything, it's apparently OK to keep consumers and taxpayers in the dark about how much self-serving opposition is actually costing them in terms of higher food prices and government expenses.