Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The practice of lobbying is as old as the man himself and working through the power corridor to get what is desired by individuals and groups is not considered a crime under ant national or international law. But bribing those in power directly to influence legislation and derive unfair advantage is a crime that cannot be condoned. Unfortunately, the democratic system of government is easily susceptible to such distortions, detrimental to the interests of the honest tax paying denizens. More powerful the lobbying groups become, greater will be the damage to the society. In wealthy countries where industries are predominant playing an important role in the day to day life of the denizens, many government policies are shaped by the varying interests of the organized industries with undesirable consequences. Here is a scenario drawn from the US, a country being literally run by the lobbyists, as portrayed by a knowledgeable critic which has a lesson for other countries aspiring to be wealthy through industrialization.

"I agree with Rogers' assessment, with a caveat. Even if Obama were serious about transforming the food system (which I don't think he is), he would have to contend with a set of highly profitable incumbent industries, from agrichemical makers to cheeseburger purveyors, that will defend their interests by fang and claw on Capitol Hill. And their immense lobbying power leaves any would-be reformer in the White House with little room to impose change. Of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Rogers writes "he commands a $134 billion annual budget that includes agriculture subsidies, the National Organic Program, and food-stamp and nutrition programs." True, but Vilsack has very little discretion over how that cash hoard is spent. The USDA chief mostly executes farm policy made in the House and Senate ag committees, and those entities are notoriously captured by the Big Ag and Big Food lobbies. Just as health care reform could not move through Congress without making stark concessions to the insurance industry, just as even highly compromised climate legislation has been throttled by dirty-energy interests; and just as efforts to impose financial reform languish under the boot of Wall Street and its kept politicians, any serious presidential effort to reform the food system will crash into a brick wall constructed by the likes of Monsanto and Tyson Food. Which brings us back to the role of consumers. Voting with your fork, it turns out, is not enough. We can't just "be the change we want to see" in the food system; we also have to get out there and organize for policy reform: to become, in short, a countervailing force that challenges the power of the food lobby".

Probably the wailing by a few concerned persons like the above critic may not have any impact, especially when one is up against economic giants like Monsanto or Dow Chemicals or Cargill but still such voices will inject a sense of urgency amongst consumers to counter act the wheeling and dealing amongst the lobbying groups representing various economic interests and the unscrupulous politicians. The GM Foods controversy is a typical case where the industry view is overwhelmingly being accepted by the government ignoring scientific evidence and underplaying the risks to the consumers. Developing countries like India must learn a lesson from this experience and must not permit such international "profit at any cost" players to enter and manipulate the policies in their favor. The proxy war fought recently in India on Bt Brinjal should open the eyes of the citizens regarding the lurking dangers posed by the marauding industrial interests in getting a toe-hold in the country and make GM foods all pervasive, with unknown future consequences.


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