Ag Policy Blog

WikiLeaks Reveal Shows Effort to Influence Clinton on GMOs

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The WikiLeaks release of John Podesta's emails opens up details on how Hillary Clinton's campaign has been pushed on an array of political issues, including labeling legislation on GMO crops.

Podesta is chairman of Clinton's campaign. WikiLeaks has been releasing thousands of emails to and from Podesta dating back to at least 2008.

The release provides a steady stream of details within Clinton's campaign The FBI on Wednesday announced Russia the email release may reflect an effort by the Russia to influence the U.S. election.…

At least some emails show how people focused on one special interest sought to influence the presidential race.

Over the past two years, Gary Hirshberg, organic yogurt king at Stonyfield Farm and chairman of the group "Just Label It," repeatedly emailed Podesta on the issue of biotech crops. He and other critics of biotech crops sought help from the Clinton camp in criticizing the legislation that eventually led to a GMO disclosure law signed earlier this summer by President Barack Obama. The GMO critics also declared the U.S. regulatory controls.

Hirshberg sent a March 13 email this year with the subject line: Urgent need to talk and for you to act with the WH (White House).

In that email and others, Hirshberg was worried both that the Senate Agriculture Committee bill on GMO disclosure would pass. Hirshberg also was concerned that the entire GMO labeling effort would end up helping Sen. Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton because the federal bill ended up preempting Vermont's GMO labeling bill.

Hirshberg wrote to Podesta, "I can promise you that if President Obama signs this terrible legislation that blatantly validates Bernie's entire campaign message about Wall Street running our government, this will give Bernie a huge boost and 10,000 -20,000 outraged citizens (who WILL turn up because they will be so angry at the President for preemption Vt, will be marching on the Mall with Bernie as their keynote speaker. In short, I feel certain that Obama (who famously promised on camera to implement mandatory GMO labeling) signing this bill will result in adding at least another month or more of money and attention to the Sanders campaign."

Hirshberg added that the federal GMO bill would go away if the White House and Clinton campaign worked together to pressure Senate Democrats to stop the bill. "To avoid this, this bill can still be stopped if the WH and Clinton campaign come down now on the 12-14 farm state dems who Roberts will need to pass this compromise." Senate Democrats were united in the spring against the Senate Ag bill, but voted for the compromise over the summer.

Podesta replied in the March email asking about the stance of Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, "Has Vilsack signed off on this?"

In another email, Hirshberg referred to the push to stop the Senate bill by attacking Sanders' backers. "I have already used it to stop a lot of whiny Bernie people in their tracks."

While Hirshberg aggressively pushed for Clinton to squash the Senate bill, Podesta also asked to visit with Pam Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which was a client of the lobbyist firm the Duberstein Group. A lobbyist from Duberstein emailed Podesta in December 2014 noting that Bailey wanted to talk to Podesta about GMOs.

Hirshberg made it sound like the GMO labeling bill could tip the scales for Sanders during the primaries. "It will be terrible to hand Sanders this advantage at such a fragile time when we really need to save our $$$ for the Trump fight. We should discuss with your team immediately," Hirshberg wrote.

Hirshberg initially emailed Podesta in June 19, 2015, on the GMO labeling bill offering a position and polling data. Hirshberg added strong criticism of GMOs and the regulatory structure. He pointed to the controversial decision by the International Agency for Cancer Research to declare glyphosate as a "probable" carcinogen, a decision not backed by scientists advising EPA.

Hirshberg wrote, "As I explained to you on the phone, there is very clear and compelling USDA and USGS data demonstrating a strong likelihood of serious health and environmental threats due to the skyrocketing increases in herbicides associated with GMO usage. The most prolific of these compounds has now been found by the WHO to be "probably carcinogenic", and the USGS reports that 60-100% of Iowa rainwater contains them. Leading agronomists and public health scientists are extremely concerned that these trends are rapidly increasing. To me, this is the key reason why citizens need the right to know and therefore choose, but in the interest of brevity, I have spared you a summary of those data. As you will read, we believe that the Right to Know is a compelling and rational position even without the Secretary having to become conversant about the herbicide "treadmill", but I am happy to supply you with a brief on that problem if you wish."

Last February as the primaries were just getting tough, Hirshberg also forwarded another email he had received from other GMO labeling activists questioning Clinton's stance and championing Sanders' position. Hirshberg wrote to Podesta that a strong statement by Clinton "would go a long way to putting an end to this flank of Bernie's support."

And in other topics,

Podesta got an invite to a BBQ in June 2015 for an event hosted by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., that would include a lot of moderate members of the House and Senate. The email from one of Podesta's special assistants, who also had an update on some of Heitkamp's key issues such as EPA's waters of the U.S. rule.

"Waters of the (US) is a huge issue along with conservation. As a prairie pothole state, this is huge for farmers and outdoorsmen. No one likes it and views it as a huge overreach. HH talked to Podesta about this at length."

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