A boneheaded Bush administration lecture on science

The secretary of agriculture instructs the rest of the world to pay more attention to scientific fact. Who is he kidding?

Published May 29, 2008 3:55PM (EDT)

How the World Works has no particular reason to think badly of Ed Schafer, the recently sworn in secretary of agriculture. The former North Dakota governor and successful businessman (his father founded the company that invented Mr. Bubble) seems like a decent enough man.

But one does wonder how representatives of the current administration can stand up in front of reporters and say, with straight faces, some of the absurdities that they are wont to deliver.

On Thursday morning, Schafer held a press conference to announce the message that the U.S. delegation would be delivering in Rome, next week, at a U.N. conference on "Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy."

At the conference, the message I will deliver on behalf of the United States will be straightforward: The United States contributes more than one-half of all the world's food aid, and the world's other developed nations have an obligation to provide food efficiently, without obstructing access to it or limiting safe technologies to produce it...

...Third, the United States will propose that all countries consider strategies that expand research, promote science-based regulation, and encourage innovative technology, including biotechnology.

Italics mine.

How the World Works has always thought it unseemly for the U.S. government to act as the bag man for the biotech industry -- it may be excusable for Schafer to slap himself on the back and tout how much food the U.S. is already giving away, but it's a lot less justifiable to propose solutions to the world's food security needs that are really just thinly disguised marketing pitches for American corporations. But that's a story for another day. Right now, I'm still having trouble believing a representative of the Bush administration thinks it is kosher to lecture other nations on the necessity for science-based regulation.

I know what he means: the U.S. position -- again, at the behest of the biotech industry -- is that other nations should not be able to ban genetically modified food products unless they can prove, scientifically, that they post a real danger to human health or the environment. But has there been any other American administration, this century, that has been more dismissive of science, or more brazenly political in its policymaking? The disemboweling of the EPA, the rank politicization of agencies like the Fish & Wildlife Administration, the attempts to crack down on outspoken climate researchers, the repeated efforts to water down climate research ... the list goes on and on and on.

Ed Schafer may be a well-respected guy in North Dakota, but if he goes to Rome and tells the rest of the world that they need to respect the rules of "science-based regulation" he's going to come off as one ugly American.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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