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Oregon’s GMO Sellout

10:30 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

- by Rebekah Wilce, originally published in the June 2014 issue of The Progressive magazine.

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law a corporate-backed bill overriding local counties’ ability to regulate their own food systems.

Even though the state of Oregon enacted a law to override the ability of localities to regulate their own food systems, local ballot measures to ban GMO crops passed overwhelmingly in Jackson and Josephine Counties on May 20, according to news reports. “We fought the most powerful and influential chemical companies in the world and we won,” Elise Higley, a local farmer with the anti-GMO group Our Family Farms Coalition, told The Oregonian. The Progressive magazine tells the backstory below and reveals that the preemption measure shares language with an ALEC model bill.

When the headline said that Oregon’s Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, had signed into law a corporate-backed bill overriding local counties’ ability to regulate their own food systems, Lisa Arkin was shocked.

“I can viscerally remember the day I looked at the headline,” she says. “It was such a deep feeling of disgust and disbelief. I couldn’t believe that any amount of money from outside corporations could convince our elected leaders in Oregon to abandon the democratic process in that way.”

Arkin is the executive director of a small nonprofit organization called Beyond Toxics that works to protect human health and the environment in Oregon by reducing the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides on farms, in forests, and along roadsides.

Arkin’s group sees every day the effects of herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup® glyphosate. Most genetically modified crops (GMOs) in the United States are engineered to withstand especially heavy application of this herbicide.

In a special session called for late September and early October 2013 to address Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System and education funding, legislators jammed through a bill that preempts Oregon counties from regulating their own agriculture and seeds.

The law, which Arkin and other critics call the “Monsanto Protection Act,” is eerily similar to a piece of “model” legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The new law and ALEC’s bill, entitled “Preemption of Local Agricultural Laws Act,” both contain this crucial passage: “A local government may not enact or enforce a . . . measure, including but not limited to an ordinance, regulation, control area or quarantine, to inhibit or prevent the production or use of agricultural seed, flower seed . . . or vegetable seed or products of agricultural seed, flower seed . . . or vegetable seed.”

The effort to block local democratic control of food issues in Oregon began after family farmers and sustainable food advocates in Jackson County gathered enough signatures in January 2013 to put a local GMO ban on the ballot in the spring of 2014.

“Our main goal is to protect family farmers and keep local family farmers sustainable in the Rogue Valley,” says Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer and director of Our Family Farms Coalition. “Having the counties decide on our own is imperative because in every county the layout of the land is so different.”

“All of a sudden, there was tremendous activity in Salem,” says Oregon state Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland). Lobbying groups for agricultural interests, he added, “became very active. They immediately put a statewide preemption bill onto the legislative agenda.”

The “Monsanto Protection Act” was first introduced in February 2013 by state Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena), along with a bipartisan group of legislators: state Senators Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), Herman Baertschiger (R-Grants Pass), and Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose). Johnson later voted against the bill after protest from her constituents, saying she had “rarely heard from as many constituents as we did on this issue.”

John DiLorenzo is a lobbyist for the pesticide and GMO industry trade group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, which has ties to global giants like Monsanto and Syngenta. He reportedly took credit for having drafted the bill. He testified in support of it before the Senate Committee on Rural Communities and Economic Development in March 2013, recommending it as an extension of another ALEC bill: the “Right to Farm Act,” adopted in Oregon as the “Right to Farm and Forest Act.” The bill passed the Senate in May 2013, but stalled in the House before the end of the session in July.

Family farmers, consumers, and environmentalists thought they had put this one behind them. “There was this sense of victory when the bill ultimately died in the regular session,” says Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers, a local advocacy group that spearheaded opposition to the bill. “It was a big surprise when it came up out of the blue as part of a negotiated package of five bills in the special session in early October.”

At the time of ALEC’s fortieth Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago in August 2013, Oregon state Representative Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) and Jeff Case, senior director of government affairs at CropLife America, a national pesticide and GMO industry trade group, were the co-chairs of the Agriculture Subcommittee of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. Case said he “couldn’t remember” who sponsored it, but it was “probably” one of the Oregon legislators.

The “Preemption of Local Agricultural Laws Act” became an official ALEC “model” bill to be taken to other states.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, state politicians were gearing up for a special session called by Governor Kitzhaber in order to come to a “grand bargain” on state pensions and education funding.

But a week before the official start of the session, Republican legislators seized on it as a way to do Monsanto a favor. Governor Kitzhaber acknowledged to The Oregonian that the GMO preemption bill had “nothing to do with the purposes for which I originally called the session” and that there was no “rational reason for it to be in” the bill package. But he added: “Apparently, the Republicans needed it to get enough votes.” He said he supported it because “it was the reality of the negotiating process.”

Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers told The Oregonian that “the bill takes away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. . . . This bill obviously came up as part of a backroom deal to move the larger package forward. That sort of political trading really isn’t the Oregon way. The governor and legislative leaders should be embarrassed.”

State Representative Buckley was surprised by the amount of lobbying on this. There were “remarkable displays of special interest power,” he says. “These guys came into the legislative process in a way that is rarely equaled in the state of Oregon. We are a small state. There was a lot of money put in, a lot of lobbying effort, far above what is regular procedure in our state, and they were able to force the issue to the top of the agenda for our state.”

Oregonians for Food and Shelter spent more than $200,000 lobbying the Oregon state legislature in 2013, and the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation spent well over $150,000, according to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

Governor Kitzhaber signed the preemption bill into law on October 8, 2013, and because the bill also declared an “emergency,” the law went into effect immediately.

In last-minute negotiations, Buckley was able to insert an exemption into the bill for his district, Jackson County, so that its ballot initiative to ban the growth of GMOs in the region remains on the ballot later this spring. All six of the world’s biggest pesticide and GMO companies—BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta—donated $455,000 to the effort to overturn the ballot initiative. Buckley said it was “more than eight times more” than any other county ballot measure has ever received.

“As more money is flooding in from out-of-state,” says Higley of Our Family Farms Coalition, “residents of the county are getting really activated to educate themselves, and getting so frustrated that they’re actually getting more involved in the campaign.”

Josephine County will also vote on a similar measure this spring, in defiance of the preemption law. But in general, counties’ efforts to exercise their rights to create or maintain a viable food system appropriate for their own region were preempted by the special interests behind this state law.

Oregon is a “home rule” state: A 1958 amendment to the state constitution allows counties to adopt charters and a 1973 state law granted the same authority to non-chartered as well as chartered counties. The national Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations says that Oregon county governments have the highest degree of local discretionary authority of any state in the nation, according to the Oregon Secretary of State.

Opponents of preemption like Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers saw the “Monsanto Protection Act” as a removal of local democratic decision-making that is guaranteed by the state constitution.

In response, Lane and Benton Counties are working to pass “community rights” ordinances instead of straight GMO bans.

Both Lane and Benton Counties are in the Willamette Valley, an area of deep and fertile agricultural soil surrounded by tall mountain ranges to the east, west, and south. Its richness and geographic isolation make it an ideal area for growing organic and heirloom seed varieties for use by family farms and gardens across the country.

But the area also grows the vast majority of the sugar beet seed for the country, and as of 2010, 95 percent of sugar beets grown in the United States are GMOs engineered to be resistant to heavy applications of Monsanto’s Roundup® glyphosate. Beets can cross with other beets as well as Swiss chard, interfering with the specialty seed farms.

So in Benton County, as in Lane County, local citizens have filed an initiative that “establishes certain rights to a local food system while banning GMO agriculture,” according to attorney Ann Kneeland, who is working with both counties to get their ordinances on the ballot. The initiative, she says, would “prevent corporations from eviscerating local law-making.” Their commercial rights should not trump “the community’s right to protect residents’ health, safety, and welfare,” she says.

As Kai Huschke, a local organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, notes, “We don’t really have a food issue problem as much as we have a democracy problem.” Read the rest of this entry →

Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars Distributed to Right Wing State Think Tanks without Disclosure

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

New Resource Details “Think Tanks” Tanking Americans’ Rights

State Policy NetworkMADISON, WI — The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the publisher of the award-winning investigation, is releasing a new web resource for reporters and citizens about the activities of Tracie Sharp’s State Policy Network (SPN) and its state “think tank” members. Although the funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is approximately $7 million a year, funding for SPN, its 59 state operations and the controversial Heartland Institute (a SPN ally like ALEC that tries to change both state and federal law) has topped $80 million in recent years. And these SPN operations often function like an echo chamber of the corporate-funded ALEC agenda. Read the rest of this entry →

Wal-Mart 18th Corporation to Dump ALEC, Becomes 22nd Private Sector Member to Leave

8:04 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was first published by CMD at

Wal-Mart, a member of ALEC’s corporate “Private Enterprise” board and of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force that adopted Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” as a “model” bill, announced yesterday that it is “suspending” its ALEC membership.

Wake Up Walmart Banner at a protest, with Rev. Billy Tallen crouched in front.

Protesters including Rev. Billy at Walmart. Photo by Brave New Films.

“We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC,” Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, Maggie Sans, told Reuters. Sans is stepping down as secretary of ALEC’s corporate board.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD’s) Executive Director, Lisa Graves, applauded Wal-Mart “for doing the right thing in leaving ALEC, especially in the wake of newly emerged information showing how ALEC has been skirting federal and state lobbying and ethics laws.” She added that “this is a very positive step for Wal-Mart,” a long-time leader and funder of ALEC’s operations, and “it also shows that the excellent work of advocates to shine a light on ALEC’s extreme agenda is having a major impact.”

Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world as well as the largest retailer of firearms in the United States. It had $421.8 billion in sales in 2011, edging out Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP — all of which are still ALEC member companies — for the most revenue, according to CNN.

Wal-Mart’s History of Involvement with ALEC

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National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Cuts Ties to ALEC

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

Teacher's CertificateThe national certifying body for teachers in the United States, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), participated in the Education Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) until April 2012. In an official statement sent to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) today, NBPTS spokesperson Brian Lewis said,

Given recent events, the new NBPTS President and CEO decided to discontinue engagement with ALEC. As a result, NBPTS terminated its membership as an Education Task Force Member of ALEC effective April 18, 2012, and also withdrew from participating in the upcoming ALEC conference. . . . The decision to participate in ALEC had been made by previous NBPTS leadership.

Although primarily a non-profit organization focusing on teacher certification, NBPTS also takes positions on pre-K through 12th grade education and higher education policy and tracks state legislation affecting certification policy.

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For-Profit Education Firm Kaplan is 14th Company to Dump ALEC

10:42 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

Kaplan, a for-profit education, tutoring, and testing empire that is the largest division of the $4 billion Washington Post Company, recently told the Republic Report (RR) that Kaplan’s for-profit college division “was a member of ALEC for a one year period, which ended in August 2011.” Kaplan’s membership in ALEC’s Education Task Force is documented in task force agendas and materials obtained by Common Cause and publicly released yesterday.

Kaplan Education Center

A Kaplan Education Center (Source: Rees Architecture)

The Education Task Force is currently co-chaired by Connections Academy, a for-profit education company, owned by Pearson (a British-based company that publishes Prentice Hall and Addison-Wesley textbooks as well as the Financial Times and Penguin Group imprints), that contracts with charter schools, school districts, or governmental entities to provide “online” lessons to students.

As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, ALEC’s education agenda encompasses a 20 year effort to privatize public education through an ever-expanding network of school voucher systems, which divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools to private schools. ALEC bills also divert public funds into private charter schools or for-profit internet schools. ALEC bills also allow schools to loosen standards for teachers and administrators, exclude students with physical disabilities and special educational needs, escape the requirements of collective bargaining agreements and experiment with other pet causes like merit pay, single-sex education, school uniforms, and political and religious indoctrination of students. Learn more about ALEC’s education agenda in The Nation.

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Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic

7:45 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

Talk to the Hand

With thousands of consumers expressing their concerns about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to corporations across America, even former supporters of ALEC are feeling the heat, and some are rushing to distance themselves from the organization. YUM! Brands (owners of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) became the 12th corporate member of ALEC to announce it is leaving the organization yesterday.

When the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released the ALEC Exposed website in 2011, staff worked to document and footnote every ALEC corporate member or supporter and former corporate member or supporter possible. CMD’s extensive footnoted list has been cited by news sources and campaigners across the country, although no one knows all the corporations that have funded or helped lead ALEC in its nearly 40-year history. CMD has listed the following organizations as known former ALEC members or supporters on its website,, and these companies have taken steps to make sure the public knows they are not currently supporting ALEC:

Cargill: An ALEC brochure from its 1998 annual meeting in Chicago lists Cargill, Inc. as a new ALEC member and a “Director” level sponsor of the meeting. (In 2010, a “Director” level sponsor would pay $10,000 to ALEC, but it is unknown how much a corporation would have paid in 1998.) On April 17, a representative from the Cargill corporate affairs office contacted CMD to say that the company is not a member of ALEC and that it has no internal records of ever having been a member of ALEC. The spokesperson told CMD that she had even talked to lobbyists from 1998. The document search was prompted by press and public inquiries. ALEC is a hot topic in Minnesota due to Governor Mark Dayton’s veto of seven ALEC-supported bills this session.

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ALEC Sends Out an SOS to Breitbart Bloggers

11:29 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

SOS in SandShortly after issuing a press release announcing that it was disbanding its “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” after 30 years, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held a training for the right-wing blogosphere.

ALEC Director of External Relations Caitlyn Korb spoke yesterday at a Heritage Foundation “Bloggers Briefing,” begging conservative bloggers for help while prepping “a very aggressive campaign to really spread the word about what we actually do.” Korb appears to be a new ALEC employee who recently worked for the Cato Institute. Both ALEC and Cato have received funding from Koch family foundations. The Heritage Foundation is an ALEC member.

The “Bloggers Briefing,” which was started by Heritage’s Rob Bluey and “a dozen conservative online entrepreneurs” six years ago, was broadcast online on “Breitbart TV,” a project of the late Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart’s team of bloggers and apparatchiks most recently gained notoriety for getting U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod fired. Breitbart released a clip of a speech given by Sherrod deliberately edited to create the false impression that she was prejudiced against white farmers. Her actual speech was a personal tale rejecting prejudice. Sherrod was later offered resinstatement by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, with apologies.

“We Haven’t Been the Subject of Many Headlines”

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Mars and Arizona Public Service Dump ALEC

2:56 pm in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

The seventh and eighth corporations to publicly state that they cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are candy-maker Mars and the Arizona Public Service Company (APS), Arizona’s largest electric utility. Mars had been an exhibitor at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans. Mars is the maker of Skittles, the snack Trayvon Martin had purchased before he was shot by George Zimmerman, whose arrest was delayed due to an NRA-backed gun law that became an ALEC “model” bill. Arizona Skittles

APS had been a member of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, which adopted such “model” bills as the “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives Act” and the “State Data Quality Act.” News of it breaking ties with ALEC comes on the heels of a new updated report on ALEC in Arizona published by People for the American Way, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Common Cause and ProgressNow.

Mars announced in an email to reporters, “Earlier this year, Mars, Incorporated reviewed all of its trade associations and sponsorships and decided not to renew the ALEC membership in 2012.” APS’ pledge not to renew its ALEC membership was announced today in the Arizona Capital Times. Color of Change has been urging a number of companies like Mars to leave ALEC, and today applauded the companies’ decisions to “place the integrity of their brands above association with a shadowy policy group.”

Mars and APS join Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonald’s and Wendy’s in their decision to distance themselves from ALEC’s extreme agenda.

CMD has asked supporters to send letters to ALEC corporate leaders asking them to cut ties with ALEC in the wake of the tragic shooting of Martin, a Florida high school student. Concerned citizens can click here to tell ALEC companies to stand down.

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at CMD also released the project in 2011, exposing the “model” legislation created behind closed doors by corporations working with state legislators in the American Legislative Exchange Council. This project has received the Sidney Award and the Izzy Award.

About the Author: Rebekah Wilce has a degree in writing from the University of Arizona. She is the lead writer for CMD’s Food Rights Network, with expertise in food and agriculture issues.

BREAKING: Intuit Out of ALEC; Coke, Kraft, Pepsi, too, while Koch Stands Ground

9:59 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

ALEC Exposed LogoA stampede seems to be on the way as more and more groups break ties and dump ALEC. Intuit, Inc. (maker of Quicken and QuickBooks accounting software) told the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) that Intuit also decided not to renew its membership after it expired in 2011. That comment came from Bernie McKay, Vice President of Government Affairs. He gave this response when CMD identified that Intuit was no longer listed on the board and contacted the company. CMD began its effort to spotlight Intuit and other corporate funders and tie these corporations to the ALEC agenda when it launched in July 2011.

Multinational food and beverage conglomerate Kraft Foods also announced that it won’t renew its membership in ALEC when it expires this spring, according to an email from Kraft Corporate Affairs Director Susan Davison. These announcements follow on the news that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are out.

Intuit’s McKay explained to CMD that the company doesn’t “usually issue statements about membership in any organization” and declined to comment further. According to Reuters, Kraft’s emailed statement explained, “Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.”

Other Corporations Refuse to Stand Down

Other corporate board members are doubling down, most notably Koch Industries and Wal-Mart Stores. “Yes, we plan to continue our membership in and support of ALEC,” Philip Ellender of Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC told Politico. Wal-Mart refused to withdraw its support of ALEC, claiming, “Our membership in any organization does not affirm our agreement with each policy created by the broader group.”

At what Reuters has called “political risk,” Pfizer, Reynolds American, Altria/Philip Morris and non-board ALEC member Procter & Gamble refuse to leave ALEC. Exxon Mobil and British alcohol firm Diageo (makers of Smirnoff products and Johnnie Walker whisky) declined to comment.

Pfizer, the world largest drug manufacturer, whose mission is “applying science and our global resources to improve health and well-being at every stage of life,” said, “We don’t agree with every ALEC position, but we participate in ALEC’s healthcare forums because state legislators that are the members in ALEC, they make decisions that impact our business and the country’s business every day.”

Reynolds, which makes Camel cigarettes and calls itself “the innovative tobacco company totally committed to building value through responsible growth,” said ALEC provides “a valuable forum for sharing of ideas and fostering better understanding of a broad range of both legislative and business issues.”[cont.] Read the rest of this entry →

Breaking News: Coca-Cola Dumps ALEC

11:36 am in Uncategorized by Rebekah Wilce

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at

ALEC Exposed LogoPublic interest groups campaigning to convince Coca-Cola to break ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) scored a major victory yesterday when Coke announced it had “elected to discontinue its membership with” ALEC.

According to a statement Coke made to the Washington Examiner, “Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our Company and industry.”

Take Action Coke Postcard 2011The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) launched its public campaign against Coca-Cola in August 2011, asking Coke “to stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate bill mill undermining our democracy,” and pointing out: “Your financial support underwrites ALEC’s agenda to:

  • Suppress voting by students and others through restrictive Voter ID laws.
  • Push climate change denial and restrict protections for our environment.
  • Undermine public schools by using tax dollars to subsidize for-profit schools.
  • Limit consumers’ rights and the basic right of workers to organize.
  • And privatize and ration Medicare and Social Security, as well as other government services.”

CMD’s campaign sent emails and postcards to Coke CEO Muhtar Kent. Gene Rackley, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at Coca-Cola Refreshments, had been on the ALEC corporate (“Private Enterprise”) board. The ALEC website no longer listed Coke on the corporate board as of last week.

Color of Change (CoC) launched an allied campaign targeting ALEC corporations, including Coca-Cola, in December 2011. Its petition drive resulted in over 85,000 signatures. CoC has focused on ALEC’s role in so-called “voter ID” legislation ALEC approved as a “model,” which will make it more difficult for citizens to exercise their right to vote. Several states have adopted bills with similar restrictions over the past two years, even though many civil rights groups, such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, CoC and others — including CMD/PRWatch — have noted that these voter restrictive bills will have adverse consequences on communities of color, the elderly, and college students.

CoC announced a public boycott of Coke yesterday, joined by other public interest groups. Coke published its statement backing out of ALEC within five hours.

Coke’s precipitous exit from the corporate bill mill comes on the heels of the quiet withdrawal of Pepsi from ALEC membership. Wal-Mart and Kraft Foods issued statements, similar to Koch Industries, sticking with ALEC, but several corporations that have served as ALEC leaders have been silent in the face of the growing controversy surrounding ALEC’s agenda on guns, voting, and other matters.

CMD launched a new set of petitions to all the corporations remaining on ALEC’s corporate board last week in the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Click here to tell ALEC companies to stand down!

This article was originally published by the Center for Media and Democracy at CMD also released the project in 2011, exposing the “model” legislation created behind closed doors by corporations working with state legislators in the American Legislative Exchange Council. This project has received the Sidney Award and the Izzy Award.

About the Author: Rebekah Wilce has a degree in writing from the University of Arizona. She is the lead writer for CMD’s Food Rights Network, with expertise in food and agriculture issues.