Saturday, January 8, 2011


U.S. Catches Up with Science On Fluoride in Drinking Water
Obama Administration Calls for Lower Limits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 7, 2011 1:55 PM

WASHINGTON - January 7 - Since 2005, Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been pushing the federal government and municipal water utilities to reduce the levels of fluoride in drinking water to protect children from tooth enamel damage ("dental fluorosis") and other potential health problems. Today those concerns have been heard. The nation's top health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced plans to lower the agency's maximum recommended fluoride level from 1.2 milligrams per liter of water to 0.7.

"We've had to wait too long, but the government's announcement marks a belated recognition that many American children are at risk from excess fluoride in drinking water and other sources," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's senior vice president for research. "Since 2005, EWG has been calling on federal agencies to respond to these findings, which come from National Academy of Sciences and many others, documenting that excess fluoride exposure poses dangers that range from discolored teeth to potential hormone disruption and neurotoxicity. HHS has taken an important first step. Now it's up to water utilities to respond and for the EPA to lower its too-high legal limit on fluoride in drinking water, which is more than five times the new maximum being recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services."

Fluoride has been added to community drinking water supplies since the 1940s to help prevent tooth decay. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 184 million Americans – nearly 70 percent of the population – currently drink fluoridated water. Over-exposure to fluoride can be toxic, causing dental fluorosis (mottling and loss of tooth enamel) and skeletal fluorosis (joint pain, stiffness and bone fractures). Some studies point to a possible link between fluoride exposure and osteosarcoma (bone cancer), neurotoxicity and disruption of thyroid function. Read more about fluoride and EWG's work on the issue here:

In 2007, the Municipal Water District of Los Angeles considered increasing the levels of fluoride in its drinking water. EWG pushed back and the utility reversed itself.

"The government is changing its mind after operating for decades under the assumption that the old recommended limit for fluoride in tap water was perfectly safe," Houlihan added. "This decision is another signal to the public to take care when it comes to exposures to industrial chemicals; what is considered safe today won't necessarily be thought safe tomorrow. New science usually reveals new risks and drives more protective standards, as we've seen today with the government's fluoride announcement."

NOTE: Jane Houlihan and others at EWG are available to speak with the media at any time. 202.667.6982
The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.


Health Leaders Call for Healthy Farm Bill
January 7, 2011
4:31 PM

Next Farm Bill should put Americans on path to healthier eating and living

Minneapolis, MN - January 7 - U.S. health professionals are calling on new leadership in Congress to make health a priority in writing the next Farm Bill. National health leaders, including Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Marion Nestle, have signed onto a “Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill.” (See the full list of signatories at

The Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill calls for a food system that incorporates health into the entire lifecycle of how food is produced, processed, consumed and disposed. Such a food system must protect the environment as well as ensure farmers and workers are fairly compensated. The charter’s principles emphasize a food system that is healthy, sustainable, resilient, fair, diverse, economically balanced and transparent.

Congress is expected to begin work on the five-year Farm Bill this year. The Farm Bill includes programs for farmers and for food assistance. Traditionally, Congress has not integrated public health issues into Farm Bill programs, despite strong scientific evidence that food production and consumption patterns are linked to rising health costs and associated diseases.

“The Farm Bill helps create an American food environment where unhealthy food is the cheapest and most readily available,” says David Wallinga, M.D., of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). “Given the enormous health costs of obesity and other food-related epidemics, integrating health goals into the next Farm Bill is a good investment and smart public policy—a real no-brainer.”

“Healthy food is fundamental for good health,” says noted physician and author Dr. Andrew Weil. “It only makes sense that the Farm Bill should encourage production of more foods that are good for our health and are grown in ways that do not undermine our health.”

“The links between agriculture, public health and the environment become more apparent every day,” says Marian Nestle PhD, of New York University and author of Food Politics. “The next revision of the Farm Bill presents the perfect opportunity to create American food policies that promote healthier and more sustainable diets for everyone.”

Healthy Food Action, a project of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, works to engage health professionals as advocates for a healthier, more sustainable food system. Read the full charter at
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.

CONTACT: Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy
Ben Lilliston, Communications Director
(612) 870-3416


How the Farm Lobby Distorts U.S. Foreign Policy photo: ConanTheLibrarian John Lillis

by Marc-William Palen
Published on Saturday, January 8, 2011 by Foreign Policy in Focus

Thanks to the hard work of the U.S. Farm Lobby, America’s love of cheap food has stretched more than an engorged waistline. It now stretches the limits of American foreign policy.

Over the past century, the Farm Lobby’s influence on the U.S. government has increased alongside the consolidation and growth of U.S. agribusinesses, the principle recipients of federal farm subsidies. The redistribution of taxpayer dollars to American agribusinesses not only creates artificially cheap global prices, it also continues to undermine the development of agrarian-oriented economies throughout the world.

Now it appears the Farm Lobby’s efforts are hamstringing American national security, as well. The New York Times has just discovered that the Farm Lobby has been circumventing U.S. economic sanctions against the world’s leading rogue states.

Bypassing Sanctions
In other words, at the same time that war hawks in government denounce economic sanctions as ineffective, their American Farm Lobby allies, among other groups, have been quietly bypassing the regulations. After filing a Freedom of Information lawsuit and overcoming strong resistance from the Treasury Department, The New York Times has revealed that, for the past decade, the Farm Lobby has ignored economic sanctions by using a Treasury Department legal loophole—a loophole the Farm Lobby helped craft—in order to trade with Iran and other countries listed as state sponsors of terror.

The Treasury Department law, drawn up in 2000, included the loophole principally to help American farmers export their devalued surplus goods. Falling under the vague label of “humanitarian aid,” nearly 4,000 U.S. businesses have since done billions of dollars in trade with blacklisted countries. So-called humanitarian products even include cigarettes and hot sauce. A spokesperson for the American Pop Corn Company, for instance, defended his product as humanitarian, noting that “popcorn has fibers which are helpful to the digestive system.” The law was defined so broadly that “humanitarian aid” included any item on the Department of Agriculture’s list, from seeds to soda, and grains to gum. U.S. exports to Iran, for instance, have skyrocketed from almost nothing to about $1.7 billion, and those to Cuba have reached about $3 billion since passage of the law.

It's not just gum and soda. "In one instance," reports the Times, "an American company was permitted to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation."

Damaging Loopholes

The Obama administration has since dismissed the report as minor. But the foreign policy community can't ignore the creation of loopholes “that you can drive a Mack truck through,” says Stuart Eizenstat, who was in charge of sanctions policy in the Clinton administration. “You are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.” Eizenstat told the BBC in a related interview that U.S. sanctions policy was “riddled with exceptions that are neither humanitarian nor related to democracy promotion,” and could undermine support for international sanctions. As the Times also points out, “some diplomats and foreign affairs experts worry that by allowing the sale of even small-ticket items with no military application, the United States muddies its moral and diplomatic authority,” especially in countries like Iran where “it is increasingly difficult to separate exceptions that help the people from those that enrich the state.”

The heavily redacted files obtained by the Times “offer a snapshot—albeit a piecemeal one—of a system that at times appears out of sync with its own licensing policies and America’s goals abroad. In some cases, licensing rules failed to keep pace with changing diplomatic circumstances,” as evinced, for example, by the continuation of outdated and loose trade restrictions with North Korea and Cuba. Specialists of U.S.-Cuban relations are already expressing their outrage, and Jewish groups are indignant over revelations concerning Iran. American sales of marinades, cake sprinkles, and salt substitutes have ended up in Iranian stores whose investors include blacklisted banks and high-ranking officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. But selling luxury food products to stores owned by IRGC officials and banks on the American blacklist is just scratching the surface of the Farm Lobby’s insidious influence upon American foreign policy. And it all leads back to the Farm Lobby and federal subsidies of American agriculture.

Inordinate Influence
The U.S. Farm Lobby maintains an inordinate amount of governmental influence, and it pays—literally. Despite promises to the contrary, taxpayer money keeps on feeding the Farm Lobby coffers; agricultural subsidies now average between $10 and $35 billion year. With such overt federal support and at least tacit federal approval, the Times’s most recent revelation is only the newest in an ongoing list of the Farm Lobby’s injurious impact on U.S. foreign relations.

For many years now, poor nations throughout the globe have complained that U.S. agricultural subsidies encourage enormous crop overproduction, which in turn drives massive exportation, thereby glutting the global market and depressing prices worldwide. U.S. farmers, completing the vicious self-perpetuating protectionist cycle, turn to the U.S. government for subsidies in order to supplement these lower global prices their overproduction created.

Corn subsidies, which received $41.9 billion from 1995 to 2004 alone, are particularly detrimental to the world economy and ecology, and this December’s compromise tax deal unsurprisingly included further taxpayer subsidies to corn ethanol production. Since NAFTA was enacted in 1994, for instance, subsidized U.S. corn has been overflowing Mexican markets, destroying Mexican corn-growing, and thereby displacing Mexican farmers. USAID, meanwhile, has consistently threatened to cut off food aid to various African countries that are unwilling to accept genetically modified crops, particularly corn. Other studies show how U.S. corn subsidies are even tied to the destruction of the Amazon. Furthermore, over the past decade the World Trade Organization has castigated the United States for its ongoing and massive program of agricultural subsidization. In recent years, the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Canada embarrassingly took America’s illegal corn subsidization to task, and Brazil also recently won a similar World Trade Organization victory over American cotton subsidies.

Reining in the Lobby
The next time a politician or pundit begins banging the drum for war—to “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” as John McCain so melodically put it—remember why it is that economic sanctions never seem to work effectively. The powerful American Farm Lobby deserves its fair share of the blame, as does the U.S. Congress, which continues to massively subsidize American agriculture and thus, indirectly at least, the Farm Lobby itself. Many of the less-than-humanitarian products being traded to Iran, for instance, gained their exemption through the efforts of various U.S. congressmen.

The Farm Lobby’s injurious influence is beginning to take heavy fire from both the Left and the Right. The time is ripe for ending this ruinous agricultural protectionism, especially amid the country’s ongoing obsession with cutting the deficit, eliminating wasteful government spending, and tightening sanctions policies.

Taxpayer dollars have fed agribusiness’s high-fructose-fattened belly for too long, and to the detriment of American foreign policy. The Farm Lobby’s belt needs serious tightening, for the sake of both national and international interests.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons.
Marc-William Palen is a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor who specializes in the history of American globalization and foreign relations. He is currently finishing up a manuscript entitled The Conspiracy of Free Trade: Anglo-American Relations and the Ideological Origins of American Globalization, 1846-1896.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5, 2011 10:01 AM

What’s In Your Bottled Water – Besides Water?
Information About Source, Purity and Pollutants Withheld from Consumers

WASHINGTON - January 5 - A survey of websites and labels of more than 170 bottled waters sold in the U.S. found only three – and only one of the top 10 domestic brands – that give customers information about the water’s source, the method of purification and any chemical pollutants that remained after the water was treated, according to a new report by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

NestlĂ©’s Pure Life Purified Water discloses its water source and treatment method on the label and offers an 800-number that consumers can call to request a water quality test report. But the nine other top domestic brands – Coca-Cola’s Dasani, Pepsi’s Aquafina, Crystal Geyser, and – strangely – six other of NestlĂ©’s seven brands – don’t answer at least one of the three key questions:
• Where does the water come from?
• Is it purified? How?
• Have tests found any contaminants?

Since July 2009, when EWG released its groundbreaking Bottled Water Scorecard, documenting the industry’s failure to disclose contaminant scores and other crucial facts about their products, bottled water producers have been under withering fire from consumer and environmental groups. The Government Accountability Office has taken the industry and the federal Food and Drug Administration to task for lax inspection and disclosure practices.

Unlike the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has jurisdiction over the nation’s drinking water and requires each water utility to make public the results of yearly water quality tests, bottled water companies are under no such requirement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the industry.

EWG’s new survey of 173 bottled water brands finds a few improvements – but still too many secrets and too much advertising hype. Overall, 18 percent of bottled waters fail to list the source, and 32 percent disclose nothing about the treatment or purity of the water. Much of the marketing nonsense that drew ridicule last year can still be found on a number of labels.

“The industry’s lack of information on source, purity and treatment of bottled water isn’t some coincidence,” said Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president for research. “Bottled water companies try hard to hide any information consumers may find troubling. They don’t tell where the water comes from and what pollutants they may have found. Their ads depict mountain streams and natural springs. Yet nearly half the time, according to the industry’s own statistics, they’re bottling tap water.”

Municipal tap water is the source for 47.8 percent of bottled water, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation's annual report for 2009.

Fiji Natural Artesian Water boasts of drawing “rainfall... purified by equatorial winds after traveling thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.” H2Om Natural Spring Water promises a mystical “energetic interaction with the element that sustains your life.” And Oregon Rain Natural Virgin Water says its water originates “Over the Pacific Ocean, where fresh, cold air from the North Pole meets warm air from the equator, clouds dripping with naturally clean, pure water are produced. These clouds travel from the ocean, avoiding populated areas and arrive over the Willamette Valley.”

Major water bottlers are trying hard to look green. Stung by environmentalists’ warnings about out-of-control plastic garbage and source water depletion, they have launched expensive ad campaigns encasing their water in “greener” plastic like Dasani’s “Plantbottle” and Poland Spring’s “Eco-Shape” container. So far, consumers have been underwhelmed: bottled water volume dropped by 1 percent in 2008 and another 2.5 percent in 2009.

"Water bottlers are clearly having difficulty reading the writing on the wall or else there would already be clearer writing on their labels,"
said Leslie Samuelrich, Chief of Staff for Corporate Accountability International. "The public is calling on corporations like Coke to label the source of its water. State governments are calling for it. Congress is calling for it. The longer the industry avoids transparency, the more it forces the hand of civil servants to advocate the consumer's right to know."

"EWG's latest survey further highlights how far bottled water companies will go to obscure the truth behind their expensive gimmick," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "More than ever, consumers are better off sticking to a type of water whose source and quality is required by law to be reported to the public – that from the tap."

“EWG encourages consumers to get back to the tap by drinking filtered tap water,” the EWG report says. “It costs far less than bottled water and doesn’t come wrapped in plastic waste to clog landfills, clutter streams and rivers and build up in the ocean.”

CONTACT: Environmental Working Group (EWG)
EWG Public Affairs: 202.667.6982
Email: or

The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bees in Freefall as Study Shows Sharp US Decline
Disease and low genetic diversity might have caused US bumblebee decline over the past few decades, say scientists

by Alok Jha Published on Tuesday, January 4, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

The abundance of four common species of bumblebee in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades, according to the most comprehensive national census of the insects. Scientists said the alarming decline, which could have devastating implications for the pollination of both wild and farmed plants, was likely to be a result of disease and low genetic diversity in bee populations.
[The collapse in the global bee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon pollination by bees, which means they contribute some £26bn to the global economy. (photo by Flickr user matsber)]

Bumblebees are important pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops around the world including tomatoes and berries thanks to their large body size, long tongues, and high-frequency buzzing, which helps release pollen from flowers.

Bees in general pollinate some 90% of the world's commercial plants, including most fruits, vegetables and nuts. Coffee, soya beans and cotton are all dependent on pollination by bees to increase yields. It is the start of a food chain that also sustains wild birds and animals.

But the insects, along with other crucial pollinators such as moths and hoverflies, have been in serious decline around the world since the last few decades of the 20th century. It is unclear why, but scientists think it is from a combination of new diseases, changing habitats around cities, and increasing use of pesticides.

Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, led a team on a three-year study of the changing distribution, genetic diversity and pathogens in eight species of bumblebees in the US.

By comparing her results with those in museum records of bee populations, she showed that the relative abundance of four of the sampled species (Bombus occidentalis, B. pensylvanicus, B. affinis and B. terricola) had declined by up to 96% and that their geographic ranges had contracted by 23% to 87%, some within just the past two decades.

Cameron's findings reflect similar studies across the world. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, three of the 25 British species of bumblebee are already extinct and half of the remainder have shown serious declines, often up to 70%, since around the 1970s. Last year, scientists inaugurated a £10m programme, called the Insect Pollinators Initiative, to look at the reasons behind the devastation in the insect population.

Cameron's team also showed that declining species of bee had higher infection levels of a pathogen called Nosema bombi and lower genetic diversity compared with the four species of bee that were not in decline – B. bifarius, B. vosnesenskii, B. impatiens and B. bimaculatus.

The N. bombi pathogen is commonly found in bumblebees throughout Europe but until now has been largely unstudied in North America. The infection reduces the lifespans of individual bees and also results in smaller colony sizes.

The reduction in genetic diversity seen in the declining bees means that they are less able to fight off any new pathogens or resist pollution or predators. "Higher pathogen prevalence and reduced genetic diversity are, thus, realistic predictors of these alarming patterns of decline in north America, although cause and effect remain uncertain," Cameron wrote today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Insects such as bees, moths and hoverflies pollinate around a third of the crops grown worldwide. If all of the UK's insect pollinators were wiped out, the drop in crop production would cost the UK economy up to £440m a year, equivalent to around 13% of the UK's income from farming.

The collapse in the global bee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon pollination by bees, which means they contribute some £26bn to the global economy.

Other identified causes of bee decline include parasites such as the bloodsucking varroa mite and viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods.

"Pollinator decline has become a worldwide issue, raising increasing concerns over impacts on global food production, stability of pollination services, and disruption of plant-pollinator networks," wrote Cameron. "In accordance with the goals of the United Nations convention on biological diversity to reduce the rate of species loss by 2010, such efforts to elucidate the causes and ecological impacts of bumble bee decline, in co-ordination with informed conservation strategies, will go a long way to mitigating further losses."
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Monday, January 3, 2011


That Burger You're Eating Is Mostly Corn

By tracing the unique chemical signature of corn, scientists have shown that most of the meat in fast food is raised on corn

By David Biello | November 12, 2008 | 23

corn WHAT'S THE BEEF?: As much as 93 percent of the carbon in a fast food hamburger can be traced back to corn, with its attendant environmental impacts.

If you thought you were eating mostly grass-fed beef when you bit into a Big Mac, think again: The bulk of a fast-food hamburger from McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's is made from cows that eat primarily corn, or so says a new study of the chemical composition of more than 480 fast-food burgers from across the nation.

And it isn't only cows that are eating corn. There is also evidence of a corn diet in chicken sandwiches, and even French fries get a good slathering of the fat that makes them so tasty from being fried in corn oil.

"Corn has been criticized as being unsustainable based on the unusual amount of fertilizer, water and machinery required to bring it to harvest," says geobiologist Hope Jahren of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, who led the research. "We are getting a picture of the American diet on a national scale by using chemistry, which is quite objective."

Eating a diet of meat from corn-fed animals hasn't been linked to any specific health effects in humans. But it has resulted in widespread environmental degradation, including drained water supplies, degraded soils, and reliance on fossil fuels for fertilizer, pesticides and farm machinery fuel, says preventive medicine physician Bob Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.

It's also hard on cows, whose stomachs are specially designed to break down the cellulose in grass, leading to an epidemic of antibiotic use. Also, humans may lose out on beneficial omega-3 fatty acids—important for development of the nervous system and heart health—when they consume corn-fed as opposed to grass-fed beef.

"Instead of eating a predominantly whole grains, fruits and vegetables, we are diverting the grain supply to feeding the animals," Lawrence says, arguing for a diet that treats meat as a garnish rather than the main course and corn for human consumption rather than cows. "Corn-finished beef does add to what has become a preferred taste for the American palate. We've acquired that taste at our own peril."

Jahren and her colleague Rebecca Kraft collected hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries from three separate Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's locations in six U.S. cities: Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The scientists were looking for the amount of carbon 13 (13C), a variety of carbon with an extra neutron (known as an isotope) that makes its atom heavier.

Corn tends to have more of this 13C than other plants. That telltale signature persists as the corn travels through the complex system that turns it into feed, which is consumed and processed by cattle to grow tissue. It continues after the animals are slaughtered and the meat is cooked. The result: 93 percent of the tissue that comprised the hamburger meat was derived from corn.

In fact, only 12 samples from the entire country did not show this unique corn signature: all from a Burger King on the west coast. "My best guess is that it represents meat from another country," Jahren says.

And all of the chicken, in addition to being sourced from just one company, Tyson Foods, Inc., had been fed an entirely corn diet, resulting in a chemical composition that was almost exactly the same from coast to coast. Jahren notes that the isotopic composition of this chicken meat varied from restaurant to restaurant and state to state less than if a sample were taken from just one farmyard-raised chicken.

Further, by studying the levels of a particular heavier isotope of nitrogen, the researchers found that this corn-fed beef was relying on heavy applications of fertilizer as well as, potentially, animals surrounded by their own waste. "As metabolism proceeds, the nitrogen products become heavier and heavier," Jahrens explains. "Nitrogen is just cycling through the animal, including potentially ingestion of that waste or respiration. Our results are consistent with that."

Researchers at Johns Hopkins are now completing a study measuring the levels of carbon 13 in human blood, in an effort to understand how much of the corn in our meat and in the sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup) in our food and drink ends up in our bodies. The fast-food outlets did not return calls for comment.

As Jahren notes, Americans spend more than $100 billion a year on such fast food, making it a significant part of the diet. "Diet related disease is causing more and more suffering in this country and the information you can get is either vague or nonexistent," says Jahren, who spent the last two years trying to get information about what specifically goes into fast food at these chains and how it is made, with no success. "You shouldn't have to use stable isotopes to get the answer to what's in something I just spent my money on and am about to put in my body."



Published on Monday, January 3, 2011 by OpenSecrets Blog
Senators Supporting Ethanol Subsidies Reap Riches From Corn Interests

by Michael Beckel

In habitually partisan Washington, D.C., a bipartisan group of senators late last month helped extend contentious federal tax provisions designed to aid domestic ethanol production.

The senators mostly shared common ground on two fronts: geography and contributions from the political action committees of ethanol producers, high-profile ethanol promoters and the leading industry groups for corn, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates.

This bipartisan group of 15 senators signed a letter in late November demanding an extension of U.S. ethanol subsidies, and they have received notable campaign contributions during the past six years from pro-ethanol companies and interest groups.

These senators each collected, on average, $5,000 from bioengineering and agricultural chemical company Monsanto, $4,100 from farming giant Archer Daniels Midland, $1,600 from the National Corn Growers Association, $1,200 from ethanol producer POET LLC and $200 a piece from Growth Energy and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. (You may download a spreadsheet showing the Center's calculations of these totals and the itemized totals for all senators signing either letter here: EthanolMoney2010.xls)

The leading Republican behind the letter was Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who argued in the pro-ethanol missive that "allowing the provisions to expire or remain expired would threaten jobs, harm the environment, weaken our renewable fuel industries and increase our dependence on foreign oil." (Letter available as a pdf file here, via the Washington Post.)

Since January 2005, Grassley's political committees have received about $36,000 from the PACs of the Monsanto, POET LLC, Archer Daniels Midland, the National Corn Growers Association, Growth Energy and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. Because senators run for re-election every six years, using data for six-year periods gives a more complete -- and more accurate -- picture of what interests are bankrolling a senator.

Grassley's office told OpenSecrets Blog that campaign contributions from ethanol supporters do not influence the senator's thinking on the issue.

"Sen. Grassley's campaign committee takes contributions that are legal and have no strings attached," Beth Levine, Grassley's press secretary, told OpenSecrets Blog. "Sen. Grassley fights for ethanol because it's good for our national security, it's good for our environment, and it's good for good-paying jobs."

Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who all signed onto Grassley's letter, have each received at least $20,000 to their campaign committees and leadership PACs from these same ethanol-supporting political action committees since January 2005, according to the Center's research.

And Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who likewise signed the pro-ethanol letter, each received between $10,000 and $15,000 from these interests as well.

Among all pro-ethanol letter-signers, only Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) collected no money from any of these six companies and trade groups. (Brownback is retiring from the Senate in January, having been elected governor of Kansas.)

Like Grassley, Nelson stressed the economic benefits of ethanol in his home state as the reason for his support for the tax provisions.

"Sen. Nelson supports the extension of the ethanol tax credit because it will promote renewable energy, jobs and economic development in Nebraska, the number two corn-producing and number two ethanol-producing state in the country," Jake Thompson, Nelson's communications director, told OpenSecrets Blog. "That's why he wants the ethanol tax credit extended, not because of campaign contributions from either supporters or opponents of ethanol."


A separate letter deeming the extension of the ethanol subsidies "fiscally irresponsible and environmentally unwise" was also recently produced by a different bipartisan group of senators. Major ethanol-supporting interests, however, doled out only scant amounts of campaign money in the last six years to these 17 lawmakers.

The only beneficiary of the National Corn Growers Association's PAC to sign the anti-ethanol letter was Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who is retiring after being defeated by conservative Republican Party activists in Utah earlier this year. Bennett received $1,000 in 2008.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was the only beneficiary of Archer Daniel Midlands' PAC cash to sign onto the letter opposing the extension of the ethanol tax provisions. She's raised $3,000 from Archer Daniels Midland's PAC since 2008.

None of the anti-ethanol letter-signers have raised any money from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and POET LLC in the last six years, according to the Center's research.

Meanwhile, five of the 17 lawmakers who signed letter urging the expiration of the ethanol tax provisions have received relatively meager donations from Monsanto -- totaling $12,000 --- in the last six years: Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), Boxer and Bennett.

Frederick Boehmke, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said the disparity in cash from ethanol supporters between senators in each camp is telling.

"Groups look for members who are predisposed to support their positions," Boehmke told OpenSecrets Blog. "They are usually targeting people who are predisposed to support their positions and trying to get them to devote some energy to helping them out."

And if a politician bucks a supporter by a stance they take? Boehmke said there is some political risk for lawmakers, but also the flexibility to be independent and make up their own minds.

"They run the risk of not receiving support from that group in the future," he said. "But members of Congress usually aren't going to sell their vote for $5,000, the legal limit of what a PAC can give."

During the past six year, most of the 17 senators who signed the anti-ethanol subsidy letter have received significant campaign contributions from key organizations who themselves publicly opposed the ethanol subsidy extension.

For example, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has spread $41,500 to eight of these 17 senators during the past six years, with Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Burr, Enzi and Bennett each receiving at least $5,500.

The American Meat Institute and National Chicken Council have each donated $17,500 and $13,000, respectively, to six of the 17 senators.

The oil and gas industry - another outspoken critic of ethanol subsidies and one of the most powerful political forces in Washington - has likewise generously donated to the political campaigns of a number of these senators.

Burr, for one, has received $191,500 from people and PACs associated with the industry during the past six years. For Bennett, it's $157,200, and Kyl, $145,000.


At stake this month for ethanol supporters was a 54 cent-per-gallon tariff on ethanol imports, and a 45 cent-per-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol into gasoline, known as the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit.

Both measures would have expired at the year's end but are now extended through December 2011 as part of the tax relief and unemployment insurance extension legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday.

In addition to building relationships with federal lawmakers through campaign contributions, companies and special interests supporting ethanol subsidies are this year spending millions of dollars to lobby the federal government.

Between January and September, Monsanto, which bioengineers corn designed to produce the most ethanol per acre, has also spent $6.6 million on federal lobbying efforts, according to the Center's research. Archer Daniels Midlands, a leading producer of ethanol and biodiesel, meanwhile, spent $1 million on its lobbying efforts.

Ethanol producers Growth Energy and POET LLC have spent $1.2 million and $700,000, respectively, on lobbying this year, according to the Center's research.

The National Corn Growers Association, meanwhile, has spent $390,000 on lobbying this year.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, another trade group, does not currently hire federal lobbyists.


As the fight about these tax incentives continue in 2011, officials at ethanol-producing companies such as POET LLC and Growth Energy hope they will continue to win supporters -- regardless of party lines and regardless of geography.

"We think in the near future support will broaden beyond Midwest," said Nathan Schock, director of public relations at South Dakota-based POET LLC.

"There is abundant cellulose in every state," Schock continued, highlighting his company's push to produce cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from corncobs, grasses and other plants not exclusive to the Midwest.

In the meantime, ethanol supporters will continue to raise their political profile within an energy sector that has long been dominated by big-spending oil and natural gas interests. And they will continue to use campaign contributions as part of this outreach.

"Like every industry, we support candidates who understand and support our issues," Schock told OpenSecrets Blog.

His peer at Nebraska-based Growth Energy agreed.

"Growth Energy's political support has been directed toward those lawmakers who have demonstrated their commitment to renewable fuels, like ethanol, and rural America," Chris Thorne, Growth Energy's director of public affairs, told OpenSecrets Blog.

"Ethanol could never match our political opponents dollar for dollar," Thorne continued. "Big Oil and Big Food flood Washington, D.C., with lobbyists, paid media and campaign donations. But even while we fight above our weight class, we can win the debate because the facts are on our side."

But a novel -- even bizarre -- coalition of special interest groups may also factor into the future of domestic ethanol subsidies.

Although unsuccessful this year, 60 advocacy groups from across the ideological spectrum united to oppose ethanol subsidies, criticizing them as wasteful. These detractors included Democratic-aligned activist group, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the American Bankers Association, the National Taxpayers Union, the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute and Tea Party-aligned FreedomWorks.

This anti-ethanol subsidy letter marked the first occasion -- and perhaps, not the last -- that adversaries and FreedomWorks had cooperated on an issue.

Center for Responsive Politics researcher Spencer MacColl contributed to this report