Exposed: EU’s Genetically Modified Hype

by Claire Robinson

The pro-GM brigade has been losing no time in exploiting the current global food and fuel crisis and the high price of animal feed to promote GM as the solution in the mainstream media. An offensive was launched on the European Union (EU) to relax its policy on GM imports and cultivation. At present only one GM crop, a GM maize, is approved for cultivation in Europe. The European Commission Directorate General for Agriculture (DG-AGRI) has joined forces with the biotech industry and the animal feed industry in claiming that it is the EU’s GM policy that is harming Europe’s livestock industry.

Leading the charge of the pro-GM brigade in Europe is Britain, in its role as chief ally of the largest GM exporter the United States. The UK newspaper The Independent reported that “Ministers are preparing to open the way for genetically modified crops to be grown in Britain on the grounds that they could help combat the global food crisis.”

The main source quoted in the article is environment minister Phil Woolas. The night before promoting the GM agenda, the article said, Woolas held talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, a biotech industry PR group representing Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Pioneer (DuPont), and Syngenta. This industry lobby group is run by Lexington Communications, a PR agency intimately connected to the New Labour government. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has fallen in line, calling on the EU to relax its rules on importing GM animal feed in order to cut spiralling food prices. In addition, a new report by the UK Cabinet Office on the food and feed crises focuses almost exclusively on the role of the EU's GMO regulations in creating delays for GM feed crop approvals.

Critics say that such scaremongering is a cynical attempt to force the EU to drop its “zero tolerance” approach to GM and GM-contaminated imports. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said at UK's National Farmers Union (NFU) conference, "I think the debate about higher prices and being able to meet the demand of people in the world for food is a perfect opportunity to make the case [for GMO crops]... We may have a window of opportunity here and I would encourage you to exploit that."

President of European Commission at the heart of EU’s pro-GM lobby Industry lobbyists hoping to convince Europe to go down the GM route face an uphill battle, at least, as far as democracy prevails. Most EU member states and their elected representatives in the European Parliament remain sceptical of GM crops. Votes by ministers from the member states on applications for their import or cultivation regularly oppose GM applications, but not with a sufficient majority to finally block the approval. The technical name for this type of majority decision in Eurospeak is an ‘unqualified majority’. In such cases, the decision reverts to the unelected European Commission.

The Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, is at the heart of the EU's pro-GM lobby. Reports have emerged that Barroso is trying to get member states to agree on GMOs behind closed doors, so that there are no more unqualified majorities. Barroso is also trying to find a way to lift Europe’s “zero tolerance” policy and smooth the way for the entry of GMOs into Europe. The Commission has already announced that a decision on animal feed imports and EU GM approvals and laws will be reached this summer. A group of MEPs on the agriculture and environment, public health and food safety committees has written a letter to Barroso expressing concern at [9] “reports that the Commission is deliberately trying to find ways to avoid a co-decision process, thus excluding MEPs, the elected representatives of European citizens, from any decisions on this issue.”

Claire Robinson is an editor of GMWatch
Read her complete article on the website of the Institute for Science in Society