In view of the upcoming review of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), the Parliament’s Agriculture committee took the initatiative to come forward with a report regarding the long-standing problem of the EU’s reliance on imported protein crops for animal feed.
Europe’s reliance on feed imports, including soy, is causing huge problems both here and overseas. Soy monocultures in South America lead to land conflicts, deforestation and massive pesticide use. Cheap soy supplies in the EU have spurred large factory farms resulting in widespread pollution and the bankruptcy of small producers.
Green MEP and rapporteur Martin Häusling who produced the report (2010/2111(INI)) for the Committee, called for an overhaul of existing international trade agreements such as the 1992 Blair House Agreement between the US and the EU, which forced the EU to end support for oilseed crops. This opened up a huge market for mainly soy.
Häusling’s report also urged moves to improve Europe’s food sovereignty by shifting to locally produced feed. These steps would have been very timely in view of both climate change and the price volatility of food on the international markets.
Conservatives introduce unrelated pro-GMO arguments
However, the biotech industry and pro-GM allies in the Parliament found a way to obstruct the original intention of the report. They managed to convince some MEPs (including Liberals Britta Reimers and George Lyon; and Conservatives Peter Jahr, Mairead McGuinness, James Nicholson and Richard Ashworth), to introduce the issue of low-level presence of non-authorised, currently illegal, GMOs in animal feed.
This was a completely irrelevant addition as the issue is already dealt with in other Parliamentary business. Lobby groups mostly pushing for the abandonment of the EU zero tolerance policy in the past include EuropaBio, animal feed association FEFAC and COCERAL, representing the European cereals, feedstuffs, oilseeds and agrosupply trade, including companies like Cargill, ADM, Bunge and Nidera.
Adding the GMO issue dramatically changed the nature of the report and meant that no MEP who took a critical stance on GMOs could support its content. As a result, in a highly rare move, Häusling withdrew his name from the report.
One of the amendments in question was supported by practically all the Conservatives, Liberals – with some notable exceptions - and almost half of the Social Democrats. This amendment read:
“Calls on the Commission to ensure an unhindered supply of soya to the EU market by providing a technical solution regarding the low-level presence of GMOs in protein crops for food and feed imported into the EU; recalls that shortages of soya imports impose an additional cost burden on the EU livestock and feedstuffs sectors, and puts the economic viability of domestic meat production at risk”.
Lobbying tactic to obstruct sustainable farming reports serve biotech industry
Food & Water Europe commented that this move must have been the result from strong industry lobbying. “Industry influence turned a badly needed set of recommendations to help European farmers grow the crops European consumers want into a farce.”
Häusling commented after the vote on 8 March: “I have undertaken a lot of talks, but I could not convince some colleagues not to introduce the zero-tolerance issue here. [..] It is clear that I cannot put my name under such points, even if I find it hard to hand back what was essentially a good piece of work.”
Alyn Smith MEP, a Scottish member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, supported his group colleague Martin Hausling.
Smith said: “Unfortunately, the GM lobby scaremongered MEPs into including the LLP (‘Low Level Presence’ of illegal GMOs, ed.) issue in this report: a measure which will open the door to contamination of organic and conventional crops across the EU. I think that my colleague was right to make this a "red line" issue and that's why we voted against what was otherwise a good piece of work."
Similarly Social Democrat Marc Tarabella complained that he had to abstrain from the final vote, because the content of the report had been distorted with the zero-tolerance issue. “Making rules easier for imports containing non-authorised GMOs will not solve the problem of protein deficit in the EU; and therefore should not have been introduced here,” he said.
It appears that the Conservatives and many of the Liberals have teamed up with the biotech industry to apply this political tactic whenever its interests are threathened. Other reports that aimed to make agriculture more sustainable have also been twisted by pro-GMO (anti-zero-tolerance) proposals.
In October for example, Romanian Social Democrat MEP Daciana Sarbu put forward a draft own initiative report on “agriculture as a strategic sector in the context of food security”. This report also raised concerns about Europe's factory farms' high level of dependence on imported protein crops, and called for international cooperation to address the influence of financial markets on food prices.
Here too, amendments were introduced and accepted that called on the Commission to break down the zero-tolerance policy for illegal GMOs.
Conservatives and pro-GM lobby; two hands on one (big) belly
Various of the MEPs who were involved in distorting the report take active part in pro-biotech lobby events. Britta Reimers last year hosted the “GM food tasting event” organised by something called the ‘Farmers Biotech Network’. This ‘network’ appeared to be a group of 18 individual farmers who attend events such as these, organised by Edelman-The Centre and paid for by EuropaBio.
George Lyon MEP and Mairead McGuinness MEP were both prominent guests at Syngenta’s Forum for the Future of Agriculture held on 15 March 2011 in Brussels.
Ahead of the review by the European Parliament of the new Commission proposal on the authorisation of GMOs in the EU, the EPP Group organised a public hearing, in the presence of Commissioner John Dalli. But the two panels appeared to have strong bias in favour of GM.
Commission gives in to animal feed and biotech lobbies
After years of lobbying, the Commission recently gave in to the animal feed and biotech lobbyies and published a proposal implying that imported bulk products will be allowed to contain up to 0.1% of non-approved GMOs. The EU had maintained a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy to the presence of illegal GMOs in imported feed. In January Corporate Europe Observatory exposed details of the lobby campaign by the animal feed and biotech lobbies, FEFAC and EuropaBio, exploiting their access to high-level Commission officials.
While withdrawing responsibility for a report is not common in the European Parliament, it has happened before. In February 2009 Slovenian Liberal Democrat MEP Mojca Drčar Murko protested againsted the role of pharmaceutical industry lobbyists during the EU’s so-called ‘Great Apes Debate’ on animal testing. Murko saw herself forced to distance herself from the resolution on animal testing for which she was responsible as rapporteur.
Despite Häusling’s withdrawal, the report was accepted by the Parliament. It has gone back to the Agriculture Committee and as the rule goes, it will carry the name of its chair, Paolo De Castro. Häusling said the Greens would keep pursuing the original aims of his report. “A growth in protein crop cultivation in Europe can have many positive impacts”, he said, “it can help to combat climate change, to protect water and soil, and enhance biodiversity”.