Uncovered: the biotech industry’s latest lobby tactics to deregulate new GM crops and animals in Europe
On 25 July 2018 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that all products derived from new GM techniques like CRISPR, are GMOs and have to be regulated as such. Since then, an accelerated lobby campaign by the biotech industry has taken aim at these regulations. Their aim is to persuade the EU to allow the commercialization of genome edited plants and animals without any limiting safety checks, monitoring or labeling.
Through numerous Freedom of Information requests to EU, Dutch and Belgian authorities, lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) uncovered a number of dubious lobby tactics employed by the biotech industry. Today CEO publishes all documents obtained over the last 2.5 years, since the ECJ ruling, as well as a briefing summarizing the findings.
The political pressure on this issue is mounting. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (SANTE) will publish a study on new GM techniques and the implementation of the ECJ ruling by the end of April. This study, requested by the Council, is based on consultations with member states and stakeholders. However, the stakeholder consultation (1) was highly biased in favour of industry participation. The biotech companies are hoping that this study will lead to the deregulation of new GMOs.
Two of the new lobby tactics seem to be driven by public research organizations, however these have close ties to corporate interests. The third, a lobby operation run by think-tank Re-Imagine Europa, is financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The new research by Corporate Europe Observatory shows that:
- To influence the political positioning in the member states, the European Plant Science Organization (EPSO) organized a series of meetings with hand-picked national officials. Only those countries and ministries that had shown an openness to deregulation were invited. At these meetings, different legal options were considered how to get the EU GMO rules overhauled, as well as ‘flagship projects’ of genome edited crops that could win the hearts and minds of the European public and decision makers.
- A new ‘Taskforce on Sustainable Agriculture and Innovation’ is run by think-tank Re-Imagine Europa, and is financed by a grant of 1.5 million euro from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (3). The aim is to embed the deregulation of genome editing in “climate narratives” and thus to convince policy makers that deregulating new GM is part of the climate solution. An expert committee, established to produce a vision document to present to the EU institutions, is dominated by people known to be in favor of lifting the GMO rules for new techniques, including representatives from Bayer, BASF and their lobby groups, the US government, and numerous biotech researchers and lawyers.
- The EU-SAGE is a lobby platform founded by the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), which published a sign-on letter calling for a change in the EU GMO directive. This letter is presented to decision makers as if it is supported by "over 129 research institutes". However, this claim is significantly overstated. In many cases it is individual biotech researchers who signed the letter, not the institute that employs them. One university has complained about the use of their logo on this letter. Other signatories are not research institutes at all. The VIB is actively involved in all three lobby tactics described here.
Nina Holland, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory says: “The documents we are releasing today reveal a proliferation of lobby platforms calling for the deregulation of genome edited crops and animals. This would mean no safety checks, monitoring or consumer choice for these new GMOs. We should be extremely wary of the biotech industry’s attempts to hype genome editing products as green and climate-friendly. Meanwhile, the very same agrochemical corporations behind this biotech-lobby campaign are fighting the European Green Deal, in order to defend their sale of polluting and dangerous pesticides.”
You can find CEO’s briefing here.
All the documents are available for downloading here.
Notes to Editors:
- See: Green light for new GMOs? - Friends of the Earth Europe
- The European Parliament has voted on 50 occasions to object to GM crop authorizations for import, with up to 71% of votes favouring not authorizing the import. The number of EU countries voting in favour of GM crop authorizations has dropped, see this (pro- GM) publication and the numbers from the Green group in the EP here.
- Recent reports criticizing the ‘solutions’ proposed by the Gates Foundation and its main agricultural development program, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) can be found here, here and here.