Lobbying agains GMO rules

New report reveals how researchers with vested interests push for deregulation GMOs

A significant number of European scientists active in biotechnology research, are actively lobbying for deregulating new gene editing techniques; While at the same time they have direct or indirect vested and undisclosed interests in the marketing of plants derived from those techniques via patents, patent applications or via links with the seed industry. That is revealed today by a new report commissioned by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament: ‘Behind the smokescreen. Vested interests of EU scientists lobbying for GMO deregulation’. 

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 EU-regulations. The lobby-goal is to persuade European policymakers to allow the commercialization of genome edited plants and animals without any limiting safety checks, monitoring or labelling.

In April 2021 lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) revealed (1) the coordinated lobby-campaign to achieve this by three EU level science organisations: the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO), the EU network for Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) and the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA).

The new Smokescreen report dug deeper into the commercial interests of the affiliated scientists in these organisations. The findings show that:

  • 64 % of the members of EPSO working group on Agricultural Technologies, and 32% of EU-SAGE members have a vested interest in the commercialisation of GM plants, meaning financial benefits or career development, either personally or via their organisations. They lobby for the deregulation of GM technologies but their vested interests are not always clear to decision makers.
  • 38% of EPSO Agricultural Technologies working group members and 23% of EU-SAGE network members hold one or more patents or patent applications related to GM processes or products.
  • 53% of EPSO working group members and 15% of EU-SAGE members have been involved in one or more research projects with the industry. Many of these scientists are involved in a seed or biotechnology company, by holding a position or shares in such companies.

Nina Holland researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory said: “While the pesticide and seed industry is lobbying hard against pesticide reduction targets, the same companies are pushing the European Commission to speed up a plan (2) to deregulate crops made by gene editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas, which are patented, abandoning all safety tests and consumers right to choose. Among the loudest voices are biotech-researchers that often have a conflict of interest, such as those that run the platform EU-SAGE, funded among others by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

“Based on the new findings of the new ‘Smokescreen report’, it is clear that policymakers must be very critical towards the claims of these lobby groups, proclaiming the benefits and safety of these crops. They should instead seek expert advice from independent scientists who have no vested interests in the commercialisation of GM technologies and products.”

Nina Holland points out that new lobby documents – published today by CEO (3) -  show that giant seed companies try to convince policymakers that consumers might accept new GMO’s if they can be convinced of the ecological benefits: “This is why it is key for GM developers, whether corporations or researchers, to create hypes about supposed benefits of new GMO’s in relation to climate change and sustainable agriculture, even when evidence is lacking, and even when no assessment has been made whether other approaches could not have achieved the same or more benefits. Policymakers should be extremely wary of the biotech industry's attempts to hype genome edited products as sustainable and climate-friendly.”

Claire Robinson, co-director of GM Watch and co-author of the report said: "I would like to warn Europeans that the lobby for deregulating new GM techniques should be taken seriously, based on what is happening in the UK, where the government is in the process of removing regulatory controls around gene editing technology in food and farming. The UK government has published a draft bill, the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which is currently being discussed. The bill creates a new subclass of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), calling them ‘precision bred organisms’ and claiming that they could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding. Misleading terms such as “precision breeding” and deceptive arguments are being used in the UK - and increasingly in the EU and elsewhere (6) by those seed companies and pro-GMO lobbyists - who want to see gene-edited crops, foods, and animals deregulated to smooth their path to market."

"Recently a group of 90 international scientists and policy experts published a statement (5) opposing the use of the term ‘precision breeding’ to describe gene editing, on the grounds that it is ‘technically and scientifically inaccurate and therefore misleads Parliament, regulators, and the public’ because gene editing is neither precise, nor is it breeding. It is not only misleading but also dangerous, as deregulating these new techniques will have serious socio-economic consequences, as well as potentially serious impacts on health and the environment."



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