How do agribusiness corporations impact decisions on our food system?
A proposal to allow member states to ban specific GM crops from their territories looks set to have a giant biotech-industry-friendly loophole. On Wednesday 28 May, EU countries will have what could be a decisive meeting on the text of the proposal. And paradoxically, this text is turning out to be rather Monsanto-friendly. A final decision could be taken at the Environment Council in June. So how did we get from a national ban proposal to an industry-friendly opt-out?
According to several EU sources, member states’ diplomats in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) this morning pre-selected a food industry lobbyist to become a member of the board of the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA). This is Mr Jan Mousing, a director at the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, a lobby group representing the interests of the Danish food industry.
A director of the biggest EU food industry lobby group, FoodDrinkEurope, has found her way into the shortlist of candidates to the Management Board of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). A current member of EFSA's Board belonged to the public sector when appointed but is now director of the national food industry association in Denmark, re-applying to EFSA's Board. Two other current members of the Board, also re-applying for the position, have strong ties to the agro-food industry.
A discreet but important lobbying battle is currently being fought in Brussels over the labelling of nano ingredients in food products. A European Commission text would completely betray a 2011 regulation by only labelling new additives. The Parliament is attempting to block their text which waters down the label requirements, while the food additives industry is lobbying to stop the Parliament; the vote is 12 March.
With the end of this Parliament's term approaching – EU elections will take place in May this year – it seems that agrichemical corporations and their allies are using the few remaining voting opportunities left to have a couple of usefully-worded resolutions voted upon by this Parliament, which they know well and which has generally been rather supportive to their positions.
The story of the Pioneer GM maize crop has culminated in the biggest controversy on genetic modification (GM) issues in years. On Tuesday 11 February a record number of 19 EU countries declared themselves to be opposed to Pioneer's GM maize being authorised for cultivation in the EU. This included the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland, all of whom were expected to either vote in favour or abstain just before the vote. Only five countries said they were in favour (among them the UK, Spain and Sweden) and the rest abstained.
Things can get quite surreal in Brussels' EU quarter. On 22 January EuropaBio – the biotech lobby hub – organised an event to “explain the consumer benefits of GMOs”. But no consumer could possibly have learned about it: the event was confidential and no consumer group had been invited. A former Greenpeace member turned industry consultant and obsessional Greenpeace critic (he accuses them of being responsible for “crimes against humanity” for their opposition to a GM rice) was also invited. This did not stop some MEPs and high level Commission officials from speaking at the event.
Compared to other DGs, AGRI was traditionally a particularly bad offender. Of the 30 advisory groups created by a 2004 Decision, which AGRI has promised to reform, 80 per cent of the members come from large farming organisations and the food industry (e.g. supermarkets, commodity traders etc.). Only 29 out of 943 places have gone to small-scale or organic farming interests, 38 to consumer groups and 36 to environmental groups, while COPA-COGECA, protecting the interests of Europe's industrial farming, has 442 seats.
Corporate Europe Observatory has written a letter to EFSA, to urge the food safety agency to take concrete steps to ban conflicts of interest on its expert panels. A short report published by CEO and Beelife titled "OPERA Research Center, a front group for the pesticide industry in the bee debate", attached to the letter, shows that this list needs urgent and critical revision.
Very soon, the ministers of all EU countries will decide whether Pioneer's GM maize (technical name 1507) will be allowed to be grown in Europe. We are calling on you to take action now!
At a press conference in the European Parliament on 28 November, Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and Corinne Lepage MEP strongly denounced the decision of the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology to de-publish his study on the health impacts of Monsanto's GM maize NK603 - made tolerant to herbicide Roundup - and of Roundup itself. The study was published over a year ago.
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