Documents exposed recently by Wikileaks reveal that the US has been putting pressure on European countries to accept genetically engineered (GE) crops. Although US government support for biotech companies in this way is nothing new - the cables released by Wikileaks reveal some interesting details on Spain’s role as a key US ally for pushing GE crops.
A story broke in EL Pais on Sunday December 19th, revealing that the Spain has been working hand in hand with the US to protect the interests of the biotech industry against those EU countries that hold national bans on GE crops. Spain, cultivates the most GE maize (Monsanto MON810) in Europe and is obviously very worried by the rise of the anti-GE movement in Spanish society. The French are also mostly against GE crops and Germany has been introducing GE crop bans - allying with countries such as Austria, Luxembourg and Italy. Spain doesn't want to be outnumbered in Europe on this issue and has been looking for support elsewhere.
The Spanish Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Water, Joseph Puxeu, has even been asking the US government to work closely with Spain in applying pressure on the EU Commission for the encouragement of GE crops cultivation.
The documents explain why the Spanish government has been tolerating GE crops for years while failing to implement strict rules on the labelling and traceability of GE food. And they have not been transparent on the location of GE fields despite a number of contamination incidents and socio-economic impacts on farmers and the society.
The story in Spain is a scandal that has shocked environmental, consumers and farmers organisations. They are calling on the Minister of Environment, Rose Aguilar, to take immediate measures, and hold those accountable who have been working against Spanish society, the environment and public health. They are asking her to stop listening to the big biotech companies and ban Monsanto’s GE maize.
On the cable 07PARIS4723 dated 14 December 2007, Craig Stapleton, US Ambassador in Paris, addressed the issue of GE crops and the World Trade Organisation in Europe. He stated that the EU is moving backwards on this issue and that France is playing a major role in this movement. He concludes by saying the only way to deal with France is to take retaliation measures. 'Retaliation' like this could be something like a boycott of French products or start anti-marketing campaigns.
In another cable 09MADRID482, sent from the US Embassy in Madrid, from May 2009 this time, we learn that Monsanto representatives are confident that the adoption of a safeguard clause in France, banning Monsanto’s maize, is the result of bargaining between environmentalists and Nicolas Sarkozy. They claim that Sarkozy gave in to introducing the ban by asking environmental organisations, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, to stop campaigning against his nuclear policy. It is almost impossible to imagine such a deal! The pro-GE lobby, so blinded by their ideology, are apparently unable to believe that the leaders of a country like France have introduced a ban based on serious scientific uncertainties around GE crops, as well as the opposition by the majority French citizens. And Greenpeace would never agree to such a deal. Our anti-nuclear campaign in France continues.
It is evident that the US and the biotech companies follow the EU debate on GE crops very closely. They seem to think that the rest of the EU will follow if Spain bans Monsanto’s GE maize (MON810). The controversial maize is under reassessment and the EU Commission will put forward a proposal for its reauthorisation, which EU Members States will need to vote on.
Will the EU Commission and the EU Member States take in to account the increasing scientific evidence highlighting the environmental impacts of GE crops? Will they consider the possible impacts on our health? Will they take into account the unanimous demand from EU Environment Ministers for strengthening of the European authorisation system for GE crops?
Will they listen to the majority of the EU public who oppose GE crops and most recently the one million EU citizens who demanded a moratorium on them in the EU?
Or will they give in to the pressure of the pro-GE lobby and the US?
Myrto Pispini is an agriculture campaigner at Greenpeace International.
Image: © Greenpeace / Eric De Mildt