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Totally dominant lobbies in a downgraded Europe – (part 5)

Barroso administration: Golden medal in serving interests

A research by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Through the course of the crisis, attempts by corporations and corporate lobby groups to influence EU policies have probably been more successful than ever, in part due to a close relationship with the Commission.”

Corporate Europe Observatory has gathered a lot of evidence over time and covering many different areas that shows how the Commission is easily captured by corporate interests. This report is an attempt to produce a condensed version of how the Commission has come to act on behalf of corporations over the past five years, focusing on climate policies, agriculture and food, finance, economic, and fiscal policies.”

5 - Siding with agribusiness on GMOs and pesticides

Key findings

The Commission’s role was most problematic in cases where DG SANCO (Health and Consumers) was in the driving seat. We can observe continuous clashes between DG Environment and DG SANCO. At the start of his second term, Barroso moved both the pesticides and GMOs dossiers from DG Environment to DG SANCO, generally seen as more industry-friendly. Something similar happened in the middle of this term, when DG SANCO suddenly interfered in DG Environment’s first attempt to define what is an ‘endocrine disrupting chemical’ (EDC), a modest start to a crucial and long-standing problem of these harmful chemicals that are currently not regulated.”

We found that 79% of the organisations lobbying on CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform, as listed in the EU’s Transparency Register, were likely to be defending agribusiness interests, a sweeping imbalance that is all too typical.”

As polls show, consumers in Europe still don’t have an appetite for GM food, despite all the biotech lobby’s PR efforts. In recent years however, the Commission has made various attempts to meet demands from the biotech industry to facilitate their business. One attempt concerned the import of crops containing traces of illegal GMOs. In 2011, the Commission proposed to abandon the EU’s so-called ‘zero-tolerance policy’ regarding contamination with non-authorised GMOs. The lobby campaign to break down this policy was headed by animal feed lobby group FEFAC, aided by biotech industry association EuropaBio, food companies such as Unilever, and the food industry lobby group, FoodDrinkEurope (then called the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries (CIAA)). They used scaremongering tactics, claiming that this policy would cause feed prices to soar, resulting in the starvation of the millions of animals kept in Europe’s factory farms and a loss of competitiveness for Europe’s meat industry. Internal FEFAC newsletters suggested excellent access to a high-ranking DG SANCO official.”

On 2 March 2010 John Dalli, in one of his first acts as Health Commissioner, gave the green light to BASF’s controversial genetically modified Amflora potato for commercial growing in Europe. It was the first time in 12 years that a new genetically modified organism (GMO) was granted authorisation for cultivation in the EU. This decision was the result of an aggressive lobbying battle by chemical giant BASF, combined with disputed scientific advice from a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) expert panel riddled with conflicts of interest and positively biased towards the biotech industry.”

... the Commission has been wary of putting forward GMOs in the pipeline for cultivation approval up for vote to member states. That is, until 6 November 2013, when Dalli’s successor Tonio Borg sent a proposal – with major legal gaps – to national ministers to decide about the cultivation of Pioneer’s 1507 maize in Europe’s fields. This maize is not only herbicide-tolerant but also produces various Bt-toxins (insecticides). Since it produces its own insecticides, it could pose risks to butterflies and moths and there has been no research on its impacts to other beneficial insects such as bees and other pollinators. Finally in February 2014, an extraordinary vote took place in which 19 countries voted against the maize, five voted in favour, and the rest abstained. But even this massive show of rejection did not deliver a ‘qualified majority’ against approval, and the Commission stubbornly insisted it had to approve the maize. The rumour goes that the Commission will not officially approve the GM maize until after the EU elections to avoid public upheaval.

In early 2012, DG Environment finally published the report on EDCs, which included a broad definition of endocrine disruptors, and started bringing together numerous experts from member states, associations, industry and public research centres. But in came DG SANCO, taking many by surprise when it suddenly announced in autumn 2012 that it had tasked EFSA with forming a scientific opinion on endocrine disruptors, effectively creating a parallel process. It was revealed in Le Monde that more than half of the members of the EFSA working group formed for the purpose had conflicts of interest, many of them with industry think-tank ILSI (International Life Science Institute). The Commission Secretary General Catherine Day added insult to injury in July 2013, when she required an economic impact assessment of the setting of criteria to define endocrine disruptors.

... industry has moreover managed to buy the time it needed to benefit from the deregulation, free trade dynamic offered by the EU-US trade talks. The chemicals and pesticides industries are putting strong pressure on the negotiators to halt any action taken on endocrine disruptors by the EU as it would ‘distort trade’ between the two blocks.”


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