Over the past few weeks, two EU commissioners have been sounding markedly different notes about genetically modified (GM) crops.
First, the trade chief Karel de Gucht insisted that the Union was not going to “abandon” its biotechnology policy as part of a deal with the US. Eager to put a positive spin on the planned trans-Atlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), de Gucht said that any “regulatory cooperation” stemming from the accord would be undertaken “without lowering the protection” to food and the environment.
De Gucht’s comments implied that the Brussels bureaucracy is either opposed to GM foods or has serious reservations about them. That must be news to his colleague Tonio Borg. As the EU’s health commissioner, Borg is busy trying to force these unwanted items onto our supermarket shelves.
Even though 19 of the Union’s 28 governments last week registered their opposition to a GM maize manufactured by the American firm DuPont Pioneer, Borg appears determined to approve it. The only “justification” for his patently anti-democratic behaviour is that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has deemed the crop to be safe.
EFSA relies on “studies” undertaken by the biotech industry (hence biased) when assessing new products. Independent research calling into question the safety of GM foods – such as that conducted by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini – has been rejected by the authority. De Gucht’s attempt to assuage public concerns was misleading. He knows very well that Monsanto, Syngenta and other firms determined to play a dangerous game with nature are frustrated with how a majority of EU countries have establish a de factomoratorium on planting GM crops.
EuropaBio, an umbrella group for makers of GM seeds, has a wish-list for the trans-Atlantic trade talks. It wants the EU to adopt the same kind of system for assessing GM foods as the American one.
The US approach is preferable, the association believes, because fewer questions are asked and less data has to be submitted when firms want to have their bids for new products rubber-stamped by officialdom.
De Gucht has been using different terminology depending on who his targeted audience is. Addressing the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York last year, he claimed that the “level of ambition” for the trans-Atlantic trade talks needed to be high “because the more regulatory convergence we can achieve between us, the more scope there is for this model to influence other countries around the world.” European citizens are far less likely than guests of a corporate-funded ”think tank” like the CFR to applaud such blatant pleas to turn this continent into America’s copy-cat. So instead of “convergence”, de Gucht is now speaking of “cooperation”, a softer, more feminine word.