Brussels pushes for GM crops fast track

Democratic processes threatened by secret meetings
The Independent on Sunday reports that Gordon Brown and other European leaders are secretly preparing a co-ordinated campaign to spread GM crops and foods in Britain and throughout the EU. In the process they are attempting to subvert the proper democratic process in member states and in the European Parliament.

The paper’s environment editor Geoffrey Lean says the minutes of a series of private meetings of representatives of 27 governments disclose plans to “speed up” the introduction of genetically modified crops and foods and to “deal with” public resistance to them. He says the documents show that the EU leaders want “agricultural representatives” and “industry” – to be more vocal to counteract the “vested interests” of environmentalists.

Public opposition has so far prevented any modified crops from being grown in Britain. France, one of only three countries in Europe to have grown them in any volume, has suspended their cultivation, and resistance to them is rising rapidly in the other two – Spain and Portugal.

The biotech industry has been conducting an energetic public relations campaign arguing that the technology is needed to feed a hungry world. Its lobbyists have had some success in Whitehall, where ministers have been increasingly speaking out in favour of the technology and where they have given anti – GM campaigners twelve months to put up or shut up their argumensts.

The EU meetings were convened by Jose Manuel Barroso, the pro-GM President of the Commission, and were chaired by his chef de cabinet, Joao Vale de Almeida. The prime ministers of each of the EU’s 27 member states were asked to nominate a special representative. Neither the membership of the group, nor its objectives, nor the outcomes of its meetings have been made public.

Geoffrey Lean obtained confidential documents, including an attendance list and the conclusions of the two meetings held so far this year – on 17 July and on 10 October. The list shows that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany sent close aides. Britain was represented by Sonia Phippard, director for food and farming at Defra.

The conclusions of the first meeting called for the “speeding up of the authorisation process based on robust assessments so as to reassure the public”, while the second one added: “Decisions could be made faster without compromising safety.”

But the documents also make clear that Mr Barroso is going beyond mere exhortation by trying to get prime ministers to overrule their own agriculture and environment ministers in favour of GM. They report that the chairman “recalled the importance for prime ministers to look at the wider picture”, “invited the participants to report the discussions of the group to their heads of governments”, and “stressed the importance of drawing their attention to ongoing discussions in the Council [of Ministers]”.

Feeding the World Conference

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