1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

GM diplomacy

Ben KnightMay 17, 2013

US diplomats lobbied aggressively to support its genetically-modified food industries, a campaign group has revealed in a new report. The US even pushed EU countries to change laws to allow GM crops in.

#44259260 - Mais © siwi1 maiskolben; maiskörner; mais; gemüse; erntezeit; bio; blätter; maiskorn; pflanze; pflanzen; landwirtschaft; korn; körner; ernte; ernten; ernährung; essen; gesund; gesundes; gesunder; grün; nahrhaft; reif; reifer; roh; roher; kolben; makro; organisch; ungekocht; details; gelb; macro; maisfeld; maisfelder; oderland; oderbruch; reitwein; brandenburg; futter; futterpflanze; biogas; rohstoff
Mais Pflanze FeldImage: Fotolia/siwi1

The diplomatic cables were published two years ago by Wikileaks, and most of them weren't even marked secret. But now US campaigners Food and Water Watch have collated and analyzed 926 State Department cables (covering 113 countries and five years, from 2005 to 2009) to reveal the extraordinary extent to which the US has been lobbying in support of its biotech industry across the world. Their conclusions were published on Tuesday (14.05.2013).

As well as lobbying in the developing world - persuading Kenya to commercialize GM crops and helping the Ghanaian and Nigerian governments to push through lax GM legislation - the US PR campaign was also aimed at legislators in the European Union, where a de facto moratorium has limited the production, import, and sale of most GM crops until now.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton officially opens the 8th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum with an address to delegates in Nairobi, Kenya on 05 August 2009. As part of the Obama administration's efforts to enhance global food security, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will tour the continent to highlight food security efforts with a focus on building the agricultural industry in developing countries. EPA/STEPHEN MORRISON +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Promoting GM crops was part of Clinton's brief in AfricaImage: picture alliance / dpa

"In Europe, the State Department has targeted the EU to weaken the regulatory safeguards that have delayed the approval of GE crops and to force the EU to accept biotech imports," Food and Water Watch concluded. "Almost two-fifths of all biotech cables (38 percent) were from embassies in EU member states. US embassies tried to persuade nations that had been hostile to biotech crops and to shore up countries that had been supportive."

'The science is rhetorical'

The report also exposed a strategy linking the developing and the developed worlds: "The State Department has targeted the European Union's reluctance to allow the cultivation or importation of biotech crops or foods as the key to forcing developing countries to accept agricultural biotechnology."

"It's not a surprise. We knew things like this were going on before," Eve Mitchell of Food and Water Watch Europe told DW. "If you look at the travelling that Hillary Clinton did it's clear that the State Department is well-affiliated with the biotech industry."

What was new, Mitchell explained, was the level and detail of diplomatic involvement. More shocking perhaps was the drive to present controversial scientific data as fact. "The science is all rhetorical," said Mitchell.

A bag containing 'MON 810', a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto Company has been ripped opened by anti-GMO activists on January 23, 2012 at a Monsanto storehouse in Trebes near Carcassonne, southern France, during an action to call for the ban of this product. AFP PHOTO / ERIC CABANIS (Photo credit should read ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Monsanto maize was banned by AustriaImage: AFP/Getty Images

The cables show that diplomats often specifically targeted scientists and academics to accept the biotech industry's uncritical approach to GM foods, and would simply repeat company's claims that GE crops increase productivity, combat global hunger and strengthen economic development opportunities - and all with a lighter environmental footprint.

"We know that tremendous amounts of money are being invested in this," added Mitchell. "What we're seeing is the keenness, the desperation not to lose money that has been invested. There are also a lot of donations to political parties involved."

The money invested in US biotech and genetically-modified food is rather difficult to untangle - a large part comes from the corporations, but some certainly comes from the US taxpayer.

Government as employee of the firm

Heike Moldenhauer, biotech expert for Friends of the Earth Germany, knew all about the US government's involvement in biotech diplomacy from her time working in Austria from 1999 to 2001. "I can absolutely confirm the report from my experiences," she told DW. "The embassies really are a part of the biotech industry."

"In 1999, Austria became one of the first countries to ban maize made by the US biotech firm Monsanto," she remembered. "I think this was a shock for Monsanto, and in the two years I was there, I represented the Austrian government at five or six meetings with Monsanto representatives, which were organized and took place at the US embassy."

Obviously, one of the tasks of an embassy is to support and represent national industries abroad, but as far as Moldenhauer is concerned, pressuring other governments to change their laws oversteps the line between business and politics. "The US government is effectively working as an employee of these companies," she said.

Ein Mitarbeiter des Wiesenhof-Geflügelwerkes im niedersächsischen Holte (Kreis Nienburg) klebt am 05.02.2008 Plaketten mit der Aufschrift "Ohne Gentechnik" auf in Folie verschweißte Brathähnchen. Dabei handelt es sich um ein Qualitätssiegel für Nahrungsmittel tierischen Ursprungs, das besagt, dass die Tiere keine gentechnisch veränderten Futtermittel erhalten haben. Verbraucher sollen gentechnikfreie Lebensmittel künftig leichter erkennen können. Dieses soll durch das vom Bundestag beschlossene Gentechnikrecht geregelt werden. Dieses Gesetz soll am 15. Februar 2008 den Bundesrat passieren. Das in Vechta ansässige Unternehmen Wiesenhof Geflügel-Kontor GmbH kontrolliert seit Mitte der Neunziger Jahre die kompletten Produktionstufen für sein Hähnchenfleisch. Foto: Ingo Wagner +++(c) dpa - Report+++
The EU system for labelling GM produce could be threatened by new trade agreementsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

When contacted by DW, the US Embassy in Germany would not comment on the report. A spokeswoman said its policy was not to comment on Wikileaks revelations.

Supply without demand

Partly because consumer opinion is against GM in Europe, the EU has remained largely resistant to US pressure so far, especially when it comes to its labelling system for GM products. But Moldenhauer warned that this could change soon, when new transatlantic trade agreements begin negotiations in June. "The so-called 'mutual recognition agreements' could mean that Europe would have to accept the US authorizations of its products," she said. "Then GM crops could be forced into the European market."

Moldenhauer believes that for the US government to work like this - and for European governments to engage in such negotiations - is a violation of the European people's democratic rights. "The overwhelming majority of European people do not trust GM products," she said. "It's a supply without a demand. Governments should respect the will of the people."