New report reveals the interests of the scientists-turned-lobbyists who stand to benefit from deregulation
A large number of European scientists active in agricultural biotechnology research who are actively lobbying for deregulating new gene editing techniques have direct or indirect vested interests in the marketing of plants derived from those techniques, through patents, patent applications, or links with the seed industry. This is revealed today by a new report commissioned by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament: “Behind the smokescreen: Vested interests of EU scientists lobbying for GMO deregulation”.
The report is written by GMWatch co-director Claire Robinson but represents a team effort by a group of researchers and editors.
On 25 July 2018 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that all products derived from new GM techniques like CRISPR are GMOs and have to be regulated as such. Since then, an accelerated lobbying campaign by the GMO industry and its allies has taken aim at these EU regulations. The goal of the lobbyists is to persuade European policymakers to allow the commercialisation of gene-edited plants and animals without limiting safety checks, traceability, or labelling.
In April 2021 lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) revealed the coordinated lobbying campaign to achieve this goal by three EU-level science organisations: the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO), the EU network for Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) and the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA).
Through Freedom of Information requests to EU, Dutch and Belgian authorities, CEO uncovered a number of dubious lobbying tactics employed by the GMO industry, and affiliated scientific organisations like EU-SAGE and EPSO.
The new Smokescreen report digs deeper into the commercial interests of the affiliated scientists in these organisations. Findings include:
* A large number of researchers actively involved in the three EU-level organisations have strong links with the seed industry.
* Sixty-four per cent of the members of EPSO working group on Agricultural Technologies and 32% of EU-SAGE members have a vested interest in the commercialisation of GM plants, meaning they stand to benefit from it financially or in terms of career development, either personally or via their organisations. They lobby for the deregulation of GM technologies but do not declare their economic interests in the context of these discussions.
* Thirty-eight per cent of EPSO Agricultural Technologies working group members and 23% of EU-SAGE network members hold one or more patents or patent applications related to GM processes or products. Fifty-three per cent of EPSO working group members and 15% of EU-SAGE members have been involved in one or more research projects with the industry. Many of these scientists are involved in a seed or biotechnology company, by holding a position or shares in such companies.
Nina Holland, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, said: “While the pesticide and seed industry is lobbying hard against pesticide reduction targets, the same companies are pushing the European Commission to speed up a plan to deregulate crops made by gene editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas, which are patented, abandoning all safety tests and consumers' right to choose. Among the loudest voices are [ag]biotech researchers that often have a conflict of interest, such as those that run the platform EU-SAGE, funded among others by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"Based on the new findings of the new Smokescreen report, it is clear that policymakers must be very critical of the claims of these lobby groups, proclaiming the benefits and safety of these crops. They should instead seek expert advice from independent scientists who have no vested interests in the commercialisation of GM technologies and products.”
Nina Holland points out that new lobby documents – published today by CEO – show that giant seed companies try to convince policymakers that consumers mights accept new GMOs if they can be convinced of the ecological benefits: “This is why it is key for GM developers, whether corporations or researchers, to create hype about supposed benefits of new GMOs in relation to climate change and sustainable agriculture, even when evidence is lacking, and even when no assessment has been made as to whether other approaches could not have achieved the same or more benefits. Policymakers should be extremely wary of the agbiotech industry's attempts to hype genome edited products as sustainable and climate-friendly.”
Claire Robinson said: "I would like to warn Europeans that the lobby for deregulating new GM techniques should be taken seriously, based on what is happening in the UK, where the government is in the process of removing regulatory controls around gene editing technology in food and farming. The UK government has published a draft bill, the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which is now going through the Houses of Parliament. The bill creates a new subclass of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), calling them ‘precision bred organisms’ and claiming that they could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding. Misleading terms such as ‘precision breeding’ and deceptive arguments are being used in the UK – and increasingly in the EU – by those seed companies and pro-GMO lobbyists who want to see gene-edited crops, foods, and animals deregulated to smooth their path to market.
"Recently a group of 91 international scientists and policy experts published a statement opposing the use of the term ‘precision breeding’ to describe gene editing, on the grounds that it is ‘technically and scientifically inaccurate and therefore misleads Parliament, regulators, and the public’ because gene editing is neither precise, nor is it breeding. It is not only misleading but also dangerous, as deregulating these new techniques will have serious socio-economic consequences, as well as potentially serious impacts on health and the environment."
Read/download the new report here: https://www.greens-efa.eu/en/article/study/behind-the-smokescreen
1. March 2021: Uncovered: the biotech industry’s latest lobby tactics to deregulate new GM crops and animals in Europe. Corporate Europe Observatory. https://corporateeurope.org/en/2021/03/uncovered-biotech-industrys-latest-lobby-tactics-deregulate-new-gm-crops-and-animals-europe
2. April 2021: European Commission bowing to industry lobby campaign on new GMOs. Corporate Europe Observatory. https://corporateeurope.org/en/2021/04/european-commission-bowing-industry-lobby-campaign-new-gmos
3. Today CEO publishes an update on the ongoing lobbying efforts by these platforms, based on documents obtained by CEO from the European Commission through freedom of information requests, and other information. What stands out is that the main concern seems to be how to hype and communicate the alleged benefits of gene editing, and most of all how to convince consumers to accept gene-edited products, without having the right to know what they are eating.
4. Scientists’ and policy experts’ statement: Gene editing is not “precision breeding” and the term is misleading. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bTXTWZwwDHfReRaiA4Kt25Jfrqab4iNyAlLAsEGTPR4/edit GMWatch article on the statement: https://gmwatch.org/en/106-news/latest-news/20092 Press announcement: