Thanks to some new WikiLeaks cables regarding Romania, the GM issue is on the front pages of the Romanian media. The following article is long but interesting and it covers all the cables which expose the links between high ranked decision makers, the American Embassy in Romania and the biotech industry.

Note the "GMO trust-inducing program" that was set up with the media to put out "positive messages" on GMOs.

For more information about how US Embassies have used Romania to get GMOs into Europe, see a prescient 2009 report by Food & Water Europe:
Biotech diplomacy: How US Embassies are pushing GMOs throughout Europe
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Wikileaks GM Food: Romania, Trojan horse for USA in Europe

According to Wikileaks, one of the toughest diplomatic battles fought in Bucharest involved a problem in which the United States and the European Union have very different positions: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The US tried to use Romania as a wedge to relax the European policies regarding the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Romanian politicians played a duplicitous role.

Shortly after the DA alliance (Romanian National Liberal Party and the Romanian Democratic Party) gained power in December 2004, Americans started to investigate new investment perspectives in Romania. They were interested especially in three fields: IT, telecommunications and biotechnology. The last one, which involves the use of GMOs, gave birth to a strategy meant to transform Romania into a Trojan horse of America inside Europe.

While in the USA the use of GMOs is widespread and represents a huge business, in the EU several countries prohibit them. A cable sent on the 18th of January, 2005, signed by Thomas Delare, deputy of ambassador Jack Dyer Crouch states that: "A unique case in the region, Romania is a pioneer in biotechnology, it cultivates and promotes genetically modified soy, prohibited in the EU. The objective of the embassy is to help Romania enter the EU with a well-developed biotechnology sector and an educated population which understands the merits of biotechnology. Intensifying its efforts in Romania, the US will have a strong European ally, with common interests and beliefs in fighting against the anti-GMO position of the EU".

Extreme emergency

The timing was critical, in the opinion of the embassy, because the countdown for Romania to adhere to EU regulations as well as pressure from anti-GMO lobby groups had already begun. Building on this idea, the embassy proposed the start of a large campaign for public education towards the benefits of biotechnology (price, health, etc), supplying information to the press and to consumers through workshops and forums, before the population became aware of other options.

Manipulation through figures

The cable shows that after discussions with the local partners, an informal consortium was made up to support the GMO trust-inducing program. The coalition was made up of the National Consumer Protection Agency, the Science and Education Department of the Romanian National Television station (TVR, who promised to offer airtime) and some NGOs.

The plan included seminars in important agricultural science university centers such Bucharest, Timisoara, Iasi, Cluj and Craiova. The participants would have been chosen from among academics with experience in this field, from the industry and the local media.

Thomas Delare also says that "by the end of the campaign, the embassy is estimating that 40 press articles will be published along with radio and TV spots. It is estimated that through this campaign that 70% of the population will be exposed to positive messages regarding GMOs".

Romania, a manipulation barometer

Before the start and the end of the campaign, some studies were planned regarding the attitude of the population towards GM products. In this way, all effects of the campaign on consumer behavior could be accounted for. Furthermore, a cable states that these studies would be used as a barometer to measure the efficiency of similar campaigns developed in other countries. The cable also included a campaign cost plan.

Another cable, dated just before the Romanian EU adherence, states that Romanian farmers are great supporters of GMO seeds: "The farmers already expressed their intentions to ignore EU regulations and to continue the cultivation of these seeds".

Restrictions without a scientific base

Things heated up in the spring of 2006, when Romania started to take measures in this field to prepare to adhere to the EU regulations. A cable from the 5th of April, 2006 warned Washington that harsh times were coming in the GMO war. "In January the Government restricted the cultivation of GM soy starting in 2007.

Soon it will decide if soy will be cultivated this year... The embassy is working with the supporters of biotechnology inside and outside the Government to obtain the cultivation approval for 2006, to modify the restrictions and to influence the public opinion in a positive way."

Romania was going to find out in May, 2006, if it would be accepted in the EU in 2007 or 2008, thus the actions of "coming into line with the European legislation" were intensified at the last minute.

In any case, another cable states, the Romanian Executive imposed some restrictions during the winter. For example, GM soy cultivation was banned for a radius of 15 km around natural protected areas. "Not surprising at all, the restriction was not based on any scientific risk assessment", explained the diplomats.

Biotech farmers, organised by the Embassy

Ambassador Nicholas Taubman stated through those cables that he was preparing to attack the limitations regarding GMOs in the Romanian Parliament with the help of "two influential pro-GMO parliamentarians which have a close relationship with the embassy." The diplomats guaranteed that the Agriculture and Environment Ministries would not oppose the postponing of the restrictions until 2007.

Furthermore, the Biotech Farmers Association, established with the assistance of the embassy, would proceed with an active lobby near the Executive members. Asked about what would they do if GM soy cultivation would be prohibited in 2006, one of the farmers said that they would plant it anyway. In the next cable, from 16th of May, 2006, the embassy talked about the European Commission "which is worried that Romania will not rigorously apply the new EU regulations regarding GMOs".

Saving Africa from hunger

. The US could not easily let go of the largest GMO grower in Europe. In August, 2008, Richard Lugar arrived in Romania to encourage Romanian officials to permit "the use of advanced agricultural methods, including biotechnology".

The Senator had more meetings with Romanian officials and he presented the same speech to each one. First of all he spoke about his experience as a large scale farmer from the USA, and he affirmed, of course, that it's more profitable to cultivate natural products, which are more expensive. However, he underlined that it is important to "fight hunger, especially in the African countries", as he explained to the environment minister, Attila Korodi, on 28thof August, 2008.

This is why it is important that "farmers to be allowed the freedom to cultivate and export anything which could feed the hungry of the world". Korodi was reluctant on this subject, and in his final comment Taubman mentioned that the Embassy had a difficult relationship with the minister, mainly because Korodi thinks that Romania and the USA have few things in common when it comes to biotechnology and climate change, Romania being a part of EU.

The "Enviropig"

During the discussions with the Americans, Marian Zlotea, the head of the Sanitary-Veterinary Authority showed interest in the "Enviropig", a genetically modified pig developed in the USA. "They seemed interested in using such options in the future and they wanted more information and studies regarding GM animals and animal cloning." The ambassadors noted: Romania is a large pork producer and consumer.

Biotechnology friends

Another cable states that: The Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) are strong supporters of biotechnology. On the other hand, The National Liberal Party (PNL) and The Democratic Union of the Hungarians from Romania (UDMR) are much more opposed to this kind of agriculture. PNL's position is based on electoral reasons, while UDMR follows Hungarian policy in this matter. Other possible allies are also mentioned:

Valeriu Tabara (at the time he was the vice-president of the Agricultural Commission in the Chamber of Deputies, now he is Minister of Agriculture): "he is one of the most sincere and most influential supporters". Note: he had a passionate speech during an embassy organized conference in October, 2007.

Theodor Stolojan He was elected MEP last autumn (2007), with a platform which contained a favorable position towards biotechnology.

Petre Daeafrom the Social Democratic Party (PSD), member of the Agriculture Commission of the Senate, vocal supporter of biotechnology used in agriculture.

Ilie Sarbu, Minister of Agriculture in the PDL PSD Government, is a supporter of biotechnology. Vasile Bacila, his adviser, told the Americans in 2008, that Ilie Sarbu was lobbying in Bruxelles, at the Environment Commission, for the use of biotechnology in agriculture.

The following note mentions that his daughter, Daciana Sarbu, is a member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Commission of the European Parliament. Also, she is very much against biotechnology, the cable shows.

Dacian Ciolos, ex liberal Minister of Agriculture, the present European Commissioner for Agriculture, is a natural opponent of this kind of agriculture.

However, being a technocrat and having a personal relationship with France, he showed interest to not oppose the GM soy embargo in 2008, mentioned Attila Korodi. "Nobody can tell which side he will take, but he is positioned in a manner that doesn't permit a singular position," shows a cable.

Calin wants votes, Korodi sells hints

On the 11th of February 2008, the embassy sent a cable to Washington containing many disclosures made by "Monsanto" and "Pioneer" representatives working in the agrobiotechnology field. They had a meeting with minister Attila Korodi on the 4th of February when he unofficially confessed that "he took preliminary measures, at the orders of Calin Popescu Tariceanu (prime-minister of the time) to activate the safeguard clause for the MON 810 genetically modified corn".

The first measures were taken to ban this GM corn. The measure "coincides with the official visit of president Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently imposed a similar moratorium". Tariceanu bragged that the new regulation would bring more votes for the National Liberal Party (PNL) from the young citizens and the urban electorate in the upcoming elections. Korodi warned biotech farmers that in March he would present an emergency ordinance draft for the Government which would ban the MON 810 GM corn.

"If the ordinance will pass, the temporary moratorium will be enforced immediately", the minister warned the producers. If until then the minister seemed a "lost cause", the meeting on the 4th of February showed that the minister was not that inflexible. A cable shows that "He revealed his plan to the biotech farmers and advised them off the record to distribute all GM seeds they have on stock as soon as possible, before the moratorium came into force". "The industry representatives interpret this approach as a signal that the minister acts against biotechnologies because of political obligation not conviction".

Advise for the senators

The embassy shows in the same cable that some problems have risen because of environmental activists. For example, some staff from the Environmental Ministry, which is in favor of biotechnology, are reluctant to meet "Monsanto" and "Pioneer" representatives, because NGOs would denounce them as friends of the industry. In another cable, from the 20th of August, 2008, which prepared Luger for his visit to Romania, Ambassador Taubman transmitted that "from a political view, there are a few 'minefields' which have to be passed at the meeting with prime-minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu". "Nobody can accuse Romania of a quiet political scene". A description followed demonstrating the turbulent relationship between the prime-minister and the president, who had completely different visions, but, according to Taubman "on subjects which are in our main interest, their differences are more illusory than real".

Bobo the expert

"In your meeting (senator Richard Lugars'), Tariceanu will most likely focus on internal matters and will be more open to arguments in favor of biotechnology than minister Korodi". Regarding Korodi, this cable offers another argument which could grab him: a scientific approach on this agricultural system would permit Romania, with its large but underdeveloped agricultural sector, to become European leader in this field. After the forming of the PDL-PSD Government, at the end of 2008, American hopes were raised.

At the beginning of April, 2009, the biotechnology expert Jack Bobo was brought to Romania. He had more meetings with second hand representatives of institutions involved in the GMO matter. Many names were mentioned as in favor of this type of agriculture. However, the decision-makers expressed their reserves regarding what can be done, Romania being a member of the EU.

One of the most important meetings was with Marian Zlotea, the president of the National Sanitar-Veterinary Agency. The state secretary, ex MEP declared himself a supporter of biotechnology, but his opinion was that the state should be a mediator in this debate, not a lawyer. Romania was pressed by Austria, Hungary and France to align with the European policy on this matter and could not adopt a singular position in the EU, Zlotea explained.