1.EU accused of heavy reliance on industry lobbyists
2.Open letter on consultation on EU legislation on marketing of seeds
3.Top scientists warn against EU's rush to biofuel
EXTRACT: ...some of the commission's most controversial advisory groups such as those on biotechnology, clean coal and car emissions are among those controlled by industry. [item 1]
NOTE: The EU's policy on biofuels, which has now been labelled potentially 'insane' by one of the UK Government's top scientific advisors, was shaped by just such industry interests as those identified in this article [item 1], including the biotech industry.
1.EU accused of heavy reliance on industry lobbyists
By Honor Mahony EUObserver, 25 March 2008
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - An alliance of environment groups, trade unions and academics has accused the European Commission of relying too heavily on business and industry lobbyists when drawing up EU legislation.
The transparency group Alter-EU, made up of 160 organisations, said the commission - which of the EU institutions has the sole power to initiate European laws - has over-filled its advisory expert groups with industry lobbyists.
In a report published Tuesday (25 March), Alter-EU says some of the commission's most controversial advisory groups such as those on biotechnology, clean coal and car emissions are among those controlled by industry.
The report found that industry representatives made up more than half of the membership of a quarter of the groups surveyed while 32% percent had members representing a 'wide range of interests.' The remainder of the 44 groups surveyed were considered 'unbalanced.'
Alter-EU also accused Brussels of not being transparent about the composition of such expert groups, which are there to advise commission policy-makers.
The transparency campaigners say they choose the 44 groups from what they consider 'key policy areas' - the environment, energy, agriculture, consumers, health, water and biotechnology.
According to their report, the total number of expert groups has increased by more than 40% since 2000 with one group for every eight officials working in the European Commission. Total membership of the groups runs to over 50,000.
'The Commission seems unwilling to provide information about who is on its Expert Groups, and in some cases does not even appear to know whether groups exist or not. This reveals an appalling attitude to transparency and public accountability in the law-making process,' said Paul de Clerck of green group Friends of the Earth Europe.
Report author Yiorgos Vassalos of Corporate Europe Observatory said: 'These groups should act in the public interest, but it appears that some are being allowed to further their own commercial interests.'
The report says that while the commission in 2005 started an online register of the groups, it does not list who is in them while 'several academics, lobbyists and even EU officials have estimated a much higher figure' than the around 1,200 listed groups.
The report found that a climate change panel, for example, had 30 industry representatives, 13 commission officials, plus 7 further members coming from NGOs and universities and a regional member.
For its part the commission on Thursday said that only around 20 percent of experts represent industry.
It also said it planned to make public the names on such committees by the summer.
'It's still a work in progress to the extent that the commission is still compiling the various elements to be able to release the names on the expert groups,' said a commission spokeswoman.
She also pointed out that experts from national governments and agencies made up two-thirds of those in the groups.
The transparency report comes at a time of heightened awareness about the importance of legislation coming out of Brussels, with a corresponding growth in recent years of lobbyists, NGOs and think-tanks in the EU capital.
Last year the commission set out plans for a voluntary register for lobbyists, with estimates suggesting there are about 15,000 in Brussels.
The European Parliament, whose powers to influence legislation are set to grow substantially next year under the proposed EU treaty, is also looking into establishing a voluntary register.
Both institutions have come under criticism for not automatically opting for a mandatory register.
2.Open letter of the European Farmers Coordination (CPE) and of COAG (Coordinadora de las Organizaciones de Agricultores y Ganaderos Spain) on the consultation on the European legislation concerning the marketing of seeds
Is it really a democratic consultation?
A private consultancy has been charged to carry out consultations to simplify and draft amendments of the EU rulings on the marketing of seeds. Thus a questionary [questionairre] was put on line in order to 'consult' the interested parts.
We, farmers organizations in more than 20 European countries, denounce the undemocratic nature of this consultation process. The issue of conservation, exchange and trade of seeds concerns directly millions of farmers in Europe, as well as millions of men and women who grow their own vegetables. Moreover the preservation of biodiversity concerns all citizens; without it the future of humanity itself is endangered.
The way in which the consultation has been carried out (i.e. Online questionary) cannot take into account the reality of all the actors concerned. On the one hand, the large majority of European farmers do not have Internet. In addition, the questionnary is only in English, excluding all the people who speak different languages in Europe. Lastly, the language used in the questionary is very technical, excluding automatically those people who do not have the technical and legal training about European seeds legislation. These people are the most affected by conservation and exchange policies on seeds.
For example, small producers from these Central and Eastern European countries that lately entered the EU grow a great diversity of species. For them, this kind of consultation cannot represent a viable tool for expressing their opinion.
Only industries interested in seeds trade and, to a lesser extent, some NGOs which have enough human and financial resources to follow up European legislative processes can properly express their voice through the « Better regulation » questionary. This shows the biaised nature of this consultation. It is clear that it is not the interest of the people that will be defended, but rather that of a handful of transnational seed companies who impose their rules on the European Union officials.
For these reasons, we have chosen not to answer to this imposed questionary, but rather to express our opinion through an open letter.
The role of legislation is to protect biodiversity and farmers rights
So far, the main objective of the European legislation on seed marketing has been that of strenghtening the monopoly on biodiversity resources held by a very small number of seed breeding industries. This guarantees them a very high income and a total control of the international market.
Taking into account that the world biodiversity is in jeopardy, the European legislation on marketing seeds must be radically revised. The preservation of biodiversity should be the main objective of a European legislation on marketing seeds, as well as the respect of the farmers rights defined by the International Treaty on Plant-Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).
Biodiversity is essential to increase the adaptability of plants to climate change and therefore guarantee food for future generations. Only seeds naturally preserved in our fields and our gardens and not that in the gene banks freezers are able to adapt to changing conditions.
Biodiversity has been developped and always renewed by farmers for milleniums. Nowadays, it is under threat because of the massive destruction of farmers throughout Europe and in the whole world and because of the increasing privatisation of seeds. Indeed, a small number of transnational companies use intellectual property rights (patents or Plant Breeders Rights) to steal seeds from the rural communities. GMOs and genetic contamination are part of the tools used by the seeds industries to impose their monopoly over seeds and thus create a huge captive market.
Thus it is key to recognize and respect farmers rights as defined by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic ressources for Food and Agriculture, which the EU is a signatory of, in order to maintain biodiversity in Europe. It means: « The right to keep, use, exchange and sell farm seeds » and the right for farmers to take part to the decision-making on all issues related to the preservation of biodiversity (article 9). Moreover, for farmers to be able to keep playing their role in preserving biodiversity, it is essential that farmers rights are not limited to rights concerning seeds, but also include other rights, such as access to other productive ressources (land and water for example), right to sell farm products (often forbidden by sanitary regulations that are made to suit industrial requirements) and an agricultural policy that regulates the markets within the EU (through supply management) and towards third countries (market protection).
Food sovereignty is essential to preserve biodiversity in Europe.
Thus, we demand that the European Union:
*recognizes and respects farmers (and non-professional gardeners) rights to keep, use, exchange and sell seeds produced on the farm (or in gardens), for seeds registered in the catalogue or not, and to take part to the decision-making concerning the preservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture at the national and European levels.
*Creates a catalogue for « varieties of conservation » with flexible registration criterias, opened for free to any variety that is not or not any more registered in the catalogue, adapted to the needs of low inputs sustainable family farming.
*Makes compulsory the information about the origin of varieties and breeding methods for the registration of a Plant Breeders Rights and in the catalogue.
*Implements a moratorium on the marketing and cropping of seeds from genetically modified varieties (GMOs).
CPE: Guy Kastler, 0033 603945721; CPE office: 0032 22173112
COAG: Andoni Garcia, 0034 636 451 569
3.Top scientists warn against rush to biofuel
Brown plans to resist EU plans for increased quotas as doubts multiply
James Randerson and Nicholas Watt
The Guardian, March 25 2008 [p1]
Gordon Brown is preparing for a battle with the European Union over biofuels after one of the government's leading scientists warned they could exacerbate climate change rather than combat it.
In an outspoken attack on a policy which comes into force next week, Professor Bob Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said it would be wrong to introduce compulsory quotas for the use of biofuels in petrol and diesel before their effects had been properly assessed.
'If one started to use biofuels ... and in reality that policy led to an increase in greenhouse gases rather than a decrease, that would obviously be insane,' Watson said. 'It would certainly be a perverse outcome.'
Under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, all petrol and diesel must contain 2.5% of biofuels from April 1. This is designed to ensure that Britain complies with a 2003 EU directive that 5.75% of petrol and diesel come from renewable sources by 2010.
But scientists have increasingly questioned the sustainability of biofuels, warning that by increasing deforestation the energy source may be contributing to global warming.
Watson's warning was echoed last night by Professor Sir David King, who recently retired as the government's chief scientific adviser. He said biofuel quotas should be put on hold until the results were known of a review which has been commissioned by ministers.
'What is absolutely desperately needed within government are people of integrity who will state what the science advice is under whatever political pressure or circumstances,' he said.
The EU plans to raise the compulsory biofuel quota to 10% by 2020, but Brown is understood to be ready to challenge this plan. A senior government source said last night: 'There is a growing feeling that we need to get all the facts. Some biofuels are OK but there are serious questions about others. More work needs to be done.'
Sources say the government has no choice but to implement the guidelines next month because Britain is obliged under EU law to comply with the 2010 target.
But the report on biofuels, to come from the head of the Renewable Fuels Agency, Professor Ed Gallagher, may be used to challenge the more ambitious target for 2020, which is not set in law.
John Beddington, the government's current chief scientific adviser, has already expressed scepticism about biofuels. At a speech in Westminster this month he said demand for biofuels from the US had delivered a 'major shock' to world agriculture, which was raising food prices globally. 'There are real problems with the unsustainability of biofuels,' he said, adding that cutting down rainforest to grow the crops was 'profoundly stupid'.
Britain will move cautiously in its battle with Brussels because José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, is championing the 10% target for 2020. Barroso this month dismissed as 'exaggerated' claims that biofuels can lead to increases in food prices and greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation. But other members of the commission and other countries, including Germany, sympathise with Britain.
Brown was due to release a report touching on issues including biofuels, when he met Barroso in Brussels last month. But the prime minister decided that the time was 'not right or ripe'.
The prime minister made clear that Britain is wary of the target when he said last November: 'I take extremely seriously concerns about the impact of biofuels on deforestation, precious habitats and on food security, and the UK is working to ensure a European sustainability standard is introduced as soon as possible, and we will not support an increase in biofuels over current target levels until an effective standard is in place.'