IRT NEWS TEAM UPDATE: Jeffrey Smith talks to Democracy Now! about the U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks which reveals that the Bush administration drew up ways to retaliate against Europe for refusing to use genetically modified seeds. Watch the interview.
“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU” [Emphasis added] –Recommendation by US Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton.
Wikileaked cables released over the weekend revealed more about the US’ role as a global bully, trying to thrust unpopular genetically modified (GM) crops onto cautious governments and their citizens. In a 2007 cable from Craig Stapleton, then US Ambassador to France, he encouraged the US government to “reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list.” A list, he added, that “causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility.”
The stated reason for their attack was that “Europe is moving backwards not forwards” on GMOs, with “France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [EU] Commission.” The Ambassador was concerned that France and others would put a ban on the cultivation of Monsanto’s GM corn seeds called Mon 810, engineered with a gene that produces a toxic insect-killing pesticide in every cell. Mon 810 is the first GM crop approved for planting EU-wide and has been a test case for biotech expansionism into the continent.
According to the cable, the Ambassador also rejected the France’s new “Grenelle” environment process, which looks beyond just the science of new technologies to also take into account “common interest.” Evidently a government that looks out for common interest is just too much for Ambassador Stapleton. He wrote, “Combined with the precautionary principle, this is a precedent with implications far beyond MON-810 BT corn cultivation.”
He was also upset about France’s draft biotech law that “would make farmers and seed companies legally liable for pollen drift.” This concept that the “polluter pays” is a foundational principle of US law–except for GMOs. Here Stapleton also wants France to give a free pass for Monsanto and the other GM seed companies.
The French government and EU Commission tried to placate the US suggesting that the rejections of Mon 810 “are only cultivation rather than import bans.” But Stapleton says, “We see the cultivation ban as a first step, at least by anti-GMO advocates, who will move next to ban or further restrict imports.”
The ambassador fails to point out that a de facto ban of GM ingredients in food has been in place since 1999, not by the government, but by the food industry. They have kept GMOs out of their products due to widespread consumer concern about the health effects. Since foods containing GMOs must be labeled in Europe, companies always source non-GMO food to avoid that label.
The exception is animal feed. EU law does not require meat or other animal products to label whether GMOs were fed to the animals. This loophole has allowed lots of US- and Brazil-grown GMO animal feed to be shipped to Europe. According to the cable, “The [French] environment minister’s top aide told us that people have a right not to buy meat raised on biotech feed.” Offering consumers a choice on GMOs is not on the US government agenda.
Ambassador Stapleton had been a co-owner with George W. Bush of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Once Bush was in office, Stapleton became US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and then in France. His pro-GMO stance was in-line with the Bush administration, which used a WTO lawsuit to try to force Europe to accept GMOs.
Stapleton’s tone in the letter was insistent. “We should not be prepared to cede on cultivation because of our considerable planting seed business in Europe.”
He said, “Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices. In fact, the pro-biotech side in France — including within the farm union — have told us retaliation is the only way to begin to begin to turn this issue in France.”
- France banned Mon 810 in early 2008. Several other EU nations have also banned it.
- In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine stated that animal feeding studies on GMOs showed significant health disorders. They called on the US government to institute an immediate moratorium, and asked all doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets in the meantime.
- This year, the major French retailer Carefour introduced a new “Reared without GMOs” label for meat raised on non-GMO feed.
- The Non-GMO Shopping Guide released in the US lists thousands of products that do not use GM ingredients, either directly or via animal feed.