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17th Aug 2022

Spain a key ally of pro-GMO America, cables reveal

  • Greenpeace activists protest against GMO crops - known by some as 'Frankenfoods' (Photo: Greenpeace)

The US and Spain have collaborated closely in order to defend GMO production within the EU, while the Vatican is also quietly supportive of the controversial technology, US diplomatic cables have revealed.

The cables' release comes just days after the European Commission was handed a petition of over one million signatures calling for a GMO ban in Europe, with EU environment ministers set to discuss recent EU proposals on the subject in Brussels on Monday (20 December).

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Shortly after Germany decided to ban MON810 corn cultivation in April 2009, and facing rising opposition within his own country, Spanish secretary of state and deputy minister Josep Puxeu contacted US officials to call for support, according to a US cable dated 19 May 2009 .

Lamenting "the most complicated week" of his life, Mr Puxeu asked the US government to maintain pressure on Brussels to allow GMO cultivation within the EU and proposed greater collaboration with Spain on the subject.

Spain was the first EU country to grow genetically modified corn and at the time of the cable cultivated nearly 75 percent of the EU's MON810 crop, a disease resistant corn engineered by US company Monsanto.

With France, Austria and other EU states strongly opposed however, Monsanto officials warned the US mission in Madrid that "If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow", reports the cable.

Despite EU technical approval for MON810, Spain surprised many in March of 2009 by voting with traditionally GMO-sceptic states to allow Austria and Hungary to maintain their provisional bans on the use and sale of the MON810 corn.

Industry contacts told the US mission that this did not represent a change in Spain's pro-GMO position however, being instead a "political gesture to thank French President Sarkozy for helping to arrange President Zapatero's presence at the November 2008 G-20 financial summit in Washington".

In a separate cable dated 14 December 2007, the US mission in Paris warned Washington it needed to retaliate more strongly if it was to successfully counter strong opposition to GMO crops in France.

"In our view, Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the commission," says ambassador Craig Stapleton. "Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices."

Further cables released by WikiLeaks over the weekend suggest the Vatican quietly supports GMO crops as a means to reducing world hunger, despite individual opposition to the technology by a number of vocal bishops.

With Europe seemingly divided on the subject, the European Commission came forward with proposals last summer to enable individual member states to have a greater say over whether to allow GMO cultivation within their national borders.

But the plans to partially renationalise approval have been not greeted with support, with opponents brandishing them as legally weak. EU environment ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will listen to an update from the Belgian EU presidency.

Potential reasons for a national ban will be one of the topics up for discussion.

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