GeneWatch UK PR: Defra battles to keep public in the dark over GM industry influence on policy and media

GeneWatch UK today made an official complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) about missing and redacted documents showing the GM industry's influence over the Government's policy and media strategy on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods (1). GeneWatch has spent 12 months battling to reveal documents showing extensive government contacts between the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the GM crop lobby crop the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC).

"These partial documents strongly suggest the Government is colluding with the GM industry to manipulate the media, undermine access to GM-free-fed meat and dairy products and plot the return of GM crops to Britain", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, "The public have a right to know what is going on behind closed doors". 

Significant parts of the documents, which include minutes of meetings, phone calls and action points for officials, remain hidden from the public. These include:

·         Minutes and actionpoints from a teleconference between Defra and the ABC held on 10th June 2013, prior to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's speech advocating a pro-GM policy on 20th June;

·         The contents of a "message on media suggestions" sent to Defra by the ABC on 15th April 2013;

·         Material referred to "as discussed" in an email sent to Defra by Monsanto on 8th February 2013, regarding lobbying retailers on their policies on animal feed, in the lead up to the April 2013 decision by Tesco, Marks and Spencer, the Co-op and Sainsbury stop or limit sales of GM-free fed chickens and eggs;

·         The details and outcomes of a meeting between the then Minister of State David Heath and the ABC in January 2013 (2) and follow-up emails about this meeting.

Meetings between the ABC and ministers in June 2012 led to a UK Government decision to promote GM crops in Britain (3). ABC member companies are the GM crop companies Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer Hi-Bred. 

At the EU's March 2014 Environment Council meeting, Paterson supported a proposal which would fast-track GM crops for commercial cultivation in pro-GM countries, whilst allowing anti-GM countries to opt out. If this proposal is endorsed by other EU countries at the next Environment Council meeting on 12th June, Monsanto's or Syngenta's GM "RoundUp Ready" maize - tolerant to the weedkiller RoundUp - could be planted in England as early as Spring 2015 (4). Herbicide tolerant GM crops raise major environmental concerns because blanket spraying with weedkiller destroys habitats for wildlife such as birds and butterflies. Resistant "superweeds" also develop which cause major problems for farmers and require more toxic weedkillers.

"The ministers who should be protecting our environment have put Monsanto and Syngenta in the driving seat of policy on GM crops and foods, despite growing evidence that the GM crops that are waiting in the pipeline will harm British wildlife such as butterflies" said Dr Wallace. 

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile) 

Notes for Editors

(1)    The GeneWatch UK appeal to the ICO is on: ; Defra’s response to GeneWatch’s complaint about the withheld information is on:

(2)    Meeting recorded on:  Rt Hon David Heath MP Minister of State. January 2013. Agri Biotech Council "To discuss role of agri-biotech including GM, in the UK and particularly food security and economic opportunities".

(3)    GeneWatch UK and GM Freeze Press Release: Monsanto meets ministers to push return of GM crops to Britain. Thursday 25th October 2012.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=571449

(4)    Environment groups condemn Paterson's plans to plant RoundUp Ready GM crops in England. Joint PR: GeneWatch UK, Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth, GM Freeze, Soil Association. Monday 10th March 2014.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574352

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