Pro-GM "farmers network" hires lobby consultancy for GM-food tasting event
Corporate Europe Observatory, 30 June 2010

A peculiar pro-biotech event took place in Brussels. A 'farmers network' gave Brussels the chance to sample some genetically modified (GM) cuisine at an event in the upmarket Renaissance Hotel on 28 June, just across the road from the European Parliament. Lucky Brussels?

On the menu there was GM polenta, produced in Spain from Monsanto's Bt-maize (also called MON810), along with a variety of meats and sausages, undoubtedly made from animals fed with RoundupReady soy.

The event was organised on behalf of the Farmers Biotech Network by The Centre (formerly dubbed 'Brussels first Think-Do Tank' - "pioneering new forms of dialogue" -, now merged with Edelman public affairs and called 'Edelman The Centre') The Farmers Biotech Network claims to "unite farmers from all over Europe who want to grow GM crops" and it argues that European farmers' access to this "innovative technology" is being hindered by "an extremely restrictive GM policy, which is currently adopted in the EU for political reasons".

According to one member, this network was formed in the UK by farmers who had previously participated in field trials, and who had stayed in touch. However, on the FBN website it looks as if the network only has in fact 18 farmers, with three each in the UK, Romania and Germany, two in Spain, Portugal and France, and one in Denmark, Hungary and Bulgaria. It is not clear how these farmers were brought together.

Only one of the three supporting MEPs, German Liberal Britta Reimers, turned up to the GM feast. She echoed the animal feed industry's complaint that the EU's zero-tolerance policy on the presence of non-authorised GMOs in food and feed was detrimental to the sector's competitiveness "in this time of financial crisis". A proposal on this issue is expected by the end of this year, but Reimers said it should come earlier: "We can't close our gates". Bob Fiddaman, one of the farmers present, invited Reimers and the other guests to enjoy a meal that "increases consumer choice". He said that GM crops offered solutions for food security and climate change.

According to the information distributed during the event, the FBN does not pay salaries or fees to its members, "who are all volunteers", but who. "For this event, they have shared some travel and accommodation costs with industry". And, presumably, the considerable amount needed to hire a Brussels lobby consultancy to organise the event on a prime location.. CEO has asked The Centre who paid for the event, and we are waiting for an answer to be provided by Mr David Hill, Chairman of the FBN.

The biotech lobby is clearly looking for 'other voices', more civil-looking than the industry, to bring its pro-GM message to Brussels. A similar event was held in the European Parliament earlier this year by PRRI, a group of individual 'public researchers' who nevertheless have many ties to industry, including Monsanto funding.

At this event, Via Campesina (a network uniting millions of family farmers across the world) distributed information on the impacts of GM maize contamination on organic maize producers in Spain. Perhaps the farmers would like to explain how this benefits 'consumer choice'?