I was all tickled this morning to find out that the leaked cables about the U.S. push for genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe finally made it to the European mainstream press. In good English journalistic tradition, The Guardian kept its story clean of all opinion and conspiracy-leaning assertions, and simply presented the naked truth (unlike here, I acknowledge). The result is scarier and creepier than anything I had read on various activist blogs and websites on both sides of the Atlantic these past couple of weeks.
“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits,” wrote US Ambassador in Paris, Craig Stapleton, in the wake of a decision by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in late 2007. “The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” he added.
Should there be any remaining illusion out there that “free market” refers to anything else but a rhetorical tool that politicians throw around to cover their true agenda, this last revelation should serve as a drastic reality-check.
To his credit, Craig Stapleton (who co-owned the St. Louis-based Texas Rangers baseball team in the 1990s with George W. Bush) turned out to be a decent strategist. Last March, the European Commission (the executive body of the EU) approved the first new GM crop for cultivation in Europe since 1998: the Amflora potato developed by the German chemicals giant BASF. A storm of protests ensued. Nevertheless, the Commission went further in July and published proposals to put an end to a 12-year moratorium on new Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the European Union and crack the European market wide open for the benefit of Monsanto and its ilk. The European Parliament and member states still had to approve it however. So far, resistance has prevailed.
In their search for influencers to support the GMO cause, American lobbyists did not stop in Bruxelles. They also settled in the Vatican–a mere 3 miles from the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Opportunities exist to press the issue with the Vatican, and in turn to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world,” indicated a cable in 2008.
Where does this leave us? Will the public opinion care? I can only hope that mainstream publications across the continent will follow en masse in The Guardian‘s footsteps and take the story to the front page. At the very least, light was shone on the subservient loyalty of U.S. officials to the biotechnology industry, and I wonder whether this will create enough outrage among the public to have European citizens oppose GMO on a matter of principle–with all due respect to my country of adoption, the threat of “American imperialism” would not be an empty phrase in this context.
UPDATE Jan. 6, 2011: Catholic News Service (Vatican City): Making growers reliant on proprietary, genetically modified seeds smacks of “the usual game of economic dependence,” which in turn, “stands out like a new form of slavery,” said the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson. Read the whole interview here.