Doing my small part in the fight for freedom of information.
|09MADRID482||2009-05-19 12:12||2010-12-19 12:12||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Madrid|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MADRID 000482 SENSITIVE SIPDIS STATE FOR EUR/WE AND EEB/TPP/ABT/BTT USDA FOR OSTA/LIZ JONES, OCRA/JOE KOWALSKI, OFSO/DAVE YOUNG USEU for AGRMINCOUNS DEBRA HENKE USEU ALSO FOR APHIS AGRMINCOUNS PETER FERNANDEZ PARIS FOR AGRMINCOUNS ELIZABETH BERRY BERLIN for AGRCOUNS BOBBY RICHEY E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: EAGR ECON TBIO SP SUBJECT: SPAIN'S BIOTECH CROP UNDER THREAT MADRID 00000482 001.2 OF 002 ¶1. (U) This is an action request. See paragraph 12. SUMMARY ¶2. (SBU) Spain's MON810 corn crop is under threat from an emerging well-coordinated campaign to ban cultivation of genetically engineered seed varieties in Europe, according to industry sources. The campaign has gained strength and speed in recent months with the April 14 German ban on MON810 cultivation - which followed an EU vote supporting maintenance of a ban in Austria and Hungary. Legislation which threatens MON810 cultivation has also been introduced recently in both the Basque and Catalonian Regional Parliaments. ¶3. (SBU) In response to invocation of a safeguard and emergency measure to suspend MON810 cultivation in France, the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) Scientific Opinion of October 29, 2008 found no new scientific evidence of risk related to MON810 plantings. The EFSA report, however, is being questioned. Monsanto maintains that anti-MON810 momentum was gained by a de facto agreement between the Government of France and Greenpeace/Friends of the Earth whereby the GOF would support the anti-GMO movement and environmental activists would turn a blind eye to Sarkozy's nuclear energy initiatives. A senior Spanish agriculture official has expressed concern that Spain is under increasing pressure within the EU. Post requests renewed USG support of Spain's science-based agricultural biotechnology position, as well as support for a non-USG science fellow to interact with Spanish interlocutors. End Summary. BACKGROUND ¶4. (SBU) Spain was the first EU country to grow genetically modified (GM) corn and now cultivates nearly 75 percent of the EU's MON810 corn crop - nearly 200,000 acres. During a May 13 meeting with Monsanto's Director for Biotechnology for Spain and Portugal, Embassy officials were told that Spain is increasingly becoming a target of anti-biotechnology forces within Europe and that Spain's cultivation of MON810 corn was under serious threat. The sentiment echoed by supporters of agricultural biotechnology regarding a ban on MON810 cultivation in Spain is that "If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow." ¶5. (SBU) Anti-biotechnology activists in the EU have gained momentum in recent weeks. On April 14, Germany announced a ban on the cultivation of MON810 following similar bans in France, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg, despite EU approval of MON810 as safe for commercial use. This followed a March 2 vote in which Spain joined with France and other EU corn producers to allow Austria and Hungary to maintain their provisional bans on the use and sale of MON810 corn. According to Ministry sources, this surprising vote did not represent a change in position by Spain on biotechnology; rather, technical considerations justified upholding the provisional bans pending EU-wide renewal of MON810 corn. Industry contacts, however, assert that Spain's vote was 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. ¶6. (U) The GOS has traditionally been a strong supporter of biotech corn due to high domestic demand for feed corn within the livestock sector. Spain is the number two pork producer within the EU and the number one corn importer. GM corn plantings in Spain reached nearly 200,000 acres in 2008 - approximately 30 percent of total Spanish feed corn production. Cultivation of MON810 corn is mainly concentrated in Aragon and Catalonia, where the European corn borer, which MON810 protects against, is a serious pest. The feed compound industry and the livestock sector are supportive of GM corn. Within the agriculture sector, only left-wing farmers' unions have negative opinions of GMOs. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ¶7. (SBU) Anti-GMO forces periodically attempt to build support for a prohibition on GMO cultivation in Spain. According to Monsanto's biotechnology director, two left-wing parties have recently discussed introducing such legislation in the Spanish parliament. A Socialist (ruling) party Member offered reassurances that his party would oppose such a move, but advised that the issue bears watching, especially given the government's uncertain majority. ¶8. (U) In addition, there have been worrisome developments in several of Spain's 17 autonomous communities, which, led by MADRID 00000482 002.2 OF 002 Catalonia and the Basque Country, continue to seek more autonomy via a vis the central government. In March 2008, the Canary Islands were declared GM-free. Since fewer than 1,380 acres of corn are grown in the Canaries, this is considered mostly a symbolic gesture. However, on February 5, 2009, an initiative was proposed in the Catalonian Regional Parliament to declare the region GM-free. The initiative has not yet come up for a vote, and its prospects are uncertain. Such an action would be cause for serious concern, since Catalonia is a center of GMO corn cultivation. More recently, on April 21, 2009, the Basque Parliament passed stringent biotech coexistence legislation which could likely force farmers to halt planting of MON810 due to strict compliance issues. The Spanish Association of Biotechnology Industries (ANOVE) will challenge the Basque legislation. ¶9. (U) In February 2008, France notified to the EC an Order suspending cultivation of MON810 and further invoked safeguard and emergency measures to provisionally prohibit the cultivation of MON810 on its territory. In response, the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a Scientific Opinion on October 29, 2008. In its report, the panel assessed the package of documents supporting and justifying the French safeguard clause and the duration of the invoked measure. The panel concluded that, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, the information provided by France presented no new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of MON810. It further concluded that invoking the safeguard clause and emergency measure was scientifically unjustified. The EU is currently facing the MON810 cultivation renewal process. The renewal is the legal condition for the lifting of the ban under French law. Within the scientific review carried out by EFSA, the Spanish authorities and experts have completed the environmental risk assessment for MON810 corn. According to Monsanto, the EFSA Scientific Opinion report is being questioned. The GOF has sent letters to different Member States urging them to sign up and request an in-depth examination of the application for the renewal of MON810. ¶10. (SBU) Monsanto asserts that anti-MON810 momentum was gained by a de facto agreement between the Government of France and Greenpeace/Friends of the Earth whereby the GOF would support the GMO-free movement if activists turned a blind eye to President Sarkozy's nuclear energy initiatives. In Spain, agricultural factions against agricultural biotechnology include the environmental side of MARM and organic farmers. Increasingly, consumers are also expressing negative attitudes toward genetically modified crops. On April 18th, the newspaper "El Pas" conducted a survey on whether or not GM food should be prohibited. The following results were obtained after a one month period: 85 percent voted "Yes, they can be dangerous" and 15 percent voted "No, they are absolutely safe". ¶11. (SBU) Secretary of State and Deputy Minister Josep Puxeu contacted the Charg d'Affaires on April 22, following the Basque vote on coexistence and the German ban, to express his concern that the Government of Spain is under increasing pressure to ban MON810 cultivation. Puxeu, a long-time supporter of agricultural biotechnology, lamented that it was "the most complicated week of my life." He asked that the USG maintain pressure on Brussels to keep agricultural biotechnology an option for Member States and requested that the USG work together with Spain in this endeavor. Deputy Minister Puxeu is becoming increasingly isolated on biotech issues at the Ministry OF Environment and and Rural and Marine Affairs (MARM) due to the rising influence of environmental officials within MARM as well as the increased influence of France within the Spanish government. While MARM Minister Espinosa has come out publicly in favor of genetic engineering in agriculture, her views on issues will generally reflect those of the Zapatero Administration which has recently shown itself to be fickle when it comes to voting against France's anti-GMO interests. ¶12. (SBU) ACTION REQUESTED: In response to recent urgent requests by MARM State Secretary Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests renewed USG support of Spain's science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level USG intervention in support of the EFSA findings. Post also requests USG support for a non-USG science fellow to meet with influential Spanish interlocutors on this issue and assistance with developing an agricultural biotechnology action plan for Spain. Post would also welcome any comments from other posts concerning the anti-GMO campaign. DUNCAN