BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The relationship between the biotech industry and European Union officials is "too close for comfort," according to a critical report on EuropaBio from Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE).

That report said industry has had privileged access and undue influence over key policy decisions, and that legislation is needed "to rein in the power of corporate lobbies." FoEE accuses EuropaBio of exercising its corporate lobbying power to establish a "very cozy relationship between the companies who stand to make considerable profits from agricultural biotechnology, and policymakers."

It described EuropaBio as "one of the main and most active lobby groups on GM food and crops at the EU level," and suggested that, despite the industry association's claims to represent 1,800 companies, much of its actions are dominated by ag-biotech efforts headed by companies such as Monheim, Germany-based Bayer Cropscience AG, Wilimington, Del.-based DuPont's subsidiary Pioneer, St. Louis-based Monsanto and Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta.

Through "breakfast meetings, political meetings, ad hoc meetings, both private and public," EuropaBio's influence "has resulted in less regulation, more finance and research funding for a sector that the public has overwhelmingly rejected for the last 10 years," alleged the report, adding that "biotech corporations that dominate the genetically modified seed, food and feed markets obviously stand to make financial and market-share gains."

Officials are producing "biased initiatives and policies that give priority to the GM industry over other more sustainable and economically successful sectors," and industry "has had privileged access and undue influence over key policy decisions such as the recent midterm review of the EU's biotechnology strategy."

The report concluded that the doors of EU officials "are wide open to the biotech industry lobby," with key departments "more tuned in to industry" than to their own colleagues with responsibility for environment. FoEE speaks of the "increasing circumstantial evidence" that some EU officials "are allowing industry to dictate policy, thereby overriding safety concerns, public opinion and due democratic processes."

The activist group claims that public opposition to GM food and crops are completely ignored and overruled "as the EU's administrative body promotes an application of a new technology that will only benefit a handful of very large multinational corporations," FoEE said.

The remedies that FoEE recommended include legislation "to rein in the power of corporate lobbies," with mandatory registration for lobbyists linked to enforceable ethics rules.

"The privileged status accorded to business lobby groups like EuropaBio must be terminated," it added. More generally, EU biotech strategy should be revised to acknowledge the failure of GM food and crops, and to recognise that EU citizens have consistently opposed genetically modified food and crops, it said. And future research funding should give no priority to projects relating to biotechnology and food.