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Immediate release (31 Oct 2007)

Internal Documents Reveal Government Collusion with Industry on GM Potato Trial

GM Freeze Calls for Major Shake-up

GM Freeze has obtained copies of email exchanges between Defra officials and the biotech company BASF in which there is clear collusion to ensure that the conditions on a consent to trial GM potatoes in England were “agreeable to BASF”. In a letter sent today to Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn, the group calls for a major shake-up of the GM approvals system to ensure that protecting the environment and the public takes precedence over the interests of the biotech companies.

One GM potato trial took place this year, at a research centre in Cambridge. Local opposition by farmers prevented the trial at the second site, in East Yorkshire, from going ahead. [1]

GM Freeze obtained the emails under the freedom of information legislation. The exchange ran from 29 September to 14 November 2006 and clearly shows how Defra civil servants were happy to amend the conditions of the consent put forward by the Government’s advisory committee, ACRE [2], if BASF were not happy with them. The exchange ran as follows:

On 29 September 2006, Defra to BASF:

“...there is one point that I want to flag up to you regarding ACRE’s advice. ACRE has recommended the that land should be left fallow for two years following each trial, I would like to know if you think this is workable for you? I notice that other member states have specified that berries/true seeds should be removed from the trial, ACRE has not specified this because the Committee that this would be a very big job (and this is partly why the 2 fallow years has been recommended). If you thinks that that this is completely unworkable I think the Committee may be prepared to accommodate a reduction in this fallow period to one year, but there may be other conditions (eg removal of flowers and berries). In addition to this ACRE has recommended a particular tillage regime, hopefully you are able to accommodate this (I can’t specify details at the moment because I need to clarify what exactly is required).”

On 6 October 2006, Defra to BASF:

“Please find attached a draft consent for your consideration. This is currently with our lawyers and is likely to be subject to some changes, however the conditions should not alter substantially and I will keep you informed of any changes before the consent is issued. Please let me know if the conditions as they stand would be agreeable to BASF or whether there any conditions that would be difficult to meet. I may need to consult with ACRE if there are problems with the consent and would appreciate if you could respond to this request by 22 October.”

On 25 October 2006, BASF to Defra:

“And I would like to thank you for the very fast preparation of the draft consent and for letting us know. I discussed the probable conditions with my colleagues and believe they are agreeable for us.

“As the public consultation period is over now, we would appreciate if you could give us some comments on the public consultation.

“And we hope that the final conditions won’t change too much...”

On 9 November 2006, Defra to BASF:

“As discussed, please see the consent attached, we would be very grateful if you could respond by next Monday at the latest because we need to send this to ministers for their approval.

“Please check condition 4(2) in particular does not affect your plans”.

On 14 November 2006, Defra to BASF:

“Thanks for sending the agreement through. In order to transparently comply with (the redrafted) Condition 3 (see below) it would probably be best to insert the conditions of the consent into the field compliance guidelines, 5.1 b of your agreement indicates that these may be amended by BPS so a new agreement would not be necessary.

“I have redrafted condition 3(2) of the draft in response to your concerns, I have not received clearance from our legal team for the redraft but I hope this addresses the problem.

“Condition 3. Where the holder of the consent intends to enter into any agreement with a person or persons who will perform the whole or any part of the trial on the holder’s behalf, then:

  1. such an agreement shall be in writing and it shall incorporate those limitations and conditions in this Schedule (including any variation) as the Secretary of State reasonably requires; and
  2. the first release of the GMO in any year of the trial shall not take place until any agreement or variation of an agreement has received the written approval of the Secretary of State.

“Please let me know as soon as possible whether or not you are content with the redraft.”

When the legal consent document was finally issued on 1 December 2006, the then Secretary of State David Milliband insisted on taking the unusual step of signing the document himself [3].

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

“The willingness of Defra officials to offer changes to the consent condition for this GM potato trial to suit BASF shows how dangerously close Defra has come to the biotech corporations. ACRE are also involved by putting forward the less onerous conditions to cut BASF compliance costs. This is a disgrace considering that Defra and ACRE exist to protect the environment and public health. Instead Defra offered BASF easier and cheaper options.

“Ministers need to give the GM approvals system a good shake-up, including asking whether ACRE remains impartial and is still able to carry out its role. The negotiations between DEFRA officials and the company should never have taken place – it’s almost as if Defra and ACRE wanted the GM trial to take place in England!”.

ENDs

Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065.

Notes

[1] See here for details. 

[2] The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

[3] Note of the GM Policy Coordinating Group 29 September 2006 stated that, “the Secretary of State wished to sign the consent himself”. Normally this task is delegated to a senior Civil Servant, as it was when BASF’s second consent was issued in April 2007. The Secretary of State at the time was David Milliband. A copy of these notes was obtained by a Freedom of Information request by Friends of the Earth Cymru to the Welsh Assembly Government.