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US threatened ‘retaliation’ to bully EU into accepting biotech crops, cable shows

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Reacting to a French pledge to represent the “common interest” in considering biotech foods, a former US ambassador recommended publishing a “retaliation list” of European locations where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were being grown in hopes that activists would destroy them and “cause some pain” for officials, a leaked diplomatic cable shows.

In a confidential communication dated Dec. 14, 2007 and released by WikiLeaks on Sunday, then-US Ambassador to France Craig Roberts Stapleton recommended creating the list if France and the EU continued to ban biotech seeds.

“Mission Paris recommends that that the [United States government] reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list when the extend ‘Reasonable Time Period’ expires,” Stapleton wrote. “Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [European] Commission.”

Stapelton added that the US should create a list “that causes some pain across the EU, since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits.”

He continued: “The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.”

The former US official added that France’s “High Authority” on agricultural biotech was particularly offensive because it sought to “roll back established science-based decision making.” He added that a bill considered by the French National Assembly should be rebuked by the publication “of a registry identifying the cultivation of GMOs at the parcel levels” … “given the propensity for activists to destroy GMO crops in the field.”

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The document would appear to expose a high-ranking US official advocating a selective leak of otherwise confidential information to achieve a European political objective on behalf of US private industry.

The law that was considered in France would have made farmers and biotech firms liable for pollen drift of their modified crops — a move that “could make any biotech planting impossible in practical terms,” the Stapleton wrote.

It was essentially the same principle the US employs for environmental pollution: the polluter must pay. GMO firms, however, are given exception to those regulations in North America.

The spread of modified genes into the wild is of particular concern to critics of biotech food crops, who cite studies linking GM seeds to organ damage and infertility in animals. Most Monsanto seeds are modified to resist pesticides such as Roundup, which has been shown to cause cancer and genetic mutations in humans. It is still unclear whether genetically modified foods pose health risks, but they have been adopted in soaring quantities in the United States.

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“Soybeans and cotton genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by insect-resistant cotton and corn,” according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Researchers at the University of Arkansas found in August that canola, a modified rapeseed used mainly for oil, had managed to sustain itself in the wilds of North Dakota. Up to 80 percent of the plants they tested had genes that were modified to resist herbicide. It was the first time modified crops had been discovered growing in the wild, the BBC noted.

Monsanto’s genetically modified corn, currently banned across the EU, was also found growing in Ireland, the Irish Department of Agriculture said.

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Stapleton was appointed Ambassador to France in 2005 by President George W. Bush. His wife is a cousin of President George H.W. Bush. Stapelton was replaced as ambassador in July 2009, when President Barack Obama named Charles Rivkin to the post.

Europe continues biotech resistance

It’s not clear from the release if the US went ahead with its plan for the “retaliation list,” but Stapelton was certainly right on whether the US should expect an early victory in European public opinion.

In December, more than one million Europeans signed a petition demanding the EU halt the approval of new genetically modified crops. The petition was later dismissed by the EU Commission on procedural grounds.

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In the last 12 years only two organisms have been licensed for seeding across Europe, and one of them was a potato that triggered the recent mass petition against the crops. The number one multinational biotech firm in the world, Monsanto, isn’t happy about that.

But like other US business interests, Monsanto hasn’t been sitting around whining about policy backlash foreign or domestic. The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill revealed in September that the world’s top producer of genetically modified seeds hired US security contractor Blackwater to “infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.” The leaked cable makes no mention of Blackwater mercenaries operating in Europe.

Other cables released in recent days showed that, behind the scenes, Spain has been a key ally of the US in defending genetically modified crops.

Spanish Secretary of State and Deputy Minister Josep Puxeu contacted US officials to ask for support after his country came under pressure to ban their Monsanto-developed MON810 corn crop, a cable revealed.

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“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.”

Another cable sent to the Vatican on Nov. 19, 2009 indicated that Pope Benedict XVI also supports genetically modified crops, but will not admit it in public.

“Vatican officials remain largely supportive of genetically modified crops as a vehicle for protecting the environment while feeding the hungry, but — at least for now — are unwilling to challenge bishops who disagree,” it explained.

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