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Former Enemies Influence EU Governance Of GMOs

December 7, 2011

The EU´s governance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and food safety has given lobbyists a new role. In the past, Greenpeace and the biotechnology industry organisation EuropaBio exerted their influence in the corridors. Now the former enemies sit opposite one another as experts in the EU´s core activities. By studying how lobbyists try to influence GMO rules, a new thesis from the Lund University School of Economics and Management in Sweden provides an insight into decisions that sooner or later end up on your kitchen table.

In her thesis in research policy, A study of EU food safety and GMOs, Beatrice Bengtsson has studied a specific GMO conflict — the import rules on animal feed — in order to investigate how environmental organisations and the industry try to influence new rules on GMOs in the EU.

“We are seeing a new type of governance within the EU that encourages lobbyists to influence both risk assessment and risk management at the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission (Directorate General for Health and Consumers). In practice, this means that former enemies like Greenpeace and EuropaBio have been given a legitimate role and influence the criteria for how we judge environmental risks, new rules on imports and the future of GMOs in the EU”, says Beatrice Bengtsson.

At the same time, the results paint a situation in which no-one can argue on the basis of their own interests, but rather must present themselves as a guardian of the EU´s extensive framework of regulation in the area.

“This means that the lobbyists for the food production industry put forward diverse and often contradictory arguments concerning financial consequences of the import rules, international trade, animal welfare, environmental consequences, health effects and so on. In this way, lobbyists gain sympathy for their points of view by presenting them against the background of the EU regulations”, says Beatrice Bengtsson.

Dr Bengtsson points out that financial interests have been successful in exercising influence by sharing information between the industry, the European Commission and external research institutes. Interest-based analyses are thus repackaged to make it onto the political agenda and influence new legislation.

She hopes that the thesis could lead to a better understanding of the new role of lobbyists in the EU´s political institutions, processes of influence and problems in drawing boundaries.

“This knowledge is important in order to avoid and resolve conflicts. It does not only apply to genetic engineering in agriculture or food and feed production — it is also relevant for understanding control and governance in other fields of technology, for example the impending regulation of nanotechnology.”

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