Explanation demanded over lobbying by biotech firm

25 January 2010

Explanation demanded over lobbying by biotech firm

The SP is supporting protests against the dishonest lobby practices of a manufacturer of genetically manipulated foodstuffs. Biotech giant Syngenta has hired the lobbying services of one Suzy Renckens. Until recently Renckens was employed as the head of the scientific panel researching into genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on behalf of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an official EU body.

Conflict of interests

Kartika Liotard“Such a switch is unacceptable”, in the view of SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard. “It creates an extremely undesirable conflict of interests. It's bad for the credibility of the industry if officials and scientists can be bought and sold as if it were football transfers we were talking about. There should at least be a decent waiting time between the two, a sort of cooling-off period during which an official cannot make his or her expertise available in this way.”

Explanation promised

Kartika Liotard is the MEP responsible for liaison between the European Parliament and EFSA. This morning she met with EFSA's management who, she says, promised her that she would receive a written explanation regarding this affair. “The worst aspect of this switch is of course its implication for EFSA itself. EFSA is our inspection service at European level. It's a matter of the safety of our food! This is the organisation that needs the confidence of the public and their political representatives. They must be able to offer independent advice about, for example, the safety of genetically modified seeds or the consequences of new food technologies." This independence is, in the SP's opinion, in jeopardy if firms such as Syngenta can simply pick up public officials and set them to work against the interests of the public sector. Liotard points to the fact, also, that EFSA officials have access not only to government information, but also to data from competitors of any potential private sector employer, including information regarding formulas or recipes, markets, finances and customers.

Revolving door for lobbyists

Activist organisations Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, Lobbycontrol and Test Biotech have also this month demanded an explanation from the European Commission. Kartika Liotard supports the letter that the four groups have sent to European Commission President Jose Barroso, which states that EFSA did not behave correctly when Renckens transferred to Syngenta and that in addition, after this, they did not do enough to prevent any repeat of this revolving door. "Renckens left EFSA but immediately returned as a lobbyist for an interested party, a practice which is, according to some here in Brussels, completely normal, but one which the SP does not of course find so. The public and their representatives in the European Parliament are in need of reliable advisors. With any adviser who represents a commercial interest, you've always got to be on your guard.”

Syngenta is a Swiss multinational which also has a branch in the Netherlands. 'Crop protection' is an important activity for Syngenta. The company also produces seeds which have been genetically modified. EFSA is the EU organisation responsible for helping to protect the consumer as well as animals, guaranteeing the safety of both human and animal food.

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