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EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, is 'the voice of the European biotech industry'. It is made up of some 600 companies, ranging from the largest biotechnology companies in Europe (including the European offices of US companies like Monsanto) to national biotech federations representing small and medium-sized enterprises. [1]

Members include all of the major European multinationals with significant biotechnology interests, such as Bayer, Novartis, Monsanto Europe, Nestle, Novo Nordisk, Rhene-Poulenc, and Unilever, Assobiotec, Degussa, GlaxoSmithKline.

EuropaBio is based in Brussels. The director of EuropaBio's Plant Biotechnology Unit (PBU) is Simon Barber. EuropaBio's Public Affairs manager is Bernd Halling. The chairman of Europabio board is Steen Riisgaard. Among the vice-chairs is Aisling Burnand, Bernward Garthoff, Ian Hudson, Andrea Rappagliosi.[2]

The killing fields

A leaked 1997 report on communication methods produced for EuropaBio by the PR firm Burston Marsteller warned:

Public issues of environmental and human health risk are communications killing fields for bioindustries in Europe. As a general rule, the industry cannot be expected to prevail in public opposition to adversarial voices on these issues. All the research evidence confirms that the perception of the profit motive fatally undermines industry's credibility on these questions.[3]

The report encouraged EuropaBio instead to influence politicians and regulators in order that they in turn could win public trust regarding the safety of GM crops.

The primary focus of EuropaBio's lobbying is the European Union, where it seeks to shape legislation in a way that suits its members' interests. To this end it provides 'a steady flow of information about biotechnology to the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.' Through its member associations, EuropaBio also 'fosters a standing dialogue with policy makers and stakeholders at a national level'.

GM in the developing world

But while its focus is on Europe, EuropaBio has sought to use the Third World both as a means of promoting GM crops and as a means of undermining opposition. In January 2003, Bernd halling on behalf of EuropaBio brought ten 'representatives' from developing countries to deliver their favorable perspective on biotech to the EU. The 'team' included Luke Mumba from Zambia, TJ Buthelezi from South Africa, S Reddy from the Federation of Farmers Association in India, Jocelyn Webster - executive director of AfricaBio and Margaret Karembu of the ISAAA. Among the varuious activities in Brussels a few members of the team were selected by EuropaBio to lobby select Members of the European Parliament. The team also visited Rome to lobby the FAO and attend a seminar arranged by the US embassy to the Holy See. While the main focus was on Brussels and Rome, 3 of the team fitted in a trip to London to give a press conference for the UK lobby group Cropgen on the 'need for biotechnology for their continent.' (See the Summary Report on the trip).

One of the main focuses of the press conference in London was the food aid crisis in Zambia, and the magazine New Scientist subsequently ran an article which was strongly critical in tone of the British Medical Association, on the basis of claims made at the press conference by the Zambian, Luke Mumba, that the BMA's caution over GM had had a big influence on the zambian government's rejection of GM contaminated food aid.

EuropaBio's Bernd Halling has spelt out the industry's view on why the food aid issue is one that could be used to undermine its critics. According to Halling, the critics have 'built up this GMO issue to the point that it is illogical. [The famine in Africa] is the first issue that has the ability to destroy their credibility. In this case they overdid it. I want to know if they are going to accept responsibility for the people that will die as a result of the refusal of GM aid.'

Dr Chuck Benbrook - a leading US agronomist and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture for the US National Academy of Sciences - has pointed out that, in fact, '..there is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public and private donors To a large extent, this "crisis" has been manufactured (might I say, "engineered") by those looking for a new source of traction in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology. To use the needs of Zambians to score "political points" on behalf of biotechnology strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless.'

Interestingly, in the light of Halling's view that the southern African food aid crisis provided a critical issue that could 'destroy' the credibility of the industry's critics, misleading e-mails were sent around this time to a leading environmental group which purported to be enquiries about their opinions on the food aid crisis from a private citizen, whereas the IP address from which they had been sent showed they originated with Monsanto Belgium (see Bernard Marantelli).

Spin Profiles Resources

Burson Marsteller, Communications Programmes for EuropaBio, January 1997.