Secret emails reveal how UK ministers plotted with the GM lobbyists to bring GM foods into the UK

by Sean Poulter

Collusion between the Government and the multinational firms behind genetically modified food is revealed in official documents.

Emails between civil servants and the GM industry shows how the two worked together on a media strategy to win over consumers sceptical about so-called Frankenstein Food.

One official even asked lobbyists for ‘eye-catching themes’ for ministers.

The contacts were part of a wider strategy designed to relax European regulations on growing the controversial crops and spend millions of taxpayers’ money on GM research in British fields.

At one stage the pro-GM partnership between the industry and Whitehall involved creating a blacklist of journalists who had written negative stories about the technology.

Details of the emails have been made public after Freedom of Information requests by lobby group GeneWatch, which said the public would be shocked at the level of collaboration.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has pushed for faster approval of new crops and lobbying for public support. Significantly, he decided to lobby the EU to allow biotech crops to be planted in Britain even if they are banned elsewhere.

And Science Minister David Willetts has implemented a pro-GM ‘Agri-tech’ strategy, which involves spending public money on developing new crops.

Such support from two key government figures represents a coup for the GM industry and follows a meeting with ministers and researchers in 2012 which came up with a series of ‘to do’ lists.

The email exchanges show the Agriculture and Biotechnology Council (ABC) – financed by GM firms such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience – has been at the heart of developing government policy.

Often these exchanges coincided with major announcements by ministers which shifted Government policy to support GM, despite clear opposition among consumers.

Civil servants hosted a meeting with industry leaders in June 2013 to decide how to present the Government’s Agri-tech strategy.

Officials at the Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) department emailed the ABC asking for advice on how to promote the policy.

Shop GMO-Free in the UK app

We’re the first to bring out an app containing the GM status of more than 10,000 foods sold in UK supermarkets, Shop GMO-Free in the UK, which you can download for free here!

One BIS official asked for ‘any ideas you may have that will showcase Agri-tech – as you are aware it will need to be eye-catching but reflect the main themes of the strategy’.

BIS created a list of journalists and influential people who should be targeted with information about the new strategy and asked the ABC if it wanted to add any names or flag up ‘potential pitfalls’.

The ABC responded by adding some names, but it also highlighted a number of people on the list who had been critical of GM.

The ABC official wrote that he or she had ‘highlighted in red the journalists who have been negative towards biotech in the past… just so you are aware’.

The names have been obscured, so it is impossible to know who was on the blacklist created by the ABC. GeneWatch director Dr Helen Wallace said: ‘These documents expose government collusion with the GM industry to agree PR messages and blacklist critical journalists.’

A government spokesman said the ABC and the GM industry were among a wide range of groups it consults.

It confirmed that a list of journalists who had written negatively about GM was created, but said they had not been excluded when details of the Agri-tech strategy were launched and there was no ‘blacklist’.

Shop GMO-Free in the UK app

We’re the first to bring out an app containing the GM status of more than 10,000 foods sold in UK supermarkets, Shop GMO-Free in the UK, which you can download for free here!

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