Part 1 of these series of articles dealt with the background of the ongoing GM rice scandal in Turkey and included the results of Istanbul Technical University’s sample analysis, which revealed the presence of two different GM Rice LL601 and Bt63 in the same sample, a first-time recorded occurrence . Part 2, took a closer look at the sources of of the imported GM rice, the two U.S. export companies Archer Daniels Midland Rice and Bunge Ltd and their scandals. This third part, will reveal the cover-up efforts and the hidden agenda behind these efforts.
CONFLICTING STATEMENTS AND MISINFORMATION FROM MINISTERS
Following the news that 23,000 tons of GM rice imported from the U.S. was seized and the arrest of Turkish company executives on bio-terrorism and smuggling charges, and before the Istanbul Technical University’s (ITU) lab analysis were leaked, a number of statements aiming to misguide Turkish public opinion were made.
Food, Agriculture and Livestock Minister Mehdi Eker commented that no trace of GMOs were detected in rice in any of their inspections and that there were no records whatsoever of any GM rice being subject to international trade. Although the Ministry of Customs and Trade was initially the government body to seize the GM rice which led to the investigation and rice sample analyses, Minister Hayati Yazıcı, also stated that there was no GM rice production in the world, and to add insult to injury, recommended that Turkish people should prepare their rice dishes with butter -as it is traditionally cooked-, unless they were on a diet. Both Turkish Ministers misinformed the public and ignored the fact that GM rice, which is not commercially approved, is a major issue in international trade (see Greenpeace figures here).
THE U.S. EMBASSY OFFICIAL’S EFFORTS TO CLOUD PUBLIC OPINION
About the same time these statements were being made, on April 14th, another source provided false information. The Turkish media reported that an “unnamed” official from the U.S. Embassy at Ankara, met with three newspaper representatives concerning the GM rice imported from the U.S. This unnamed official, known to be Clay Hamilton, the Agricultural Attaché in Ankara, made several comments misinforming and misguiding the Turkish public opinion. According to newspapers, the official stated “there is no GM rice production in the USA, the rice is being contaminated during transport by other GM products such as soy and corn, and Turkey should have less rigid GM contamination regulations”. He also added that if Turks had their imported mobile phones tested for GMO, they would see that these were also contaminated because they were being transported in the same ships as GM animal feed.
First, the “there is no GM rice in the U.S.” part of the statement is completely false. In 2006, Bayer CropScience, (also the patent owner of LL601 found in the imported rice) had contaminated more than 30% of U.S. ricelands with its varieties of LLRice. In 2011, Bayer agreed to pay $750 million in compensation to more than 11,000 farmers. This incident had also international repercussions and a major impact on U.S. rice exports. Many countries including the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines imposed strict certification and testing on all U.S. rice imports, while Russia and Bulgaria banned U.S. rice imports. In Turkey, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock considers rice as one of the risky products and the USA is one of the risky countries in regard to imports and GMOs. (According to USA Rice Federation, Turkey imported 147,757 metric tons of U.S. rice in 2012, valued at $63 million.)
Second, the recent ITU lab reports have proven that the rice imported from U.S. companies ADM and Bunge Ltd. have not been contaminated by other GM products. The samples reveal the presence of both Bayer’s LL601 and the Chinese Bt63 GM rice, a first-time occurrence of both GM rice in the same sample.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. official is trying to cloud public opinion by misguiding and misinforming about the Turkish GM contamination regulation tolerance levels being stricter than the EU’s, whereas in fact they are identical. In the EU, as in Turkey, the policy for unapproved GMOs is “zero tolerance”.
The 0.9% threshold that the embassy official keeps mentioning to confuse the public is a contamination threshold for mandatory GM labeling of approved GM products, provided it is “adventitious and technically unavoidable”. Turkish regulations do not differ from the EU’s in this regard either, however since GMOs for human consumption are not approved in Turkey, the existing 0.9% tolerance level regarding labeling is therefore not applicable.
[Turkey’s GMO regulation, the Turkish Biosafety Law (Law No. 5977), came into force on Sept. 26 2010. GM crops are not allowed to be cultivated in Turkish soil. The Biosafety Council of Turkey has approved the import of 16 GM corn and 3 GM soy varieties for animal feed purposes only. No GM products are approved for human consumption.]
WHAT IS THE HIDDEN AGENDA?
The involvement of the U.S. Embassy official from Ankara comes at a very meaningful time. The U.S.-EU trade talks are expected to begin by June 2013. “The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact would be the biggest trade deal since the World Trade Organization was founded 20 years ago,” Reuters reported. The main topics of the trade talks are expected to be subsidies and and GMOs. The U.S. Official is not only trying to cover up a scandal that could have similar international repercussions as the Bayer LLRice incident of 2006; he is also trying to use Turkey as the Trojan Horse for loosening EU GM regulatory approaches, the most crucial and problematic part of the upcoming US-EU talks. The U.S. is pushing for the %0.1 threshold for unnaproved GMOs in the EU. Turkey, being more strict in the sense that GMO cultivation is banned in Turkey and some GMO varieties approved in the EU are banned in Turkey.
Previous attempts of U.S. Embassy Officials putting pressure on foreign governments, threatening retaliation and promoting GM products have been common knowledge since Wikileaks released several embassy cables regarding France, Spain, The Vatican and Ukraine. The Guardian reported in a January 3rd, 2011 article “In addition, the cables show U.S. diplomats working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto. […] The cables show that not only did the Spanish government ask the U.S. to keep pressure on Brussels, but that the US knew in advance how Spain would vote, even before the Spanish Biotech commission had reported”.
Following these recent developments Greenpeace Mediterranean Turkey, whose successful 2012 campaign gathered more than 325,000 signatures and resulted in the withdrawal of 29 GM product import applications for human consumption, began a new campaign. Greenpeace claims that the Minister of Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock Minister Mehdi Eker has already prepared a new law resolution (containing 3 articles) aiming at loosening up the law regarding GMO contamination threshold. The U.S. lobby’s pressure is obvioulsy already deeply felt by Minister Eker. Greenpeace is asking Minister Eker not to present this resolution to the Parliament using contamination as a false pretense and to ban with a law all GMOs from Turkish food.