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Spain asked US to push against EU ban on GMO corn

Embassy cable show how Madrid tried to outflank French calls for EU prohibition

Spain was the United States' biggest European Union ally when it came to pushing for allowing US genetically modified (GMO) food industries to continue developing their markets within the continent, US Embassy cables show. The US government found itself in a hard battle to defeat the French position in favor of an outright ban on agricultural biotechnology for all EU member states.

"In our view, Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [European] Commission," wrote US Ambassador Craig Stapleton in Paris on December 14, 2007.

In a May 19, 2009 cable - written a little more than a month after Germany said it would join Austria, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg over the ban of growing MON810 corn - Madrid Embassy officials were told that "Spain is increasingly becoming a target of anti-biotechnology forces within Europe" and that the nation's MON810 corn crop was "under serious threat."

"The sentiment echoed by supporters of agricultural biotechnology regarding a ban on MON810 cultivation in Spain is that 'If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow'," wrote a US diplomat in Madrid. The US Embassy reported to Washington that 75 percent of the EU's GMO corn is grown in Spain; the MON810 type is resistant to certain pests.

Diplomats said it came as a surprise that the Spanish government had decided on March 2 to side with France and other countries in a proposal to allow each nation to individually ban the growing of GMOs. However, the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs Ministry said that the vote "did not represent a change in position by Spain on biotechnology."

"Industry contacts, however, assert that Spain's vote was a political gesture to thank French President Sarkozy for helping to arrange. [...] Zapatero's presence at the November 2008 G-20 financial summit in Washington," the Embassy said. The secretary of state and deputy minister, Josep Puxeu, who had supported biotechnology, was becoming increasingly isolated within the Environment Ministry over his position. He asked the US government to "maintain pressure on Brussels to keep agricultural biotechnology an option" for all member states and for the United States and Spain to work together.