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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04ZAGREB1037
2004-06-08 08:25:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Zagreb
Cable title:  

POLITICS AND PORK OVERTAKE SCIENCE IN CROATIA'S

Tags:   EAGR  ECON  ETRD  SENV  TBIO  TSPL  PGOV  HR 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L  ZAGREB 001037 

SIPDIS


STATE FOR OES EB/MTA/ATT
STATE PLEASE PASS USTR
STATE PLEASE PASS USDA
VIENNA FOR FAS/SHANSEN
BUDAPEST FOR KPOSNERMULLEN
USDA FOR FAS/OAA/SPENSER, RUDE AND JONES
USEU BRUSSELS FOR AGRICULTURE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2014
TAGS: EAGR ECON ETRD SENV TBIO TSPL PGOV HR
SUBJECT: POLITICS AND PORK OVERTAKE SCIENCE IN CROATIA'S
GMO POLICY

REF: (A) ZAGREB 578 (B) 03 ZAGREB 2224

Classified By: Econoff Joshua Harris for reasons 1.5(b,d).

Summary
-------

C O N F I D E N T I A L ZAGREB 001037

SIPDIS


STATE FOR OES EB/MTA/ATT
STATE PLEASE PASS USTR
STATE PLEASE PASS USDA
VIENNA FOR FAS/SHANSEN
BUDAPEST FOR KPOSNERMULLEN
USDA FOR FAS/OAA/SPENSER, RUDE AND JONES
USEU BRUSSELS FOR AGRICULTURE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2014
TAGS: EAGR ECON ETRD SENV TBIO TSPL PGOV HR
SUBJECT: POLITICS AND PORK OVERTAKE SCIENCE IN CROATIA'S
GMO POLICY

REF: (A) ZAGREB 578 (B) 03 ZAGREB 2224

Classified By: Econoff Joshua Harris for reasons 1.5(b,d).

Summary
--------------


1. (C) After initial tests in February first raised the
prospect of unlabeled GMOs in the Croatian food market
(reftel A), the GoC has thoroughly politicized the GMO debate
and shown an eagerness to cash in on populist anti-GMO
sentiment to drum up support. A move in GMO policy away
from science could potentially limit markets for US soy and
corn exports to Croatia. The establishment of a previously
mandated agency charged with coordinating food safety
analysis in line with EU standards has been accelerated and
politicized. Even before the testing scandal broke, the
HDZ-led coalition shifted lead responsibility for GMOs from
the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Culture. As
responsibility for GMO policy within the GoC becomes
increasingly diffuse and GoC officials responsible for food
policy show an unnerving disinterest in scientific arguments,
prospects for government involvement in countering anti-GMO
propaganda are slim. END SUMMARY.

Fanning the flames
--------------


2. (U) Following February's report that a now-discredited
biotech lab in Osijek had identified 14 domestically
available food samples that contained GMO components (reftel
A), the possible presence of GMOs in Croatian food has
featured prominently in the media and public statements by
high-level government officials. On the heels of the first
tests, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Water
Management Petar Cobankovic tasked the Institute for Public

Health (IPH) -- the only internationally certified lab
capable of detecting GMO material in food products -- with
following-up and identifying which specific products violate
strict Croatian laws on licensing and labeling of GMOs. The
IPH reports that up to 700 products have been tested so far
this year (compared with less than 40 last year).


3. (U) Minister of Health and Deputy Prime Minister Andrije
Hebrang drew wide criticism for ignoring calls to identify
specific products with possible GMO components. At an April
30 press conference, Hebrang cited likely undeserved
financial hardship to businesses and fears over job losses in
refusing to divulge the product names. Confirming that there
was no health risk because all offending products had been
"destroyed," Hebrang,s refusal to name names prompted
Croatian Television to accuse him of putting the concern of a
few hundred food workers above 4.5 million Croatian citizens,
and several food producers to independently issue statements
that GMOs are not used in their products.


4. (U) After weeks of media speculation and anticipation,
Cobankovic used a May 13 press conference on changes to farm
subsidy regulations to announce the final results: of 37
products tested, 36 contained no GMOs above the 0.9%
threshold and one borderline case merited further retesting.
In stark contrast to the frenzy leading up to the
announcement, Cobankovic,s exculpatory statement received
scant media attention.

The new food safety agency smells like pork
--------------


5. (C) The Ministry of Agriculture has recently politicized
the establishment of a new food safety agency by relocating
it outside the capital and apparently favoring patronage over
expertise in choosing the agency's management. The new
agency will have lead responsibility for food analysis while
the inspection competence will remain with the IPH. Though
mandated by law in 2003 and considered an essential step
towards fulfilling EU consumer protection requirements by
both pro-GMO scientists and anti-GMO NGOs alike, the manner
of the agency's creation has sounded alarms that HDZ is using
the agency more for pork than consumer protection.


6. (C) While the setup of the agency has been in the works
for months, in a surprise move in March the GoC decided to
locate the agency in Osijek (270km east of Zagreb). Bozic
informed us that a managing board of scientists and food
safety experts from Osijek would run the agency while State
Secretary for Agriculture Dragan Kovacevic (from Osijek)

SIPDIS


would oversee it. Though Bozic acknowledged the agency
seemed to have recently taken a decidedly political turn, he
assured us that we would be able to "swallow" the managing
board's membership once it is made public.


7. (C) At Bozic's suggestion, we met with Kovacevic on May 28
to discuss the manner of the food safety agency's
establishment. Kovacevic took great pains to assure us the
agency's managing board would consist exclusively of
scientists and experts well-trained in food safety issues.
EU consumer protection legislation rather than politicking
would dictate the board's membership. Nevertheless, whereas
Kovacevic's predecessor was willing to privately acknowledge
benefits to GMO technology even as he publically echoed the
GoC's anti-GMO line, Kovacevic himself seems both
professionally and personally inclined to oppose any GMO
introduction into Croatia. Kovacevic unambiguously informed
us that no GMO crops would be planted in Croatian soil even
as he stressed that Croatian agricultural policy was all but
determined by the EU.


8. (C) Kovacevic saw little role for the Ministry of
Agriculture or the new food agency in public education on GMO
safety. When asked about any programs in the works to
balance an aggressive NGO-led anti-GMO campaign, Kovacevic
stated simply, "We're not trying to promote GMOs but rather
'healthy foods.'"

Making nature protection a cultural issue? "Stupid!"
-------------- --------------


9. (SBU) A shift in "nature protection" responsibility --
including both national parks and GMO crop regulation -- from
the Ministry of Environmental Protection to the Ministry of
Culture earlier this year has left the authority to regulate
GMO introduction in Croatia in the hands of a disinterested
ministry and clouded responsibility for GoC response to GMO
concerns. The 2003 Law on the Protection of Nature (Reftel
B) originally tasked the Ministry of Environment (in
consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture) with
regulating the importation, transshipment, production, usage,
or sale of GMO seeds and crops for introduction into nature
in line with the Cartagena Protocol. The HDZ-led government
shifted this nature protection authority to the Ministry of
Culture -- but provided no additional funding or staff to
fulfill this broadened mandate.


10. (C) During a May 19 meeting on bilateral cultural
cooperation, the Ambassador raised the GMO issue with
Minister of Culture Bozo Biskupic. At the mention of GMOs,
Biskupic threw up his hands and exclaimed, "This is stupid!"
According to Biskupic, the Ministry of Culture has no
interest in the GMO issue and stressed that no one in his
Ministry knew anything about the topic. Biskupic is actively
seeking to push the nature protection portfolio to either the
Ministry of Health or Ministry of Agriculture. (NOTE: Based
on his visceral reaction to the question, Minister Biskupic
does not seem prepared to coordinate permits for GMO release
as required by the 2003 law. END NOTE.)


11. (C) Moving responsibility for nature protection from
Environment to Culture has prompted wide criticism from
scientists, NGOs, and even the EU. Krunoslav Capak and
Marijan Katalenic of the food safety division at the
Institute for Public Health criticized GoC efforts to divide
a limited number of experts trained in food safety issues
among different ministries but expressed optimism that EU
pressure could prompt change. NGOs simultaneously view the
move as a step away from coordinated environmental protection
and food policy and an assertion of Croatia,s right to
organize its government however it chooses. Irena Brnada,
Director of the Regional Environmental Center office in
Croatia, singled out Minister of Environment Marina
Matunkovic-Dropulic as the likely instigator of the
reorganization, citing her desire to focus on the
construction portfolio instead of GMOs. Jagoda Munic,
director of the influential Green Action NGO, defended
Matunkovic-Dropulic as a strong proponent of the anti-GMO
movement.


12. (C) Academics, NGOs, and even the Ministry of Environment
itself all expect the GMO portfolio to eventually revert to
either the Ministry of Environment or Ministry of
Agriculture. While the IPH suggested the move was imminent
and a direct response to EU pressure, high-level officials in
the Ministry of Environment claimed they had no more than


"rumors" about restructuring and that the Ministry of Culture
could retain lead authority on GMO crop issues for many
months.

Comment: All food politics is local
--------------


13. (C) Though follow-up tests have all but shown early fears
of GMOs in Croatian food were overblown, the GoC has shown a
willingness to use the GMO issue to pander to public worries.
Scientists active in food safety policy-making expressed
dismay that by moving responsibility for GMO analysis and
education away from the technical experts, the GoC has been
ceding ground to a well-organized NGO-led, anti-GMO campaign.


14. (SBU) Public opinion research on GMO attitudes and
awareness has primarily been done by NGOs with a priori
conceptions of the results. GoC officials stress that they
have no role in public education. Srecko Jelenic, Director
of the Croatian Association of Genetic Engineers, offered
that the government has refused to fund public opinion
research for fear of alienating an anti-GMO public.


15. (C) Scientists, government officials, and NGOs all
acknowledge that the GMO debate in Croatia is temporary. As
Croatia moves closer to the EU and harmonizes food regulation
with EU norms, hopes of making Croatia "GMO-free" (reftel A)
should fade. Yet in the short-term, the GoC can channel GMO
fears into political support by sidelining science and
focusing on emotion. As long as GMO authority rests with an
uninterested ministry and multiple agencies with unclear
mandates vie for control of GoC GMO policy, the government is
poorly positioned to counter rampant anti-GMO propaganda from
the media and NGOs.
FRANK


NNNN