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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08LISBON207 2008-01-24 16:14:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Lisbon
Cable title:  

PORTUGAL USES EU PRESIDENCY TO PUSH BIOTECH

Tags:   EAGR ETRD TBIO PO EUN 
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VZCZCXRO0143
RR RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHLI #0207/01 0241614
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 241614Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY LISBON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6594
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES
RUEHC/USDA FAS WASHDC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LISBON 000207 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

EUR/ERA, EEB/TPP/ABT/BBT, USTR, USDA/FAS
MADRID FOR STEVE HAMMOND

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/22/2018
TAGS: EAGR ETRD TBIO PO EUN
SUBJECT: PORTUGAL USES EU PRESIDENCY TO PUSH BIOTECH
ACCEPTANCE

REF: A. PARIS 0078


B. 07 STATE 158225

C. 07 LISBON 2912

D. 07 LISBON 2591

E. 07 LISBON 2171

Classified By: Pol/Econ Off Jenifer Neidhart for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

Summary
---------


1. (C) Led by Minister of Agriculture Jaime Silva, Portugal
visibly strengthened its public support for biotech issues
during its July-December 2007 EU Presidency. Minister
Silva's public leadership on biotech went beyond favorable
voting to include outspoken support of the European Food
Safety Authority's (EFSA) legitimacy as a scientific
authority on the subject, both publicly and behind closed
doors. This proactive approach on the part of the
Agriculture Minister is linked to heightened economic
concerns among key agricultural constituencies within
Portugal and an apparent inter-agency compromise between the
Ministries of Agriculture and Environment. Regarding
France's recent decision to invoke the safeguard clause, a
Ministry official indicated that Portugal was against
France's action and commented that France's decision was
"political, not technical." End Summary.

Support for EFSA and a Science-Based Review Process


--------------------------



--------------------------





2. (SBU) Over the past six months, Portugal demonstrated
stronger support of biotech at both the EU and domestic
levels. While Portugal has historically abstained on votes
that were not expected to achieve a qualified majority,
Minister of Agriculture Jaime Silva incrementally edged
Portugal into a proactive, leading role on biotech over the
past few months. During the October 10, 2007 meeting of the
EU Regulatory Committee, Portugal cast its first vote in
favor of a biotech event, specifically for the three Monsanto
hybrids under consideration (Ref D). Going a step further,
however, Embassy sources confirm that Portugal was an
outspoken advocate for both EFSA and a more rapid EU approval
process during the closed door November 26 Farm Council
meeting, although specific outcomes of the meeting remain
unclear.



3. (U) The Minister continues to support entry of biotech
events into the EU and supports current negotiations to
establish a reasonable threshold for low level presence in
imports of biotech products approved in third countries but
not yet approved in the EU (Refs C and E).


Raising Public Awareness


--------------------------





4. (U) The Portuguese government also enhanced its public
profile on biotech issues during its EU Presidency, building
on consistent and strong statements delivered to the
agricultural industry. On December 9, Minister Silva
published an op-ed piece entitled, "GMOs -- Responsible
Policies" in a leading Portuguese daily. Addressing a
general audience, Minister Silva outlined his support for
GMOs by emphasizing the need to balance valid and competing
concerns about health, safety, economy, and the environment.
The Minister made a surprisingly strong appeal to the public:
"Let's leave scientific risk assessments to credible
institutions, independent from governments and lobbies,
including environmentalists. Let's work with risk management
based on scientific reports and not on the politics of fear
or ignorance."

Against France's Invocation of Safeguards


--------------------------





5. (C) Although the Minister's office has yet to issue a
public statement on France's January 11 decision to invoke
safeguards (Ref A), one ministry official commented to us off
the record that if one were to look at Portugal's past
actions, it would lead one to conclude the (Portugal) is
against France's action." He further commented that France's
decision was a "political, not technical one."

Environment Ministry's Focus on Risk Minimization


--------------------------



--------------------------





6. (U) The Ministry of Environment continues to weigh in on
biotech issues, although its concerns are increasingly

LISBON 00000207 002 OF 002


relegated to minimizing the impact of biotech cultivation.
On November 28, 2007, a law establishing a five-year
compensation fund for farmers who have been hurt by
biotechnology crops came into effect. The fund outlines
reparations to be paid to any farmer whose crops are
contaminated by other farmers' use of biotech products.



7. (U) This new measure complements Portugal's coexistence
legal regime. Portugal continues to be the EU's fourth
largest cultivator of Bt maize (MON810) and has introduced
fairly conservative rules specifiying that GMO crops shall be
200 meters away from conventional crops and 250 meters away
from organic crops. This is mitigated, however, by the
rights of farmers. For example, although Portuguese law
permits municipalities to request designation as a GMO-free
zone, all farmers within a 3000-hectare radius must consent
to the designation. If even one farmer chooses to plant
biotech crops, the municipality is not allowed to declare
itself a GMO-free zone. Only the Lagos district in the
Algarve region has achieved this unanimity, declaring its
GMO-free on November 5, 2007 (Refs C and E).

Comment


--------------------------





8. (C) Considered against the backdrop of intensifying
challenges to EFSA's institutional soundness by EU Member
States, Jaime Silva's comments and actions during Portugal's
EU Presidency underscore Portugal's deepening commitment to
biotech issues, placing Portugal in the forefront of EU
member states. One Monsanto representative commented
approvingly that Portugal has gotten off the fence and can
now be considered a biotech proponent. To a large degree,
this support is linked to pragmatic political and economic
considerations, as Portugal is particularly vulnerable to
disruptions in biotech feed imports because its livestock
industry depends on imports for growth. On the other hand,
Portugal's recent uptick in support for biotech must be
viewed within the broader context. Although Portugal was the
first EU member state to implement regulation on coexistence,
it was also the first to have a legally declared GMO-free
zone, spearheaded by a new environmental NGO. As grassroots
movements against biotech become more savvy, they have the
potential to wrest the momentum away from the Minister's
reason-based approach in favor of a more emotional and
reactionary trajectory.
Stephenson