Control or Collaboration? Agro-biotechnology and the role of the authorities

A study about who has contacts with whom in the development, risk assessment and approval of GM crops in Germany shows that many of the persons involved have far reaching contacts, including numerous contacts to lobby organisations and industry.

The complete report is currently only available in German as pdf



This report about the network structures in agro-biotechnolgy in Germany shows a surprisingly clear picture: Politicians and the public cannot rely on their authorities and scientific institutes (and the experts in them) to have a sufficient distances from industry interests. In contrary: there are clear indications that several key actors, sometimes over a long period of time, dismissed the need for independence, circumvented adequate transparency and disregarded their control duties.
While politicians in parliaments and governments came and went, the individuals in the public authorities responsible for controlling agro-biotechnology stay the same, sometimes for decades. Even in case where offices like the Office for Public Health (Bundesgesundheitsamt, BGA) and later the Robert-Koch-Institute (RKI) were re-structured, the continuity stayed. These networks and relationships are often one step ahead of the elected politicians, and in some case the experts involved tried to undermine or [foreclose] polictical decisions. One gets the impression that a parallel structure evolved, that can less and less be controlled by elected politicians. In this context, the actors in the agency and offices could follow agendas that are more in line with collaboration with industry than with independent and critical control.
The politic seems to have lost most of its control over its agencies and experts. By now experts like Schiemann, Bartsch and Buhk determine the course, while the politic can only follow the events. When now the politic - for example in person of the German environmental minister Seehofer who wants to change the EU approval procedure for GM crops - wants to withdraw more and more from the political responsibility, then it leaves decisions that are important for environment, farmers and consumers to the free-play of economic interests.
In that way the politic falls victim of its own mistakes: It is surrounded by an impenetrable network of experts consultancy companies, special agencies, working groups, initiatives and numerous activities of its civil servants, who organize risk assessment and risk communication together with the industry, and who play with the politic and the public.
In the centre of this network are seldomly the big agro-biotech companies, but 'special agencies' with excellent contacts to authorities, politics, media and companies.
The act as hidden strategist for industry, funded publicly as well as through companies. They organized networks and cliques on all relevant levels nationally, internationally and for the EU, and they gained far reaching normative power.

But in times, when more and more disputed products are [pushed] on the market, and industry pushes for fast approvals, politics needs authorities that effectively and reliable organize an objective and critical assessment. The modern, knowledge-based 'risk society' has to be able to take a stand against industry lobby and her experts and to protect public interests, no matter whether that concerns vaccines, drugs, chemicals, energy or agro-biotechnology.