US firms 'tried to lie' over GM crops, says EU

American biotech companies tried to lie to Europe in an attempt to force genetically modified crops upon them, Margot Wallström, the European environment commissioner, said yesterday.

Far from developing GM crops to solve the problem of starvation in the world, as they claimed, the biotech companies did so to "solve starvation amongst their shareholders", said the European Union's leading green politician.

Speaking to journalists in London, the 49-year-old Swede followed her broadside over GM with an attack on the US over the so-called ghost fleet of rusting and polluted American ships being sent to Britain for dismantling, saying they should be kept in America.

She further suggested that the US government had been putting pressure on Russia not to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Mrs Wallström's unusually outspoken remarks will add to the ill-feeling between Europe and the US over genetic modification, which has led to the American government launching a legal action through the World Trade Organisation on the basis that European nations are dragging their feet over GM crop authorisation.

Her comments raise the political stakes before the publication on Thursday of Britain's farm-scale trials of GM crops, which may provide evidence of environmental damage that could lead to the crops being banned.

At a lunch with journalists, the commissioner spoke of the "legitimate concerns of European citizens and farmers and other groups about the effects of GM crops on human health and the environment".

Asked if US biotech companies had chosen the wrong products to introduce into Europe - meaning crops that were modified to take more powerful weedkillers, rather than give any other benefit - she replied: "Of course they have. Absolutely. They have to face that. They have to realise that they have chosen the completely wrong approach from the beginning.

"They tried to lie to people, and they tried to force it upon people. It's the wrong approach. You cannot force it upon Europe. So I hope they have learnt a lesson from this, especially when they now try to argue that this will solve the problems of starvation in the world and so on. But come on ... it was to solve starvation amongst shareholders, not the developing world."

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