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Viewing cable 06WARSAW107, POLAND: SENIOR ADVISOR FOR AGRICULTURAL

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06WARSAW107 2006-01-25 13:36 2011-08-26 00:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Warsaw
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 WARSAW 000107 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/NCE DKOSTELANCIK, MSESSUMS DEPT FOR E, G; EB 
FOR MSPIRNAK 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: TBIO SENV ETRD EAGR KSCA ECIN PL
SUBJECT: POLAND: SENIOR ADVISOR FOR AGRICULTURAL 
BIOTECHNOLOGY SPIRNAK'S MEETINGS WITH GOP OFFICIALS AND 
ACADEMIA 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION 
 
1. (SBU) Summary.  Senior Advisor for Agricultural 
Biotechnology Madelyn Spirnak visited Warsaw on November 29 
and 30, 2005 to discuss the USG position on genetically 
modified organisms (GMO's), with GOP officials, members of 
the academic community, and the media.  While the current GOP 
and much of Polish society express serious concerns about 
transgenic plants, these attitudes appear to reflect the 
perceived European view on the subject, and are not based on 
negative experience or scientific data.  Spirnak was 
encouraged by some ministerial employees' and professors' 
positive views of genetic engineering, though this was 
tempered by the message that much work would be needed to 
reverse mainstream negative opinion.  One conclusion in 
particular was very clear: The GMO issue is currently driven 
by public opinion, and political and social tactics are 
necessary to win over decision makers and the public. 
 
----------------------------------- 
Views from the Academy of Science 
----------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) Spirnak first met with six scientists and experts 
whose research deals with plant genetics.  This discussion, 
like Spirnak's others, focused on genetically modified 
plants, not animals.  All of the scientists present lamented 
the fact that several years ago Polish society accepted the 
idea of GMO's, but that now 70% of the Polish public rejected 
them as potential sources of food and for use in agriculture. 
 Furthermore, the scientists expect no change in this 
attitude in the near future.  In their opinion, GMO advocates 
must focus on the potential benefits to consumers, not to 
producers, in swaying public opinion. 
 
3. (SBU) The scientists also said that a new law governing 
GMO's is currently being considered in Parliament, and that 
all future approaches to the issue must reflect EU policy and 
also the general EU attitude on the subject.  One scientist 
noted that part of the opposition to GMO's in Poland stemmed 
from the fact there is no starvation in Polish society, so 
why introduce transgenic food crops?  On the other hand, 
Poles do not oppose the use of GMO's in medicine, because 
this leads to cheaper drugs.  The scientists reasoned that a 
campaign focused on the potential lower cost of foods made 
with GMO's would resonate with average Poles.  The group also 
pointed out that GMO's are generally produced and marketed by 
large corporations.  This fact does not play well with the 
Polish public, and especially with small farmers, who are 
wary of large corporations encroaching on a market that is 
perceived to be traditionally within the domain of small 
business. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
The Ministries:  Neutrality Among the Experts, Public Opinion 
Reigns 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
4. (SBU) Spirnak also visited the Ministries of Environment 
and Agriculture for the GOP view.  In Environment, Acting 
Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Anna Liro 
(previous IV program participant) stated that science plays 
the central role in the run up to policy formulation in the 
lower levels of the Ministry, but that ultimately the 
Minister, when issuing statements and decisions, takes 
opinion and politics into consideration.  Liro also stressed 
that Poland's focus in the area of GMO policy is 
harmonization with the EU.  In fact, the GOP is currently 
drafting legislation to bring Poland into EU compliance in 
the areas of labeling and traceability.  Included in this 
legislation is language stating the GOP officials must 
develop coexistence regulations.  The legislation, which 
requires Parliamentary approval, is still working its way 
through administrative clearances.  Liro could not predict 
when the legislation might finally be sent to Parliament. 
 
5. (SBU) In the Ministry of Agriculture, Spirnak met with the 
new Undersecretary of Agriculture responsible for 
biotechnology, Lech Rozanski.  Rozanski stressed that Polish 
public opinion is against the use of GMO's, and that the GOP 
must yield to public opinion,  Therefore, the GOP is 
contemplating regulations that might be even more stringent 
than current EU versions, including bans on both food 
(including use in processed food) and feed.  Rozanski went on 
to explain that Polish food products are viewed in the EU as 
healthy and natural, and are competitive in their current 
state.  Use of GM seeds could threaten this perception, and 
thus Poland's place in the market.  When Spirnak and Embassy 
Agricultural Counselor noted that such an approach would be 
of great concern to the U.S. and would be contrary to EU as 
well as WTO commitments, Rozanski backed off and said that 
Poland must comply with EU and international commitments 
(Note: Rozanski softened this message further at a subsequent 
meeting that Agricultural Counselor attended). 
 
6. (SBU) Rozanski also explained that several months ago 
Poland submitted a letter to the European Commission 
requesting EC approval for a two-year moratorium on the 
import and planting of 16 GMO seed varieties that for 
agronomic reasons can not be grown in Poland.  The GOP is 
still waiting for an answer in this matter. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
Informed Polish Students Voice Concern, But No Visceral 
Opposition 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
7. (U) Spirnak made a presentation at the highly regarded 
Warsaw Agricultural University (SGGW), the institution that 
trains many of Poland's future leaders in agriculture and 
agricultural policy.  The lecture was very well attended (by 
100 students approximately) and the SGGW students were very 
familiar with the issues surrounding GMO's.  During the Q&A 
session, students were cautious but not overtly opposed to 
GMO's.  They asked questions that covered topics ranging from 
food safety and GMO's to the potential for GMO producing 
countries to "dump" food into the EU market.  In general, the 
students seemed to approach the subject objectively, although 
they have obviously been influenced by the overriding 
negative European attitude toward GMO's. 
 
8. (U) Spirnak's second lecture took place at the American 
Studies Center at Warsaw University.  Approximately 20 
students and faculty attended the lecture.  Again, the 
students did not openly object to the idea of consuming GMO's 
but did reflect the typical European mistrust surrounding the 
issue.  They asked about the purpose of altering the genetic 
structure of food, in what is essentially a "if it's not 
broken don't fix it" argument that is commonly made in Poland. 
 
------------------------------ 
Root Causes of the Opposition 
------------------------------ 
 
9. (SBU) Spirnak discussed the lack of Polish public support 
for GMO's during a meeting with Robert Gabarkiewicz, Monsanto 
Representative.  Gabarkiewicz said that 10% of Polish farmers 
produce 80% of the food consumed in the Polish market.  These 
farmers support GMO's because they lead to higher crop yields 
and greater profits.  However, the 90% of Polish farmers who 
produce 20% of the food are adamantly opposed because they 
are reliant on (or seeking to qualify for) EU funds under the 
Common Agricultural Policy.  These farmers run very small 
scale operations and see the more tangible value of subsidies 
outweighing the longer-term benefits of GMO's.  Since this 
segment of the Polish population numbers in the millions, 
their potential votes are a strong driver of policy 
decisions.  Gabarkiewicz also stated that soybeans are 
imported into Poland each year, mainly from Argentina and 
Brazil, for use in the feed industry.  These beans are 
certainly genetically modified, so there are GM products that 
regularly enter Poland for feed use. 
 
10. (SBU) Spirnak's last meeting was with Slawomir Zagorski, 
a reporter from Gazeta Wyborcza, the newspaper with the 
largest circulation in Poland.  Zagorski, also the paper's 
Science Editor, lent a sympathetic ear to Spirnak, and 
recounted that he had written a story on GMO's recently, 
following a visit to the U.S. sponsored by the Department of 
Agriculture.  In the aftermath of publication, Zagorski was 
accused of being an "agent" for Monsanto who had taken bribes 
to write a story portraying GMO's positively.  Although he is 
still interested in the subject, he explained, he simply can 
not write another story on GMO's right now, given the deeply 
negative public reaction to his last story. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
Summary: Fact, Fiction, and Reversing Public Opinion 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
11. (SBU) Two themes emerged during Spirnak's visit, one 
concerning Polish society and the other the Polish 
government.  First, most of the Polish public not directly 
involved in agriculture or politics does not really feel a 
strong attachment to either side of the GMO argument.  The 
average Pole takes a mildly negative view of GM food, but 
this attitude seems to have percolated up from certain 
segments of the Polish countryside, and from anti-GMO 
interest group activity throughout Europe.  While they have 
no firm experience on which to base their opinions, many 
Poles simply believe that GMO's are ptentially dangerous and 
that they are unnecessary.  They believe there is already too 
much food crop production in the EU, and that GM food 
products simply can not compare to their "natural" 
counterparts in terms of taste and nutritional value.  We 
also heard continually that people can live with choice, but 
want to know through labeling if they are consuming GM 
products. 
 
12. (SBU) Second, it was clear that experts in the ministries 
approach the GMO issue using science as their principal tool. 
 On the other hand, their superiors, those at the policy 
level, grant greater weight to public opinion.  This is 
troublesome since the current government was elected with 
overwhelming support from small farmers in rural Poland and 
this voting bloc is traditionalist in worldview.  These two 
facts indicate that a significant portion of voters will 
likely remain opposed to GMO use in Poland, at least until 
commercially beneficial GM seed is available to Polish 
farmers. 
 
13. (SBU) Given discussions within academia and with other 
pro-biotech actors, our strategy to influence a more positive 
public attitude toward bioengineered crops should focus on 
consumer benefits and the positive effects GMO's could have 
in reducing the costs of food and medicine.  Our efforts also 
should focus on the positive environmental impact GMO's 
provide via reduced pesticide and herbicide use and 
encouraging reduced-till practices.  In the days ahead, it is 
vital to work with the GOP officials to prevent the 
imposition of a proposed two-year moratorium on GM seeds and 
to influence the drafting of future coexistence and liability 
regulations, with the hope of ensuring that they are not so 
restrictive as to prevent the commercial use of GM seed in 
Poland.  The gradual introduction of GM crops for feed use 
(in contrast to direct human consumption) could eventually 
soften public opposition to other GMO uses.  Imported GM 
feeds already are being used in Poland, thus this bridge has 
already been crossed. 
 
14. (U) Senior Advisor for Agricultural Biotechnology Madelyn 
Spirnak cleared this cable. 
ASHE

    

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