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Companies Reap EU Research Rewards

Millions of euros of EU research money is being directed towards controversial projects which do not benefit the public interest, according to new research from Corporate Europe Observatory published today [1].

The report, which is launched as the European Commission hosts a conference on research in Brussels [2], says that the approval of so-many controversial projects is not surprising, given that many of the companies were also involved in writing the EU’s Strategic Research Agenda, which sets the priorities for new research.

Projects receiving funding under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) include research into genetically modified trees and crops, research in coordination with Brazil to foster agrofuel imports from Latin America, and research into the use of agrofuels for aviation.

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has criticised the funding priorities which it says fail to assess the public benefits of the schemes.

Report author Amaranta Herrero from CEO said:

“These projects are being given public money but they will not benefit EU taxpayers, or the public in general. Instead the European Commission gives private companies priviliged access in deciding how public funds are spent. The companies involved must be laughing all the way to the bank.”

Companies including Shell, Syngenta, Novozymes, Bayer, SEKAB, Abengoa, Repsol and SweTree Technologies were involved in writing the EU’s Strategic Research Agenda after they were invited to join the Commission’s European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBFTP) [3]. All have so far received funding under FP7.

The research highlights the threats posed by some of the projects being funded, in particular the risk posed by GE trees. SweTree Technologies wants to modify trees to reduce the lignin content, which gives trees their rigidity. But the report authors say this will make the trees vulnerable and put natural forests at risk if they are exposed to this genetic trait.

Nina Holland, co-author of the report, added:
“Projects to genetically engineer trees for biomass pose a major threat to the survival of our forests, while increased agrofuel production will result in further monoculture expansion in Latin America and elsewhere. These energy projects to develop alternative fuels are as damaging as the fossil fuels they seek to replace.”

Contact:

Amaranta Herrero: + 34 935812503
Nina Holland: + 32 497 389 632 (Thursday: + 31 6 30285042)

Notes:
[1] Agrofuels and the EU research budget: public funding for private interests, Corporate Europe Observatory, 27 May 2009,
http://www.corporateeurope.org/agrofuels/content/2009/05/agrofuels-and-eu-research-budget
[2] 'Sustainable Development; a Challenge for European Research', Brussels, 26-28 May
[3] http://www.corporateeurope.org/agrofuels/content/2009/04/industry-pushes-25-agrofuel-target
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