Cablegate: Turkey and Biotechnology

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Turkey and Biotechnology

Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet Distribution.

1. (SBU) Summary: The development of biotechnology
legislation has been identified as a priority by the new
Turkish government. Regulations that parallel EU directives
have been drafted, however no action has been taken to put
them into place. With the possible exception of the
Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which the Turkish Parliament
recently ratified, there are no biotech regulations that
impact U.S. trade. There is concern that a small number of
influential officials are spreading misinformation about the
safety of food and agricultural products developed using
biotechnology that will ultimately have a negative effect on
consumer perception and future legislation. Local food and
agricultural companies are concerned yet remain quiet.
Annually, the United States exports approximately $250
million of corn and soybean products for feed, up to $100
million of corn and soybean oil and $200 million of cotton
to Turkey. End Summary.

Current and Potential Legislation
2. (SBU) Biotechnology regulations in Turkey are limited
to a 1998 directive on field trials, which have since been
suspended (see Para 3). While many industry observers
expect the void of regulation to continue, bureaucrats
insist that legislation will be published soon. There are a
few signs that regulations are inevitable. First, Turkey
ratified the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol on June 17, 2003.
If Turkey chooses to implement the biosafety protocol, some
type of regulatory framework will be needed. Sources also
indicate that Turkey has until 2005 to harmonize its
regulations with relevant EU directives in preparation for
accession talks. Finally, the Genetics Laboratory at the
Ankara Provincial Control Laboratory of Molecular Biology
has been newly staffed and equipped and is awaiting
legislation to begin their work to test imports and domestic
products for GMO content.

The brief regulatory history
3. (SBU) In Turkey, regulations pertaining to the use and
importation of genetically modified organisms began when the
"Directive on the Principles of Field Trials of Genetically
Modified Organisms" issued by the Ministry of Agriculture
and Rural Affairs (MARA), entered into force in May 1998.
Note: This directive did not apply to, or otherwise affect
feed and food trade. End Note. After this date, several
field experiments with GMO crops were carried out in
different agronomic research institutes in the country.
Specific crops tested were corn, cotton and potatoes. In
June 1999, the Ministry of Environment, through a circular,
warned all prefectures regarding the unauthorised planting
and use of genetically modified plants.

4. (SBU) Subsequently, an interagency commission on
"biotechnology and biosafety" which was established in the
framework of the Eighth Five-year Development Plan of the
State Planning Organisation issued a report stating that the
importation and experimental planting of genetically
modified seeds, authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture
and Rural Affairs, was hazardous, considering that Turkey
lacks regulation in the field, and qualified personnel to
ensure the controls. The commission requested that the
experiments be discontinued immediately, and that no other
authorisation be issued until the completion of legislation
and mechanisms of control.

5. (SBU) As a result, there has been no additional field
testing of biotech crops in Turkey. While results of the
initial tests have been analysed by the Directorate of
Research and Development of MARA, the results - to the
frustration of industry participants and the scientific
community - have not been made public. Again, the
suspension of this directive had no impact on trade.
Despite the potential benefits of producing BT corn and
cotton in Turkey, it is unlikely to occur in the near
future. Monsanto, a large biotech seed developer, has
abandoned plans to introduce biotech seeds in Turkey, and is
instead producing and exporting conventional corn seeds
which it markets to the EU.

A near ban and lessons learned
6. (SBU) In July of 2000 MARA began developing regulations
which would prohibit imports of all food and feed products
not accompanied by `GMO-free' certificates. While
originally intending the ban to be immediate while
legislation was developed, it was later announced to go into
effect on January 1, 2001. In the end, pressure from
industry groups - primarily the poultry industry and feed
millers association - convinced the GOT to suspend
implementation altogether. The significance of these events
is that the GOT began to recognise that this issue has
greater economic implications for its domestic industries
than anticipated. Since this event, the GOT has been much
more engaged with industry participants. Further, the GOT
enlisted the Turkish Council of Scientific and Technical
Research (TBYTAK) to help develop legislation and a
national biosafety system taking into consideration
international standards.

--------------------------------------------- -
Recent draft legislation and references
--------------------------------------------- -
7. (SBU) In 2001, two draft directives were prepared, one
relating to the registration of genetically modified plants,
the other to the deliberate release of the GMOs into the
environment and their placement on the market. While these
directives never went into effect, they drew heavily if not
exclusively from relevant EU directives. It is fair to
expect that future legislation will also be designed to
conform to EU directives as well as the Biosafety Protocol.
The Accession Partnership document approved by the EU
Council on March 8, 2001 sets harmonisation with
environmental acquis communautaire as a medium term
objective. The National Programme for the Adoption of the
Acquis, presented by Turkey on March 19 2001, establishes
that the final objective concerning the deliberate release
into environment and the placing on the market of
genetically modified organisms in Turkey is to adopt and
apply pertinent EU legislation.

8. (SBU) The Biotechnology and Biosafety Advisory
Committee, which includes representatives from MARA,
Environment, Health, Forestry, State Planning Office, and
the Undersecretariat of Foreign Trade has also prepared a
draft law for the establishment of a National Biosafety
Council, which in turn is intended to establish the national
biosafety system and legislation. It is not clear to what
extent the Biosafety Advisory Committee and the National
Biosafety Council remain intact since the election of a new
government in 2002 and the appointment of a new Prime
Minister in 2003. An official at the Undersecretariat of
Foreign Trade indicated that the Biosafety Advisory
Committee would be `formed' in February of 2004.

--------------------------------------------- -------------
Biotech atmosphere in the Turkish bureaucracy
--------------------------------------------- -------------
9. (SBU) Many MARA officials have been publicly supportive
of biotechnology and the potential benefits the technology
may hold for Turkish producers. Many others - in key
positions - are quite skeptical and misinformed and as a
result are actually spreading misinformation about the
safety of biotechnology to their colleagues and superiors.
For example, after hearing a sound science-based
presentation on the safety of bio-engineered foods from
another scientist, a Turkish biologist responded that she
would still never eat `those foods'. A general lack of
information prevails.

10. (SBU) The Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
Affairs (MARA) has been relatively proactive to opening the
debate on biotechnology within the GOT. Recently, MARA
officials approached FAS to host a seminar on biotechnology
in September. Much of this interest can be attributed to
ongoing outreach efforts and training activities that
engaged the GOT in the biotech debate.

--------------------------------------------- --
Atmosphere in the food and agricultural sectors
--------------------------------------------- --
11. (SBU) Many food companies are more concerned about
public perception than impending Turkish regulations. Coca-
Cola and Pepsi, for example, require that all starch-based
sweeteners that they purchase be produced from non-GMO corn.
There is no law that requires this. Many companies want to
ensure that their ability to export to the EU is preserved.
Some major food companies have received calls from consumers
asking if there are bio-engineered foods in their products.
In a recent meeting, these food companies said there was a
need for all major food companies to respond to these
concerns with one voice and one message. Many other food
companies prefer the status quo: no regulations and no
consumer awareness. While many of these food companies
recognize that they would benefit from educating consumers
and the GOT on issues related to biotechnology and food
safety, it is uncharted territory in Turkey.

12. (SBU) In the next year, more outreach will be needed to
assist food and agricultural companies communicate
effectively with their customers and the GOT. Even if the
best regulations are adopted, consumer acceptance of
biotechnology will be a major challenge in Turkey.

13. (SBU) Conclusion: As Turkey recently ratified the
biosafety protocol, one can expect that regulations
governing the importation and marketing of biotech products
will soon follow. Turkey is challenged by the dual need to
implement the biosafety protocol and develop comprehensive
regulations that adhere to EU directives. Experience
suggests that Turkey will protect the local feed industry,
yet may cave to perceived consumer concerns and implement
restrictive policies for biotech content in consumer foods.
In other words, future regulations will likely have a
greater impact on food products than feed products, and it
is not likely that Turkey will revisit field trials and
planting approvals until the EU progresses in this area.
While the U.S. market for $250 million in feed ingredients
and $200 million in cotton do not appear to be in jeopardy,
approximately $100 million in vegetable oil and corn and soy
food products may face restrictive regulations in the near


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