Danish Ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen recently declared his support for the confidentiality of test results for experimental cultivation of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn.
Sørensen, who was elected to the position of Ombudsman by the Danish Parliament, ruled on the matter after the independent organization Åbenhedstinget questioned the agriculture company’s decision to refuse public access to test results on the cultivation of corn that was genetically modified to withstand Roundup.
Åbenhedstinget is a network of civil servants and journalists that keeps check on public administration. Its tasks include ensuring whether Freedom of Information requests are handled properly.
The Danish Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints related to public administration.
Ombudsman based his decision on two key issues
Two European Union directives oppose each other in the genetically modified corn case, namely the Directive on transparency of environmental information and the confidentiality provisions of the Directive on common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species.
According to the Ombudsman, it is not clear how the two directives must be weighed against each other, though he concluded that confidentiality must be predominant in the case.
Sørensen did not evaluate the evidence for the claim from Monsanto’s attorney that the disclosure of the test results would cause a loss for the company. If the test varieties were approved, the results would be published despite the wish for confidentiality.
By claiming confidentiality before the trial and then canceling the test during the planned test period, Monsanto has until now been able to avoid publishing the results.
Monsanto will publish results later, says the company
Investigative Reporting Denmark asked officials from Monsanto if the company will publish the results now.
“The results will be published in a scientific journal in due course,” said Brandon Mitchener, Public Affairs Lead for Monsanto in Europe and Middle East.
However, he has refused to reply to these follow-up questions:
- When will that happen?
- Why will you not accept the data to be shared with the public?
- How can you have an economic issue wanting to keep it secret in the Danish case and then later publish it in a scientific journal?
Media law specialist criticizes the conclusion from the Ombudsman
Investigative Reporting Denmark submitted the documents in the case to a specialist in media law, Oluf Jørgensen.
Jørgensen is head of research at the Danish School of Media and Journalism and is critical of the Ombudsman’s conclusion.
“The Aarhus Convention and EU Environmental Information Directive is clear. Commercial considerations do not trump the public right to inspect the emission data. The Ombudsman unfortunately overlooked this in his conclusion of Monsanto trial of genetical modified varieties,” said Jørgensen.
“The key factor in this study was to get an environmental evaluation of the use of Roundup compared to traditional herbicides in the cultivation of the GM variety,” continued Jørgensen. “Information on contamination of soil and water is clearly emission information. The public is entitled to insight regardless of commercial interests. There [are] no exceptions for trials.”
“The statement that the test results will be published in a scientific article cannot be taken seriously when the public is denied access to the basic information. It is a defining characteristic of science that documentation can be controlled by others.”
Ombudsman Sørensen declined to comment on the criticism from Oluf Jørgensen.