Americans angered by European curbs/US farmers aghast
*Bush administration says new EU biotech laws are onerous, sees 'illegal' ban as still in place
*US farmers aghast at proposed European biotech rules
Americans angered by European curbs on GM
By Michael McCarthy and Stephen Castle
The Independent, 03 July 2003
The looming clash between Europe and America over genetically modified crops and food got closer yesterday when Euro-MPs put two new obstacles in the way of the GM revolution.
The European parliament in Strasbourg voted to bring in tight new rules on GM food labelling, and to allow restrictions on the growth of GM crops to protect organic and conventional farms from contamination. The move delighted consumer groups and environmental campaigners, but infuriated US trade officials, who see it as protectionism by the back door.
No official reaction was forthcoming in Washington, yesterday but a senior official criticised the new EU rules as "difficult and expensive for suppliers and confusing for consumers". He noted cryptically that the US had "already made its views known" on the subject.
At the core of American anger is the fact that the new rules might allow Europe to become a GM-free zone simply through consumers choosing not to buy GM products (which are nearly all American), and through safety rules that would make it almost impossible to grow GM crops.
A new Mori poll, released to The Independent yesterday, shows that in Britain at least, opposition to GM food remains firm, with just under half the population (46 per cent) opposed to it, and only one in seven (14 per cent) in favour. The major British supermarkets all continue to keep GM products off their shelves, responding to what they see as the public mood.
Paradoxically, the new measures signal the end of an unofficial moratorium on licensing new GM crops by six European countries, led by France. This had led to the US bringing legal action against the EU in the World Trade Organisation.
Licensing can begin again, because the rules on labelling and "coexistence" were the quid pro quo that the six countries had demanded for dropping their opposition. But because of the likely effect of the moves, the Americans are unlikely to drop their legal action.
One US official said: "We have made clear to the EU our concerns about the workability of these regulations and their impact on trade."
American farmers claim that the closed EU market costs them $300m (£180m) a year in lost exports, mostly maize. GM crops are not labelled in the US, where the public has not opposed them.
In Europe, compulsory labelling will now apply to thousands of products which contain derivatives of GM soya and GM maize, as well as traces of the actual products, and to animal feeds.
Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman in the European parliament, said: "The customer knows best, and shoppers must have the information so that they can decide for themselves what products to buy.
"If this slows the development of GM products while more research is carried out that may be no bad thing."
Bush administration says new EU biotech laws are onerous, sees `illegal' ban as still in place
By Harry Dunphy, Associated Press, 7/2/2003
WASHINGTON (AP) The Bush administration believes that biotech food label requirements approved Wednesday by the European Parliament are onerous, and has not changed its view that an illegal ban is still in place.
The new requirements end a five-year freeze on the introduction of new genetically engineered foods but they may not meet U.S. feasibility standards, said Richard Mills, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
''We are concerned that the proposed traceability and labeling does not meet this standard,'' Mills said in a statement after the 626-member assembly in Brussels, Belgium approved the new requirements.
Mills also worried that the labels would only succeed in turning customers away on a continent where many consumers already are wary of what critics deride as ''Frankenfood.''
The United States considers the earlier ban on genetically altered food to be illegal, and has joined Australia and Canada in filing a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization. Mills made it clear that the challenge was still active.
''Today's action does not lift the illegal moratorium on biotech products,'' he said.
The regulations require producers to trace genetically modified organisms at all stages of production and oblige supermarkets to label products containing more than 0.9 percent biotech material to say: ''This product is produced from GMOs.''
U.S. food and biotech companies oppose Europe's efforts to require labeling of genetically engineered food, arguing that compliance would be cumbersome and expensive.
''It seems more likely that the new regulations will drive food manufacturers to reformulate to shun biotech-derived ingredients altogether as their only effective means of avoiding the impractical burdens the new regulations would impose,'' said Val Giddings, vice president of the U.S. Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Under the new laws, hundreds of American-made foods would have to be labeled as having GMOs because many of them contain starches or syrups derived from genetically engineered corn.
Bob Stallman, president of the farm group, American Farm Bureau Federation, said biotech food is safe, regardless of how much of it is in a product. ''The threshold appears to be rather arbitrary and pointless, unless one's point is to continue to restrict imports and protect domestic producers,'' he said.
Mills said that the parliament's action may lead other countries to block trade by imposing detailed information requirements ''and prompt a host of new non-tarrif barriers just as we are trying to stimulate global trade.''
Mills repeated past U.S. assertions the EU moratorium had negative consequences, among them a reluctance by famine-stricken African countries to receive U.S. aid ''because of ill-informed health and environmental concerns'' over genetically modified products.
He said European consumers, like American consumers, should have a safe and effective labeling system that provides them with access to the world food supply and lets them make their own decisions.
Backed by Canada and Australia, the United States says the EU's cautious approach is based on unfounded health fears. The three have filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization to force Europe to lift the moratorium.
US farmers aghast at proposed European biotech rules
AFP, July 2, 2003
WASHINGTON, July 2 (AFP) - US farmers reacted with dismay Wednesday to a European parliamentary vote to require labels on foods in which at least 0.9 per cent of the ingredients are genetically modified.
The European Union has said the decision will unlock the way to lifting a de facto moratorium on biotechnology food imports, which is being challenged by the United States in the World Trade Organization.
But US farmers said the new rules, which could be adopted legislatively by individual European Union member states later this year, would make matters worse, not better. "In terms of legislation, we are very disappointed in it," National Corn Growers Association trade specialist Hayden Milberg said.
"We believe it will lead to further hindrances to free and fair trade between farmers in the United States and the European consumers," he said.
"It is a step backward and would not improve the situation in light of the de facto moratorium on products derived from biotechnology."
The United States is leading a group of 12 countries, including Argentina, into battle at the WTO in Geneva to overturn EU obstacles to foods with genetically modified ingredients, in place since 1999. As a first step, the dozen countries requested a 60-day consultation period at the WTO. If no resolution is found, they may seek the formation of a WTO dispute settlement panel to hear arguments.
The 60-day period expires July 13.
Ron Gaskill, trade policy expert at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he would press US President George W. Bush's administration to request a dispute settlement panel.
"The labelling and traceability rules only complicate the matter. I don't think they, from our perspective, help it at all," Gaskill said.
"We think they are just as inconsistent with the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures as the moratorium itself is," he added.
"I don't think there is any change there. I don't think it is a step in the right direction at all. I think it only makes things worse, honestly."
US farmers argue there is no scientific basis for the European demand for special labelling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.