4 February 2003
US SLINKS AWAY FROM WTO ACTION AGAINST EU /
Debate begins over biotech wheat
1.U.S. Delays Challenge to Europe's Ban on Modified Food
2.Debate over biotech wheat
U.S. Delays Challenge to Europe's Ban on Modified Food
By ELIZABETH BECKER
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 Ëœ With war looming in Iraq, the Bush administration has decided against antagonizing its European allies and has postponed filing a case against the European Union for its ban on genetically modified food, according to senior administration officials.
"There is no point in testing Europeans on food while they are being tested on Iraq," a senior White House official said, speaking on background. Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, had warned that the administration would decide soon whether to sue the Europeans for what he called their "immoral" opposition to genetically modified food that was leading to starvation in the developing world.
But a cabinet meeting to consider the suit was canceled this week as European agricultural officials came to Washington to argue for patience.
The conflict will resurface soon, however. Mr. Zoellick said in an interview that he believed genetically modified food could help alleviate hunger worldwide and that he wanted the European opposition to be confronted and unfounded fears erased so that developing nations would accept food from genetically modified crops.
Experts agree that the United States could win a case at the World Trade Organization and force a lifting of the four-year old ban.
The ultimate resolution of this case, however, will rest on labeling Ëœ not food aid Ëœ and promises to pit European ideas of food regulation against American notions about free trade.
Many European consumers are demanding labels that identify which food has been genetically modified, while the American agricultural industry is just as strongly opposed to labeling, saying it gives the food a negative connotation.
"The U.S. is afraid that by starting to distinguish which food is genetically modified, then they will have to distinguish energy standards, toxic standards that are different than those the European promotes," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Watch. "It's using trade agreements to determine domestic health, safety and environmental rules."
Agriculture Department officials say this is nonsense, that the United States does not require labeling, so why should Europe.
"That implies that there is something wrong with genetically modified good," said Elsa Murano, the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food safety. "It would be another kind of trade barrier."
The agricultural industry also complains about the cost of the proposed labels.
"Labeling is a sham," said Mary Kay Thatcher, lobbyist for American Farm Bureau, a powerful agricultural group. "It would be so expensive, it would shut down our exports."
Franz Fischler, the European farm commissioner, said in an address here today that the problem could be resolved within the year if the United States agreed that the products deemed safe would be labeled as genetically modified.
His remarked were echoed earlier here by Margaret Beckett, the British minister in charge of food and the environment, who said both sides of the argument had to understand the serious cultural differences underlying the disagreement.
"Extravagant claims are sometimes made on either side of the argument," she said. "Whether we like it or not, there is an expectation of traceability and labeling of all kinds of products among European consumers. You are not going to convince them that G.M. products should be an exception to what is the norm."
While European nations agree on the need for labeling in the face of deep consumer fears, American lawmakers have had a more mixed record.
Although it took 12 years of lobbying by farmers, chefs and environmentalists, the Agriculture Department last year created an official organic label to show consumers what produce has been raised without conventional pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics or growth hormones.
In last year's farm bill, Congress included a provision opposed by much of agribusiness that requires that all meat, fish and produce be labeled with its country of origin within two years.
"The United States is not monolithic," said John Audley of Carnegie Endowment. "Business groups may have to yield on labeling while activists will have to yield on allowing genetically modified food to be sold and let consumers decide what they want."
Already, Canada has complained that the new country of origin labeling will restrict its trade with the United States, especially its meat. In a study released last month, Canadian officials also complained about the cost and suggested that the new provision should be withdrawn.
That is unlikely until the European ban on genetically modified food is lifted and the issue of labeling is confronted head on.
2.Debate begins over biotech wheat
Tuesday, February 4, 2003 Posted: 3:23 PM EST (2023 GMT)
The Associated Press
BISMARCK, North Dakota (AP) -- A North Dakota lawmaker wants to hold seed manufacturers financially responsible if pollen from their biotech wheat drifts to neighboring organic fields. The state Senate's Judiciary committee listened to witnesses Monday during an initial hearing on state Sen. Bill Bowman's bill.
"I'm not saying you can or can't plant [biotech wheat]," Bowman said. "But if you do, liability concerns have to be addressed."
Critics of the bill have denounced it as an obstacle to technology.
John Olson, a Bismarck attorney and lobbyist for St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., said Bowman's bill presumes that biotech wheat is harmful. The wheat must be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, Olson said.
"It bothers me that [the bill] suggests this is a contaminant in the food chain," Olson said.
Monsanto is developing a wheat variety resistant to the company's Roundup herbicide. The genetic changes, the company says, will allow a farmer to spray the herbicide without harming the wheat plants.
Monsanto has already rolled out biotech versions of corn, canola and soybeans that are in use in North Dakota.