D.C., April 8, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Philip Brasher,
DesMoines Register, 04/04/04: The war between
the United States and Europe over genetically engineered
food is about to take another turn.
Later this month, new rules take effect in Europe that
require labeling and extensive documentation for both
food and animal feed that contain biotech ingredients.
That means U.S. farm groups and President Bush's administration
face a tough decision: Should the administration risk
antagonizing Europeans once again by challenging the
labeling rules in the World Trade Organization?
The labels themselves are not really the problem. They
never appear on European grocery shelves anyway because
food companies just will not use biotech corn or soybeans
for products they sell there.
There is so much opposition to genetically modified
crops in Europe that food companies would just as soon
put a skull and crossbones on their packages than one
of those biotech labels.
What worries U.S. farmers and agribusiness executives
is the documentation and testing necessary to comply
with the rules and the potential that the rules - and
European attitudes - will spread worldwide.
Karil Kochenderfer of the Grocery Manufacturers of
America, which represents such multinational companies
as General Mills and Kraft Foods, says the rules set
a dangerous precedent.
"What the Europeans are saying is that a safe
product should not be allowed on the marketplace,"
The White House already is struggling to mend fences
with Europe over the war in Iraq. And the administration
has a WTO case pending against Europe over biotech food.
That complaint challenges Europe's refusal to approve
new genetically engineered crops. "Consumers don't
want to buy these products and they want more information,"
said Wim Tacken, the Dutch government's agriculture
representative in Washington.
Tacken attended a recent meeting in Washington of U.S.
agriculture and food industry officials, who were complaining
that the new rules were going to be difficult at best
to comply with. Tacken acknowledged that the rules were
"quite an administrative burden."
The bigger problem in the long run for U.S. agribusiness
is that the views - and rules - of the Europeans will
take hold in the rest of the world.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau
Federation, calls it the "EU disease." "You
have all these other countries around the world looking
at the EU and saying, 'If it works for them and they're
not challenged, and no one says anything, by gosh it
will work for us,' " Stallman said.
"You have to constantly challenge where you think
the rules of the WTO are not being complied with,"
Stallman said. "If you don't, everyone else picks
up on the same game plan."
The European rules already are having an effect on
research into biotech crops.
Soybean processing giant Bunge Limited wanted plant
breeders to use conventional breeding methods in developing
a new generation of soybeans that will not produce trans
fats when turned into oil and shortening. That way,
products from the new-style soybeans can be shipped
to Europe "without any issues," as one company
official put it.
It's not just the requirement for labels that's a problem
for U.S. companies.
Depending on how the regulations are interpreted, they
could require shippers to identify any biotech DNA that
might show up in a load of grain, even in trace amounts.
Industry officials are worried about the rules because
grain is commonly contaminated with trace amounts of
unintended crop varieties.
Remember StarLink, the biotech corn that was removed
from the market in 2000? It still shows up in grain
in tiny amounts even though it has not been grown by
farmers for years.