- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Representatives of the European Union appear resigned to reaping a harvest of discord on genetically modified foods, despite the deprivations that could follow.
Yesterday, EU farm ministers failed to reach an agreement on the labeling of such foods, and while EU environmental ministers are expected to address the issue this Thursday, there's little reason to expect any sort of breakthrough. Part of the problem is intergovernmental squabbling. For instance, on the labeling issue how much genetically modified material can be present in food before a label is required Sweden demanded a policy of "zero tolerance," while others held out for slightly more generous allowances (the European Commission tried to get 1 percent). While the British are opposed to the labeling of processed foods derived from genetically modified foods, the French are demanding that even pet food potentially containing genetically modified ingredients receive a label.
This discord is a consequence of larger European fears of genetically modified foods. While there's no evidence that such foods are harmful to either humans or their habitat, high-powered public-relations campaigns by environmental groups, coupled with food scares and governmental bungling, have made consumers highly suspicious of so-called "Frankenfoods." In fact, seven countries France, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium and Austria have maintained a moratorium on new genetically modified products for four years.
That has caused a problem for U.S. farmers thanks to the moratorium, corn growers alone lose an estimated $200 million each year in lost exports. U.S. trade representatives have grown increasingly concerned about European intransigence, which they rightly maintain has no basis in law.
However, the cost of a possible trade war with the United States over the issue is only a part of the picture. While Europeans have dithered, Americans and Asians are continuing to reap the benefits of growing modified foods, which require smaller doses of pesticides to produce higher per-acre yields than their unmodified counterparts. That's just the beginning. Staples like corn and rice could be modified to grow in previously marginal soils, and might one day even be modified to produce pharmaceuticals.
Some members of the European Commission fear that Europe's failure to lower its barriers to genetically modified food will leave its farmers in the dust, and they are right. EU representatives owe more to their constituents than the current harvest of discord.


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