- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

European lawmakers yesterday approved strict rules to identify and track genetically modified foods, a move quickly criticized by the U.S. farm industry and the Bush administration as a new barrier to American products.

The United States and European Union’s running battle over biotechnology has escalated this year, adding one more dispute to strained trans-Atlantic trade relations.

The 15-nation European Union, citing consumer-health and environmental-safety concerns, has effectively barred new genetically modified crops from its market since 1998.

Bush administration officials say the EU policy is unscientific and has a chilling effect in poor nations that could benefit from biotechnology.

The administration in May filed a case with the World Trade Organization to force a rewrite of EU rules.

EU officials hoped the laws approved yesterday would encourage the United States to drop the case, but American officials were not appeased.

“Today’s action does not lift the EU’s illegal moratorium on biotech products,” said Richard Mills, spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

American farming officials said the new rules would create a bigger barrier to trade than the informal EU policy that now blocks the production or sale of many biotech crops inside the 15-nation bloc.

“We think their remedy for the problem is just as bad if not worse than the problem itself,” said Ron Gaskill, international trade policy specialist with the American Farm Bureau, the country’s largest farm organization.

Legislation approved yesterday by Europe’s parliament would allow the approval of new products, but also implements a system to trace and label biotech crops, food products and animal feed derived from biotech crops.

“We will now have the most rigorous premarketing assessment of [genetically modified] food and feed in the world,” said David Byrne, the EU health and consumer-protection commissioner.

The European Union’s 15 members must still adopt the rules passed by parliament, but it is expected that it will be approved this year, said Charlotte Hebebrand, special adviser in the agriculture and food-safety section of the EU delegation in Washington.

Environmental and consumer groups in the European Union praised the legislation, but U.S. farm groups said they would not work.

“The rules themselves on labeling and traceability are both commercially impossible and not scientifically justified,” Mr. Gaskill said.

The United States is the world leader in agricultural biotechnology.

Soybeans, corn and cotton are the most popular crops — 81 percent of all soybeans, 40 percent of corn and 73 percent of cotton crops have been genetically modified, according to U.S. Agriculture Department figures for this year.

St. Louis-based Monsanto is one of the largest producers of the crops, which are often genetically altered to withstand pests.

Because of the U.S. distribution system, which generally does not segregate biotech from conventional crops, a wide array of U.S.-made products sold in the European Union would be affected by the rules.

While some crops sales are limited now — corn farmers estimate they lose $300 million annually in lost sales — new rules mean that biotech ingredients would have to be linked back to their origin and food products would have to be labeled.

Mr. Gaskill said soybean oil, cottonseed oil, animal feed, sweeteners and many processed foods like tortilla chips or taco shells would fall under the EU labeling requirements.

Food that contains 0.9 percent genetically modified ingredients would read “This product contains genetically modified organisms” or that it is “produced from genetically modified [name of organism].”

“There is a pretty significant impact because of the wide use of those [biotech] products in the U.S. for many years,” Mr. Gaskill said.

Mr. Mills said that the biotechnology regulations should be based on scientific evidence, should not prejudice consumers and should be feasible for producers.

“We are concerned that the proposed EU traceability and labeling regulation does not meet this standard,” he said.

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