- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2003

The term “Old Europe” has recently taken on a new connotation: Add “an aversion to technological improvements that could improve global welfare,” to the list of possible definitions. The Bush administration recently announced that last-ditch efforts to convince European officials to drop a de facto EU ban on genetically modified foods imports have failed. In the short term, the losers will be U.S. farmers — who lead the world in genetically-modified innovation — and the world’s hungry masses that benefit enormously from biotechnology breakthroughs which bolster the nutritional quality of crops.

The administration said it will now push forward its challenge to the EU ban in the World Trade Organization (WTO). If the United States wins there, then it would be entitled to levy retaliatory tariffs on European exports, creating long-term problems for Europe.

And Europe is already paying a price for its intransigence. According to the first Europe-wide study of the economic impact of genetically modified foods, its farmers would reap big dividends from biotechnology. The results of the first three case studies completed by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) showed that if European farmers were to grow genetically modified insect-resistant maize, herbicide-tolerant sugarbeet and fungus-resistant potato, annual yields would increase by 7.8 billion kilograms, 9.7 kilograms of pesticides would not have to be used and farm income would grow by $1.22 billion. The study found that the increased yields from biotech farming would allow an area larger than Luxembourg to be removed from production without any loss in output.

The study backs some statements President Bush made on genetically modified food. Mr. Bush said Monday that Europe’s ban was preventing African nations from experimenting with valuable technology. “For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology,” he said. The president added that Europe’s decision to block these farm exports was based on “unfounded and unscientific fears.”

Mr. Bush’s comments caused a stir in Europe. “It is one thing to disagree,” said Pascal Lamy, European trade commissioner. “It is another thing to use starvation to advance a position in this debate.”

But, unfortunately for Mr. Lamy and others, the starvation argument is valid. According to the NCFAP study, Europe’s largest benefit would come from using the fungus-resistant potato. This potato is resistant to “late blight,” a fungal infection that contributed to the Irish famine in the 1840s and continues to harm European crops.

The Bush administration is correct in defending the interests of the American farmer at the WTO and in pointing out the negative effects of the EU bio-ban on the developing world.

During a summit meeting of U.S. and EU leaders in Washington Wednesday, Mr. Bush joked, “Let’s go eat some genetically modified food for lunch.” Europeans in Europe — and Africans, for that matter — should be so lucky.

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