- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

Following are comments by Karil L. Kochenderfer, director, Environmental Affairs and New Technologies of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, at the Oct. 3 European Institute Roundtable in Washington, featuring Geoffrey Podger of the European Food Safety Authority:

The new Novel Food & Feed and Traceability & Labeling regulations build upon the existing labeling regime for biotech foods in Europe that has failed to meet its objective — to enhance consumer understanding about the safety of biotech foods and to provide choice for European consumers. Today, consumers in Europe have less knowledge and less choice about biotech foods, not more, and greater costs. And we in the U.S. agri-food community have little reason to be optimistic that things will change soon.

By singling out biotech foods for labeling, European policy-makers are misleading European consumers by saying these foods are somehow less safe or different than conventional foods, when they are not. And the consequences in the marketplace and in our trade relations, need I say, have been enormous.

Some have said few consumers read labels anymore. However true that statement may be, it reinforces my point.

What knowledge or informed choice will result from this misleading labeling regime? What less trade restrictive, and truly informative, approaches can we take together to inform consumers in Europe about the safety of biotech foods?

Some have said European consumers want choice — to which I respond, they have choice with the ability to purchase organic products in Europe thriving there (as a result of European Council Regulation 2092/01), just as it is here.

Here, we have a less trade-restrictive approach to the same goal … Moreover, wise politicians could harness the existing preference for non-biotech products among consumers in Europe and provide guidelines for labeling of products developed without the use of biotechnology. …

While we can recognize and appreciate the cultural differences between Europe and the United States, vis-a-vis biotechnology, there is no difference in how we view safety. Unsafe products should not be sold or marketed — period.

We applauded, therefore, the European Commission’s public announcement — after reviewing more than 80 studies on the topic — that biotech foods are as safe, if not safer, than conventional foods. And we now applaud your commitment to increasing the foundation of science in European policies and the role of scientific communications.

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