- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The European Union recently surrendered to sound science in the debate over genetically modified foods (GMOs). Specifically, EU commissioners lifted the six-year moratorium on GMOs by allowing the Swiss-based Syngenta to sell its sweet corn. David Byrne, the EU commissioner for health and consumer protection, said the corn “has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize. Food safety is therefore not an issue, it is a question of consumer choice.”

While the decision is a welcome one, it represents only a partial victory, since the EU continues to enforce tight labeling and traceability requirements on GMOs. Under EU dictates, records of all transactions involving GMOs — both where the materials came from and where they were sent — must be kept for years. In addition, all processed foods containing GMOs must be labeled as such. Coincidentally, the only exception is for foods processed by genetically-modified aids, such as enzymes used in the manufacture of wines and cheeses.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to formally hear the United States’ complaint against the EU ban in the near future. One of the first pieces of evidence that U.S. trade officials should offer is the recently released 2004 annual report of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It was unambiguous regarding the safety of GMOs: “Currently available transgenic crops and foods derived from them have been judged safe to eat and the methods used to test their safety have been deemed appropriate.” Besides, GMOs have been on the market for years. It would long have been obvious if they caused adverse health effects or provoked allergic responses.

More than 30 GMO products are awaiting EU approval, some whose applications have been standing for years. The time it takes for the EU to handle those applications, and those for new GMOs, will demonstrate its sincerity or lack thereof.

In the meantime, the U.S. has no reason to drop its WTO complaint, since European opposition to GMOs remains strong. Over the weekend, four Greenpeace activists blockaded a ship full of GMO maize and corn attempting to unload at the port of Corinth. Considering the nonexistent health risks of GMOs, it is likely that anti-GMO activists truly fear that genetically modified foods will not bite back, causing an adverse effect on their fundraising efforts.

In making the announcement, Mr. Byrne said, “I’m much happier to be guided by science than ideology.” Time will tell if EU commissioners — and consumers — will follow that wise guidance.

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