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USDA and German Green Party Debate Frankenfoods in UK

USDA and German Green Party
Debate Frankenfoods in UK

The Herald (United Kingdom), January 4, 2002

EUROPE AND US STILL IN DISPUTE OVER GM FOODS

Protectionism remains the key stumbling block to an understanding between the European Union and the United States that could lead to agreement on food and agriculture in the current round of trade liberalisation talks under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The opening day of the annual Oxford Farming Conference yesterday heard government speakers demonstrate the clearest acceptance yet of the need for fundamental reform of farm policies on both sides of the ocean to boost trade and help kickstart the global economy. However, they remain at variance over the EU's ''precautionary principle'' concept. This concept, which effectively bans the import of genetically-modified (GM) foodstuffs to the EU, was not based on good science or any other measurable criteria, said US farm secretary Ann Veneman.

It militated against new technology and stymied developments that could benefit farmers and consumers world-wide.

Calling for greater co-operative efforts in this field, she reminded delegates that much of the first Oxford conference in 1936 had been devoted to the question of how to deal with the advent of combine harvesters.

She also reminded them that a great deal of progress had been made at the WTO's Doha meeting last autumn.

''No progress is not an option. Increasing trade is the best way of stimulating the global economy, and agriculture and food feature on that agenda,'' she said. ''We need to take the long view and recognise the global context, become more market orientated, take account of developing countries and of the new technology.''

However, while Matthias Berninger, the Green parliamentary state secretary for consumer protection, food and agriculture in the German government, went along with Veneman's other theme of phasing out export subsidies, he remained unimpressed with her arguments on new technology.

European consumers had a right to both food security and food safety, he said. This implied a right to be informed, which meant clear labelling, to be able to choose and to be heard.

These rights were enshrined in the ''precautionary principle''. The people had made it clear they did not want genetically- modified foodstuffs.

They had also made it clear they wanted more organic food, which was why Germany had set a target of 20% of food production by this method by 2010 against the current 3% to 4%. The debate would then be how much co-operation there would be between these two sectors and how much they could learn from each other, for example in terms of animal welfare.

European authorities had learned their lessons from salmonella, BSE and pesticides in food. They had to tell consumers not only whether the product was safe but also whether it was genetically modified.

Veneman said this flew in the face of current agreements on food trade. US consumers had much more faith in their national regulatory systems and accepted GM foods.

The two keynote speakers also found themselves deadlocked on the question of special access to EU and US markets for produce from developing countries.

Berninger said there was enough money in these, and the Japanese, markets to afford opportunities to help the poorest countries. But Veneman was against

the creation of more ''boxes''

controlling international trade.

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