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U.S. Gene-Altered Crops Rejected Overseas

U.S. Gene-Altered Crops Rejected Overseas

Wednesday, June 27, 2001
By Environment News Network

U.S. exports of crops with a biotech component are facing restrictions in
foreign markets, says a new report by the General Accounting Office, the
research arm of the U.S. Congress. The report was requested by Iowa Sen.
Charles Grassley, now senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

In many parts of the world, consumer concerns are growing about the safety
of biotech foods, which have led key market countries to implement or
consider regulations that may restrict U.S. biotech exports.

As the single major producer of biotech food crops, the United States has
been relatively isolated in its efforts to maintain access to markets for
these products.

Gene-altered crops were introduced into the marketplace by Monsanto in the
mid-1990s; the first crop of transgenic soybeans was introduced in 1996. The
Monsanto seeds are altered so that the crops are resistant to the Monsanto
herbicide Round-Up.

Since that time, genetically modified seeds have been accepted by some
American production farmers. More than 55 percent of all soybeans, 30
percent of corn, and 35 percent of cotton acres are planted with genetically
altered crops.

Pure foods advocates, such as Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers
Association, maintain that genetic modification "is inherently unpredictable
and dangerous for humans, for animals, the environment, and for the future
of sustainable and organic agriculture."

They object that transnational biotechnology corporations are becoming the
architects and owners of life by altering or disrupting the genetic
blueprints of living organisms�plants, animals, humans,
microorganisms�patenting them, and then selling the resulting foods, seeds,
or other products for profit.

Since 1998, the European Union has effectively blocked approval of new
agricultural biotech products. New regulations and guidelines that may
further restrict exports of biotech products, such as requirements for
labeling and traceability, or tracking, are being enacted or considered by
U.S. trading partners and are being discussed in international
organizations.

The European Union, Japan, and Korea have enacted mandatory labeling
requirements on foods containing or derived from biotech products.

Australia and New Zealand passed laws on August 4, 1999, mandating the
labeling of all foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This
law took effect at the end of 2000.

Japan has instituted a labeling law that came into force in April 2000.
Already many Japanese food makers are beginning to seek non-GMO ingredients.
Kirin and Sapporo Breweries are switching to GMO-free feedstock, as is
Japan's largest grain miller.

Other countries are in the process of enacting similar regulations. The
European Union is expected to enact requirements for traceability of biotech
crops and foods throughout the distribution chain, a measure that could
further limit U.S. exports.

As countries move forward independently with regulatory measures,
international organizations are also developing guidelines and rules for
biotech products.

Multilateral discussions affecting biotech trade are taking place in the
Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets international food safety
standards, and the Biosafety Protocol, a United Nations environmental
agreement.

U.S. corn and soybean exports are most threatened by new foreign regulatory
measures because of their biotech content. While U.S. soybean exports have
not yet experienced disruptions, U.S. corn exports have been largely shut
out of the European Union market because American farmers are producing some
biotech varieties that have not been approved for marketing in the EU.

In contrast, only one biotech variety of soybeans is now in general
production in the United States, and this variety has been approved in most
major markets, including the European Union. Still, U.S. soybean exports
could also encounter difficulties in the future if foreign regulations are
adopted that would raise handling costs by ultimately requiring segregation
of biotech from conventional varieties.

Biotech and conventional varieties are typically combined in the U.S. grain
handling system, which relies on the efficiency of mixing crops from
multiple sources.

U.S. industry contends that segregating biotech from conventional varieties
would raise handling costs, and that completely removing traces of biotech
grain from bulk shipments may not be possible. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) views biotech crops as a way to increase crop yields and
feed more people.

The agency uses the example of an Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientist who used biotechnology to pinpoint a gene that could help wheat, a
major food staple, grow on millions of acres worldwide that are now hostile
to the crop. ARS scientists have also developed an experimental potato
hybrid that contains genes to resist a new, more virulent strain of the
so-called "late blight," the disease that caused the Irish potato famine in
the 1840s.

The USDA says biotechnology can help farmers reduce their reliance on
insecticides and herbicides. For example, Bt cotton, a widely grown biotech
crop, kills several major cotton pests, the agency points out.

The GAO report concludes that foreign regulations governing biotech
varieties could affect all U.S. exports of these commodities as well as food
products containing or derived from biotech crops. That would include
products such as corn oil, soybeans, soybean meal, and soybean oil.

As international discussions in Codex and elsewhere take on greater
importance, the U.S. government faces increasing demands for staff resources
and coordination among the multiple agencies involved in biotech trade
issues. In an effort to protect the U.S. farmers who have invested in
biotech crops, U.S. officials are working to ensure that measures adopted by
other countries and international guidelines are consistent with member
countries' obligations under various agreements of the World Trade
Organization.

The two sides are clashing during the biotechnology industry's annual
international conference and exhibition, BIO 2001, held in San Diego,
Calif., June 24 through June 27. The Organic Consumers Association is
mounting a campaign against recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and
other genetically engineered ingredients in Starbucks Coffee products that
is timed to coincide with the biotech industry's event.

The protests will be staged in San Diego and in Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Los
Angeles; San Francisco; Minneapolis; New York; Buffalo, N.Y.; Philadelphia;
Washington, D.C.; Albuquerque; Dallas; Houston; and London.

Copyright 2001, Environmental News Network

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