US Launches Trade War With
Europe over GE Foods

The Independent (UK)
Bush baits Brussels over GM crops
By Jason Nissé
25 August 2002

The US government is to launch a trade war over GM crops in an attempt
to force the European Union to back down in its tough stance against GM.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the US trade representative,
Robert Zoellick, is putting in a complaint to the World Trade
Organisation claiming that the EU moratorium on GM imports and
crop-testing is a restraint of trade. His action is being backed by
Monsanto, the US biotechnology group that has been at the centre of the
development of GM crops.

It is frustrated by the byzantine structure of product authorisation in
the EU, which has effectively stopped the development and testing of GM
crops in Europe.

Under the existing structure seven EU states - France, Italy, Austria,
Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg and Belgium - have joined together since
1998 to block all new product authorisations for GM oil-seed rape,
maize, sugar beet and the like being imported from the US. Only US soya,
which was approved prior to 1998, is allowed to be sold in the EU.

The European Commission has already admitted that this "de facto
moratorium" on the import of GM products from the US, which has been in
place since 1998, is probably illegal. It is planning to replace it with
an updated, and likely to be tougher, general directive on GM products.

This will be discussed at an EU Council of Environment Ministers, due to
be held on 17 October.

A source in the biotechnology industry said: "We are praying that
Margaret Beckett [Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs] attends rather than Michael Meacher [the environment minister]
as she is much more sympathetic to our cause and will stand up against
the hard line taken in Europe."

The UK has the softest stance on GM in the EU, and is the only country
where widespread GM crop tests are ongoing. This testing programme ran
into controversy earlier this month when it emerged that the wrong seeds
were planted at 14 sites being run by Aventis Crops Sciences, a
subsidiary of the German chemical group, Bayer.

The 17 October meeting has been given extra spice by the intervention of
the US. It has told the World Trade Organisation that the blocking of
new product approvals on GM products is a restraint of trade, and wants
sanctions brought against the EU. At the same time the WTO is
considering a complaint by the EU, which says that US tariffs on steel
also break international trade rules. The Bush government softened its
steel stance late last week.

The action by Mr Zoellick has been seen by the GM crops industry as an
about- turn by the Bush administration, which is far less sympathetic to
the industry than the previous Clinton government. The US intervention,
however, has not been entirely welcomed by the GM industry.

Paul Rylott, head of bioscience at Aventis Crop Sciences, said that "it
may help to lance the boil in the short term" but that the EU was
getting to the point where it would consider softening its stance on GM.
"We'd prefer the debate to go forward with a consensus rather than being
steam-rollered," he added.



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