Conflict Continues Between US & EU Over GE Food Labeling & Crop Segregation

Conflict Continues Between
US & EU Over GE Food Labeling
& Crop Segregation

October 8, 2001

Europe May Lift Moratorium on Approvals
For GMOs If U.S. Accepts Labeling Rules


BRUSSELS -- The European Commission is willing to propose lifting a
moratorium on the approval of new genetically modified organisms, but it
wants assurances first that the U.S. won't resist the strict European
Union labeling rules for food containing GMOs.

David Byrne, the commissioner charged with enforcing EU food safety
standards, said in an interview that he would raise the issue with the
member states that have blocked new GMO crop approvals. He said he hoped
for a result "sooner rather than later," but added it would be a hard sell
in Europe if the U.S. continued to challenge the way the EU requires food
products with GMOs to be labeled.

Mr. Byrne will seek assurances that the U.S. is willing to comply with the
union's rules when he meets this week with top trade, agriculture and
consumer protection officials in Washington. He will also travel to
Atlanta to meet with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention to talk about combating bio-terrorism.

His trip comes as the EU reviews its policies on biotechnology, and as
members of the World Trade Organization prepare for a new round of trade
talks that will focus attention on agriculture, and genetically modified
crops in particular.

There are currently only 21 genetically modified crops approved in the EU,
vs. 40 in the U.S. The EU imposed a moratorium on additional GMO crops in
1998, because environment ministers weren't convinced EU rules could
guarantee that consumers would know when they were buying products
containing GMOs.

Europeans tend to view food with GMOs with suspicion. They are rattled by
a series of food scares and the recent outbreak of mad-cow disease.

Current EU rules require foods containing most genetically modified
ingredients to be labeled as such, but don't cover highly refined oils. In
July, the commission, the EU's executive branch, proposed that GMO labels
also be compulsory for all products containing highly refined corn and
soybean oil and soy-based lecithin -- even though there is no way to
detect the presence of genetically modified content in these because foreign
DNA is destroyed in the production process.

Food processors in both the U.S. and Europe oppose the commission
proposal. Even the current EU rules are viewed as unnecessary by the U.S.
government, which has argued the labeling is an unfair restraint on fair trade.
American companies complain that labeling needlessly alarms consumers and
hurts sales.

But Mr. Byrne said Europeans have a right to know exactly what they're
buying. "The only way to address this is to give consumers the information
they need to make a choice," he said.

The commission proposal does contain an important concession to the U.S.:
Food products could be imported to the EU even if they contain small
amounts of GMOs that aren't approved in the EU, though the products would
still have to be labeled. On that point, according to Mr. Byrne, "there
are those [in Europe] who take the view that we've already gone too far."

The commission proposal must be approved by member states and the European
Parliament. The Belgian government, which holds the rotating, six-month
presidency of the 15-nation EU, has said it would like to conclude
discussions on the proposal by year's end.

Now that the labeling proposal is on the table, "we need to get that [the
moratorium] issue moving," said Mr. Byrne. "I wouldn't be surprised if we
were getting to the point [in Europe] where the tide were about to turn"
on genetically modified crops, he said. But he stressed that it will be up to
the U.S. to accept the need for labeling.

The only way to meet EU requirements is to separate ingredients as GM or
non-GM all the way back to the farm, and few U.S. farmers have been
willing to make the effort. Emmett Sefton, a farmer in Dolton City, Illinois, said
it is "almost an impossibility" to keep genetically modified crops
separate from their conventional counterparts.

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