Bush & US Agribusiness Complain About New EU GE Food Labeling Rules

Bush & US Agribusiness Complain About New
EU GE Food Labeling Rules

US grain sector irked by Europe's GMO rules
By K.T. Arasu

CHICAGO, July 25 (Reuters) - Captains of the U.S. grain industry on
Wednesday lambasted Europe's rules on food derived from gene-modified
crops, saying they were unworkable, smacked of a trade barrier and would
lead to higher consumer prices.

The Bush administration also criticized the European Union's new rules,
which aim to clearly identify all foods containing gene-spliced
ingredients.

"Our major concern is that this proposal extends far beyond health
protections for consumers and in fact creates onerous and impractical
regulatory barriers," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in
a statement.

"These trade and business obstacles are particularly unfortunate given
the strong interest of the developing world in tapping biotechnology to
improve nutrition, lower food costs and reduce reliance on pesticides,"
the top U.S. trade negotiator added. His statement stopped short of
threatening to challenge the new rules before an international trade
body.

FARM GROUPS BLAST LABELS AS UNNECESSARY

Grower groups also attacked the new food labels.

"My initial reaction is Europe has bought the last ounce of grain from
anywhere around the world," said Tony Anderson, chairman of the American
Soybean Association.

The United States is the world's largest grain exporter and the largest
producer of genetically modified (GMO) crops. But the use of GMO crops
by U.S. farmers has stalled on protests from consumer groups, led by
Europeans, who demand more tests of potential effects on food safety and
the environment.

The new EU provisions require labels for all foods derived from GMO
crops. In the case of processed goods, records tracing crop origin to
the farm must be kept.

Labeling was also required for refined products such as corn or soyoil,
even when the original GMO content is removed during the production
process. These products will have to be labeled as coming from GMOs
although not containing them.

Anderson said the regulations would severely limit the flow of GMO crops
that are being widely grown in many of the top grain-exporting countries
into Europe.

He also said the EU's new 1 percent "tolerance level" of unauthorized
GMOs in food and feed allowed by the European Commission should be
raised to 5 percent.

He said the "traceability" rule would be difficult to implement due to
the huge volumes of grains handled by the industry and the number of
times the supplies change hands.

MORE BIO-FOODS TO BE APPROVED?

The new rules were designed to open the door to restarting the EU's
approval process for GMOs. The process has been stalled for three years,
causing major trade friction with the United States.

"The provisions for traceability ensure a high level of environmental
and health protection and pave the way for a proper labeling system," EU
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said. "Certainly there is a
cost for the producers and for trade, but what is at stake is our
ability to build public confidence."

But Alex Jackson, director of regulatory affairs at the American Farm
Bureau Federation, said: "I don't think from what I have seen that this
is workable. This concerns me a great deal."

He said labeling was unnecessary. "The United States has approved these
products as being safe for humans and animals. These food products are
one of the most reviewed and studied."

Jackson said the Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups would urge
the U.S. Agriculture Department to ask the European Union to clarify the
guidelines, which he said "can be seen as a technical barrier to trade."


WHY NO LABELS ON WINES, YOGURT?

Lynn Jensen, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, said the
rules seem hypocritical. "From what I understand, the rules do not cover
any of their products made from biotech material such as wines, cheeses
and yogurt."

"It really applies to corn and soybeans, which affects the U.S. farmers.
Also, their 1 percent tolerance is an interesting number since organic
production within Europe has a 5 percent tolerance for any type of
outside sources."

He said the rules were the result of public pressure. "The underlying
reason for it is that politicians are simply under pressure to do
something, since they haven't done anything the last two years, and this
is their answer," he said.

Jensen said the traceability rule was a major hitch. "The traceability
rule is going to make it difficult for anybody in the world to comply,"
he said, adding that the identity preservation methods now used to track
grain could not be used on a large scale.

"IP requires all the ingredients in a product to be literally able to go
back to the farmer and the field they were produced on. That sounds
simple enough in a niche market, but when you get into a macro market
where hundreds of farmers have been a part of that sandwich, it becomes
extremely difficult."

A spokesman for farmer-owned grain processor Ag Processing Inc. said
the rules could also lead to higher consumer prices. "There's going to be
costs associated with what they are asking for," AGP's Mike Maranell
said.

(With additional reporting by Randi Fabi)
22:26 07-25-01

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