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U.S. and Europe headed for 'food fight'?

March 22, 2003
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The United States and Europe may be on a collision course over the regulation of genetically modified food, according to government policy advisors speaking at the aptly titled policy dialogue, "Are the U.S. and Europe Heading for a Food Fight over Genetically Modified Food?"

"Both the U.S. and European Union (EU) governments have the same goal regarding food policy: ensuring food and environmental safety," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, which sponsored the Washington, D.C., event. "However, each government has embarked on a disparate approach to the issue, reflecting different experiences, political philosophies and cultures. As a result, it may be hard to avoid a major 'food fight' over agricultural biotechnology commodities."

U.S. agriculture is particularly concerned about an EU proposal requiring labeling on all food and feed containing or derived from genetically modified organisms. Adopted by the European Commission (EC) and pending in Parliament, the proposal would also require documentation tracing biotech products through each step of grain handling and food production.

David Hegwood, Trade Advisor to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, said, "Our government has an effective regulatory system to ensure the safety of foods derived from modern biotechnology. We believe biotechnology is an important tool that can help to increase food production, preserve natural resources, and improve health and nutrition throughout the world...We believe the EU proposal would disrupt international trade without serving any legitimate food safety or environmental safety objectives."

Tony Van der haegen, Minister-Counselor for Agriculture, Fisheries and Consumer Affairs of the EC said, "Unless we restore EU consumer confidence in this new technology, genetic modification of food is dead in Europe. The Commission's July labeling and traceability proposal is intended to be a first step to increase that confidence."

Van der haegen explained that consumer confidence in GMO products has eroded as a result of past food scares in Europe and poor handling of the biotech issue by industry members. Due to a "crisis of confidence" in science and government, a large percentage of the European public "does not agree with the national and international science and regulatory bodies that deem GMOs safe," added Julia Moore, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "If a trade war is looming, it will not be about food. Rather, it will be about who the public trusts to make choices about 21st century technologies and who they see benefiting from the science."

Fred Yoder, president-elect of the National Corn Growers Association, and a farmer from Plain City, Ohio, noted that while U.S. producers are willing to meet the demands of international customers, the cost segregating conventional and biotech crops as they journey from farm to table will result in higher product prices.

The policy dialogue, one in a series sponsored by the Pew Initiative, was intended to stimulate discussion of differences between Europe and U.S. in regard to genetically modified food.

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