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EU OKs tough new rules on biotech crops; part of U.S, EU healing process?

(Wednesday, July 2, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Constant Brand, Associated Press: BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Parliament passed tough new laws Wednesday on genetically modified products, opening the way for biotech foods in Europe as long as they are clearly labeled.

The United States has long pushed the EU to drop its biotech ban, but the new rules were unlikely to satisfy Washington, which has said mandatory labeling of biotech products will be too costly for exporters.

The 626-member assembly backed two proposals that would allow European countries to lift a seven-year freeze on the introduction of new biotech foods.

The regulations require producers to trace genetically modified organisms at all stages of production and oblige supermarkets to label products containing more than 0.9 percent biotech material to say: "This product is produced from GMOs."

"This is a huge step forward in giving choice to citizens," said EU Health Commissioner David Byrne. "All foods whether prepackaged, or not, will have to be labeled."

The new laws also allow the 15 EU nations to set their own rules to prevent seeds from farms growing GM crops blowing on to fields of conventional or organic produce.

Environmentalists welcomed the vote. Greenpeace said it would give the EU, "the world's strictest and most comprehensive rules on the labeling of genetically modified organisms."

Skeptical European consumers can continue to shun biotech products, the group said.

"This vote is a slap in the face of the U.S. administration, which thought that by bullying ... Europe, and eventually others, would swallow its GMO policy," said Eric Gall, Greenpeace EU adviser on genetic engineering.

Washington has said the laws, as proposed, would continue to constitute an unfair trade barrier to biotech product imports.

Backed by Canada and Australia, the United States says the EU's cautious approach is based on unfounded health fears. The three have filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization to force Europe to lift the moratorium.

U.S. farmers estimate the European restrictions have cost them nearly $300 million a year in lost corn exports alone.

The moratorium on new biotech foods was introduced in 1998, in response to consumer fears about the possible health risks genetically modified products.

U.S. and EU, Making Up in Many Ways
By Nora Boustany
The Washington Post

After friends and lovers quarrel and make up, relationships sometimes improve. Reconciliation can lead to a bond that is more solid than ever. This is not an advice column for the lovelorn, but the guidance does track closely with the outcome of the latest United States-European Union summit.

The Washington meetings yielded an extradition agreement, prospects for transatlantic aviation rights and a frank exchange in the dispute about genetically modified foods.

Guenter Burghardt, the EU ambassador to Washington, said the meetings went a long way toward moving beyond "a real family quarrel and the washing of dirty linen" over whether it was right to go to war against Iraq.

"Let me quote President Bush," Burghardt said in an interview last week, citing remarks by Bush in Krakow, Poland, last month. "This is no time to stir up divisions. When Europe and America are united, no problem and no enemy can stand against us."

Progress was made in the area of research into hydrogen energy alternatives, Burghardt said. The United States and the European delegates also issued a joint statement on weapons of mass destruction and agreed to further efforts on fighting global terrorism.

Among those attending were European Commission President Romano Prodi, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. The leaders also met with President Bush last Wednesday. U.S. officials at the Oval Office meeting included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that the Bush administration also had a positive view of the contacts, calling the talks a "very substantive summit" that made progress in the areas of anti-terrorism cooperation.

The European and U.S. representatives signed an extradition treaty in a ceremony at the Justice Department, allowing for the establishment of joint international investigations and access to suspect bank accounts. Under the new treaty, the United States also won the right to request the extradition of criminals at least one year after imprisonment. In return, the United States would certify that those extradited would not face the death penalty, a longtime sticking point for EU members.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, is scheduled to vote today on legislation concerning labeling of genetically modified food products, which European critics have dubbed "Frankenfood."

The subject has raised angry accusations on both sides, with the Bush administration charging that the delay in an agreement on genetically modified foods was obstructing U.S. efforts to combat hunger in Africa.

Burghardt rejected that charge. "We are giving more in food aid" to Africa than is the United States, he said. "We are giving cash and not telling nations what to buy. This is not about having the moral high ground. We explained to President Bush such accusations complicated our task domestically," he said.

In Brussels yesterday, European Parliament President Pat Cox said at a news conference that he also rejected linking the issue of genetically modified food to famine on the African continent. "We don't need to be lectured on humanitarian priorities," Cox said in the Belgian capital.

According to Burghardt, Bush told his European guests last week that he did not want to complicate their work but that he was eager that they establish guidelines to help lift the ban.

Burghardt said talks are to begin in the fall on landing rights for European air carriers in the United States. "We want to open the skies, not only on a bilateral level, so we will have one huge airspace or aviation marketplace," he said. "The European Commission will negotiate for all member states."

Africans Counter Free-Trade Hypocrisy

What good is free trade if it's not really free?

That's a question African leaders raise almost continually, and last week two African presidents traveled to Washington to make their case in person.

"We cannot understand that international trade rules are being advocated all the time, but the countries that advocate those rules do not accept competition," President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali said at a press breakfast at the Washington Hilton.

Toure and President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, co-chairmen of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, were direct in urging the United States and other developed nations to abandon their own subsidies, tariffs and other policies that run counter to the free trade gospel they preach to the rest of the world.

Because U.S. farm subsidies make American agricultural products more attractive than African products on the open market, Toure said, they negate the effect of U.S. aid. "What we lose is much higher than the assistance given to us," the Malian leader said. "Subsidies simply mean fewer schools in our countries, fewer health centers."

Chissano joked that there was one scenario under which the United States could keep its subsidies without hurting poorer countries: boosting foreign aid to the level of domestic subsidies. "Give us the capacity to give subsidies to our producers," Chissano said, "so that we can compete on an equal basis."