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U.S. rips Europe's biotech food plan

(Thursday, July 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Philip Braher, Des Moines Register: Washington, D.C. - The European Parliament on Wednesday approved strict labeling rules for foods made from genetically engineered ingredients, a major step toward lifting a moratorium on new biotech crops.

"Europe will now have a comprehensive and transparent system of authorization and labeling that can only enhance business and consumer confidence," said David Byrne, the European Union's health and consumer protection commissioner.

But the Bush administration, which is seeking to overturn the moratorium through the World Trade Organization, denounced the labeling rules as excessive. The new law would require labeling of foods and animal feed that contain more than 0.9 percent biotech ingredients, primarily corn or soy.

The rules "may lead other countries to block trade by imposing detailed information, traceability and labeling requirements and prompt a host of new nontariff barriers just when we were trying to stimulate global trade," said Richard Mills, spokesman for the U.S. trade representative.

The labeling rules approved by the parliament, which is a consultative branch of the European Union, must be ratified by the EU"s 15 member countries, but that is considered a formality.

Under the law, even products such as vegetable oil in which the bioengineered genes cannot be detected would have to be labeled. Ingredients also would have to be tracked from the farm.

Additionally, EU countries will be allowed to set restrictions on where biotech crops can be grown within their borders to prevent cross-pollination with conventional or organic crops.

The U.S. government considers approved biotech crops no different from conventional varieties and has no labeling requirement for foods. Biotech corn and soy are found in many products in U.S. stores, from snack chips to cereals.

The most widely grown U.S. biotech crops were approved for sale in Europe before the moratorium was imposed in 1998.

Still, European resistance to genetically engineered food has slowed the spread of biotechnology by discouraging farmers in many regions of the world from using gene-altered seeds for fear of losing European markets.

The 0.9 percent threshold is so low that it will be virtually impossible to avoid labeling U.S. commodities as biotech, said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"The threshold appears to be rather arbitrary and pointless, unless one"s point is to continue to restrict imports and protect domestic producers," Stallman said.

Val Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization said the rules would discourage food manufacturers from using biotech ingredients.

The National Corn Growers Association is concerned that the law's planting restrictions could discourage imports of U.S. grain.

"If it's good enough for our farmers, then it's good enough for their farmers," said Hayden Milberg, a biotech expert for the group.

Forty-five percent of the corn and 84 percent of the soybeans growing in Iowa this year are genetically engineered, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.