E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Consumer trust in government is key to policies on genetically modified food -- on both sides of the Atlantic

(Oct. 24, 2001 – CropChoice news) – The following is a press release from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

Washington, D.C. - The United States and Europe appear to be on a collision course over the regulation of genetically modified food, according to senior government policy advisors speaking today at a Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnolog dialogue entitled "Are the US and Europe Heading for a Food Fight Over Genetically Modified Food?"

"Both the U.S. and EU governments have the same goal regarding food policy: ensuring food and environmental safety," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Initiative. "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."

The value of US-European agricultural trade is estimated at $57 billion, and some in the U.S. agriculture community are concerned that a new European Union proposal could be a barrier to much of that trade. The EU proposal, adopted by the European Commission (EC) this summer and now pending in Parliament, which is expected to be implemented by early 2003, requires that all food/feed containing or derived from genetically modified organisms be labeled. It would also require documentation tracing biotech products through each step of the grain handling and food production processes. The proposal would particularly affect US corn gluten and soybean exports because a high percentage of those crops are genetically modified (26 percent of US corn and 68 percent of soybeans are genetically modified).

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 continue to express serious concerns about the EC’s July 25th proposal for traceability and mandatory process-based labeling. 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.

European experience with food safety and environmental issues is quite different than the American experience: consumer confidence has been eroded due to food scares in the past, in addition to the way the biotech industry has handled the issue in Europe. Moreover, serious scientific mistakes were made (BSE or ‘mad cow’ could not jump the species barrier, so said the scientists, who were later proven wrong). As a result, science is no longer a quality label any more in Europe. Although genetically modified foods may even be safer than conventional products, our consumers are nevertheless demanding that we in government protect their ‘right to know’ the content and origin of the food they consume. Until now, in a context of food surplus, GM food has no added value, so why take the risk, the EU consumer is asking."

Julia Moore, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said, "In Europe there is a ‘crisis of confidence’ in both science and government. A large percentage of the public does not agree with the national and international science and regulatory bodies that deem GMOs safe. 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, said, "There are real benefits to biotech corn, which is why so many American farmers have been quick to adopt the technology. But U.S. corn producers have been hurt in the European export market due to concern and misconceptions over biotechnology. American producers are willing and able to meet the demands of our international customers. However, constructing a system to keep these conventional and biotech crops separate as they move from the farm to the consumer's table will cost more and subsequently require higher prices. Most importantly, we need customer acceptance and market access for our products."

The policy dialogue, one in a series hosted by the Initiative, was hosted in an effort to stimulate an informative discussion about the political, economic and cultural differences between the European Union and the United States regarding the regulation of genetically modified food, in the hope that the Initiative’s participation will help frame the international debate. It was moderated by David Gergen, counsel to four presidents and author, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership from Nixon to Clinton. To read more about the dialogue or to watch the webcast of the event, go to www.connectllive.com/events/pewagbiotech.