Irish diplomat on EU-US biotech disputes: 'We have scientists, too'

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 - The European Union finally got its day in court yesterday - or maybe just its day at the CropLife America Annual Policy Meeting, where Irish diplomat, scientist and farmer John Dardis defended the EU for its stringent biotechnology and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards.

Together we can feed the Bees"

“Believe it or not, we have scientists in Europe,” Dardis joked. He argued lawmakers in the European governing body adhere to the “precautionary principle,” the idea that policymakers themselves must prove the safety of a policy in the absence of a scientific consensus.

Chris Parker, an Australian diplomat who spoke at the same CropLife America event, said diverging scientific standards result from differing “levels of risk.” American scientists, he argued, are simply more willing to shoulder the burden of risk of biotech products and loosened SPS requirements than their overseas counterparts.

But there may still be a way forward, Parker said: Through “strong international standard setting bodies that rely on the best available science in the world.” Parker argued that groups like the World Trade Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) would be key to harmonizing the asynchronous regulations that have lead to international trade disputes.

The system “is not perfect,” Dardis conceded. But he also stressed that the 27-member EU struggles with competing interests and priorities. When it comes to lactic acid disputes - a priority in beef-exporting Ireland - “There are some member states where importing beef is not of interest to them. Why would they do anything about that?” he explained.

The diplomats' comments come at a critical time in EU-United States relations. Upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations loom, and just last week, Washington farm trade expert James D. Grueff told a House committee that those talks could be “the most challenging and complicated agricultural negotiation ever attempted.” Last month, Acting United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis called EU rules barring US agricultural exports “discriminatory or otherwise unwarranted.”

Just two genetically modified (GM) crops have been approved by the EU since the technology's debut 14 years ago, and one of those - Monsanto's MON810 maize - has been held up in renewal processes since 2007. As of 2012, 75 products were held up in the European approval pipeline, and a joint EuropaBio-BIO report estimates that number could grow to 100 by 2015.

Before the United States produced GM corn, 60 percent of the country's crop had been exported to Europe. Today, that percentage has fallen to almost zero.

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