US disappointed by EU's new plan to allow biotech crop bans

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 22, 2015 - United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman and other national leaders expressed concern today regarding a proposal from the European Union that would allow its member states to opt out of imports of genetically engineered food and feed.

The proposal would amend legislation on the genetically engineered food and feed approval process in the EU and allow its member states to “ignore science-based safety and environmental determinations” according to a release from the office of the USTR. This would allow individual EU countries to make their own decision whether or not to permit importation of GE food and feed on the basis of socio-economic or other issues.

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In a statement, Froman said the proposal would be a hindrance to trade and job growth and would complicate agricultural trade. 

“We are very disappointed by today's announcement of a regulatory proposal that appears hard to reconcile with the EU's international obligations,” Froman said. “Moreover, dividing the EU into 28 separate markets for the circulation of certain products seems at odds with the EU's goal of deepening the internal market.”

And it couldn't have arrived at a worse time, with the White House and key congressional leaders trying to finish up new fast-track authority for negotiating future trade agreements, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with Europe.  

Some European countries aren't happy either. Agricultural interests in Spain, Britain and the Netherlands have gained support for biotechnology in crop production, while nations such as France and Austria want outright bans. Some environmental groups argued the proposal does not go far enough.

The proposal package, adopted today by the EU, delivered on a “political mandate” according to a European Commission fact sheet. In many cases, a sufficient majority does not vote either for or against approval of a new GE crop, which often gives an appellate body “little choice but to give the authorization.”

There are currently 58 GE crops authorized in the 28-member bloc, but to date, only one approved Monsanto seed trait has been grown commercially - mostly in Spain.

However, the US imports a substantial amount of feed and more than 60 percent of the vegetable protein comes from countries where genetically-modified seeds are widespread, the European Commission fact sheet says.

According to the European Commission, under the new plan, member states “would have to justify that their opt-out measures are compatible with EU law and the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination between national and non-national products.” They are not allowed to use justifications which conflict with an assessment of human and animal health risk conducted by the EU, but once a GE crop is approved by the EU, member states will have the opportunity “to opt out from allowing that particular GMO to be used in their food chain,” according to the Commission.

Froman added that while the U.S. and the EU are negotiating T-TIP terms, “proposing this kind of trade restrictive action is not constructive."

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House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, agreed, saying “it raises serious questions regarding Europe's commitment to these negotiations.” He said the proposal “ignores the scientific consensus regarding the safety of these products and flies in the face of existing trade agreements.”

The proposal will now go through what the EU calls its “ordinary legislative course,” which involves being submitted to the European Parliament and EU Council.

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