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US Complains About EU Resistance to US GE Exports
U.S. laments European stance on biotech foods
By Doug Palmer March 3, 1999

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials expressed frustration Wednesday
with European attitudes that threaten to block the acceptance of
genetically modified crops that have the potential to increase and
improve food production.

While the first generation of biotech crops focused on boosting
yields, varieties now being developed promise to improve the
nutritional content of food and even help fight human diseases, the
officials said.

``One of the fundamental problems is just the lack of leadership over
there,'' Tim Galvin, a top U.S. Agriculture Department official, told
a House Agriculture Committee panel.

In the wake of ``mad cow'' beef controversy of a few years ago, many
European Union consumers greatly distrust what their governments say
about food safety, he said.

That has made EU politicians reluctant to press the case for
genetically modified crops, even though there is no evidence the crops
pose any risk, Galvin said.

Jim Murphy, assistant U.S. trade representative for agricultural
trade, attributed European timidity regarding biotech crops to Old
World conservatism.

``They are culturally risk-averse to trying new things,'' he said,
adding that he jokes to his European friends that ``the definition of
an American is a risk-taking European.''

Those explanations drew a skeptical response from Rep. Thomas Ewing,
an Illinois Republican who chaired the subcommittee hearing on biotech
issues. Ewing's home state is the second largest U.S. corn and soybean
producer.

``I think they are dumb like a fox,'' Ewing said, arguing that EU
foot-dragging is disguised trade protectionism. ``They don't want us
in there. They don't want the competition.''

Last year, the United States shipped less than 3 million bushels of
corn to Spain and Portugal, down from 70 million in the 1996/97
marketing year, because of EU delays in approving genetically modified
varieties grown in the United States.

And ``unless the EU commits to timely review, our problems with corn
exports will continue,'' Roger Pine, president of the National Corn
Growers Association, told the panel. ``There are now five corn
approvals pending in the EU.''

In United States last year, 25 percent of the corn crop and 38 percent
of the soybean crop was grown from genetically modified seed
varieties.

Only about 2.5 percent of the 1998 corn crop was grown from varieties
not yet approved in the EU. But since modified varieties are mixed
freely with traditional corn, the approval delay threatens all U.S.
corn sales to the EU.

The United States cannot certify that a particular cargo is free of
biotech corn, Galvin said.

To prevent a repetition of last year's lost sales, the United States
hopes to assure the EU that it has little chance of importing any
varieties it has not yet approved, Murphy said. U.S. farmers who
planted those varieties have pledged to keep the corn out of export
channels, he said.

That may be the best chance for getting U.S. corn into Europe, because
the EU approval process for genetically modified food has essentially
``ceased to function'' amid all the controversy surrounding decisions,
Murphy said.

Proposals to fix the system could take two years or more to be
adopted, he said.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota Democrat, said the United States would
be wise to recognize a deep ``cultural resistance'' within Europe to
biotechnology, even if that is unfounded.

``We've got to understand we can't force our customer to eat our
food,'' Pomeroy said. ``Why the hell don't we segregate (genetically
modified corn) so we can certify what we sell?''

Galvin said the United States could do so eventually if the
marketplace were to pay a premium for segregated corn.

But it would be unfair to impose the huge cost of building separate
storage and handling facilities on the grain industry, he said.

REUTERS@ Reut19:04 03-03-99

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