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US Frantically Pressures EU Bureaucrats on GE Food Labeling Rules

US Frantically Pressures EU Bureaucrats on GE Food
Labeling Rules

US presses EU for changes in crop rules
Updated: Fri, Jun 01 4:44 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expressed concern on Friday
about the European Union's plan to require new labeling and "traceability" rules
for genetically modified crops, EU officials said at their weekly briefing.

Acting on a recent letter from 19 U.S. industry groups, U.S. Undersecretary
of State Alan Larson pressed EU Health Commissioner David Byrne on the issue
in a telephone call Friday morning, the EU aides said.

"At the end, they have decided ... that the technical staff will meet again
and discuss the draft regulations," which are scheduled to be approved on
June 20 by the European Commission, the EU's executive body, an EU official
said.

"The commissioner tried to explain the political situation is such" that
both EU member states and the European Commission feel they must do
something to address consumer concerns about genetically-modified crops,"
the official said.

In a May 18 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the American
Farm Bureau Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers of American, and 17 other
farm and commodity groups warned the EU's proposed regulations threatened "a
$4 billion U.S. agricultural export market."

U.S. farm groups contend that the EU proposal to require the tracing of
grain crops back to their source is unworkable and unfairly discriminates
against the U.S., the world's leading producer of genetically-modified
crops.

"We're advising them we think there are elements in these draft regulations
that clearly have the potential to violate the EU's WTO (World Trade
Organization) commitments," Audrae Erickson, a trade expert for the Farm
Bureau, told Reuters.

"We're putting them on notice that we're concerned" and could challenge the
EU's new regulations at the WTO, she said.

At the briefing, EU officials defended the proposed regulations and said the
U.S. industry's estimate of how much trade could be affected was
exaggerated.

"On the basis of USDA (U.S. Agriculture Department) data, we think the (EU)
market (for U.S. farm goods) is approximately $2.2 billion," the EU official
said.

The higher figure of $4 billion may have been true in 1996, when U.S.
farmers first began planting genetically modified crops, but grain prices
have fallen and Argentina and Brazil have become bigger competitors since
then, the aide said.

Meanwhile, some "fundamental" provisions of the draft regulations are still
under discussion in Brussels, he said.

That includes the level of genetically modified crop material not approved
in the EU that would be allowable in bulk commodity shipments from other
countries.

As a move toward addressing U.S. concerns, the European Commission has
suggested setting the threshold for accidental contamination at 1 percent,
the aide said.

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