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US trade chief urges Europe to open market to GM foods

by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Feb 10, 2011
A top US trade official said she will bang down the door of the European Commission Thursday in a bid to break a longstanding impasse blocking the march of genetically-modified foods.

"When Europeans come to the United States, they come and enjoy our cuisine with no concerns whatsoever," Deputy US Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said ahead of talks with European Union trade commissioner Karel De Gucht's senior officials.

"Why should we have different standards in Europe?

"We have very strict safety standards -- as do you -- and I think that alone is good reason to make sure that our products are able to be sold in Europe," she insisted.

"I will be raising that issue today -- it is important to address, and to continue to press the commission to go the right way.

"Decisions on GM foods need to be science-based," she stressed.

Europe has got itself into a bind on GM, with two crops currently greenlighted for production -- a maize strain for animal feed and a potato for paper-making -- but 15 outstanding requests for authorisation caught up in deadlock over what grounds can be used legally to block cultivation.

The EU stands accused of "flouting" WTO rules, with some member states and regions having banned crop production unilaterally, or declared themselves GM-free, and products containing traces also blocked at ports.

Only on Wednesday, disagreement on a committee of experts from the 27 EU states meant authorisation was denied for three new strains of GM maize and one of GM cotton to be grown by Syngenta and US giant Dow AgroSciences, although the commission will try again on March 1.

Intra-EU divisions also downed a separate commission proposal to lift import restrictions on animal foodstuffs containing traces of GM crops, up to a certain threshold, due to opposition from France and Poland.

Sapiro, though, has no such qualms, adding of the queue seeking authorisation: "Hopefully these products can be approved, even though we recognise concerns among some consumers.

"Hopefully, it will come out the right way... We hope it's not insoluble."

The commission wants a compromise that would allow states to block crop production on their territory, while allowing the free movement of GM goods, food and feed, on their territories.

Commission documentation lists reasons that may be given by a state, under the EU treaty and based on existing case-law, "to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation in all or part of its territory."

These include: public morals (religious, philosophical and ethical concerns); public order; preservation of organic and conventional farming systems; social policy objectives, eg for mountain regions; preservation of traditional farming methods or cultural heritage; and maintenance of certain habitats and ecosystems.

In each case, "the measure should also be justified, proportionate and non discriminatory," it spells out.

The best-known GM producer, another US giant Monsanto, is at the forefront of legal moves to open up the European single market, home to half a billion people and 20 million companies.

Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth have commissioned legal advice which argues that dropping a "zero tolerance" policy on even the smallest traces "to appease the industry lobby" will lead to a contaminated food chain and "would not be legal."

A petition signed by a million EU citizens seeking a moratorium on all GM crop production is currently gathering dust in a commission drawer.

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