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Speaker of the House testifies in front of Congress on EU GMO moratorium.

U.S. negotiators should press the World Trade Organization to act against a European Union moratorium on the importation of genetically modified foods, which U.S. farmers say is costing them millions of dollars annually, several witnesses including House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Il1.) told the House Agriculture Committee March 26.

Scientists and agricultural experts told the committee that while there have not been any scientific studies concluding that agricultural biotechnology products are unsafe, the EU continues its 1998 ban and that the ban is WTO inconsistent.

Hastert, the first House Speaker since 1997 to testify to the House Agriculture Committee, said the EU ban creates artificial barriers for U.S. agriculture trade and amounts to protectionism. "Over the last few years, we have seen country after country implementing protectionist, discriminatory trade policies under the cloak of food safety -- each one brought on by emotion, culture, or their own poor history with food safety regulation," Hastert told lawmakers. "We have seen discriminatory policies such as those imposed by the European Union and other countries on agricultural biotechnology; the use of geographical indications to protect agricultural goods; and the taxation of goods that include agricultural products, such as the tax on soft drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup in Mexico."

Hastert said the EU and other countries argue that genetically modified foods are "new and special" foods that are questionable for human consumption. "In fact, since the dawn of time, farmers have been modifying plants to improve yields and create new varieties resistant to pests and diseases," Hastert said. "Why would we want to snuff out human ingenuity that benefits farmers and consumers alike?"

Hastert said the discrimination against U.S. genetically modified foods is spreading throughout the world. China, he said, has developed new rules for the approval and labeling of biotech products. He noted that though the labeling implementation has been delayed, such a program would result in higher production costs for farmers. "And what exactly are we labeling?" Hastert said. "There is general consensus among the scientific community that genetically modified food is no different from conventional food. What's different is not the content of the food, but the process by which it is made. Labeling genetically modified products would only mislead consumers and create an atmosphere of fear."

The EU ban has cost U.S. farmers more than $300 million in exports annually, Hastert said. Further, the problem is increasing because several African nations have rejected U.S. food aid because of fear that the EU countries will not accept their food exports if genetically modified seeds spread to their domestic crops.

Hastert said he and nine representatives sent a letter to President Bush urging the U.S. government to take a case against the EU to the WTO. "It is my opinion that official WTO action is the only course that would send a clear and convincing message to the world that discriminatory policies on biotechnology, which are not based on sound science, are illegal," Hastert said.

Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) told lawmakers that those opposed to genetically modified foods push the "precautionary principle." "They say you don't know what effect this will have on 10 generations from now, Smith said. "There's really an effort to use this to keep out American competition, but no one complains about the great drugs we're getting from biotechnology."

Rep. William Janklow (R-S.D.) said it is a "waste of time" to talk about the science of biotechnology because there has not been one study against the safety of the process.

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the government needs to press WTO cases against the EU and China while continuing to advertise the benefits of genetically modified foods. "The product does not have pesticide, has better taste, vitamins," Goodlatte said. "It has benefits that could be advertised, and we're not frying to tell anyone what to eat."
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Title Annotation:United States, European Union; genetically modified foods
Comment:Speaker of the House testifies in front of Congress on EU GMO moratorium.(United States, European Union; genetically modified foods)
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 31, 2003
Words:648
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