Agricultural Trade Squeals

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

Agricultural Trade Squeals


Byline: Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

European Union officials adamantly refuse to let the World Trade Organization save them from themselves.

Despite a 2005 WTO ruling that some European countries were breaking international trade rules by prohibiting the importation of gene-spliced, or "genetically modified (GM)," crops and foods, Europe remains recalcitrant, unrepentant - and on the verge of slaughtering its own livestock industry.

European Union agriculture ministers failed yet again Monday to permit imports of five biotech crops intended for animal feed, causing a group that represents European farmers to warn that without greater use of gene-spliced crops, the livestock industry could be decimated.

European shortages of grain for animal feed and soaring prices - caused by both the rejection of gene-spliced grains and the diversion of corn to production of ethanol for fuel - are causing panic among livestock producers. Pig and poultry farmers have been forced to reduce their output, while consumer consumption is down because of higher prices.

Although the WTO bluntly scolded the EU for imposing a moratorium on gene-spliced crop approvals from 1998 to 2004, that finding was a foregone conclusion. European politicians, including then-EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem, had acknowledged that the moratorium was "an illegal, illogical, and otherwise arbitrary line in the sand."

The WTO also made clear that national bans on certain gene-spliced foods in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg were blatant violations both of those countries' treaty obligations and EU rules, but the European Commission has been impotent in persuading its rogue members to conform to EU policies. Not only are most of those national bans still in place, but last October, French President Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a new moratorium on the commercial cultivation of gene-spliced corn.

The most important victory for the United States and its partners was the WTO's judgment that the European Commission failed to abide by its own regulations by "undue delaying" of approvals for 25 gene-spliced food products. The culprit here was (and is) the EC's highly politicized, sclerotic, two-stage approval process: Each application first must be cleared for marketing by various scientific panels, and then voted on by politicians, who routinely contravene the scientific decisions.

As the WTO pointed out, the relevant EC scientific committees had recommended approval of all 25 product applications. But, for transparently political reasons rather than concerns about consumer health or environmental protection, EU politicians repeatedly refused to sign off on the final approvals.

It is important to remember that these are superior products made with state-of-the art technology that is both more precise and predictable than other techniques for the genetic improvement of plants. The safety and importance of gene-splicing technology have been endorsed by dozens of scientific bodies around the world, including the French Academies of Science and Medicine, U.K. Royal Society, U. …

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