Challenge Against Europe's Ban on GE Food
(from February 6, 2003)
The United States decided to temporarily withdraw from filing a case against the European Union (EU) regarding the EU's four-year-old ban on genetically modified food, according to the New York Times. While the U.S. still disagrees with the ban, the challenge is being delayed as the U.S. seeks European cooperation in the case against Iraq. "There is no point in testing Europeans on food while they are being tested on Iraq," said a senior White House official who asked not to be identified.
Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, called the ban on GE food "immoral," saying that it was leading to starvation in the developing world. Officials claim the current ban on GE is affecting developing nation's decision to accept such food from the U.S.
Europeans have generally been suspicious of genetically modified food, and their suspicions are warranted. Over 70% of all genetically modified organisms are altered to be herbicide-resistant, resulting in even greater use of toxic chemicals on food. Other crops are engineered to produce their own pesticide in the form of Bacillus thurengiensis (Bt). Organic farmers use Bt sparingly and only as a last resort, but thousands of acres of GE crops contain Bt. It's only a matter of time before insects become resistant to Bt, some scientists say as little as 3-5 years. Then organic farmers will be left without this important tool. Other concerns with GE crops include the drift of genetically modified pollen into inappropriate areas such as organic farms, worries about potential allergens, soil damage and harm to wildlife.
Considering the potential dangers of GE crops and the pending lift of the EU ban, many European consumers are demanding rigorous testing and strict labeling of all food that has been genetically modified. The U.S. is still in disagreement. In response to the demand for labeling, the U.S. Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food safety Elsa Murano said, "That implies that there is something wrong with genetically modified food. It would be another kind of trade barrier." Other critics argue that labeling is too expensive. "Labeling is a sham," said Mary Kay Thatcher, lobbyist for American Farm Bureau, a powerful agricultural group. "It would be so expensive, it would shut down our exports."
For the time being, European consumers will not have to worry about genetically modified organisms in their food supply. However, the U.S. is still planning to bring a suit to the World Trade Organization against the Europeans at a less conflicting time.
See Beyond Pesticides' Genetically Engineered Food Program Page for more information.