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International trade of genetically modified foods

The European Union and the United States have strong disagreements over the EU's regulation of genetically modified food. The US claims these regulations violate free trade agreements, the EU counter-position is that free trade is not truly free without informed consent.

In Europe, a series of unrelated food crises during the 1990s created consumer apprehension about food safety in general, eroded public trust in government oversight of the food industry, and left some consumers unwilling to consider "science" to be a guarantee of quality.

This has further fueled widespread ([1]) public concern about genetically modified organisms (GMO), in terms of potential environmental protection (in particular biodiversity), health, and safety of consumers. Critics of GM foods contend that there is evidence that the cultivation of genetically modified plants may lead to environmental changes. Directives such as directive 2001/18/EC were designed to require authorisation for the placing GMO on the market, in accordance with the precautionary principle. (see also Tax, tariff and trade).

Many European consumers are demanding the right to make an informed choice about whether or not to consume GMO foods. Some polls indicate that some Americans would also like labeling, but it has not become a major issue. New EU regulations are expected to require strict labeling and traceability of all food and animal feed containing more than 0.5 percent GM ingredients. Also Codex Alimentarius published a document to safe guard the GM food in 2003 [1] and further compliances need to be made if the GM food is for the purpose of exporting and importing [2].

A 2003 survey by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of people in all countries surveyed felt that GM foods were "bad". The lowest scores were in the US and Canada, where 55% and 63% (respectively) were against it, while the highest were in Germany and France with 81% and 89% disapproving. The survey also showed a strong tendency for women to be more opposed to GM foods than men. [2]

In 2002, Oregon Ballot measures gave voters in that state one of the first opportunities in the United States to directly address that issue. The measure, which would have required the labeling of genetically engineered foods, failed to pass by a ratio of 7 to 3.

Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, member of the German Green Party and vice president of the Landwirtschaftsausschuss (committee of agriculture) of the European Commission said on the 1 July 2003: "In America 55% of the consumers are against GM food and 90% in favor of a clear labeling."


Agricultural Trade Market Between USA and Europe

The European Union and United States are in strong disagreement over the EU's ban on most genetically modified foods.

The value of agricultural trade between the US and the European is estimated at $57 billion at the beginning of the 21st Century, and some in the U.S., especially farmers and food manufacturers, are concerned that the new proposal by the European Union could be a barrier to much of that trade.

In 1998, the United States exported $63 million worth of maize to the EU, but the exports decreased to $12.5 million in 2002.

The drop-off might also be due to falling commodities prices, less demand due to the recession, U.S. maize being priced out of foreign markets by a strong dollar, and importing countries' reaction to the planned invasion of Iraq. Similar European public opposition to Israeli treatment of Palestinians has also affected Israeli food exports. However, American farm industry advocates blame the EU's ban.

European Proposal over Genetically Modified Food

The European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety[3] proposal, adopted in the summer of 2002 and expected to be implemented in 2003, has deep cultural roots that are difficult to understand for the US agricultural community. It requires that all food/feed containing or derived from genetically modified organisms be labeled and any GM ingredients in food be traced. It would also require documentation tracing biotechnological products through each step of the grain handling and food production processes.

The new European tax, tariff and trade proposal would particularly affect US maize gluten and soybean exports, as a high percentage of these crops are genetically modified in the USA (about 25 percent of US maize and 65 percent of soybeans are genetically modified in 2002).

The ultimate resolution of this case is widely thought to rest on labeling rather than food aid. Many European consumers are asking for food regulation (demanding labels that identify which food has been genetically modified), while the American agricultural industry is arguing for free trade and is strongly opposed to labeling, saying it gives the food a negative connotation.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Watch indicates that American agricultural industry is "using trade agreements to determine domestic health, safety and environmental rules" because they fear that "by starting to distinguish which food is genetically modified, then they will have to distinguish energy standards, toxic standards that are different to those that European promotes."

The American Agricultural Department officials answer that since the United States does not require labeling, Europe should not require labeling either. They claim mandatory labelling could imply there is something wrong with genetically modified food, which would be also a trade barrier. Current U.S. laws do not require GM crops to be labeled or traced because U.S. regulators do not believe that GM crops pose any unique risks over conventional food. Europe answers that the labeling and traceability requirements are not only limited to GM food, but will apply to any agricultural goods.

The American agricultural industry also complains about the costs implied by labeling.

Official US complaint with the WTO

The ban over agricultural biotechnology things is said by some Americans to breach World Trade Organisation rules. Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, indicated the European position toward GMO was thought of as "immoral" since it could lead to starvation in the developing world or wars, as seen in some famine-threatened African countries (eg,Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique) that refuse to accept US aid because it contains GM food.

Zoellick's critics argue that US concern over Third World starvation is merely a cover for other issues. Some money for development aid is used by the American government via the World Food Programme (WFP) to help their farmers by buying up overproduction and giving it to the UN organisation. GM-scepticism interferes with this program. American farmers lost marketshare in certain countries after changing to genetically modified food because of sceptical consumers.

Another European response to the claims of immorality is that the EU gives 7 times more in development aid than the US, yet its economy is less than 10% bigger than America's, and its GDP/head much lower than that of the US.

In May 2003, after initial delay due to the war against Iraq, the Bush administration officially accused the European Union of violating international trade agreements, in blocking imports of U.S. farm products through its long-standing ban on genetically modified food. Robert Zoellick announced the filing of a formal complaint with the WTO challenging the moratorium after months of negotiations trying to get it lifted voluntarily. The complaint was also filed by Argentina, Canada, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, and Uruguay. The formal WTO case challenging the EU's regulatory system was in particular lobbied by U.S. biotechnology giants like Monsanto and Aventis and big agricultural groups such as the National Corn Growers Association.

EU officials questioned the action, saying it will further damage trade relations already strained by the U.S. decision to launch a war against Iraq despite opposition from members of the U.N. Security Council. The US move was also interpreted as a sanction against the EU for requesting the end of illegal tax breaks for exporters or face up to $4 billion in trade sanctions in retaliation for Washington's failure to change the tax law, which the WTO ruled illegal four years ago.

Ratification of the Biosafety Protocol by the EU Parliament

In June 2003, the European Parliament ratified a three-year-old U.N. biosafety protocol regulating international trade in genetically modified food, expected to come into force in fall 2003 since the necessary number of ratification was reached in May 2003. The protocol lets countries ban imports of a genetically modified product if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence the product is safe and requires exporters to label shipments containing genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton. It makes clear that products from new technologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allow developing nations to balance public health against economic benefits.

Jonas Sjoestedt, a Swedish Left member of the EU assembly, said that "this legislation should help the EU to counter recent accusations by the U.S administration that the EU is to blame for the African rejection of GM food aid last year."

The United States did not sign the protocol, saying it was opposed to labeling and fought import bans.

European de facto moratorium

In 1998, a de facto moratorium led to the suspension of approvals of new genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the European Union pending the adoption of revised rules to govern the approval, marketing and labelling of biotech products. Imports and cultivation of already approved GM varieties and food products continued. In July 2003, European environment ministers and the European Parliament agreed to new controls on GMOs that could eventually lead the then 15 members bloc to re-open the Union's markets to new genetically modified products in 2004.

The new labeling and traceability rules, which cover both food and feed, require any products with a GMO content of more than 0.9 percent to be labelled. Labelling is also required for products that have been derived from GMOs, but where the GM content might no longer be detectable (such as soy oil produced from genetically modified soy).

The threshold for the presence of unapproved GMOs is 0.5 percent provided that the GMOs have been judged as safe for human health and the environment by the relevant Scientific Committees or the European Food Authority. This amount will be set for 3 years. After 3 years, all food containing non-authorized GMO will be banned.

Animals fed with transgenic cereals are not covered by the labeling requirements.

Traceability of GMO products is mandatory, from sowing to final product. Genetically modified goods will have to carry a special harmless DNA sequence (a DNA code bar) identifying the origin of the crops, making it easier for regulators to spot contaminated crops, feed, or food, and enabling products to be withdrawn from the food chain should problems arise. A series of additional sequences of DNA with encrypted information about the company or what was done to the product could also be added to provide more data. (see Mandatory labeling).

Following the entry into force of the new regulations, the first genetically modified food product (canned maize) since 1998 was approved for marketing in the European Union in May 2004. While a number of other biotech products have been approved since then, approvals remain controversial. European ministers have continuously failed to reach a decision in support of or against the applications, highlighting the big divide among member states. As a result, the approvals were granted by the European Commission, which is entitled to take a decision in case ministers fail to do so.

Effect of cultural differences between US and Europe

The U.S. population has historically placed a considerable degree of trust in the regulatory oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its agencies. There is little tradition of people having a close relationship with their food, with the overwhelming majority of people having bought their food in supermarkets for years. But the 2003 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that even in the U.S., 55% see GM food as "bad" food.

In Europe, and particularly in the UK, there is less trust of regulatory oversight of the food chain. In many parts of Europe, a larger measure of food is produced by small, local growers using traditional (non-intensive & organic) methods (see local food).

Árpád Pusztai, considered by many to be the leading expert on GM foods, was silenced with threats of a lawsuit after he unexpectedly discovered that rats fed an experimental GM food developed immune system damage and other serious health problems in just ten days. Pusztai later reviewed an industry-sponsored study and found that seven of forty rats fed a GM crop died within two weeks; others developed stomach lesions. The crop was approved without further tests.[citation needed]

In May, when the U.S. filed a challenge with the World Trade Organization (WTO) disputing Europe's GM food policy, Trade Representative Robert Zoellick stated, "Overwhelming scientific research shows that biotech foods are safe and healthy." According to Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety, "The evidence in the book Seeds of Deception refutes U.S. science and safety claims, and undermines the basis of their WTO challenge."

Kimbrell says, "Author Jeffrey M. Smith's book also presents a compelling argument that nations may use to ban GM foods altogether." Countries gained the right to impose such a ban on September 11, three months after the UN biosafety protocol was signed by 50 nations. "The revelations in the book", says Kimbrell, "are being made public at a pivotal time in the global GM debate, and could tip the scales against the biotech industry."

WTO decision

The World Trade Organization has made a preliminary ruling that European Union restrictions on genetically engineered crops violate international trade rules. The United States, Canada, and Argentina together grow 80 percent of all biotech crops sold commercially, by which the EU regulates such crops. The countries argued that the EU's regulatory process was far too slow and its standards were unreasonable given that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence finds the crops safe.

The WTO ruled the ban illegal.


  1. ^ Codex Alimentarius. Foods derived from modern biotechnology. Retrieved on 15 October, 2007.
  2. ^ Codex Alimentarius (2005). Food import and export inspection and certification systems, second edition. Retrieved on 15 October, 2007.

See also

  • Food labeling regulations
See also: Trade war
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "International_trade_of_genetically_modified_foods". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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