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3-Food: Novartis urges U.S. caution on GMO sales

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TITLE:  Novartis urges U.S. caution on GMO sales
SOURCE: Reuter, by Irene Marushko
DATE:   April 19, 1999

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Novartis urges U.S. caution on GMO sales

WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) - A top executive of Swiss life sciences giant Novartis AG warned on Monday that attempts by the United States to force European borders open to genetically modified food products were doomed to failure because of European public resistance. Some agricultural analysts have predicted a trade fight between the United States, which wants to sell genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and European countries that are resisting the products because of fears about their safety. "We are hoping and praying that the U.S. government will not make this into a trade issue, because I can assure you it is not a trade issue," Willy De Greef, the company's head of regulatory and government affairs, told Reuters. "But if tomorrow the WTO (World Trade Organization) would rule that we have to throw our markets open, and the European Union governments would comply with that without doing 10 years of appeals, the issue would not go away," he said.

The European Union's regulatory process has halted imports of GMO products, produced mainly by the United States, such as corn or canola genetically altered to produce results like better resistance to insects or tolerance of herbicides. De Greef said Europeans viewed food and food production as a cultural and historical matter and were not as quick as the United States to accept radical technological changes. Retail stores in Britain, where memories of deaths from "mad cow disease" remain fresh, have been labeling GMO foods despite U.S. assurances of their safety. "All the companies, we all owe the public a mea culpa. We have not listened carefully enough," De Greef said at a meeting of agricultural journalists from the United States and Canada.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said earlier the United States and Europe might be heading toward a "major conflict" over sales of beef grown with synthetic hormones. De Greef said Novartis supported GMO labeling. "If the public in a particular country says that for whatever reason it chooses -- be it religious, be it safety, be it ethical -- it wants to have that choice, then we are damned we reason it chooses -- be it religious, be it safety, be it ethical -- it wants to have that choice, then we are damned weŒll going to provide the means to have that choice," he said. He forecast it would take five to 10 years for Europeans to accept the products. "Because now there is fear," he said. "There's nothing more difficult to turn around than fear." The United States in February won a world trade dispute that found its "hormone" beef was safe and that Europe must remove its barriers to the meat by mid-May.


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