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TITLE:  United States v. European Union
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, USA, by Robert B. Zoellick
        sent by AgBioView, USA
DATE:   May 21, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


United States v. European Union

The U.S. -- joined by Argentina, Canada and Egypt, and supported by nine
other countries -- last week asked the European Union to lift its
moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products, in accordance with
the rules of the World Trade Organization.

The world stands on the threshold of an agricultural revolution. The
science of biotechnology can make crops more resistant to disease, pests
and drought. By boosting yields, biotechnology can increase farmers'
productivity and lower the cost of food for consumers. It can help the
environment by reducing pesticide use and preventing soil erosion. And
new crops offer the promise of something greater still: foods fortified
with nutrients that could help stem disease -- including saving the
eyesight of over 500,000 children who go blind each year because they
lack Vitamin A.

Where food is scarce, or climates harsh, increased agricultural
productivity could spell the difference between life and death, between
health and disease for millions. Biotech rice, for example, is twice as
resistant to drought and saltwater, while withstanding temperatures about
10 degrees lower than other varieties. For almost five years, the EU has
violated its own rules and procedures -- and disregarded the advice of
its scientific committees and commissioners by arresting action on
applications for biotech food products. This moratorium violates the EU's
basic WTO obligations to maintain a food approval process that is based
on "sufficient scientific evidence" and that acts without "undue delay."

Some Europeans have asked why the U.S. and its 12 partners would not wait
longer. Yet the European commissioners working to lift the moratorium are
the hostages of their member states. As Environment Commissioner Margot
Wallstrom concluded last October: "I have stopped guessing when the
moratorium would be lifted . . . . [S]ome member states are opposed . . .
and will try to move the goal posts." We stopped guessing, too.

As we have waited patiently for European leaders to step forward to
deploy reason and science, the EU moratorium has sent a devastating
signal to developing countries that stand to benefit most from innovative
agricultural technologies. This dangerous effect of the EU's moratorium
became evident last fall, when some famine-stricken African countries
refused U.S. food aid because of fabricated fears -- stoked by
irresponsible rhetoric -- about food safety.

As a major importer of food, Europe's decisions ripple far beyond its
borders. Uganda refused to plant a disease-resistant type of banana
because of fears it would jeopardize exports to Europe. Namibia will not
buy South Africa's biotech corn for cattle feed to avoid hurting its beef
exports to Europe. India, China and other countries in South America and
Africa have expressed the same trepidation. "Thirty-four percent of the
children [in Africa] are malnourished," says Dr. Diran Makinde of the
University of Venda in South Africa. Yet Africans are told of biotech
crops: "Don't touch them."

For five years, the world has waited patiently, assured by European
officials that a change in policy is "just around the corner." But around
every corner we have found a new roadblock. First, we were asked to wait
until new biotech approval regulations were drafted. Then it was to wait
for a labeling scheme, then for rules on legal liability, and then for
new regulations on where biotech crops can and cannot be planted. While
Europe has added barrier after barrier to fight fictions, biotechnology
has demonstrated benefit after benefit based on facts. "No till" biotech
farming has reduced soil erosion by one billion tons a year.

Over the past eight years, biotech cotton and corn have reduced pesticide
use by 46 million pounds of active ingredients. The Chinese Academy of
Science estimates biotech could reduce China's pesticide use by 80%.

Overwhelming scientific research shows that biotech foods are safe and
healthy -- a conclusion that the EU's own Directorate-General for
Research reached two years ago. The National Academies of Science and
Medicine in France concur. So do the Scientific Academies of Brazil,
China, India, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S. Dr. C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee
University presented me with a statement signed by more than 3,200
scientists world-wide, including 20 Nobel laureates, supporting
agricultural biotechnology.

Some claim that we are "forcing" biotech foods on European consumers. Yet
all we ask is for consumers to have the right to make their own
decisions, a right they are now denied because the EU is blocking access
to foods that EU regulators and scientific associations acknowledge are
safe. The legal case for biotechnology is clear, the science
overwhelming, and the humanitarian call to action compelling. We hope
this debate will lead the EU to finally lift its moratorium without
imposing new barriers. -- Mr. Zoellick is the U.S. Trade Representative.