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U.S. calls on Europe to ease limits on gene-altered food

By James Kanter

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 08:07 p.m. HST, Jun 17, 2014

BRUSSELS » The top U.S. agriculture official on Tuesday called on the European Union to do more to ease restrictions on gene-altered food and feed crops if it hoped to reach a trans-Atlantic trade pact.

"There can't be a trade agreement without a serious and significant commitment to agriculture," the official, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, told reporters Tuesday, a day after an informal meeting with European farm ministers. European consumers "ought to have a choice" whether to use biotech foods, he said.

Vilsack has a tough case to make, though. There continues to be deep resistance to bioengineered agricultural products in the European Union — or to easing many other agricultural trade protections, for that matter. The fight over food, in fact, is a big impediment to progress in talks that are already moving more slowly than officials on both sides had wanted when President Barack Obama announced them last year.

Negotiators are trying to reach a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement that goes far beyond cutting import duties by creating a more uniform market and by synchronizing regulations for products like automobiles and medicines. But after five rounds of meetings, the negotiators are at odds in important areas, including how to lower tariffs, whether to include financial services in any deal, and how to create freer trade in food and farming.

The deal is also drawing opposition from groups on both sides of the Atlantic, concerned it will lower environmental standards and weaken consumer protections.

The United States has long insisted that there is no scientific evidence of safety risks from using foods and feeds whose genetic makeup have been altered through bioengineering. But many Europeans are more cautious, and some deride the products as "Frankenfoods" that must remain heavily restricted on farms and in the food chain. European shops tend to carry few foods with gene-altered ingredients because of skepticism among consumers.

Cultivation in Europe is also almost nonexistent. EU officials have proposed ways of encouraging more cultivation of such crops. One idea is to give countries that are steadfastly opposed to biotech crops, like Austria, broader scope to ban them from their territory. Those countries would, in turn, then ease their opposition to allowing the crops on a broader European basis. But whether those rules, which still must be approved by the European Parliament, would promote more cultivation is an open question.

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kaiakea wrote:
To the Europeans: DON'T DO IT! The population who has been ingesting years of GMOs have yet to see the consequences. In years to come studies will prove that human beings, led by the money-grubbing Americans, have made a tragic mistake in thinking we understand such complex systems as the genetic codes in living organisms.
on June 17,2014 | 10:56PM
Skyler wrote:
Hopefully they'll not cave under pressure.
on June 17,2014 | 11:02PM
SkipShrauder wrote:
Has nothing to do with understanding the complex systems of genetic codes! It has EVERYTHING to do with show me the bucks!!
on June 18,2014 | 03:02AM
cartwright wrote:
That's right. The Europeans know very well how properly labeled GMO products are sitting on the store shelves. No scientific debate needed.
on June 19,2014 | 06:35AM
eleu808 wrote:
I quit eating GMO papaya years ago. I developed an allergy to neo-sporin from GMO papaya. Eating GMO papaya is eating an anti-biotic because there is a neo-sporin marker in the papaya to kill the ring-spot virus. I do not want to eat an anti-biotic. There is no scientific data to prove GMO products are safe. The chemical companies are the pushers of this stuff and are subsidized by the government to grow bumper crops of GMO corn. I went to Michigan and there are miles and miles of nothing but GMO corn. That is why everything we eat is filled with corn syrup. The human body was not created to digest this stuff. It is worst than sugar.
on June 18,2014 | 05:45AM
Advsurfsail wrote:
Sad that the State of Hawaii whores out the land to Monstersanto and Sygenta! Our lands are being poisoned.
on June 18,2014 | 07:00AM
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