US threatens EU over GE labelling laws

Feature story - 27 November, 2003
In a letter to US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick this week, a collected front of 22 US agribusiness lobby groups and organized farm interests called on Washington to "take every possible action" against coming EU rules on labelling and traceability of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including to open another World Trade Organisation (WTO) case against European GM policy.

Greenpeace volunteers dressed as Uncle Sam dump GE maize on other volunteers representing consumers in straitjackets, suffocating their demand for the right to say no GE food.

It is hardly surprising that the GM industry is annoyed by new EU rules that will be costly and burdensome for GM crop exporters. What is more remarkable is the fear demonstrated in the letter that the EU rules would set a precedent around the globe and discourage GM food acceptance. That is of course exactly what should - and probably will - happen.

The precautionary approach to GMOs reflects both good science and common sense, and is becoming the international norm. The GM industry got a real scare when even the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a WTO reference body, edged closer to the EU position on GMO labelling and risk assessments earlier this year. More bad news may be in store for the GM industry when governments meet in February for the first Meeting of the Parties under the UN Biosafety Protocol. The Protocol, in force only since September 2003, explicitly mentions the need to apply the precautionary principle to GMOs and to label and identify them.

The US government and agribusiness corporations may claim that GMO regulations in the EU are unfair. The fact is that the EU is the world's biggest importer of GM crops, with at least 15 million tons of Monsanto's GM soya sneaking into Europe for use in animal feed each year. This trade is hidden today as GM feed under current rules doesn't have to be labelled. That will change in April next year, and the GM industry is bracing itself for another wave of GM rejection in Europe that will likely spread to other parts of the world.

Europe will most certainly defend the consumers' right to know how their food is produced, including what chemicals and GMOs were used to make it. EU governments are not elected to represent narrow agribusiness interests or US farmers, who have been tricked into growing crops that nobody wants and threaten biodiversity. There is a big global demand for increased consumer information, but no demand for GM food.

The EU legislation on GMO labelling and traceability is entirely justified, and is even not strong enough. It still lacks requirements for meat, dairy and eggs to be labelled if GM animal feed has been used to produce it. The GM industry wants to tell us what to eat but not what's in our food. That won't fly in Europe. European consumers can think for themselves and will not support the risky business of releasing GMOs into the environment in order for Monsanto to maintain pesticide sales. GM soya arriving on European shores should not only be properly labelled, it should be sent straight back to the US and Argentina with a "no thanks" note stuck on it.

Far from the cynical declarations from last summer about the fight against hunger, this letter reveals the true face of the GM industry and its will to overcome any democratic debate to impose GMOs to the peoples of Europe and of developing countries, despite their massive rejection of those products.