U.S. says science should settle farm debates in trade with EU

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  United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron A planned EU/U.S. trade deal needs to sweep away "non-scientific barriers" that prevent U.S. farmers from selling many genetically modified crops and some meat from hormone-treated animals in Europe, the U.S. agriculture secretary said on Tuesday.

The two sides aim to create the world's largest free-trade pact, whose advocates say it could boost their economies by $100 billion a year each. But after a year of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), agriculture is emerging as one of the most difficult areas.

The European Union has ruled out importing meat from animals injected with hormones and said that it will not simply open the door to GM crops.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said difficult issues needed to be addressed, with the common goal of opening markets and eliminating "non-scientific barriers".

"Science is a common language ... We will be working towards making sure that whatever agreements are reached, they are consistent with sound science," he told a media briefing during a visit to Brussels.

In the case of GM crops, the EU has cleared for import some 50 of about 450 commercial strains. The bloc takes in about 30 million tonnes a year for its cattle, pigs and poultry, but EU retailers hardly stock any GM food because of widespread consumer resistance.

Vilsack said it was not acceptable that it took four years or more for GM strains to gain access to European markets after winning clearance from the European Food Safety Authority. That compared with a U.S. norm of about 18 months.

The United States is demanding the regulatory process be harmonised.

Safety argument

Ecological group Greenpeace says GM crops are part of large-scale intensive farming which degrades soils and pollutes water. It says they create herbicide-resistant superweeds that require more pesticides and are not proven to be safe to eat, with much of the research funding coming from industry.

Vilsack said the U.S. government was very concerned about suggestions that GM products posed a safety risk, which he said was not borne out by science.

Labelling, suggested by some in Europe, would not be a solution, he said. U.S. labels, he said, typically concerned nutritional information or carried a specific warning, for example to alert those with a peanut allergy.

Insisting on a label indicating a foodstuff contained a GM product risked sending a wrong impression that this was a safety issue, he said.

Vilsack said smartphones might offer an eventual solution by allowing consumers who wanted extensive information, such as on GM content, to gain access to it by scanning a barcode in a supermarket.

Vilsack said the European Union should also rethink its current bans on chlorine-washed chicken and beef from cattle raised with growth hormones.

Only last month German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out imports of the former. But Vilsack said the chlorine treatment was a safe way of reducing pathogens.

He added that a deal struck with the EU to allow in a quota of hormone-free U.S. beef to settle a dispute at the World Trade Organisation was not a permanent solution.

"We are still going to have to have some conversation about the beef question," he said.


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Jim McGrann    
TX  |  June, 18, 2014 at 10:06 AM

Why does the U.S. beef industry allow the same non-scientific barrier in marketing beef in the U.S.? You can't expect open scientific marketing in foreign countries when you don't have the same domestic policy.

ksdave    
KS  |  June, 18, 2014 at 11:03 AM

Silly boy, What makes you think a consumer is going to roll over and take a preponderance of scientific evidence as "safety." Over that last one hundred years how many products have been dished out only to find out years or decades later there are horrible side effects. You can't make people eat it because the scientists say its safe. You'll never, ever, be able to convince the consumer that grass beef is the same as hormone beef. Even if the FDA or any other cadre of scientist say the two are the same. Its a psychological not logical issue. Until the industry realizes that and starts working to take it outside of the psychological arena nothing is going to change. More and more everything is becoming a question of how much risk are you willing to accept to save some money? We need to focus on known versus unknown risk and risk communication, and the difference between quantifiable risk and perceive risk.

CQ    
June, 18, 2014 at 03:39 PM

Science, as employed by corporate America to defend itself, rarely protects U.S. citizens from harm. Compared to most other societies, including both first-world and third-world countries, citizens of the U. S. have much higher levels of food allergies, autism, attention deficit, a dozen different kinds of cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, ALS, obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity, bipolar disorder, depression and a host of other modern maladies, not to mention auto-immune disorders like celiaChrone's disease and irritable bowel syndrome that are directly related to diet. Do we have firm scientific proof that any of these are caused by GMO foods? Do we have proof that any of them are not caused by GMO foods? The answer to both questions is, of course, NO. Where is research being done? In those other countries that don’t use GMO grains. Why should any kind food ingredient (including genetically modified grains) be assumed innocent until proven guilty? Still, the fact remains that the U. S. food industry incorporates more genetically modified food than any other food system in the world. Proof that a product is doing harm rarely emerges until the harm is obvious, allowing corporations to keep selling GMO seeds and chemicals, racking up huge profits in the meantime. This is a fact that has nothing to do with science and everything to do with profit for profit's sake. Why did it take Americans a century to realize that breast milk was better for our babies than the formula big industry sold us? Same reason it will take a generation of health problems to reveal the underlying dangers of inserting foreign genes in our food. Greed, and false promises of "ease, efficiency and convenience" that GMO grains promise

Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT 59101  |  June, 19, 2014 at 08:18 AM

Send me a link to a scientific study backing up your assumptions.

CQ    
June, 26, 2014 at 10:39 PM

If there were sufficient firm scientific proofs, I would not have written this response. Anyone who thinks about what our food contains knows that the standard American diet of the 21st century includes literally tens of thousands of food ingredients and chemicals that our ancestors did not evolve to eat. New products appear at a rate far too fast to allow sufficient long-term testing of the effects of each new ingredient or combination. How are we to know which foods, chemicals or compounds--from fungicides sprayed on wheat in the field, to GMO corn and soybeans, to preservatives like TBHQ in our snack foods, to implants in our beef--are causing the long list of modern maladies that plague Americans more than any other developed country? The healthiest and safest way to eat is the same as it has always been: to produce as much of one's own food as possible, including fruits, vegetables meat, milk and eggs, on healthy soil, without the use of chemicals or genetic modification. America was founded on the principle of such agrarian independence. Yet, in the false name of efficiency, industries and corporations determined to take 99 percent of Americans off the land in a century, confining them in cubicles or assembly lines where they would be captive dependents of employers. Advertisers can sell workers anything they want us to eat if we are stupid enough to believe the ads and buy it. If we are powerless to grow our own food, we are dependent. Enterprise trumps independence. Lobbyists trump individuals. And science trumps common sense.

CQ    
June, 26, 2014 at 10:41 PM

I wouldn't dare mention anything to do with GMO research, so how about this one? Research in Great Britain has linked some fungicides, especially in combination with other pesticides, to health problems such as ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, and other serious human ailments. http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/2/339.full ).


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