After a weeklong trip overseas, the National Corn Growers Association and the U.S. Grains Council said they believed the European Union's moratorium on crops derived from biotechnology would be lifted.
They also anticipated that the EU would impose a labeling and traceability regime that troubles corn industry leaders, although they said the threshold limits for genetically modified foods included in the July 2 vote by the European Parliament was not as severe as they expected.
“As far as the moratorium on biotech crops goes, it looked very positive,” NCGA President Fred Yoder of Plain City, Ohio, says. “The WTO has a 60-day comment period on this suit, and the representatives we spoke to told us they would like to lift the moratorium before the comment period ends, so the WTO ruling would immediately go away.”
U.S. Grains Council representatives say they too were “cautiously optimistic” that the moratorium on corn derived through biotechnology would be lifted following the July 2 vote.
“We had a good trip, and it was one of the best missions we've ever been on,” says Yoder. “There are some definite changes in Europe, and I think we're on the verge of getting something done this time.”
Still, NCGA officials said the European Parliament vote for mandatory labeling of biotech crops would be costly to U.S. corn growers, who have been losing an estimated $300 million in sales annually due to the EU prohibitions on genetically modified grain.
“The new legislation will only further hinder agricultural trade between the United States and Europe,” said Yoder. “The vote does not give us confidence that the EU is totally serious about trade.”
The regulations require labeling of products that contain 0.9 percent or more of GMOs adopted in the EU and 0.5 percent for unapproved varieties.
“We were aware tolerance levels were being discussed and are satisfied that these are better than the levels we were hearing,” said Yoder. “We consider this a step forward toward the possibility of getting the illegal moratorium lifted.”
Yoder said other issues have surfaced. “The new issue appears to be the environment,” he said. “I think we have won the battle of food safety. I think they are finally realizing that is not a valid argument and now they are shifting their concerns to environmental issues and we have a great argument against those concerns as well.”
U.S. Grains Council Chairman Don Jacoby agrees, saying “We feel that we've won from a science-based perspective but there is a movement to block biotechnology from an environmental co-existence standpoint. This concern should be limited to EU crop production using biotechnology and should not be used to further thwart U.S. imports.”
As a U.S. corn grower, Yoder says he stressed the environmental benefits of biotech crops. “We told them that U.S. farmers save 1 billion tons of topsoil every year because of conservation-tillage,” he says. “Conservation-tillage has increased 35 percent over the past couple of years due to biotech and we've saved over 47 millions pounds of insecticide and pesticide a year by using biotech.”
This was the group's third mission to the EU to get a first-hand update on the labeling issue, and communicate the U.S. perspective on the benefits of biotechnology, and their efforts are paying off, says Kenneth Hobbie, U.S. Grains Council president and CEO. “It's heartening to hear that our efforts are bearing fruit. We're certainly engaging more people from the EU.”
“During our one-week mission, the group met with everyone from government regulatory groups to retail grocer associations,” Hobbie says. “We also met with a consumer group that had a high level of interest in our message, and a willingness to share our information with their members.”
Adds Yoder, “We have seen that the tide is definitely changing and we're hearing from people who haven't weighed in on this issue before.”
During their visit, the U.S. delegation met with European Commission representatives and members of the European Parliament. Despite some initial issues concerning the ongoing suit with the World Trade Organization (WTO), Yoder says their hosts were receptive to the commodity groups' message.