Farm and agribusiness groups are applauding the U.S. government's decision to seek an end to the European Union's moratorium on approval of imports of genetically enhanced crops.

The National Corn Growers Association, whose members have lost “hundreds of millions of dollars in sales” because of the moratorium, according to U.S. officials, said it welcomed the government's decision to file a WTO case challenging the EU's failure to lift the ban.

“We are pleased the administration has pursed a case in the World Trade Organization,” said NCGA President Fred Yoder. “The moratorium is illegal and continues to block out corn exports from the United States.

NCGA and U.S. Grains Council officials estimate that the EU moratorium on genetically modified crops has cost U.S. corn growers $300 million annually over the last four years.

EU officials defended the moratorium, saying their system for authorizing imports of modified crops is “clear, it is transparent, it is predictable and as such complies with WTO rules.”

A spokesman for the European Commission said it has legislation in the pipeline that would create “an even more enhanced system” for allowing biotech products into the European market.

But the American Farm Bureau Federation said the EU's proposed new labeling rules are also inconsistent with WTO rules, and that the U.S. government should settle for nothing less than a total revamping of the EU regulatory process for biotechnology.

“As proposed, the labeling and traceability rules only make the problem worse by erecting new, unscientific barriers to processed food products in addition to agricultural commodities,” said Bob Stallman, AFBF president and a farmer from Texas.

“This is not an issue based on scientific uncertainty,” he said. “All of the facts, even from European research, firmly support the safety of biotech products. It's simply the failure of EU political leadership to adhere to the terms of a world trade agreement. That failure hurts U.S. farmers, and that's unacceptable.”

Stallman said the administration action “sends a strong message to farmers that the U.S. government will fight for agriculture's trading rights. We are particularly grateful to Ambassador Robert Zoellick and Chief Agricultural Negotiator Allen Johnson for putting together this strong case.

“We believe that a WTO decision, which most experts expect to be in favor of the United States, is the only reasonable remedy available to U.S. growers — to either lift the moratorium or impose retaliatory tariffs on EU products imported into the United States.”

CropLife America, the organization representing the U.S. agricultural chemical industry, said the Bush administration action was overdue.

“The U.S. has been patient, but unsuccessful, in getting the EU to lift its moratorium, which has no scientific foundation,” said Jay J. Vroom, president, CropLife America. “Today's action, which begins with WTO consultations, is a justified and long-overdue effort. The United States has a strong case against the EU.”

“EU's illegal moratorium has had a negative ripple effect of creeping regulations and non-science-based decisions, which have resulted in denying food to starving people,” said Isi Siddiqui, CropLife America's vice president, biotechnology and trade. “The WTO requires that international trade rules be based on sound science, and today's decision will send that strong message to the EU and other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”

Also sending a strong message was a press release from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which said the EU moratorium on biotechnology products was a clear violations of its obligations under the World Trade Organization.

“More importantly, it has hindered the ability of poorer countries to take a part in the biotechnology revolution, shutting off access to crops that could help address food security concerns, said Gregory Conko, CEI's director of food safety policy.

“We've already developed biotech crop varieties specifically for resource-poor farmers,” said Ariel Alvarez-Morales of Mexico's Center for Research and Advanced Studies. “But scientifically baseless regulation in Europe and elsewhere have kept them in the lab instead of the field where they can do some good.”

Alvarez-Morales was one of the scientists assembled for CEI's briefing on agricultural biotechnology and the needs of the developing world, Does the European Biotech Moratorium Harm the Developing World?: The Problem of Import Restrictions on Genetically Engineered Food.

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