Food Fight

May 27, 2003

May 27, 2003

Let the food fight begin! After patiently waiting until the war in Iraq was concluded, the U.S. finally filed suit challenging the legality of the European Unions five year blockade of genetically modified food products. Five years ago Europe closed the door on genetically modified crops arguing that their safety was suspect. The ban was illegal then and it is today.

Hiding behind an unjustified safety claim, Europe spent six years studying the safety of genetically modified crops. Surprise! Surprise! The study concluded that GM food poses no threat. In fact, it may be even safer and is certainly is more environmentally friendly than other methods of farming. Could the study results be anymore conclusive, any more absolute? This was the European Union's own study.

In the meantime, here in the U.S., we have already eaten our weight in GM foods with absolutely no harmful effects. U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Zoellick has lined up 3000 scientists, including 20 Nobel Prize winners, standing shoulder to shoulder to vouch for the safety of biotech foods. That's not good enough for Europe. Though now that their safety argument is all but destroyed, they say that they just want to label the food so their consumers can make an informed choice. This is just another costly delaying tactic.

In a word, we're talking about blatant protectionism. On the merits, we will win this case. But what that means is anybody's guess. There are more trade disputes for the World Trade Organization to deal with that we have time to talk. The WTO has judged a section of the U.S. tax code to be unfair because it gives a special tax break to exporters and the WTO authorized the EU to slap a $4B tariff on U.S. exports unless we change our tax law. Europe is still fuming over the steel import restrictions President Bush levied last year. How many years have we been denied access to the European beef market because they won't accept hormone treated beef?

These trade fights are more about who can get a trading advantage than concern for safety.

And unfortunately the success rate ofthe WTO to enforce fair trading rules is not very impressive. Nevertheless, I expect the European door to GM foods to open over time because the technology is so valuable that even they will come to realize what they are missing.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.