According to the authors, the adventitious presence thresholds in the EU are the strictest in the world – 0.9 percent applied to EU approved products and zero tolerance for products not approved by the EU.  While there are scientific principles that can be used to establish acceptable minimum distances between biotech and conventional crops and other mitigation strategies to achieve these thresholds, individual national governments have imposed arbitrarily large minimum distances between conventional and biotech crops so that biotech agriculture is not an option.  For example, in Luxembourg 2600 feet must be left between biotech and non-biotech corn and 1.8 miles between biotech and non-biotech rapeseed.

The EFSA has approved biotech crops as safe for human consumption.  The authors note that even in the highly litigious U.S. there have been no lawsuits, no product recalls or reported ill effects since biotech crops were first grown commercially in 1996.  EU policies on biotech crop imports are less restrictive than policies for cultivation of biotech crops in the EU because it is dependent on imports to maintain its livestock industry.  Roughly 80% of the animal feed consumed in the EU is imported, of which more than half are biotech crops from the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina, the largest exporters of biotech crops.  The importing of biotech crops is heavily controlled, causing logistic and economic problems such as the zero tolerance for the adventitious presence of biotech crops not yet approved for import into the EU, but approved in the exporting country.

Insect-resistant corn in the EU where it is allowed to be grown provides efficient pest control without pesticides and limits the impact of agriculture on non-target organisms, but the EU has missed out on wider uses.  Insect-resistant biotech crops have reduced the use of pesticides in India and China and improved the environment and the health of farmers.  Herbicide-tolerant crops in North and South America have promoted reduced/zero-tillage farming to reduce soil erosion and water contamination caused by agriculture.

Mycotoxin levels that can affect human health are much lower in biotech corn than in conventional corn.  The EU goal is to reach as low a level of mycotoxins as can reasonably be achieved.  Biotech Bt corn is resistant to insects that can cause kernel damage and allow penetration by mycotoxin producing fungi.   MON 810 is the only biotech corn variety approved in the EU, but could soon disappear from the continent.  To meet the EU’s stringent requirements for mycotoxin-free corn, the EU imports the MON 810 biotech corn variety and other more advanced Bt varieties.

On the surface, the U.S. and EU do not look like logical partners in trade and crop biotechnology.  Many in U.S. agriculture are worried about becoming more regulated by governments like in the EU, while some European farmers worry about becoming more like the U.S. if they are to compete with the rest of the world.  At a deeper level both sides seek economic efficiencies, safe and nutritious food and trade based on comparative advantage.

Governments in the EU and the U.S. recognize that they need to work out their differences on a host of trade and regulatory issues if both groups are to compete more effectively with the rest of the world.  That is where the focus has to be as negotiators work through the issues, including biotech crops.  The talks are not about one side winning and the other losing, but about both sides finding common ground to compete more effectively in a world more open to trade.

Ross Korves is a Trade and Economic Policy Analyst with Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

 

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