Here’s a secret: Many Europeans actually want the United States to win this dispute.

Don’t get me wrong. Europe’s opposition to GM crops is strong and we should treat it seriously. Yet it may not be as formidable as some officials and pundits would have us believe.

Last November, I traveled to London for an agriculture conference. Its theme was “sustainable intensification of agriculture” but in reality the discussion was about the European regulatory system and how it stifles agriculture production.  This politicized regulatory process is making it difficult for Europe to feed itself.

If the meeting had been in the United States, it would have been focused on technical issues, with panels talking about choosing the right seeds, battling weeds, and growing more food. In the London meeting it was obvious that the participants believed the greater challenge to agriculture was politics and unscientific regulation.

Farmers hate this, no matter where we live. We’d rather plant our fields and harvest our crops than fill out piles of paperwork and butt heads with bureaucrats.

An attendee from a European country surprised me with a private conversation: “Please push us on biotechnology.” He believes Europe needs to accept GM foods and believes that can occur with pressure from America.

In other words, a number of Europeans understand and appreciate the virtue of GM crops. They’re ready and willing to talk. Along the way, they may make loud complaints about hardheaded American negotiators, but they’ll also budge from their position, make concessions, and allow progress.

Is this an optimistic view? Perhaps. But it makes sense to start these talks with a spirit of hopefulness and a desire to achieve.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the White House last month, he spoke on how the United States and Europe should have wide-ranging conversations on trade: “That means everything on the table, even the difficult issues, and no exceptions.”

Let’s take him at his word. Rather than taking biotechnology off the table, let’s make it a centerpiece.

John Reifsteck is a corn and soybean producer in Champaign County Illinois.  He volunteers as a Board Member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

 

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