27 June 1997

US will not tolerate GM crop segregation

By Boyd Champness

PHONY science threatens to replace tariffs and trade barriers as the greatest risk to free trade in the 21st century, US agriculture secretary Dan Glickman has warned.

He has told EU farm ministers that the US would not tolerate segregation of genetically modified products and said he was disturbed by an EU decision to label GM seed and raw materials.

"We would not tolerate segregation of bio-tech material. Generally we do not like labelling unless it carries some sort of health warning, but our concern is that it will be set up as a trade inhibitor," Mr Glickman said.

Biotechnology was our greatest hope of dramatically increasing yields, cutting back on pesticides, producing more nutritional crops, conserving fragile lands and forests, and, most importantly, ending world hunger, he said.

"I can only speak for the United States, but our position is very firm. As long as these products prove safe, we will not tolerate segregation. We will not be pushed into allowing political science to govern these decisions. The stakes for the world are simply too high," he said.

Speaking at the International Grains Conference in London, Mr Glickman said he appreciated that biotechnology was an extremely sensitive issue in Europe. And he had the utmost respect for consumers in Europe who have a genuine concern for the publics health.

"I, too, value healthy scepticism, but I also believe sound science must trump passion when it comes to answering the most critical question of the 21st century of how do we feed a growing world in a sustainable way," he said.

People being treated for cancer or AIDS did not mind taking genetically-engineered drugs because they wanted to live, said Mr Glickman. Ultimately, the world was going to have to make the same decision if it wanted to feed more people and stop tearing up the rainforests.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger was most endemic, it was estimated that a doubling of the projected increase in grain yields over the next 10 years could cut the regions hungry by half.

Mr Glickman said he recently visited the international wheat and corn research centre (CYMMET) in Texcoco, Mexico, the birthplace of the green revolution, and was stunned into silence by a sign on one of the walls of the centre. It had to do with Norin 10 – the dwarfing gene for wheat – the sign read: A single gene… has saved more than 100m lives.

"Their work, and others like it, can save millions more… which leaves us with some choices to make," he said. &#42