Archive Article: 1997/07/05

5 July 1997

The US maintained its uncompromising stance on GM crops and trade at the recent International Grains Council conference, reports Suzie Horne.

BETWEEN 5 and 10% of US maize and soyabean crops are now down to varieties which have been genetically modified (GM), and access to EU markets for these crops and their by-products is a sensitive trade issue.

After pointing out that a good start had been made in liberalising world trade in agricultural products, US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman warned that export subsidies, state trading and high tariffs continue to distort trade.

"But perhaps the greatest threat to freer trade is phoney science," he told the London conference.

Mr Glickman denounced any plan involving segregation of a bulk commodity containing GM material as "unacceptable, impractical and trade inhibiting".

While the US dismisses segregation as inflammatory and impossible to implement, he did concede that labelling was a possibility, provided it was not discriminatory.

"To date I havent seen labelling which meets that test. Im not telling you that you couldnt work out some labelling proposal but it would have to be practical."

Thus far, the GM debate had not focused on where world food production would be in 10, 20 or 30 years time without the use of science, said Mr Glickman.

"I have the utmost respect for consumers here in Europe who have a genuine concern for the public health… but I also believe that sound science must trump passion when it comes to answering the most critical question of the 21st century: how do we feed a growing world in a sustainable way?

"We know that biotechnology holds our greatest hopes of dramatically increasing yields … in harsh weather climates … using less water … less pesticides … crops with more nutritional value … and without the destruction of fragile lands and forests.

"But those who turn a blind eye to this technology must ask themselves: what is the alternative? How do we feed more people without tearing up the rain forests to create more farmland? How do we decrease pesticide use?

"How do we do it? Hope? Crossed fingers? Wishful thinking? Blind adherence to culture and history? The truthful answer is: We cant."

Mr Glickman also maintained that if EU growers were denied access to GM varieties, they would be at a competitive disadvantage.

Other trade issues currently exercising US policy makers include support for, or interference in, export markets by other parties, and here Mr Glickman sounded another warning.

"Despite last years volatile grain markets, we kept our word that the US would remain a reliable supplier – no export taxes – no embargoes. Foreign buyers had equal access to US grains.

"Of course we reserve the right – as all countries do – to self defence. I am prepared to use export subsidies to protect US producers from unfair trading practices.

"For nearly two years we have held our fire in hopes that others would cease theirs. But we will not do so alone forever. Free and fair trade by definition can only be mutual," said Mr Glickman.

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