ASA: EU label rules 'discriminatory'

"It is a sad day for the world when European politicians decide they know more than the scientific studies about food safety," said ASA First Vice President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa.

"These new rules are highly discriminatory and are so commercially infeasible that food manufacturers wanting to market their products in the EU will inevitably continue the trend to reformulate their products to remove the biotech ingredients from their products rather than be stigmatized by a biotech label."

More than seven years ago, governments in Europe and in more than 30 other countries evaluated and then declared that soybeans grown from biotech-enhanced seeds are safe for human and animal consumption, and safe for the environment as well. During all this time, literally billions of people have eaten products that contain biotech soybean ingredients.

Scientific studies have repeatedly confirmed the safety of these biotech soybean products. Now the EU intends to put labels on products made from soybeans that will give consumers the false impression that there is some increased risk associated with eating these products.

"The EU claims that these new rules will somehow restore consumer confidence and allow consumers to choose what they eat," Heck said. "To appreciate the hypocrisy in that statement, one only need understand that major food manufacturers have already stated publicly that they will not put ‘GMO warning labels’ on their products. How will these rules help give European consumers a ‘right to choose’ when the products containing biotech ingredients are eliminated from store shelves?

While the EU is discriminating against biotech products imported from the United States and other countries, the same rules do not extend to biotech processing aids, such as enzymes, amino acids, and vitamins widely used in EU food production. Nearly all the manufacturers of these biotech-processing aids are European companies.

"The EU is perpetrating a fraud on consumers," Heck said. "Just when consumers think they can avoid a technology they don’t understand, their own food companies will be permitted to use all kinds of genetically engineered materials in products like cheese and beer without any GMO labeling requirements whatsoever."

Biotech-enhanced soybeans are widely planted in the United States, Argentina and Brazil. Together, these three countries represent 90 percent of the world’s soybean export trade. Compliance with the new traceability regulations by exporters and food processors will be costly, onerous, and unworkable given the realities of bulk commodity production, marketing, transport, and food processing.

The new rules will require labeling for products such as soybean oil "derived" from biotech soybeans even though no modified DNA or protein can be detected in refined soybean oil. This is because it is impossible to scientifically determine if such oil is of "biotech origin" or not. ASA believes that such process-based labeling could lead to massive fraud, and inevitably, again undermine public confidence in the EU food regulatory system.

Many Europeans also claim to be concerned about the environment, yet these new rules discriminate against biotech products that have allowed farmers to reduce the amount of insecticides and pesticides applied to their fields, and use of products that biodegrade more quickly. According to the National Center for Food & Agriculture Policy, eight biotech cultivars adopted by U.S. growers reduced pesticide use by 46 million pounds in 2001.

Europeans also say they are concerned about conservation, yet these new rules are jeopardizing farmer access to technologies that allow reduced tillage practices in soybeans, which saved 247 million tons of irreplaceable U.S. topsoil during 2000, and reduced the number of times U.S. farmers had to run equipment over their fields, saving 234 million gallons of fuel.

"Europeans say they are concerned about food safety yet they are allowing activist groups to determine what they eat rather than listening to the clinical evaluations from food safety experts," Heck said.

The EU has already replaced most of its biotech corn imports with traditional varieties that are more susceptible to mycotoxins. Under certain weather conditions, insect chewing damage in corn allows a fungus to grow and produce small amounts of chemical compounds known as mycotoxins. Such mycotoxins can be very detrimental to human and animal health, but research has proven that Bt corn controls the chewing insects so well that mycotoxin production is virtually eliminated in Bt corn fields.

Weed control is generally much more effective in biotech-enhanced crop varieties. This greatly reduces the amount of foreign plant materials and noxious weed seeds mixed in with the harvested crops.

"Europeans are being mislead into believing they will have a safer food supply, when in fact, these new rules will lead to a dramatic decrease in food safety," Heck said. "In the end, the EU’s new rules will lead to greater reliance on conventional and EU-grown crops, which means more pesticide use, greater environmental impact, less conservation of topsoil and fuel, and overall decreased food safety."

e-mail: cyanc[email protected]

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