Members of the House Agricultural Committee listened recently as industry members and concerned individuals came before them testifying to the harm being caused by artificial trade barriers, which they say are not based in sound science.

The Hearing on Artificial Barriers to U.S. Trade and Food Aid focused on the European Union's moratorium on agricultural biotechnology, and how it may have influenced some developing African countries to reject much-needed U.S. food aid. Because the shipments contained corn produced with biotechnology, they were reportedly turned back despite the fact that the country is currently in the throws of a severe famine.

Testifying before the committee, Leon Corzine, chairman of the Biotechnology Working Group for the National Corn Growers Association, said, “There has been a concerted campaign by some international non-governmental organizations based in Europe to convince hungry African countries that food that has been safely grown and consumed for years in the United States is unsafe, and if they permit their citizens to consume this food aid they will somehow loose export markets in Europe. While we are concerned about the potential disruption in this outlet for U.S. corn, we are more concerned at the prospect of scare-mongering about the safety of U.S. corn affecting the livelihood of citizens in the region.”

According to testimony by John Kilama, president of the Global Bioscience Development Institute, there is no credible scientific evidence that any foods derived from genetically modified crops have an adverse impact on human health or any environmental degradation.

“Despite the fact that there is abundant information about the safety of genetically modified foods, many countries in Africa continue to be reluctant to move quickly to acquire the biotechnology to support their agricultural programs,” he said. “Africans are concerned that Europe will retaliate against African exports if Africans accept genetically modified organisms from the United States.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he too is concerned about what he calls the politicizing of agricultural biotechnology. “We can no longer underestimate the importance of this issue. Not only are U.S. farmers and ranchers hurting, but the lives of millions, primarily in Africa, are in the balance as a result of policy which is not based on sound science, as is evidenced by the fact that American consumers have been consuming genetically enhanced food for years. This is something that the committee and the agricultural community take very seriously.”

Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, the committee's ranking minority member, said, “I believe that the United States and the EU have a responsibility, as developed nations, to lead by example in developing regulatory systems that not only promote safe food, but also promote a better and more secure food supply. I am disappointed that Europe has so far been unable to construct a science-based regulatory system for food that encourages development of new technologies that can benefit developed and developing countries around the world.”

The European Union's moratorium on genetically-modified products translates into an annual loss of over $300 million in corn exports for U.S. farmers, according to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

During the hearing, Speaker Hastert called for the end of the European Union's “protectionist and discriminatory” trade policies.

The use of non-tariff barriers, he said, represent an imminent threat to the cause of free trade. “Over the last few years, we have seen country after country implementing protectionist, discriminatory trade policies under the cloak of food safety — each one brought on by emotion, culture, or their own poor history with food safety regulation. Simply put, non-tariff protectionism is discriminatory and detrimental to the free movement of goods and services across borders.”

Hastert said, “The European Union has had an indefensible moratorium on genetically-modified products in place for over four years with no end in sight. This is a non-tariff barrier based simply on prejudice and misinformation, not sound science. In fact, their own scientists agree that genetically modified foods are safe.

“We should all be concerned that this irrational and discriminatory policy is spreading. China, for example, has developed new rules for the approval and labeling of biotech products. An overwhelming portion of the entire $1 billion U.S. soybean export crop is genetically modified. Although implementation has been delayed, such a labeling program would certainly result in higher food costs for consumers and higher production costs for farmers.”

There is general consensus, he says, among the scientific community that genetically modified food is no different from conventional food. What's different, Hastert said, is not the content of the food, but the process by which it is made. “Labeling genetically modified products would only mislead consumers and create an atmosphere of fear.

“Biotechnology products are screened by at least one, and often by as many as three, federal agencies. From conception to commercial introduction, it can take up to 10 years to bring a biotech variety to market. Throughout the process, the public has ample opportunity for participation and comment, and data on which regulatory decisions are based are readily available,” Hastert said.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com.