EU Rejects U.S. Plea to Tell Africa Modified Corn Is Safe
BRANDON MITCHENER / 23aug02
BRUSSELS -- Widening a trans-Atlantic rift over genetically modified crops, the European Commission rejected a U.S. plea to endorse the safety of American corn sent to feed starving people in Africa.
"This is something the Americans and the governments in southern Africa have to sort out between themselves," said Michael Curtis, a development aid spokesman for the European Union's executive agency. "We're not taking a position on this."
The U.S., however, believes Europe is partly responsible for the decision of several countries including Zambia and Zimbabwe to reject U.S. aid shipments containing genetically modified corn despite severe local food shortages. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department called upon the 15-nation EU to "join us in assuring governments in the region that food made from biotech crops is safe and should be distributed immediately to those who so desperately need it."
Some African leaders have warned that genetically modified corn is toxic, or could wind up being planted, contaminating local crops and jeopardizing future agricultural exports to Europe, where many people shun genetically modified foods.
Mr. Curtis said the EU didn't question the safety of the U.S. corn, which has been eaten by millions of Americans for years. But he said the environmental aspect "is a completely different ballgame."
The EU has stopped granting approval for the cultivation of genetically modified crops amid widespread fears that too little is known about the long-term effects of such plants. Environmentalists warn that they could indirectly lead to the evolution of "superbugs" or "superweeds" able to overcome genetic modifications designed to thwart conventional pests.
The EU is also debating strict new labeling requirements for foods containing genetically modified ingredients, and many food importers and food processors have said they would rather avoid such ingredients altogether than try to sell them to skittish consumers.
The U.S. has threatened to challenge the EU regime as a technical barrier to trade, but hasn't made good on the threat. Meanwhile, trade tension heats up as more and more American farmers plant genetically modified crops.
Some African countries and nongovernmental organizations have told the U.S. it should ship nongenetically modified food as aid. But the U.S. government says that is expensive and impractical. "We don't segregate for our own consumption. We don't segregate for the EU. It'd be difficult for us to start segregating for food aid," said one U.S. official.
mindfully.org note: Oh, but the US does indeed segregate for its own consumption, as well as for the EU. Exports are hurting because the EU won't take the stuff.
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