Canadian and European officials clash over GMOs

Canadian officials yesterday angrily accused European Union members of using «phony science» and caving in to political pressure to justify a five-year-old ban on new genetically modified foods. Seven EU member states – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg – have maintained a de facto moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since March 1998 on the grounds that the foods have not been scientifically proven to be safe. Canadian officials say the ban is the main reason for the collapse of canola exports to the EU, worth as much as C$400 million ($290 million) in some years. They also said that, after the EU ban, exporters had lost worried clients in Asia and Africa. About 80 percent of Canada’s canola, an oil seed used to make cooking oil and margarine, is genetically modified. The officials insist there is no scientific reason for the ban and demanded it be lifted. But the EU stood firm, saying member states would take all the time they deemed necessary to examine the issue. Earlier this month Canada, the USA and 11 other countries said they would file a World Trade Organization complaint in hopes the EU would lift the moratorium. The Canadian officials – using the strongest language so far to express their unhappiness – said the challenge would force the EU to examine its motives. «If you look at the basic political picture in Europe, you can’t get elected unless you’re opposed to genetically modified food,» one official told reporters after a summit between Canada and the EU in Athens. «We’re not trying to shove it down their throats and we’re saying we understand their politics. But they can’t hide behind phony science. And so, in that sense, there’s progress, in that we’re actually moving toward at least an honest assessment that science isn’t the problem,» he said. The official said EU members now accepted they had to examine such issues as to how to label foods containing GMOs. «The point is, they’ve got to start doing this stuff. You can’t simply put a moratorium on things that affects people’s livelihoods for phony reasons,» he said. Although the European Commission has approved a protocol on regulating trade in GMOs, several member states oppose the idea. Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis told a news conference after the summit that many EU countries wanted more time to discuss the question. «In many member states there is a political problem. This is not a trade problem, it’s not a problem about protection of European agriculture in the sense that there should be no imports and no loss of income due to imports,» he said. «Majority public opinion in many states thinks that (GMOs) will… have a negative impact on the environment. This is not acceptable, so it’s necessary to discuss this matter and have scientific evidence.» Biotech crops are engineered to, for example, repel predatory insects or withstand weed killers. Critics say they could endanger human health and cause unforeseen damage to the environment. (Reuters)

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