Future of biotechnology, feed exports hinges on EU-US trade talks

The acceptance of global agriculture biotechnology industry trends means holding the EU accountable to international standards and science-based measures.

Calyx22 | Dreamstime | The EU’s skepticism of GM crops has influenced the global view of biotechnology.
Calyx22 | Dreamstime | The EU’s skepticism of GM crops has influenced the global view of biotechnology.

Both the European Union and United States have a significant influence on the global economy, but also on the international standard setting bodies, such as CODEX Alimentarius and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). As the EU and the U.S. duke it out in the negotiations ring on the big areas of contention in agriculture, it is safe to say that the side that wins will have the upper hand in sending a message globally on what agricultural practices are acceptable.

The world is watching to see how these trade negotiations between the EU and the U.S. unfold, and I, for one, am concerned about what a negative outcome could mean for U.S. feed exports -- not just to the EU, but globally.

Prior to the formal inception of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations in 2013, the world had already seen evidence of the EU’s global influence. For example, in 2002, six million people in Zimbabwe were facing famine. President Robert Mugabe's government rejected a U.S. consignment of food aid (corn) because it was not certified genetically modified (GM) free. Zimbabwe feared farmers would use the corn as planting seed, but more notably, Zimbabwe expressed concern about the consumption of GM maize by livestock, which would jeopardize its beef exports to Europe.

Did you know that Zimbabwe again rejected GM corn in 2010 for the same reasons? The EU’s “preference” for non-GMO products is leading to global production trends to cater more towards the EU’s preferences as a means to gain market access to the EU, thereby limiting their own country’s acceptance of such products.

The EU’s stance

The EU often leans on the “precautionary principle” (PP) as justification for adopting non-scientific risk management measures. The EU’s PP is included in its regulations (EC 178/2002), but even more important, it is ingrained in the mentality of its people. Though it is based on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) language within the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Chapter, I believe the EU’s PP has been implemented in broader terms than the original intent of the WTO’s language.

Whereas the PP is to be used in situations where there may be a possibility of harm, but where scientific uncertainty regarding the risk exists, the EU tends to employ PP even when scientific evidence points to the contrary.

The most recognized example of this is the EU’s delay in approving eight biotech events for corn, soy, canola and cotton varieties that all have already been found to be safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EU has been pressured by local anti-technology advocacy groups to block approval. And now, here we are in the midst of trade negotiations with the EU, and such traits continue to be blocked for approval.

The European Commission (EC) has released draft proposed text on SPS measures for TTIP that expose a lack of progress in the EU’s mentality. Article 9 of this draft proposed text includes language very reminiscent of the PP model: “The importing Party shall accept sanitary and phytosanitary measures of the exporting Party as equivalent to its own if the exporting Party objectively demonstrates to the importing Party that its measure achieves the importing Party’s appropriate level of protection.”

Will this appropriate level of protection (ALOP) be based on risk and science-based evidence? If this language is included the final text of the TTIP trade agreement, this needs to be made clear.

Regulating on behalf of public interest?

The EC explained in a recent factsheet on Regulatory Cooperation that each side has the right to regulate in the public interest; however, public interest is completely different than science. 

Let’s not forget Article 7 of the EC’s draft proposed text on SPS: “Parties shall ensure that tolerances and maximum residue levels adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission…will be applied by each party with undue delay unless the importing party had signaled reservation in the Codex Alimentarius Commission.” This is essentially negating the efficacy of such international standard setting bodies as a whole. Why bother even having these international standard setting bodies if a country can decide to not abide by the standards it sets? The EU has gone even further to incorporate language into bilateral trade agreements substantiating its ability -- neigh right -- to disregard a decision if there is disagreement during the decision-making process.

I don’t deny the right of a sovereign nation to have a say in the safety of products for their market, but I do, however, seriously question when those decisions are so restrictive that they go beyond the intent of protecting human and animal health and are, rather, intended to cater to unfounded personal perceptions of reality by the public.

Incorporating domestic, cultural preferences and other illegitimate factors not directly related to food safety into any country’s regulatory decision-making process undermines the objectivity of the regulatory process itself. It invites protectionist trade policies for reasons other than concerns about food safety and is ultimately detrimental to not only trade, but to the humans and animals who have a great deal to gain from the technology. It is this behavior that corroborates the ignorance of the people, rather than educates them of the causality between science and risk.

U.S. sets the bar for feed quality, technology

Naturally, the U.S. wants to continue selling feed products and growing its feed production industry. We want the U.S. feed industry to continue to thrive. However, I believe with certainty the growth of the U.S. feed industry is going to be in demand abroad; not within its borders.

The United Nations projects the global population to grow to 9.6 billion people by 2050. This doesn’t just mean an additional 2 million people to feed, it also means feeding a growing middle class whose dietary preferences will change and develop to include a greater desire for meat, milk and eggs. How can the world meet this increased demand for animal protein without feed -- and without the U.S. feed industry?

The U.S. is a producer of high-quality, advanced feed products; products that allow animal producers to produce more efficient, nutritional animal protein and more cost effectively. With the EU working so diligently to suppress -- and even reject -- innovation and new technologies without sound justification, within the EU as well as globally, how does the U.S. compete in this growing market?

TTIP gives the U.S. a chance to sway the EU more towards a greater acceptance in science-based risk management regulations, and could hopefully have a means to hold them to it. If the U.S. does not succeed in this in TTIP, there will be serious consequences. EU import restrictions on feed flows down to restrictions on animal protein imports.

A call to action

So what should the U.S. do? Do we sacrifice the wants and needs of the rest of the world, by ignoring the value of technologies to satisfy the EU’s unrealistic demands -- especially given the practicality and cost to produce and segregate non-GMO grains?

The year 2012 marked the first time that developing countries grew more biotech crops (52 percent) than other industrialized countries (48 percent). We want this growth in acceptance of biotech crops to continue, but they can’t if the Europeans are able to influence the global markets.

Global protein production cannot meet the demands of the growing world population if feed inputs are globally restricted to the standards set by the Europeans. It limits the growth and sustainability of global food production. Holding the EU accountable to international standards and science-based measures will send a message to the rest of the world. 

We look toward science. We believe in the science. We trust the science.

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