EU denies US charge of "immoral" biotech policy
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy denied either the EU or individual member states made their aid for African countries contingent on those nations banning genetically modified crops.
"We very much regret that US officials are peddling this rumor, and even more that you gave credence to it without checking with the EU," Lamy said.
The letter responded to a recent WSJ opinion piece praising US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick for his criticism of Europe's "immoral" stance on genetically modified crops.
It was also signed by EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielsen, Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.
Last week, Zoellick said US patience with the EU's four-year-old moratorium on the approval of genetically modified crops was running out, and that he now favored taking Brussels to the World Trade Organization to end the ban.
Zoellick also told reporters the United States had received information that some EU member states had told developing countries that they could not use biotechnology food products if they want to continue receiving assistance.
"I find it immoral that people are not being supplied with food to live in Africa because people have invented dangers about biotechnology," he said.
Zoellick repeated the charge in interviews this week in Africa, where he was attending a trade ministers meeting.
"When I was in Africa (last year) a couple of African ministers told me of actions by (EU) member states, not the (European) Commission, but member states, that in various ways were trying to stop them from biotechnology development and using aid to do that," Zoellick said.
"I have mentioned this to my friend, Commissioner Lamy. I know it is not his view, but all I can do is report what I have been told by some of the African ministers. And I think it is extremely sad and disturbing," he said.
US farmers say they have lost hundreds of millions of dollar of sales because of the EU's moratorium.
The United States is a major producer of biotech foods, with about 70 percent of soybeans and more than 25 percent of corn grown from genetically modified seeds. The biotech company Monsanto Co. (MON.N) hopes to bring biotech wheat to market.
Concern about maintaining good trade relations with the EU apparently was one factor in Zambia's decision last year not to accept genetically modified corn under US food aid programs.
Lamy denied the EU has used its influence to persuade African nations not to accept genetically modified crops.
"The EU has never suggested to African governments that GM (genetically modified) foods are unsafe - in fact, we made available to them our scientific research for the GM varieties we have approved. Neither has it said that GM should not be allowed into their countries," he said.
President George W. Bush's cabinet is expected to meet later this month to decide whether to launch a WTO case against the EU. Brussels argues the move would be counterproductive because the EU is already moving to lift its moratorium.
The US Trade Representative's office had no immediate reaction to the EU accusation it was spreading "unsubstantiated" rumors.