EU political climate slows
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Thursday, July 21, 2005
By Tom C. Doran
WASHINGTON - The European Union has slowed biotechnology efforts in those countries, according to observations made by U.S. agriculture leaders during a 10-day trip.
Leaders from the National Corn Growers Association and U.S. Grains Council traveled to Europe recently to discuss key issues facing Americans and Europeans regarding biofuels, biotech corn and trade.
NCGA and USGC representatives met with officials from Great Britain, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain during the mission.
"This trip gave us an opportunity to look at biotechnology and its acceptance among farmers, feed millers, manufacturers and consumers, and also at the EU reforms and their impact on farmers and farming," said USGC President and Chief Executive Officer Ken Hobbie during a recent teleconference.
"We also were able to look at and understand more completely the EU biofuels policy and development in its current state and how it may unfold in the future with the rising level of production in the United States."
NCGA President Leon Corzine, an Illinois corn grower, said the mission enabled them to "put the farmers` face in these issues."
"We were able to tell people in Europe what we do and what is important," he said.
"We wanted to reassure these folks that this is not just the (U.S.) administration pushing for biotechnology, but the farmers from the grassroots."
He added the European scientific community is embracing biotech corn. However, the European Union governments "are lagging behind," he said.
"Biotechnology is safe and is not posing any health risks to anyone," Corzine said.
"It`s becoming clear that the EU is using this as a trade barrier. Most producers want access to the technology in order to help them with product practices."
NCGA CEORick Tolman added: "The whole scientific community in Europe is very supportive of biotechnology. But this hasn`t changed the political climate. Recent votes by the European Union and its parliament have made it very clear this is a trade issue, not a food safety issue."
Darrin Ihnen, NCGA Biotech Working Group chairman and a South Dakota grain farmer, concurred.
"The benefits and safety of biotechnology was discussed at each stop. Growers and the scientific community are in favor," he said.
"Votes by the EU parliament were not a food safety issue but a trade issue. The EU continues to ban planting and growing of biotechnology crops other than in small acreages."
"There`s a lot of interest in Europe on biofuels. They`re making some significant commitments to biofuels," Tolman continued. "They have a goal of hitting 2 percent of their transportation fuel in biofuels by the end of 2005. These are EU-commissioned goals. Their goal by 2010 is 5.7 percent, and that`s close to our 8-billion-gallon level being looked at in here."
"Europeans are beginning to understand the importance of fuels and it`s increasing in renewable places, just as we are here," Corzine said. "There`s a great deal of interest in what agriculture can do in order to meet energy needs in the United States."
Spain grows more bio-products than any other country in Europe with more than 123,000 acres of biotech crops.
USGC Chairman Paul Williams said a shift in what crops may be planted in Europe is also a possibility.
"We heard that the EU overall budget is coming under pressure as members are concerned that a large part of the budget is going to farm subsidies," he said.
"The council will continue to monitor this. We could see a shift to more profitable crops due to the reduction in these payments. There could be a shift to more demand in biodiesels."
Trade issues also were discussed between the United States and European officials during the mission.
Trade issues were also discussed between the U.S. and European officials during the mission.
"When we were in Spain, the Spanish importers very clearly said they were anxious to reopen the market with the United States. They prefer to buy from the United States," Tolman explained.
"Given that there is biotech corn being grown in Spain. There was a very strong outcry from the importers in Spain that they would like to be able to buy in the United States again."
Despite the political quagmire regarding biotechnology, those on the trip were impressed with the amount of information made available to producers at the European Commission office in Brussels.
"We don`t see as much from the federal level here," Tolman said.
Since the political environment has not moved forward in the area of biotechnology, Corzine said investments in the technology have left Europe and shifted to the United States.
Ã‚Â© 2005, Agri-News Publications, LaSalle, Illinois