US Agriculture Secretary appeals for US/ EU understanding over beef, GMOs

A trade war with the US over the EU's refusal to open its markets to beef from hormone-treated cattle could be avoided if the two sides try to understand the cultural differences at the heart of the dispute, US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman has told the World Agricultural Congress.

“We’re not backing down from our insistence that the ban be lifted. But I think that if we all tone down the rhetoric a bit and try to understand each other a little better, we may move closer to an ultimate resolution of this dispute,” Glickman told the Congress in St. Louis, Missouri.

Glickman confirmed that the US is going ahead with the imposition of retaliatory tariffs under WTO rules. But, he said, the cultural differences between the US and Europe must be examined if a rules-based global trading system is to work.

“Let’s remember that the BSE scare in Europe was far worse than any foodborne illness outbreak we’ve had in the United States, and it has understandably heightened consumer anxiety in the EU,” Glickman said. “We should remember that Americans are more willing to see science as a force for progress…while Europeans may be more cautious, more concerned perhaps about even the theoretical possibility of risk.

“Of course, the coming battle over biotechnology and genetically modified organisms may just make beef hormones look like the minor leagues.

“There is no doubt that biotechnology will be an indispensable tool as we try to serve global agricultural demand in a sustainable manner.

“Nevertheless, we can’t be afraid to ask some of the difficult questions about biotech. We have to have rigorous testing and strong regulations. And we have to make sure that those involved in determining the safety of genetically-engineered products are staying at arm’s length from the people who stand to profit from them.

“Let’s be enthusiastic about the potential of biotechnology. But let’s also understand and acknowledge all of the ethical, safety and ecological implications. We have to recognize that the application of biotechnology will have some unintended consequences, which will, in turn, trigger opposition from different constituencies.

“We have to be aware of the biotech skepticism that’s out there, especially as it relates to food safety. We can’t forcefeed GMOs to reluctant consumers. Instead, let’s bring them along. Let’s reassure them that biotech products must pass through many checkpoints on the road from petri dish to store shelf.

“My confidence in biotech is ultimately irrelevant, if the consumers are not buying. Only when consumers have confidence will we be able to see the return on the enormous public and private investments we’ve made in biotechnology. Only then can the forces of irrational fear of science and fear of the future and fear of change be directly met head on.”

“Scientists should always remember that there’s another kind of research – market research – without which all the patents and all the ingenuity in the world add up to very little. When it’s all said and done, the public opinion poll is just as powerful a research tool as the test tube.”

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