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24 January 2003

"The Human Costs of Biotech Fear-Mongering," by Robert Zoellick, January 24, 2003

(Urges Europe to consider human costs of fear-mongering)

The following letter to the editor by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick about European attitudes regarding agricultural biotechnology was published January 24 by The Wall Street Journal.
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Letters to the Editor: The Human Costs of Biotech Fear-Mongering 24 January 2003

The Wall Street Journal

I am delighted to read that your Jan. 13 editorial "Immoral Europe" on European biotech obstructionism has stirred six European Commissioners to mass around an indefensible position (Letters to the Editor, Jan. 17). The need for Europeans to debate the costs of their acquiescence to biotech fear-mongering is long overdue.

The commissioners proclaim that "authorized GMOs [genetically modified organisms] are freely traded in the EU [European Union]." Notice the word "authorized": Since 1998, the EU has refused even to consider approving biotech applications, ignoring favorable risk assessments by the EU Scientific Committee. Two co-signers of the letter you published have acknowledged publicly that this political moratorium on biotech approvals is unjustified and illegal. Furthermore, at least four EU member states have banned imports of biotech products approved by the EU in years past -- and the commission abstained from challenging these violations of EU law.

Since the six commissioners recommend "a little independent thinking" and are disturbed by "misleading and wrong" statements, I commend to them the December 2002 reports of the French -- I repeat, French -- Academies of Sciences and Medicine: These studies conclude that biotech crops "have been rejected in Europe, although there has never been a health problem . . . or damage to the environment." They point to "propagation of erroneous information" about biotech and conclude that "GMOs create very favorable prospects for food." They urge the EU to lift its biotech moratorium.

The European fog of misinformation and protectionism resulting from EU biotech policies has had life-and-death consequences. Africans, not Americans, have cited these concerns in refusing to stave off starvation by accepting the same food that Europeans freely eat when they visit the United States. The six commissioners write that they have never asserted that biotech foods are unsafe, yet Europeans block those very foods and threaten African biotech exports. Perhaps this logic is persuasive to Europeans in Brussels, but Americans and Africans find it contradictory. African officials who fear European retribution have told me of Europe's pressure to stymie biotech development. Since Commissioner Nielson asserted in another forum that he only wants the truth, I would propose he start by investigating the activities of the anti-biotech NGOs the commission funds. The truth is that biotech products offer African farmers the promise of higher yields, better nutrition, fewer pesticides and greater resistance of crops to various calamities.

These six commissioners know well that the EU's biotech moratorium is politically motivated, damaging to world trade, and harmful to Africa, Europe, America and the world. I urge them to direct their energies toward the European states that are the cause of the problem, not the Americans who point it out.

Robert Zoellick U.S. Trade Representative Washington

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