Europe has won a victory in the biotech labeling war. Last week a group of nearly 90 countries agreed to require more stringent rules governing future trade in genetically modified agricultural products.
The decision would require U.S. companies to more accurately label biotech foods being shipped to those countries that signed the agreement. Delegates at the Biosafety Protocol meetings agreed shipment documents should contain the scientific name and characteristics of genetically modified ingredients.
Following the meetings four years ago, the American Soybean Association (ASA) warned that the terms would require additional paperwork and needless expense associated with documentation of shipments. They also warned this would become an even greater burden on the whole commodity system if proposed rules are implemented that require identification on each different variety of biotech crop contained in every shipment.
The Biosafety Protocol itself does not specifically require countries to label biotech crops or to place labels on products containing biotech ingredients, but requires shipping documentation to accompany bulk commodities that may include crops derived through biotechnology. This would serve to advise the importing country that the shipment "may contain" biotech varieties, and that the shipment is for processing into food and feed products, not for planting.
Europeans lobbied heavy for more detailed information in identification papers that accompany biotech shipments. ASA President Ron Heck says, "the European Union and anti-biotech activists hijacked the process to serve their own political ends of further restricting trade in biotech products." Dennis Olson, director of trade programs in the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says the outcome strengthens the EU's hand in fighting a suit filed by the U.S. in the World Trade Organization last August that aims to lift a six-year European de facto moratorium against new biotech goods.
Heck says the rules will increase food cost and decrease the availability of healthy, high quality food products for millions of people around the world. "Under pressure from anti-biotech forces, the EU is misleading poor developing countries to focus scarce resources on biotech crops proven to be safe and that will be processed into food and feed," he says.
To minimize U.S. soybean trade disruption arising from implementation of the BioSafety Protocol, ASA is encouraging all soybean growers to make several photocopies of each of their seed receipts as they procure their 2004 soybean seed. As these seeds are planted, make notes in the margins of the seed receipts to specify in which field each soybean variety was used. Then at harvest time, growers will need to do their best to match up a photocopy of each appropriate seed receipt with every truckload of soybeans delivered to the elevator.