A new report from the European Commission says that European Union's traceability and labeling laws for biotechnology have had a positive effect by providing relevant information, consumer choice and safety guarantees. The American Soybean Association was "outraged" by the conclusions, saying it was "nothing short of a whitewash and a betrayal of the very consumers the EU claims to care about."
The EU first implemented mandatory labeling regulations in 1997, requiring foods that contain biotech ingredients to be labeled. Because EU consumers perceive biotech labels as health warnings, European food companies and dozens of major food manufacturers outside Europe who market their products in the EU, choose to reformulate their products or find new, non-U.S. sources of supply in order to avoid labeling their products as biotech.
For example, because soybean oil must be labeled, despite the fact that no detectable DNA from a biotech soybean is in the oil, EU processors moved away from U.S. soybeans. According to a release from the American Soybean Association, the value of U.S. exports of soybeans and soybean products fell by 65% between 1997, when the first biotech labeling rules for food went into effect, and 2004, from $2.5 billion to $874 million. Total U.S. exports of products falling within the scope of the EU regulations have dropped from $4.2 billion in 1996 to $1.6 billion in 2004.
"The cost of complying with labeling and traceability rules drives up prices and makes U.S. producers of corn, soybeans and processed products less competitive," explains Bob Metz. "Unlike conventional trade barriers, labeling requirements rarely stop products at the border. Rather, they affect demand for imported products by causing food companies and feed compounders to reformulate their products or seek new sources of supply, and retailers to switch to food products that do not contain biotech ingredients."
"U.S. farmers and food companies are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost sales due to the EU's trade-restrictive and non-science based biotech labeling and tracing rules," Metz concludes.
ASA states it is time for the United States government to mount a WTO-challenge against these rules and expose the rules as "discriminatory trade barriers that have nothing to do with health or safety and that have actually decreased consumer choice."