U.S. says science should settle farm debates in trade deal with EU

Tue Jun 17, 2014 9:16am EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A planned EU/U.S. trade deal needs to sweep away "non-scientific barriers" that prevent U.S. farmers from selling many genetically modified crops and some chemically treated meats in Europe, the U.S. agriculture secretary said on Tuesday.

The two sides aim to create the world's largest free-trade pact, whose advocates say it could boost their economies by $100 billion a year each. But after a year of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), agriculture is emerging as one of the most difficult areas.

The European Union has ruled out importing meat from animals injected with hormones and said that it will not simply open the door to GM crops.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said difficult issues needed to be addressed, with the common goal of opening markets and eliminating "non-scientific barriers".

"Science is a common language ... We will be working towards making sure that whatever agreements are reached, they are consistent with sound science," he told a media briefing during a visit to Brussels.

In the case of GM crops, the EU has cleared for import some 50 of about 450 commercial strains. The bloc takes in about 30 million tonnes a year for its cattle, pigs and poultry, but EU retailers hardly stock any GM food because of widespread consumer resistance.

Vilsack said it was not acceptable that it took four years or more for GM strains to gain access to European markets after winning clearance from the European Food Safety Authority. That compared with a U.S. norm of about 18 months.

The United States is demanding the regulatory process be harmonized.   Continued...

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington March 14, 2014.
 REUTERS/Gary Cameron