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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK


US to label GM foods

US farmers have taken to GM crops in a big way

The US Government has said that it will probably agree to label genetically-modified (GM) food.

US Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman: "We cannot blindly embrace their benefits"
At the moment, American law does not require this. However, European governments have threatened to continue their ban on the import of certain US GM products if the Americans do not accept such labelling.

Up to now, the Clinton administration has opposed GM labelling, agreeing with the American food industry that it unfairly stigmatises what they regard as perfectly safe products.

But the US Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman, said that relations with Europe on the GM issue could deteriorate into an all-out trade war and labelling was a way in which such a crisis might be avoided.

Speaking before an audience of environmentalists, lobbyists and lawmakers, Mr Glickman extolled the benefits of biotechnology. He said the technology would lead to increased yields and a decrease in the use of pesticides.

Loud rhetoric

According to Mr Glickman, several European countries were letting their fears override these potential benefits. And he urged them to sort out their internal differences as soon as possible.

[ image: There are fears of an all-out trade war over GM products]
There are fears of an all-out trade war over GM products
"Quite frankly, the food safety and regulatory regimes in Europe are so split, and so divided amongst the different countries, that I am extremely concerned that failure to work out these bio-tech issues in a sensible way could do deep damage in our next trade round, and affects both agriculture and non-agricultural issues," he said.

"Both sides of the Atlantic must tone down rhetoric, roll up their sleeves, and work towards conflict resolution, based on open trade, sound science, and consumer involvement. And I think this can be done if the will is there."

American farmers are producing more and more genetically-engineered products, with 44% of American soya beans and 36% of corn coming from GM seeds.

James Cook, US Academy of Sciences, and RP Sharma, Indian Plant Biotechnology Centre, discuss the public's fears
So far this has been accepted without question by the American public. But last month, researchers at Cornell University said that pollen from GM corn had been shown to kill Monarch butterflies.

Threat to butterflies

This has prompted the US Environmental Defence Fund to petition the country's Environmental Protection Agency to introduce rules that would see buffer zones of 18 metres (60 feet) around GM corn to protect the butterflies.

[ image: A Cornell study showed how GM corn could harm monarch butterflies]
A Cornell study showed how GM corn could harm monarch butterflies
"There is considerable concern that other butterflies, not only Monarchs, but including endangered species may be killed by the widespread planting of GM corn," said Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist for the fund.

But a study presented on Tuesday by an association of biotechnology companies and research institutions said more research was required to establish the real threat to butterflies.

Leonard Gianessi, senior research associate at the US National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, said: "I know of these risk concerns, I believe that the agency will look very closely at those kind of risk concerns, to the Monarch and others.

"And if they conclude that there is a risk, an increased risk, then they will do something about it. So there will be more research done."

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