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ASA hails victory against Europe's biotech approval system

The American Soybean Association (ASA) has hailed reports that a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel had sided with the United States, Canada, and Argentina who had argued that the European Union’s (EU) review process for biotech commodities was broken and unfairly restricted trade.

While welcoming this WTO ruling against Europe’s approval process, ASA called on the Bush Administration to promptly mount a WTO challenge against Europe’s discriminatory traceability and labeling laws that apply to biotech crops.

“This favorable WTO ruling should only be seen as ‘step one’ of the actions against Europe’s unjustified and unscientific policies toward biotechnology,” said Rick Ostlie, ASA first vice-president and a soybean producer from Northwood, N.D.

“What must now follow is the more important ‘step two’, which is a WTO challenge of the EU’s unfair traceability and labeling laws which are costing U.S. soybean growers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales each year.”

In 1997 the EU introduced mandatory labeling requirements for all foods with detectable presence of ingredients derived from biotech crops. In March 2004 the EU implemented new legislation that significantly broadened the scope of those labeling requirements. Labeling is now required for all foods and feeds that contain or consist of biotech products, regardless of whether that presence is detectable through testing.

“The EU imposed these requirements despite repeated pronouncements by EU scientific committees that biotech foods and feeds are entirely safe,” Ostlie said. “Indeed, many EU leaders have admitted that the labels serve no food safety purpose. Nevertheless, consumers perceive the labels as health warnings, and most EU food companies and retailers have therefore decided against marketing labeled foods. As a result, U.S. exports of biotech products to the EU, including U.S. soybeans, have fallen sharply.”

In quantity terms, U.S. soybean exports to the EU have fallen from 8.3 million metric tons (304.9 million bushels) in 1996 to 3.7 million metric tons (135.9 million bushels) in 2004. Between 2002 and 2004, there was a drop of 39 percent. The most important factor in this slide is the declining demand among EU food manufacturers and retailers for soybean oil and other food products derived from U.S. soybeans.

Between marketing years 1996/97 and 2003/04, a period during which food companies were reformulating their products and seeking new sources of supply in anticipation of the new labeling rules, soybean oil’s share of the total EU vegetable oil market fell from 19 percent to 13 percent. At the same time, the proportion of soybean oil on the EU market that comes from U.S. soybeans was falling even more rapidly. From 1996 to 2004 the U.S. share of EU soybean imports decreased from 61 percent to 27 percent. At the same time, the share of imports from Brazil, which until recently denied producing biotech soybeans, rose from 22 percent to 64 percent.

“With this WTO victory fresh in hand against Europe’s discriminatory biotech system, the United States and our allies must now challenge Europe’s even more egregious biotech traceability and labeling rules,” continued Ostlie.

“These unfair and non-science based rules are costing U.S. soybeans farmers and U.S. food companies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales each year. ASA looks forward to working closely with U.S. Trade Representative Portman and others in the Administration to mount such a WTO challenge.”

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