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U.S. Challenges European Ban on Genetically Modified Food

May 14, 2003|From Associated Press

The Bush administration accused the European Union of violating international trade agreements Tuesday in blocking imports of U.S. farm products through its long-standing ban on genetically modified food, which the U.S. contends is safe.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced that the United States was filing a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization challenging the five-year moratorium after months of negotiations to get it lifted voluntarily. Also signing on to the complaint were Argentina, Canada and Egypt.

The administration has been under pressure for months from lawmakers, farm groups and the biotechnology industry to file the complaint over the Europeans' ban on biotech imports. The administration had argued against the ban, but had delayed filing a WTO case while President Bush assembled support for a war against Iraq.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has long sought such a complaint, and in March, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the panel's senior Democrat, took the administration to task for delaying a filing.

EU officials questioned the action, saying it would further damage trade relations already strained by the U.S. decision to launch a war against Iraq despite opposition from members of the U.N. Security Council.

"It can only make an already difficult debate in Europe more difficult," said Margo Wallstrom, an EU commissioner.

The EU started the ban because it doubts the safety of biotech foods, though the U.S. contends such food is safe.

In 1998, the United States exported $63 million worth of corn to the EU, but the exports dwindled to $12.5 million last year.

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