After the European Union proposed Wednesday to allow its 28 member countries to decide individually whether they wanted to ban or allow the importation of genetically modified organisms, food industry groups and the U.S. government reacted promptly, and with some ire.
"Proposing this kind of trade restrictive action is not constructive," Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, said in a statement Wednesday. His office said that such regulatory uncertainty in the European Union might "unnecessarily restrict trade" in billions of dollars in agricultural products.
Copa-Cogeca, the top farm lobby in the European Union, said that the EU's decision would threaten food markets within the Continent and affect competition, Agence France-Presse reported. The lobby also said such a decision would lead to job losses.
Genetically modified organisms, often called GMOs, include produce with DNA that has been altered, often to make plants hardier against certain bugs, pesticides or weather-related phenomena. In the United States, 94 percent of soy and 93 percent of corn are genetically modified, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Whether GMOs are safe for human consumption has become the subject of great controversy in the United States as well as in other regions of the world, including Europe. In the U.S., scientists overwhelmingly say they are safe, although the public broadly believes the opposite.
Before the EU's proposal can become law, it has to be approved by both the European Parliament and the governments of individual countries within the EU. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Spain support genetically modified organisms, but others, including France and Austria, do not, the Wall Street Journal reported. Given how divided member states are, the EU's proposal to defer to countries on such a decision suggests an attempt at compromise.
In January, the European Parliament allowed European countries to decide whether they would allow genetically modified crops to be grown within their borders.
A genetically modified version of maize, or corn, is the only GMO grown in Europe, and few GMOs sold in the Continent are actually consumed by humans, Reuters reports. Rather, much of it goes to livestock, such as soy meal, which comprises 55 percent of protein-heavy feed for animals. The EU also imports other types of genetically modified animal feed, including maize, wheat and oats.