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GMO Soybeans Are Speed Bump in EU Trade Deal

Courtesy DuPont Pioneer
Until the European Union approves a new genetically engineered crop called Plenish, DuPont is restricting the sale and cultivation of the soy seeds in the U.S. to guarantee that no shipments to Europe are accidentally contaminated.

Scientists started working back in the 1990s to genetically engineer a soybean that’s oil would be free of artery-clogging trans fats, a product farmers think will appeal to consumers as well as food-makers and fast-food chains.

But even though federal regulators approved a soybean variety in 2010 developed by a unit of DuPont, the crop is still only being grown on limited acreage under strict rules to ensure it is kept separate from other soybeans.

The reason is at the heart of a major issue facing U.S. and European negotiators as they try to work out a trade deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, that can get ratified by Congress.

DuPont has been unable to get the European Union’s approval for the new product, one of an array of genetically engineered crops that are stalled in an EU approval process, even though the company first applied for EU approval in 2007.

DuPont doesn’t plan to market the biotech seeds in Europe and doesn’t expect the cooking oil to sell there either, because of European resistance to many genetically engineered foods, which are produced from genetically modified organisms.

DuPont’s concern, and the concern of U.S. farmers, is that a soy shipment to Europe could be accidentally contaminated with traces of the new soybean, which goes by the trade name Plenish. So, until the EU approves the crop, sales and cultivation of the seeds will continue to be restricted in the United States.

Most of the soybeans now grown in the United States are genetically engineered. The EU allows importation from the United States of some GMO varieties it has approved already — so the concern is about contamination by unapproved beans such as Plenish.

Even a small amount of contamination could lead to a shutdown of soybean trade. Foreign countries don’t hesitate to block shipments of U.S. farm commodities if it’s possible they contain minute amounts of biotech products those nations haven’t approved. Japan and South Korea both imposed bans on U.S. wheat this spring, when stray plants of an unapproved biotech variety were discovered growing in Oregon.

“The problem is that Europe just delays and delays and delays” making decisions on applications, said Matt O’Mara, director of international affairs for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the trade group that represents biotech seed giants such as DuPont and Monsanto Co., which has developed a similar soybean to DuPont’s. “We want there to be a commitment to change this practice, and we believe TTIP is the most effective way to do it.”

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