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However, in a statement, EU officials expressed confidence that a TTIP deal would not require any changes in European laws or hinder the EU’s approval process. “The safety assessment which EFSA carries out before any GMO is placed on the market and the risk management procedure will not be affected by the negotiations,” the statement said.
Opponents of biotech crops say they’re worried the administration will use the negotiations to eliminate European barriers to biotech products and to make it more difficult to ever erect similar restrictions in the United States. Many groups opposed to the technology have been pushing for state and federal labeling rules similar to those in Europe.
In a letter to U.S. and EU trade officials last month, an array of American and European advocacy groups expressed particular concern about preserving the EU’s right to use what is called the “precautionary principle” in evaluating new food products, including GMOs. The precautionary principle puts a heavier burden on regulators to be sure a product poses little or no risk of harm. U.S. agribusiness groups have urged the administration to address that issue in the negotiations.
“Those of us in the European Union reject any weakening of the use of the precautionary principle, while those of us in the United States demand that our negotiators not make any proposal that would preclude its use in the future,” the groups said in the June 24 letter. The organizations that signed the letter included the Center for Food Safety, which has fought U.S. approvals of biotech crops, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
While the biotech industry remains concerned about the precautionary principle, “we’re trying to find a practical way forward” to accelerate approvals, O’Mara said. Biotech companies have 74 applications awaiting approval in the EU, 22 of which have been approved by the European Food Safety Authority. Some of those 22 are renewals, rather than new applications. Even if the food safety organization decides a product is safe, the European Commission still has to render its OK. Some of the applications have been awaiting final action for as much as three and a half years.
O’Mara says the U.S. industry isn’t challenging the EU’s biotech regulations themselves or its labeling requirements for GMOs. “I don’t think we’re anticipating competitive nirvana as a result of the TTIP,” he said.
The biotech industry has largely given up on being able to sell GMO seeds in Europe, though Europe does still import some GMO soybeans, oil and meal. Earlier this month, Monsanto Co. became the latest firm to announce that it would no longer seek approvals for cultivating crops there. However, more and more farmers are growing the crops in other parts of the world, so the EU resistance to imports will continue to be a concern to the industry.