Committee Holds Hearing on Artificial Barriers to U.S. Trade and Food Aid: Witnesses Testify on Domestic and International Impact of EU Policy on Biotechnology…Say There is No Sound Science to Support a Moratorium

Mar 26, 2003

Committee Holds Hearing on Artificial Barriers to U.S. Trade and Food Aid
Witnesses Testify on Domestic and International Impact of EU Policy on Biotechnology…Say There is No Sound Science to Support a Moratorium

Washington, DC- The House Agriculture Committee today held a hearing on the issue of artificial barriers to U.S. trade and food aid, focusing on the European Union’s moratorium on agricultural biotechnology, and how it may have influenced some developing African countries, currently in the throws of a severe famine, to reject much needed U.S. food aid because the shipments contained corn produced with biotechnology. The witness testimony largely held that EU policy concerning biotechnology is not based on sound science, and is severely detrimental not only to U.S. farmers and ranchers but to those throughout the world who are in the grip of starvation.

“The politicizing of agricultural biotechnology must end, so that we can return to providing food aid to the hungry as soon as possible,” Chairman Goodlatte said. “We can no longer underestimate the importance of this issue. Not only are U.S. farmers and ranchers hurting but the lives of millions, primarily in Africa, are in the balance as a result of policy which is not based on sound science, as is evidenced by the fact that American consumers have been consuming genetically enhanced food for years. This is something that the Committee and the agricultural community take very seriously.”

In testimony before the Committee this morning, Speaker Dennis Hastert echoed these sentiments. “The current EU moratorium on genetically-modified products has translated into an annual loss of over $300 million in corn exports for U.S. farmers,” Hastert said. “…Clearly, the long-term impact of these prohibitive policies could be disastrous for U.S. farmers in terms of competitiveness and the ability to provide food for the world’s population. Addressing world hunger is particularly critical when approximately 800 million people are malnourished in the developing world, and another 100 million go hungry each day. Biotechnology is the answer to this pressing problem. Farmers can produce better yields through drought-tolerant varieties, which are rich in nutrients and more resistant to insects and weeds, while those in need reap the benefits.”

In his testimony, Hastert also called for official World Trade Organization action to send a message that, “discriminatory policies on biotechnology, which are not based on sound science, are illegal.”

In January, Speaker Hastert joined with Chairman Goodlatte, and several other members of Congress in writing a letter to President Bush in support of the U.S. government taking a case against the EU to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to protest the restrictions against importation of products produced through biotechnology.

“I believe that the US and the EU have a responsibility, as developed nations, to lead by example in developing regulatory systems that not only promote safe food, but also promote a better and more secure food supply," said Charlie Stenholm, the Committee’s Ranking Member. "And I am disappointed that Europe has so far been unable to construct a science-based regulatory system for food that encourages development of new technologies that can benefit developed and developing countries around the world."

Dr. John Kilama, President of the Global Bioscience Development Institute testified that, “To date, there is no credible scientific evidence that any foods derived from genetically modified crops have an adverse impact on human health or any environmental degradation. Despite the fact that there is abundant information about the safety of genetically modified foods, many countries in Africa continue to be reluctant to move quickly to acquire the biotechnology to support their agricultural programs…Africans are concerned that Europe will retaliate against African exports if Africans accept genetically modified organisms from the United States…”

Testifying before the Committee, Leon Corzine, Chairman of the Biotechnology Working Group for the National Corn Growers Association, said, “There has been a concerted campaign by some international non-governmental organizations based in Europe to convince hungry African countries that food that has been safely grown and consumed for years in the U.S. is unsafe, and if they permit their citizens to consume this food aid they will somehow loose export markets in Europe….While we are concerned about the potential disruption in this outlet for U.S. corn, we are more concerned at the prospect of scare mongering about the safety of U.S. corn affecting the livelihood of citizens in the region.”

During testimony which included a video from his recent trip to Africa, Rep. Frank Wolf said, “There are countless numbers of women and children whose lives could needlessly be cut short if this thinking continues. American agricultural products are among the safest in the world- even Europe’s officials admit that…Irrational fear has replaced moral compassion for hungry mouths around the world.”

Other witnesses included Dr. Calestuos Juma, Director of the Program for Science Technology and Innovation, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Mr. Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Mr. Gary Joachim, Member of the Board of Directors for the American Soybean Association, and Mr. Michael W. Deegan, President and CEO of the Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance.