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AGRICULTURE REPORT— February 25, 2003: US-EU Dispute over Genetically Modified Foods - 2003-02-24

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

The Bush administration has been trying to get the European Union to accept new genetically engineered crops. The administration has talked about bringing a case to the World Trade Organization.

Earlier this month, however, officials said the administration had decided not to bring a case at least for now. For one thing, they said the Iraq situation had made it harder to gather top administration officials to discuss trade. For another, a White House official told the New York Times that this was not a good time to risk angering European allies.

But in recent days there have been conflicting reports about the possibility of legal action. An Agriculture Department trade adviser said no decision had been made.

The European Union stopped approving new genetically engineered crops in nineteen-ninety-eight. It does not ban imports of already approved products from the United States. However, these products must say that they contain "genetically modified" material.

American critics of the European policy say such products should not have to be specially marked. They point to studies that show such crops are safe.

United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has argued that genetically engineered foods could ease starvation in Africa. Some developing countries have refused to accept such food aid. One fear is that Europe will reject their food exports if they use genetically engineered seed. Mister Zoellick went so far as to call the European position "immoral" -- a charge E-U officials rejected.

Public opinion is also an issue. Many Europeans do not want to buy genetically engineered foods. Many stores will not sell them. Americans generally do not know if the foods they eat contain such crops.

E-U officials have expressed concern about how these crops might effect the environment. There are other issues as well. Genetically engineered seed costs more. E-U officials have questioned the profitability.

In two-thousand-one, the European Union created new rules for approving genetically engineered organisms. Top E-U food safety and agricultural officials say they do not oppose genetically changed products. They say they are only finishing a long process of creating rules for production and sale. E-U officials said now would not be a good time for the Bush administration to try to force the issue.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.