The European Union is the No. 1 importer of U.S. beans. But if two proposals currently stuck in the European Commission (EC) Parliament and Council come to fruition, it's possible U.S. farmers could lose a big chunk — if not all — of that export market.
First, the EC “traceability and labeling” proposal calls for all farmers to record and pass on information about the genetically modified organisms in their crops, including the unique codes of all events in the shipment.
Simply put, that's impossible, unless we're talking about the tightly controlled identity-preserved supply system that's successfully in place.
Your commodity beans, both biotech and non-biotech, are commingled and mixed before being shipped. In fact, a single ton can be made up of soybeans from as many as several thousand individual farms.
“Proposing to trace individual supplies through such a system is incomprehensible,” says Jerry Slocum, United Soybean Board.
Second, the “novel foods and feeds” proposal is almost as absurd. It promotes process-based labeling so that products derived from biotechnology would be labeled regardless of whether genetic modification can be found in the end product. For example, soybean oil derived from a biotech soybean would have to be labeled even though no DNA protein from the modification appears in the oil.
Both of these proposals only reinforce the confusion that European consumers have with biotech crops. These proposals imply that consumers should be concerned about already approved, and safe, soybeans.
Granted, European consumers are suspicious about food safety in the wake of mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease. But are these proposals going to provide clarity for consumers?
It's perhaps a noble gesture on their behalf to clarify for Europeans whether food has a biotech source. But without the ability to successfully test and trace, consumers will likely be even more confused than they are now.
The proposals, which some call ridiculous, could be hung up in the European Union's decision-making process for up to two years.
At a biotech meeting I attended in Germany last month, it was obvious just how stagnant the debate on biotechnology has become. In some respects, it appears that European consumer acceptance of biotech has actually slipped backward. What a shame.