Washington Insider -- Friday

European Ruling in Favor of GMOs

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Divisions Persist Among WTO Members on What Buenos Aires Can Deliver On Agriculture

Differences of opinion persist among World Trade Organization (WTO) members over what the eleventh ministerial conference in Buenos Aires (MC11) can deliver on domestic support in agriculture.

A slew of rival proposals for ways of disciplining domestic support payments have been put forward by WTO members over the last year, with the usual differences persisting among various groups of countries.

The delegations from the EU and Brazil at the meeting again championed their recent proposal to curb domestic farm support ahead of the Buenos Aires ministerial meeting, which includes a suggested solution to the thorny issue of how to deal with food security concerns – a topic that has particularly involved India at recent WTO meetings.

The proposal is lacking in any concrete figures, but sets out a framework under which trade-distorting farm subsidies would be limited in proportion to the size of each country's agricultural sector.

This would mark a departure from the approach that has been under discussion in the context of the Doha Round negotiations for the last 15 years or so, under which the largest aggregate subsidizers would be required to make the largest cuts in trade distorting support.

Sen. Roberts Punts To Trump, Perdue On Clovis Nomination

Whether or not Sam Clovis gets a confirmation hearing to be the USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics will be up to President Donald Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Thursday.

Should Trump and Perdue want the nomination to move ahead, Roberts said he would move "expeditiously" on the matter if "that is the desire of the secretary and the president." So far, the panel has not yet received all the paperwork on Clovis, he noted.

In the wake of Roberts' comments, Politico reported Perdue urged Clovis get a hearing. "President Trump made a good choice in nominating Dr. Sam Clovis and he has my full support," Perdue said through a spokesperson. "I look forward to his hearing, so the committee has the opportunity to get to know him personally."

So far, the panel has set September 19 as the confirmation hearing for two of the USDA nominees – Stephen Censky to be deputy secretary, and Ted McKinney to be undersecretary for trade and foreign agriculture affairs.

Washington Insider: European Ruling in Favor of GMOs

The Associated Press is reporting this week that that a European Union court ruled Wednesday in favor of an Italian activist farmer who has defied his nation's laws by planting genetically modified corn.

Italy had prosecuted Giorgio Fidenato for cultivating the corn on his land, citing concerns the crops could endanger human health.

However, the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that a member state such as Italy does not have the right to ban biotech crops given that there is no scientific reason for doing so. And, it noted the European Commission in 1998 authorized the use of the specific maize seeds Fidenato planted, finding "no reason to believe that that product would have any adverse effects on human health or the environment."

The AP says that Fidenato, whose fields lie in Pordenone, northeastern Italy, became persuaded of the benefits of genetically altered crops during a visit to the United States in the 1990s, seeing that they require fewer chemicals than traditional crops and produce higher yields and profits.

But he has faced strong opposition in Italy, where many are fearful, based on claims by advocates, that genetically altered foods are less natural than traditional crops and could be dangerous. He has faced both fines from the government and the wrath of anti-GM activists who have destroyed his crops.

The current case dates to 2013, when Italy asked the European Commission to adopt emergency measures prohibiting the planting of the seeds, which are produced by Monsanto on the basis of Italian scientific studies.

But the Commission disputed the Italian studies, citing a scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority that there was "no new science-based evidence" that the seeds could be dangerous.

The Italian government nonetheless went ahead with a decree prohibiting the cultivation of the corn, and prosecuted Fidenato and other farmers who planted their fields with the corn in defiance.

Well, things are unsettled now in the EU as the British Brexit continues to be defined and pressed. Still, the court ruling seems to fly in the face of the EU’s has rather strange approach to food law—the so-called precautionary principle.

Italian authorities had asked the Court of Justice whether emergency measures may, in relation to food, be taken on the basis of that principle—which permits Member States to adopt emergency measures in order to avert risks to human health even when they have not yet been fully identified or understood because of scientific uncertainty.

In this week’s finding, the Court pointed out that both EU food law and EU legislation on genetically modified food and feed seek to ensure a high level of protection of human health and consumers’ interest, whilst ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market, of which the free movement of safe and wholesome food and feed is an essential aspect.

In that context, the Court found that, where it is not evident that genetically modified products are likely to constitute a serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment, neither the Commission nor the Member States have the option of adopting emergency measures such as the prohibition on the cultivation of maize MON 810.

The Court emphasized that the precautionary principle, which presupposes scientific uncertainty as regards the existence of a particular risk, is not sufficient for the adoption of such measures.

Although that principle may justify the adoption of provisional risk management measures in the area of food in general, it does not allow for the provisions laid down in relation to genetically modified foods to be disregarded or modified, in particular by relaxing them, since those foods have already gone through a full scientific assessment before being placed on the market.

The precautionary principle, especially with regard to social rules concerning foods has been used for many years to limit use of GMOs in the EU and to constrain the access of GMO crop and livestock products to EU markets. So, it is unlikely that this ruling alone will lift the protectionist barrier this approach often provides. But it does raise the issue to a higher level and possibly could lead to more opportunities for U.S. products in EU markets at some point in the future, Washington Insider believes.

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