Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Pressure on GMO Technologies

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

Japanese Editorial Calls For Hardline Stance on Potential US Trade Talks

A high-profile editorial in one of Japan’s major national newspapers on Friday called on its government to stand firm against what it views as the United States’ “protectionist” trade strategy, one that it says has been on display in the U.S. handling of the NAFTA and KORUS renegotiations.

Following recent discussions between Vice President Pence and Japanese trade officials, and ahead of President Trump’s visit to Japan next month, the editorial advocated against making any concessions beyond what was on the table when the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was negotiated. It also called for Japan to remain focused on advancing TPP-11 and its pending agreement with the European Union as the best way to compel the U.S. into a fair bilateral trade negotiation and a possible re-evaluation of its stance against multi-lateral trade agreements.

Sierra Club Sues EPA for Overdue RFS Environmental Impact Study

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is almost four years past a deadline for its study of the environmental impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Lawmakers need that information to assess the program’s effectiveness or make needed changes, the Sierra Club said in a lawsuit aimed at compelling the agency to complete the study.

"EPA’s failure to analyze and address the impacts of the agency’s annual standards, which have drastically increased biofuel volumes in our nation’s fuel mix, has led to unchecked land conversion," the club said in a statement. "Approximately 40% of the U.S. corn crop is diverted to biorefineries for fuel production, up from nine percent in 2001," with the associated runoff causing algae blooms in the Great Lakes and a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

"What Administrator Pruitt said in his confirmation hearing still stands: he doesn’t want to take any steps to undermine the objectives in the statute of the RFS," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said. "We continue to work with RFS stakeholders to ensure EPA is applying the statute."

Washington Insider: Pressure on GMO Technologies

Bloomberg is reporting this week that U.S. biotech companies may find it harder to secure authorizations in the European Union for genetically engineered crops once the United Kingdom leaves the bloc in 2019.

The group pointed out that the UK government consistently voted in favor of genetically modified crops when authorizations were being decided at EU level and Brexit could disrupt that balance. USDA’s Foreign Ag Service flagged the issue at a briefing last month, noting that political changes in the EU, including Brexit, were bringing rejections of authorizations for genetically modified crops “perilously close to a new norm.”

The European Parliament already routinely votes to object to EU authorizations for genetically modified crops, but the parliament’s objections are nonbinding. Opponents of genetic engineering argue that if the EU starts to reject authorizations, it could persuade farmers elsewhere in the world to give up the technology.

China stopped producing toys for the EU market containing chemicals that are not allowed in the EU, and a similar principle should apply to imported crops, Mute Schimpf, food campaigner with advocacy group, Friends of the Earth Europe, argues. He thinks that producers of genetically modified crops find it difficult enough to obtain authorization to import into the EU since more than half of EU countries commonly vote against EU authorizations of GMOs.

However, enough EU countries—including the UK—tend to vote in favor of the authorizations, meaning there is no qualified majority either for or against authorization of genetically modified crops.

Currently, the European Commission, the EU executive arm, adopts the approvals by default on the basis of assessments by the European Food Safety Authority that find the genetically modified crops to be safe.

Currently, about 60 genetically modified crops are approved for import into the EU, mainly for use in animal feed.

Beat Spath, green biotechnology director for industry association EuropaBio, told Bloomberg that Brexit—scheduled for on March 29, 2019—would come on top of trends in EU voting patterns on genetically modified crops that have been “moving towards a qualified majority against” approvals.

After Brexit, “if all else stays equal, it’s going to be a close shave. We might indeed see a qualified majority against” authorizations of genetically modified crops, Spath said. But “like so many things with Brexit, it’s too early to tell,” he added.

Schimpf said the UK exit from the EU will “change the whole dynamic,” in authorization votes. Without the UK votes in favor, EU countries will either reject authorizations for genetically modified crops or will be “very close” to doing so, assuming voting patterns are unchanged.

In some of the most recent votes on genetically modified crops—on renewal of the authorization of MON810, and on two genetically modified corns—between 14 and 16 of the EU’s 28 countries voted against authorization, between six and eight voted in favor, and the remainder abstained.

The UK, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain typically vote in favor. However, the most recent authorizations were opposed by large EU countries France, Italy and Poland. Under the EU system, the populations of countries are taken into account when deciding if a qualified majority is achieved or not, giving large countries greater weight in votes.

One factor that could decisively swing votes on authorizations for genetically modified crops is the position of Germany, the EU’s most populous country. But Germany typically abstains from votes on the basis that the parties in its coalition governments have no common position on genetically modified crops.

Germany had an election September 24 and the next German coalition could include center-right parties and green parties. Their opposing views on genetic engineering means the country’s abstention is likely to continue, Spath said.

EU voting on authorizations for genetically modified crops could be further complicated by a proposal, introduced in February by the European Commission to disregard abstentions at the final stage of votes. The commission wants EU countries to decide on authorizations, rather than to deliver stalemates in votes, leaving the commission to adopt authorizations.

The commission proposal has not yet progressed far—EU countries still have to discuss it—but if adopted, and in combination with Brexit, it could prove decisive, Bloomberg says.

According to Bloomberg’s calculations, without the UK vote and with abstentions disregarded in line with the commission’s proposal, the most recent votes on MON810 and two genetically modified corns would have resulted in rejections of the authorizations.

So, the EU market continues to be extremely complex and highly protective, a result of the “precautionary principle.” It frequently invokes barriers to products from developing countries who then are prevented from the use of technologies they need to provide food security at home—an impact the food advocates tend to ignore, but is widely regarded as significant globally, Washington Insider believes.

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