WASHINGTON (AP) - European suspicion of genetics technology in farming and food has become a major trade stumbling block for American agriculture, Clinton administration officials said Wednesday.
U.S. negotiators are having a tough time convincing the 15-nation European Union that the technology is safe because the opposition is not based on science, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.
"It's based on ideology, culture, religion," Glickman told the Senate Agriculture Committee. "The attitude is, it's not what God intended."
The fight is over use of genetic engineering for a wide range of farm purposes, including making plants tougher against pests and fattening cattle for market. The United States insists these practices are perfectly safe.
The United States recently won a preliminary victory when a panel of the World Trade Organization ruled that the EU's ban on use of hormones in beef was unjustified because it was not based on science. Hormones are used in 90 percent of U.S. beef.
The Europeans are expected to appeal that ruling after it is finalized, and they remain opposed to other U.S. goods and commodities that have been genetically modified. There are proposals to adopt some sort of labeling system or to segregate the modified products for consumers.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told the committee that a move toward segregation of the genetically modified products could cost American farmers between $3 billion and $5 billion in lost exports.
"That can't be tolerated, especially when segregation is done based on purely political goals, and not based on science at all," Barshefsky said.
If the EU takes steps either to label or segregate, she added, the United States likely will bring a case against the Europeans with the World Trade Organization. The WTO enforces international trade agreements.
Glickman plans to stress the subject Thursday in a speech in London to the International Grains Council, a private industry organization the United States hopes will help change European attitudes toward genetic modifications.
"Truth is truth. Science is science. We've got to keep pushing that," Glickman said.
Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said USDA statistics show that by 2000, one-third of U.S. farm products will be sold overseas and that agriculture production worldwide must increase to meet a growing population.
"Without the biotechnology changes, we're not going to get there," Lugar said. "We cannot yield on that. They (the EU) are going to have to get out of their funk."