GMO Corn Blockade: German Consumer Protection Minister: "Unbelievable Sloppiness!"
Renate Kuenast, Germany's consumer protection minister, says Europe had no choice but to ban genetically modified corn from the United States because American farmers have no system in place for labeling GMOs and tracing them back to their producers.
Consumer Protection Minister Renate Kuenast: "There is a lack of transparency."
Ms. Kuenast, last Friday the European Union decided that no genetically modified corn from the US can enter Europe anymore. What about the ships that are anchoring in front of Rotterdam? Can they still be unloaded?
Kuenast: No. Nobody will accept their cargo right now. It's about setting a precedence. The action is the only possible way of dealing with an unbelievable sloppiness -- the mixing of different genetically modified corn families. The so-called Bt10 corn from the US, with its resistance against the antibiotic Ampicillin is neither permitted in the US nor in Europe. The EU has not banned all US corn imports. It is merely demanding proof that the imported corn products do not include any Bt10.
SPIEGEL: ... which the Americans are unable to provide.
Kuenast: That's a problem. In the US, unlike Europe, genetically-modified food isn't labelled and it can't be traced back to the producer. This deficiency is a stumbling block in cases like this. There is a lack of transparency.
SPIEGEL: US agricultural corporations are now threatening to sue for billions in damages. Isn't the measure excessive?
Kuenast: The Europeans, and especially we Germans, have also learned out lesson. Think of the BSE (mad cow disease) scandal or foot-and-mouth disease. They cost farmers and the EU billions. And as a consequence we introduced transparent rules both in Berlin and Brussels that are easy to monitor. Ever since, consumer protection has had top priority.
SPIEGEL: But couldn't it be that you want to force the world to adopt your rigid position on agricultural genetic engineering. According to estimates of the German Economics Ministry, this position comes at the expense of both know-how and jobs.
Kuenast: It's quite the contrary. Organic farming has already created 150,000 jobs in Germany alone. A study by Ernst & Young showed that there are only 2,000 jobs in the sector of agricultural genetic engineering. And our clear-cut requirements -- security, labeling, and traceability -- have already created an economic advantage, especially in the export sector. Throughout the world, consumers are weary of genetically modified products. Producers know this. For many, abstaining from these products is already paying off.
SPIEGEL: The US are going to fight the Brussels decision. What do you think the outcome will be?
Kuenast: I do acknowledge that the decision is a challenge for the US. But I do not believe that a solution lies in imposing further trade restrictions.
SPIEGEL: US diplomats have indirectly threatened in recent days and weeks that there could be an escalating trade war.
Kuenast: I would not phrase it that way.
SPIEGEL: Then how would you phrase it?
Kuenast: The Americans were very committed on the issue. They wanted to change our mind, but, as you can see, without success.
SPIEGEL: So you expect the US to follow Germany's fixation with the environment?
Kuenast: Rubbish. To begin with, this is a European measure, not a German one. And US corn exporters have to comply with EU rules just as European exporters have to comply with US rules. But I do believe that America will start discussing whether the current lax position on genetically modified foods is still maintainable.
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