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CHICAGO - European plans to label gene-altered foods and require data tracking their movement threatened a new transatlantic trade row on Wednesday as U.S. grain sector officials said they are unworkable and would lead to higher food costs, Reuters reports.
The European Parliament voted for the new rules earlier in the day.
The draft regulations, which require the approval of EU governments, is the latest step toward Europe reopening the process of approving the sale and production of new varieties of GM grains frozen by an unofficial moratorium since 1998.
U.S. grain sector officials were more concerned with the so-called "traceability" measure than labeling as they contend it would require additional costs to implement in a sector where millions of tons of grains change hands each year.
"It would be a great burden on the grain industry, the feed industry and farmers," Tom Slunecka, director of development at the National Corn Growers Association, told Reuters.
He said the "traceability" measure would require segregating crops into biotech and conventional varieties at U.S. farms, adding that European consumers would have to bear the costs to keep the two types of grains apart.
Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau, the largest U.S. farm group, said the pending EU regulation "could mean billions of dollars in trade" for American farmers.
She said the EU buys $6.3 billion worth of U.S. agricultural commodities every year and "a lot of that is corn, soybeans and cotton" that are genetically modified.
Thatcher said the EU parliament's decision to reject labeling some foods, such as meat and eggs from animals fed with GM feed, demonstrates the regulation is "probably more of a trade barrier than an honest-to-goodness concern" over the safety of biotech foods.
The U.S. Agriculture Department said in its annual acreage report last week that 75 percent of the soybeans planted by U.S. farmers this year were genetically modified, up from 68 percent in 2001. USDA said 34 percent of the corn planted had GMOs, up from 26 percent last year, while GMO cotton accounted for 71 percent of total plantings.
U.S. farmers weren't alone in criticizing the proposed EU regulation. Other food industry organizations, including the Grocery Manufacturers of America, slammed the parliament's vote.
Karil Kochenderfer, a GMA technology expert, said that instead of educating consumers about biotech foods, the rule "comes off as a warning label" for products she said have been deemed safe.