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EU dabbles in agricultural protectionism, says Perdue

For years, the EU has blocked imports of some GMO crops grown in the United States, as well as barring beef produced using synthetic growth hormones and chicken rinsed with an antimicrobial chlorine spray at processing plants.

European barriers to some U.S. food and ag exports ¡ª derided as ¡°hormone beef,¡± ¡°chlorine chicken,¡± and GMO ¡°Frankenfoods¡± ¡ª smack of protectionism and could color already acrimonious U.S.-EU trade relations, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a transatlantic discussion on Wednesday. He also said Europe was abandoning high-yielding agriculture with its Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to reduce nutrient runoff by using less fertilizer.

EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the 27-member bloc ¡°is opting for sustainable and environmentally friendly farming¡± that will preserve soil health and fertility for generations to come. The coronavirus pandemic ¡°provides us with an important lesson that we need to strengthen our food security,¡± said Wojciechowski. ¡°We have to have as much food as possible from local fields because it may not be possible to get it from those places far away.¡±

Wojciechowski and Perdue spoke during an hour-long online discussion, ¡°Food Security in a Post-COVID World,¡± sponsored by the European Conservatives and Reformists Party. The ECR advocates free trade and local power. Perdue called on the EU to let its consumers decide if U.S. food standards are satisfactory rather than block the products.

The Trump administration has said repeatedly that agriculture must be part of U.S.-EU trade negotiations, but European officials want to focus on industrial products. Collectively, the EU is the second-largest source of U.S. food and ag imports. The USDA estimates the shipments at $24.4 billion this fiscal year, compared with U.S. exports of $11.5 billion to EU countries. The United States runs an overall trade deficit with the EU, not just in agriculture.

¡°Even now, we have a trade deficit with the EU ¡­ and certainly that¡¯s not even including the $37 billion of automobiles coming from the European Union, so there¡¯s a lot of risks,¡± said Perdue. ¡°If we start protectionism in agriculture, saying our products are better than yours and yours can¡¯t come in because they don¡¯t meet our standards, then we¡¯re in serious issues that have an opportunity to metastasize to other sectors and do real damage to the global trade environment. So I hope we don¡¯t get there.¡±

For years, the EU has blocked imports of some GMO crops grown in the United States, as well as barring beef produced using synthetic growth hormones and chicken rinsed with an antimicrobial chlorine spray at processing plants. In each case, U.S. officials say, the products are safe. More recently, the EU has claimed the sole right to so-called ¡°geographical indications¡± ¡ª names of foods that are tied to specific locales: Champagne as a sparkling wine from France, for example, or Parmesan to denote a pale yellow ¡°hard¡± cheese that originated in Italy. The United States says such names passed into common use long ago to identify a type of food.

The Farm to Fork Strategy, adopted by the administrative European Commission in May, would transform agricultural production in Europe. By 2030, it would reduce the use of chemical pesticides by 50%, fertilizer use by at least 20%, and nutrient runoff by 50%. The initiative calls for organic practices on 25% of EU farmland in the next decade. Antibiotic use in livestock and aquaculture would be halved. Farm to Fork ¡°advocates shortening the supply chains,¡± said Wojciechowski. ¡°This does not imply any new trade barriers but creating some reference for agricultural supplying to the local market.¡±

¡°It appears that Europe has forgotten the ¡®farm¡¯ in Farm to Fork,¡± said Perdue, with an approach that will jeopardize production and stifle innovation. By contrast, the USDA¡¯s ¡°innovation agenda,¡± announced in February, calls for a 40% increase in agricultural output while halving the environmental impact of farming by 2050. The United States is an advocate of genetic engineering in agriculture. Its farm sector is dominated by large-scale, mechanized production aided by chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

To watch a video of the ECR discussion,click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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