The EU’s nominee for health chief this week pledged to oppose the import of some US foodstuffs such as chemically-treated meat that Washington hopes to be able to sell to Europe under a planned multi-billion-dollar trade deal.
In comments at his confirmation hearing in the European Parliament that will delight EU heavyweights France and Germany, Vytenis Andriukaitis also said genetically-modified crops posed a “philosophical problem” that threatened Europe’s biodiversity.
The US, now in negotiations with the EU on a free trade pact that would create a joint market of 800 million people, wants the 28-nation bloc to take a more science-based approach to GM crops and hormone-treated meat.
“I cannot make any compromises on this issue, whether it is hormones in meat or chlorine baths for poultry,” Andriukaitis told EU lawmakers in the hearing on his nomination to be head of health and food safety policy in the next European Commission.
Asked repeatedly by EU lawmakers from across the political spectrum where he stood on GM crops, which are widely grown in the Americas and Asia, the Lithuanian nominee urged caution.
“Cultivation of GMOs [genetically modified organisms] is a huge problem from a philosophical point of view,” said Andriukaitis, a doctor by training. “If we want to interfere with biodiversity, we have to be very vigilant and cautious.”
There is strong opposition in a number of EU member states, including France and Germany, to GM foods, growth hormones in cattle and to chicken that is disinfected with chemicals. Europe uses antibiotics.
An accord would allow the EU to sell more of its luxury cars, trains and chemicals in the US, a very attractive prospect for an economy whose slow recovery from the eurozone debt crisis is faltering.
Selling the benefits of a deal, which could generate $100bn (€79.9bn) a year in economic growth for both the EU and the US, has also been complicated by concerns about US companies becoming too powerful via the accord.
Andriukaitis also promised to review the EU’s GM approval process in the first six months of his mandate.
The EU decided in May to make approval of GM crops easier but to allow some countries to ban them.
In the case of GM crops, the EU has cleared for import some 50 of about 450 commercial strains.
The EU imports about 30 million tonnes a year of GM grains for its cattle, pigs and poultry, but EU retailers hardly stock any GM food because of stiff consumer resistance.
The US says it is unacceptable that GM strains take years to gain access to European markets after winning clearance from the European Food Safety Authority, compared to about 18 months in the US.
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