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Corn Growers warn that intransigent U.S. attitude toward Europeans on GMO import policy could backfire with corn gluten feed

(Sunday, Dec. 8, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- "Some U.S. farm, commodity and agribusiness groups, as well as U.S. trade officials, are again courting another export disaster by clamoring for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to take legal action against the European Union (EU) on the issue of threshold levels, labeling, traceability, and other rules regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) allowed in the EUís food and feed grain imports," says Dan McGuire, Director of the Farmer Choice Ė Customer First program of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA). "Weíre pleased to hear the Illinois Farm Bureau passed a resolution acknowledging that U.S. corn gluten feed exports are at risk if farmers increase their planting of EU-unapproved GMO corn varieties in 2003. Now, U.S. agriculture must realize that EU politicians are responding to EU consumers, as should be expected in a democracy."

McGuire added, "The ACGA has alerted farmers to this concern since 1998, emphasizing that Europe is the largest market for U.S. corn gluten feed, but those exports have dropped from 5.5 million metric tons (MMT) in marketing year (MY) 1995/96, when GMOs were introduced in the U.S., to 4.4 MMT in MY 2000/01. That 1.1 MMT reduction represents a considerably larger quantity of raw corn processed to result in the corn gluten. Itís a major marketing blunder if bull-headed attitudes by some in agribusiness again use U.S. farm and commodity groups to push a policy that further isolates the U.S. from major export sales opportunities. Farmers need to remember that the multinational agribusiness giants pushing these policies benefit whether the United States exports or, in fact, imports commodities."

The ACGA is warning that the U.S. farm and commodity groups calling for this WTO action are creating a market situation that will play out very much like the hormone beef issue did when European consumers successfully insisted that hormone-treated beef not be allowed into their market. Some U.S. farm, commodity, livestock, and meat organizations persistently pursued an antagonistic approach and took that case to the WTO. The WTO ruled in their favor, but hormone-treated U.S. beef is still not being sold to Europe. Instead, Argentina, Australia, and other beef exporting countries are supplying European consumers with the products that they want, while the economic future of U.S. cattlemen is in ongoing jeopardy due to low cattle prices and corporate concentration in the meat industry.

Larry Mitchell, CEO of the ACGA, drew the connection with the economic health of the ethanol industry upon asking, "whatís the logic in pursuing this kind of WTO case if the end result is further alienation of our most important export market for corn gluten feed, which will then put the profitability of the U.S. ethanol industry in jeopardy? Letís remember that corn gluten is a co-product of some ethanol plants and American corn growers have worked hard to build that domestic corn demand. Whatís the point in winning a WTO case and losing our largest market?"

"Even if the WTO rules in favor of a U.S. complaint, European consumers will ultimately prevail on this issue and other exporting countries and regions like China, Eastern Europe, and South America will gear up production to meet European demand with non-GMO commodities and they will be the winners," said Mitchell. "One would think that U.S. farm and commodity groups would have gotten a strong wake-up call and learned a pretty important lesson from the hormone beef issue. Apparently they have not, given their latest call for WTO action against the EU on GMOs."