In a potential win for grain exporting countries, a European Parliament committee voted to block a proposal that would have allowed each of the 28 EU countries to decide on their own whether to allow the import or use of biotech food or feed.
Despite the aggressive challenges facing biotech crop production in Europe, several major business groups in Europe and abroad saw the food proposal as a threat to Europe’s unified market. The EU Commission proposed the opt-out last spring. A broad array of groups argued it would violate Europe’s trade obligations and further stymie trade talks with the U.S.
The European Parliament’s Environmental Committee voted 47 to 3 and 5 abstentions to block the biotech opt-out plan that was first proposed by the European Commission. The Agriculture Committee also had voted to reject the opt-out. The committees’ move to block the opt-out provision will go to a larger vote of the EU Parliament later in the month.
“And I hope that they will put their full weight behind both the Environment and Agriculture committees’ opposition to the plans,” said Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the European agricultural group Copa-Cogeca, in a news release.
Copa-Cogeca welcomed Tuesday’s vote, stating that breaking up Europe’s common market on biotechnology would have distorted Europe’s markets for crops and livestock. “It would also threaten livestock farmers’ livelihoods who rely on imports of genetically modified feed,” Pesonen said.
The American Soybean Association also praised the Environmental Committee’s vote and called on the full EU Parliament to follow the lead of the committee. “We’ve said all along that adoption of the proposal would distort the internal market for grain movement and livestock production within the EU, as well as violate the EU’s WTO obligations,” ASA leaders stated.
Europe buys about 11% of all U.S. soy exports, receiving 4.3 million metric tons of soybeans and 1.6 mmt of soy meal in 2014. Those figures include figures for 10 EU countries and Russia, which is not part of the EU. Still, Germany and Spain are the fifth- and seventh-largest importers of U.S. soybeans, respectively. Turkey and Poland are the fifth- and sixth-largest importers of U.S. soy meal, according to figures from the U.S. Soybean Export Council’s 2014 annual report.
Very little U.S. corn moves to European countries right now. Spain is the largest EU importer of corn, but the entire continent might import 100,000 mt in a given year.
The push to reject the opt-out comes just two weeks after 15 EU countries filed applications to prevent the planting of biotech crops within their borders. The EU voted last year to allow its member countries to opt out of European crop production rules.