The American Soybean Association is pushing for U.S. trade representatives to negotiate better trading terms with Europe, looking for the European Union to ease the strict restrictions it imposes on genetically modified soybeans. The group petitioned a U.S. trade representative who is part of a new working group with the European Union to work on its behalf.
By Kathleen Masterson
The European Union banned the sale of genetically modified food and feed grains in 1998. For years a huge proportion of U.S.-grown soybeans have come from genetically modified seed – in 2009, 91 percent of the crop, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Starting in 2004, the EU began approving specific genetically modified products for sale on a case-by-case basis. Still, American Soybean Association president Steve Wellman said the strict policies have really hurt their exports.
“We've seen a 70 percent decrease in U.S. soybean exports to the European Union since 1998,” Wellman said.
American soybeans, whether genetically modified or not, don’t require special labeling in the U.S. In fact, most soy and corn food products in the U.S. are made from plants grown from genetically modified seeds.
Genetically modified varieties that are eventually accepted for sale in Europe, however, are required to be labeled as such. That's a problem for the industry, Wellman said.
“The retailers really don't want to have product on the shelf with a biotech label on it– they tell us that the consumer doesn't want that,” Wellman said. “So most of the U.S.soybean oil has been going to the biodiesel industry.”
Under new EU rules that require sustainability in the energy industry, though, American soybeans don’t count as a renewable source, which hurts their appeal to European biodiesel manufacturers.
“If you can't prove your sustainability and these greenhouse gas emissions reductions – then they won't get the credit for the biodiesel,” Wellman said.
That means the European biodiesel market might also shrink away from U.S. soybean farmers.
Last year the U.S. exported $26 billion worth of soybeans, but Wellman said only about 5 percent of the income was from sales to the European Union. American farmers are hoping a more open European market can help their bottom lines.