The European Union remains one of the most GMO-skeptical markets in the world, but agriculture minister Gerry Ritz figures he is making progress on opening doors for Canadian products.
However, he acknowledged during a Jan. 20 telephone news conference after a weekend meeting of world agriculture ministers in Berlin that there are holdouts, who he ridiculed as countries “looking in the rearview mirror” rather than the future.
“Certain states within the EU, I will let them speak for themselves about why they are looking in the rearview mirror and they have political solutions instead of practical, pragmatic ways of moving forward,” he said.
“But there are a growing number of farm organizations in the EU finding themselves falling behind, but unfortunately there is a smattering of non-scientific fear-mongering that’s going on.”
Canada’s recent agreement-in-principle with the EU on a comprehensive trade deal does not propose new access for genetically modified products but considers a new approval process for GM products.
Ritz said he used the Berlin meeting to promote the need for science-based rules on the trade of GM food.
He said he received support from German and United Kingdom agriculture ministers on the need to revise and loosen rules on GM food in Europe.
German minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he will promote a better system for registering GM products that have been registered in other countries with credible science-based food safety inspection systems.
As well, Ritz said the British government is becoming more GMO-friendly.
He quoted United Kingdom agriculture minister Owen Paterson as saying that if the U.K. and Europe do not embrace biotechnology, it would become “the museum of world farming.”
Ritz said he agreed.
“I emphasized the importance of innovative, open and science-based trade,” he said.
“Our government knows that a science-based approach to trade is key to securing sustainable access to food while attracting new investment into agricultural sectors.”
He said part of his pitch was to promote a scheduled meeting in Rome of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which will consider rules governing international trade in commodities that have a low-level and inadvertent GMO content.
“Canada is a strong proponent of biotechnology as a useful tool to increase productivity while reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint,” said Ritz.
Regulations restricting low-level presence import barriers “are creating new barriers to trade and access to food, which is particularly critical to the developing world.”
Ritz said he also used the Berlin meetings to promote approval of the Canada-EU trade agreement in Europe, touting its export opportunities for European and Canadian farmers and food companies.
He said he had face-to-face meetings with 70 agriculture ministers from around the world to promote Canada’s mantra of liberalized trade and less politics in setting trade policy.
“I do think we are making some progress.”