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Lighthizer Warning: Buy GMOs or Expect a Fight

The Trump administration will attack overseas regulations that restrict the export of GMO crops and other products resulting from American technological innovation, said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the first meeting of a newly created interdepartmental task force on rural America. “We are going to bring cases at the WTO and other venues, we’re going to insist that any barrier be science-based, and the United States will increase exports,” he said.

For decades, U.S. policy has called for international trade rules to be based on fact rather than prejudice. The agribusiness community often points to science-based regulation as a way of removing obstacles to the export of genetically engineered crops. While dozens of reviews have maintained that GE crops are safe to eat, they still face significant public opposition in Europe and other places.

President Trump’s executive order creating the task force directed it to look for legislative, regulatory, and policy changes that promote agriculture, including those that “advance the adoption of innovations and technology for agricultural production and long-term, sustainable rural development.” The order identified 13 areas for examination. First on the list is removing “barriers to economic prosperity and quality of life in rural America.” Second is the advancement of agricultural technology.

Lighthizer said one of the top priorities for his office is the removal of trade barriers that cannot be defended scientifically. Exports generate 20¢ of each dollar of U.S. farm income. If other countries unfairly block U.S. exports because of the technology behind them, he said, “there is a reluctance to incorporate that technology into our own production at home.”

U.S. officials routinely urge other nations to approve commercial sales of biotech crops. In the past couple of years, China has been accused of dragging its feet on the approval of new U.S. GE strains. Corn prices in this country fell when China rejected more than 1 million tonnes of U.S. corn earlier this decade because the cargoes included an unapproved GMO variety from Syngenta. In a class-action lawsuit currently under way in Kansas City, farmers have blamed Syngenta for selling the seed, approved by U.S. regulators, before it was cleared by China for import.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who chairs the task force, said rural America lags urban areas in recovering from the 2008–2009 recession. One in four rural children lives in poverty, the highest rate in three decades, he said. “The president understands that prosperity and recovery have not been uniform. … We’ve got technology issues, we’ve got infrastructure issues, we’ve got health issues.”

One in seven Americans lives in rural areas. “We understand that rural development is not urbanization,” said White House agriculture adviser Ray Starling. The task force, he said, will focus on “taking what we have in rural areas and making it more prosperous.”

Perdue announced that the task force will have four working groups and that its members will represent 22 federal departments and agencies. He gave the task force an October 22 deadline for a report. “It will be an operational plan,” he said, with proposals that can be put to work. “The president is very expectant of action.”

The task force plan “can be informative and consultative with going forward in the [2018] farm bill,” Perdue told reporters afterward. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and Lighthizer sat with Perdue at the head table for the task force’s first meeting, which took place in the glass-roofed “patio” of the USDA administration building. Deregulation was a common theme in their remarks.

To watch a video of the task force meeting or to read the USDA release about it, click here.

FERN’s Ag Insider. Produced by FERN
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