A senior U.S. official blasted EU plans for greener farming on Tuesday, accusing Brussels of risking worldwide starvation by refusing to embrace genetically-modified food.
While transatlantic ties are often stormy over farming, Ted McKinney, the under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs at the U.S. agriculture department, struck an unusually abrasive tone and also accused Europeans of double standards for attacking America over chemically-rinsed poultry while the EU was itself grappling with animal disease outbreaks on the home front.
But his main target was Europe’s deeply entrenched hostility to genetically-modified products.
“Europe is choosing to export this philosophy and dictate to other countries around the world,” McKinney said during a webinar organized by the Farm Europe think tank.”What do we say to our kids and our grandkids when famine and starvation sets in, and it will, it will.”
The European Commission this year unveiled its Farm to Fork strategy under the Green Deal, aiming to shift European food production to a more sustainable model by 2030 through policies such as reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers while boosting organic farming.
McKinney extolled the virtues of the controversial herbicide glyphosate, which American farmers use in tandem with genetically-modified crops like soybeans and corn, and lambasted the EU for rejecting GM technology and taking a cautious approach to new techniques such as gene editing.
“I’d like to go back 25, 30 years and say GMOs were a good thing and that you might want to consider those,” he said.
The Farm to Fork strategy says gene editing “may play a role in increasing sustainability” and the Commission is currently drafting a study on the techniques.
Brussels’ farming plan also sets a goal to promote a “global transition” to greener food systems, including through striking trade deals, but McKinney said it would only feed “the elites who can afford the finer foods.”
It will hamper what he said is a need to double food production by 2050 to feed a growing world population.
“The difference here is the desire for absolutely, unequivocally no risk. Well, society is going to fail if there’s no risk taken.”
Critics of GMOs say they entail unacceptable environmental risks, give large corporations too much power over food, and are not a silver bullet for food security.
McKinney also complained about “hostility” from the EU and U.K. about American food safety standards.
“It’s unfortunate that the European Union chooses to diss us on our food, denigrate us, criticize us … Europe is the only place in the world that does that to us. We talk about chlorinated chicken and hormone beef and big industrial agriculture … We don’t criticize you even though you’ve got African swine fever ravaging parts of Germany and Poland and other parts. Back when mad cow disease came to the U.K. — what an unfortunate incidence — we did not criticize Europe. So why is the criticism coming our way?
“If you want partnerships and if we want to keep this great alliance, this cross-Atlantic alliance, let’s put that aside. We have tried to behave properly; it might be good for our friends in Europe to do the same,” he continued.
Last month, the U.S. official warned that the EU’s green farming plan would trigger a “battle royale” on trade with the United States.
EU Commission official John Clarke hit back by saying the U.S. has rejected the plan because it is “in denial” about climate change.