Hastert's House Agriculture Committee Testimony
WASHINGTON, March 26 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) today delivered the following testimony before the House Agriculture Committee:
"Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today to comment on the artificial barriers to U.S. agriculture trade. I appreciate your Committee's leadership on this important issue, and thank you for holding this hearing.
"Mr. Chairman, protectionism has a new guise. As we speak, the WTO is discussing a framework for negotiations in the Doha round of trade talks with the objective of reducing worldwide tariffs on agriculture products. As you know, world agricultural tariffs today average about 62 percent, while U.S. agricultural tariffs average 12 percent. While these negotiations represent an important step towards the free exchange of farm goods, there is a more imminent threat to the cause of free trade -- the use of non-tariff barriers. Over the last few years, we have seen country after country implementing protectionist, discriminatory trade policies under the cloak of food safety -- each one brought on by emotion, culture, or their own poor history with food safety regulation.
"We have seen discriminatory policies such as those imposed by the European Union and other countries on agricultural biotechnology; the use of geographical indications to protect agricultural goods; and the taxation of goods that include agricultural products, such as the tax on soft drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup in Mexico.
"Simply put, non-tariff protectionism is discriminatory and detrimental to the free movement of goods and services across borders. We all know that free trade benefits all countries. However, free trade will be rendered meaningless if it is short-circuited by non-tariff barriers that are based on fear and conjecture -- not science.
"One particular issue I would like to focus on today is the use of non-tariff barriers to limit the trade and use of genetically-modified products.
"As the Representative of the 14th District in Illinois, my district currently covers portions of eight counties, including four of the top 25 corn-producing counties, and three of the top 50 soybean-producing counties in the nation. The State of Illinois is the second-largest producing state of both corn and soybeans in the country. Forty percent of this production currently goes to exports, valued at approximately $2.7 billion per year.
"U.S. agriculture ranks among the top U.S industries in export sales. In fact, the industry generated a $12 billion trade surplus in 2001, helping mitigate the growing merchandise trade deficit. It is important to realize that 34 percent of all corn acres and 75 percent of all soybean acres are genetically modified.
"And what exactly are we talking about when we say genetically modified? The EU and other countries would have you believe this is a new and special type of food, questionable for human consumption. In fact, since the dawn of time, farmers have been modifying plants to improve yields and create new varieties resistant to pests and diseases. Why would we want to snuff out human ingenuity that benefits farmers and consumers alike?
"Such advancements have been achieved by taking plants with desirable traits and crossbreeding them. In fact, almost all of today's commercial crops are now distant cousins from the plants that first appeared in this country. Biotechnology is merely the next stage of development in this age-old process.
"As this Committee is well aware, the European Union has had an indefensible moratorium on genetically-modified products in place for over four years with no end in sight. This is a non-tariff barrier based simply on prejudice and misinformation, not sound science. In fact, their own scientists agree that genetically modified foods are safe.
"We should all be concerned that this irrational and discriminatory policy is spreading. China, for example, has developed new rules for the approval and labeling of biotech products. An overwhelming portion of the entire $1 billion U.S. soybean export crop is genetically modified. Although implementation has been delayed, such a labeling program would certainly result in higher food costs for consumers and higher production costs for farmers.
"And what exactly are we labeling? There is general consensus among the scientific community that genetically modified food is no different from conventional food. What's different is not the content of the food, but the process by which it is made. Labeling genetically modified products would only mislead consumers and create an atmosphere of fear.
"It's important for the public to know that the U.S. government has safely regulated biotechnology since its inception over 30 years ago. And with the rapid evolution of plant biotechnology in the early 1980s, additional regulation was added. Ask any American farmer about government regulation and not one will tell you that they are under-regulated.
"Biotechnology products are screened by at least one, and often by as many as three, federal agencies. From conception to commercial introduction, it can take up to 10 years to bring a biotech variety to market. Throughout the process, the public has ample opportunity for participation and comment, and data on which regulatory decisions are based are readily available. Still, regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, bans on genetically modified products continue to persist and multiply. The worldwide impact has been staggering.
"The current EU moratorium on genetically-modified products has translated into an annual loss of over $300 million in corn exports for U.S. farmers. More disturbing is the recent trend in Africa, where several nations have rejected U.S. food aid because the shipments contained biotech corn. This based solely on the fear that EU countries will not accept their food exports if genetically modified seeds spread to domestic crops.
"Clearly, the long-term impact of these prohibitive policies could be disastrous for U.S. farmers in terms of competitiveness and the ability to provide food for the world's population. Addressing world hunger is particularly critical when approximately 800 million people are malnourished in the developing world, and another 100 million go hungry each day. Biotechnology is the answer to this pressing problem. Farmers can produce better yields through drought-tolerant varieties, which are rich in nutrients and more resistant to insects and weeds, while those in need reap the benefits.
"It is my opinion that official WTO action is the only course that would send a clear and convincing message to the world that discriminatory policies on biotechnology, which are not based on sound science, are illegal. In fact, I would like to thank the members of this Committee who recently joined me in sending a letter to the President in support of WTO action -- these are policies which simply must not be allowed to persist.
"I greatly appreciate the chance to offer my thoughts on this important issue. It is my opinion that the U.S. Government should immediately take a case to the WTO regarding the current EU moratorium. After all, the price of inaction is one we can no longer afford to pay. With that said, I look forward to continue working with my colleagues, the Administration and the Committee to eliminate all barriers to free trade."
Contact: John Feehery or Pete Jeffries, 202-225-2800
both of the Office of Speaker of the House Hastert