WASHINGTON (DTN)--The United States is considering a new trade war with Europe over the issue of genetically modified (GM) foods, according to an article published by the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC).

According to the article, U.S. trade officials are urging President George W. Bush to begin proceedings against the European Union (EU), in the World Trade Organization (WTO), for blocking imports of GM foods.

For the past four years, the EU has maintained a ban on approving any U.S. biotech foods. EU officials say the ban is based on "precautionary principles," but U.S. officials argue there is no scientific basis that biotech food is dangerous to humans or livestock.

This is one of several trade issues causing disputes between the two governments. The EU has objected to "anti-dumping" tariffs the U.S. has placed on its steel products and to U.S. tax breaks for foreign sales of its multinational companies. Meanwhile, the U.S. has complained about the EU ban on the imports of bananas and hormone-treated beef, according to the BBC.

Due to a strong anti-biotech attitude throughout Europe, U.S. officials have not yet formally complained about the GM ban. The BBC wrote that such a complaint could spur EU officials to ask for compulsory labeling of U.S. grain exports. The labeling would be costly for U.S. agriculture, because it would force farmers to create separate storage facilities for GM and non-GM crops.

The labeling issue long has been a sticking point between the European and U.S. officials. In 2000, the U.S. and EU signed an agreement, the Montreal Bio-Safety Protocol, which agreed that this "precautionary principle" would apply to the export of GM foods, according to the BBC. It also agreed to the voluntary labeling of GM foods in order to give consumers a choice.

However, talks over how to implement a voluntary-labeling agreement have stalled, the BBC wrote, despite a looming deadline of Dec. 31, 2002.

If the U.S. took its case to the WTO, it would likely win, the BBC wrote.

"Several years ago, the U.S. fought and won a similar action when EU officials banned U.S. beef exports on the grounds that they contained unsafe growth hormones," the BBC article stated. "However, it will take several years before the U.S. obtains a final ruling under the laborious WTO disputes settlement procedure.

"And that would no necessarily end the matter. In the beef hormone dispute, the EU has chosen to pay a $100 million fine each year, rather than admit U.S. beef products."

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