Friday, May 30, 2003

Failed Pew biotech "stakeholder" forum and Gillis's Post article about it:
Participants in the Pew discussion would not say publicly what issues foiled their attempt at compromise. But speaking on condition of anonymity, several people knowledgeable about the talks said the core issue was whether to go to Capitol Hill to get legislation to prohibit the introduction of new biotech foods without detailed FDA certification that they are safe.

Consumer and environmental groups and several academics who took part in the discussion felt that was the way to go and pushed the group to agree to new federal legislation, the people said. At least some food companies, though usually wary of too much federal oversight, took that position. But Monsanto, in particular, strongly resisted the idea of a new law and favored what would amount to a tweaking of the patchwork regulatory system already in place to oversee biotech foods, the people said.

"It's not our view to always go to the Hill," said Linda A. Strachan, Monsanto's representative in the Pew talks.

The two factions attempted a compromise that would have called for an initial attempt to get a stronger regulatory system through administrative changes, to be followed -- if that failed -- by a unanimous appeal to Capitol Hill for legislation, the sources said. But the Monsanto-led faction would not agree to the legislative proposal in sufficient detail to satisfy consumer and environmental groups, which would not agree to go forward without detailed commitments, the people said.

One reason the biotech industry was so resistant, knowledgeable people said, was that the Bush administration just filed suit in the World Trade Organization to overturn a ban on many gene-altered crops in European countries. As part of that case, the administration will take the position that the current American regulatory system is fine. European consumer and environmental groups consider it to be egregiously inadequate. As the Pew discussions unfolded, the biotech industry grew wary of endorsing any compromise that would appear to support the European view and thus undermine the Bush legal case, the knowledgeable people said.

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