Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)
Commissioner Byrne and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman discussed the FMD outbreaks in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and the Netherlands. Regarding the US ban on imports of animals and non-treated animal products from the 15 EU Member States, Commissioner Byrne said: "I impressed upon the Secretary that she might consider the position that such a trade embargo in respect of eleven Member States that are absolutely free of foot-and-mouth disease might be somewhat excessive, and to consider lifting the embargo in relation to those Member States….if there were an outbreak in the US in two of the States, the response from the European Union would be regionalised to those States."
While no deadline was agreed for review of the US action, Secretary Veneman agreed to keep the situation constantly under review. Commissioner Byrne and Secretary Veneman will be in regular contact, both at their level and at the technical level. "To continue talking is the right way forward," he said.
Commissioner Byrne drew a distinction between the US reaction to FMD and the EU's ban on hormone treated beef. "It is justified on the basis of scientific advice which confirms dangers for human health," he said, referring to the EU scientific report of May 5, 2000. FMD is not a danger to humans, and is present in only four EU Member States.
Commissioner Byrne said a blanket ban on all EU 15 Member States did not give credit to the stringency with which the EU had already responded to contain the disease. In the UK, the EU had imposed a restriction on movement of animals since February 21, and in the rest of the EU since March 6.
"I explained to the Secretary (Veneman) that my ambition is to put in place the necessary legislation to ensure that the de facto moratorium on new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) authorisations in the EU can be lifted, and that all stakeholders are confident that we have a regulatory package which fully protects human health and the environment and adequately inform consumers in relation to GM derived foods."
Commissioner Byrne said the Secretary Veneman and the other US officials he had met (US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Under Secretary of State Alan Larson) were pleased that legislation would be in place to help lift the moratorium on new approvals, but expressed concern that forthcoming rules on traceability would be sufficiently clear and workable to allow valuable trade to continue. Commissioner Byrne stressed however the need to take the views of consumers into account: "If the consumer won't buy, the producer won't sell."
Asked about the likelihood of any changes in the traceability rules, Commissioner Byrne noted that there were constant contacts with industry and consumers. "We want to have an efficient and workable system within the legislative constraints which assures the consumers that they can be confident in the food they eat."