BRUSSELS - Europe shot back at Washington on Tuesday in their war over genetically modified food, accusing President Bush of falsehoods about EU restrictions on the eve of a summit meant to ease transatlantic tensions.
The European Commission rejected Bush's accusation on Monday that the European Union's unofficial ban on GM food aggravated the risk of famine in Africa, and said the EU did far more than the United States to feed the world's poor.
"The suggestions made by the United States are simply not true," Commission spokesman Gerassimos Thomas told a daily news briefing. "It is false that we are anti-biotechnology or anti-developing countries."
Bush, who has launched a trade suit against the EU over its GM policy, is due to discuss the issue with EU leaders who visit Washington on Wednesday at a summit aimed at reviving transatlantic relations damaged by the Iraq war.
President George W. Bush pauses while speaking to a biotechnology convention in Washington, June 23, 2003. Bush renewed his criticism of European nations for refusing to accept genetically modified foods, however an EU spokesman on June 24 said that Bush got it wrong when he said the European Union's rejection of GM food had aggravated the risk of famine in Africa. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters
The United States, Argentina and Canada, which grow 95 percent of the world's gene-altered crops, last month asked the World Trade Organization to overturn the EU restrictions, which have hampered GM exports to the EU for the last five years.
U.S. maize farmers say they are losing about $300 million a year in sales to the EU and have become increasingly concerned about new EU rules that would require GM crops to be segregated from conventional strains when imported to Europe.
The European Parliament will vote on the rules next week, a move which could lead the way for the ban to be lifted.
Bush told a biotechnology conference on Monday that the EU should lift its restrictions "for the sake of a continent threatened by famine."
Last year, some African countries rejected U.S. food aid as it contained GM grain, which they feared could be used as seed, threatening future exports to the EU.
The EU has rejected U.S. calls to reassure developing countries that they should accept GM organisms, which are routinely eaten by Americans.
"We never try to impose our views on African or other less developed countries," EU spokesman Thomas said. "We have a much better record that the United States (on aid). We provide seven times more aid than the United States."
Thomas also took a swipe at U.S. legislation granting $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa which mentioned some countries' rejection of GM food, something anti-GM campaigners see as a link between accepting biotech food and receiving aid.
"We do not tie our aid to our policy. In a way, it is a bit worrying to see that the United States in the pharmaceutical aid tries to impose GMO acceptance as a condition for pharmaceutical aid," Thomas said.
Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth said Bush's link of GM organisms (GMOs) to world hunger was "absolutely immoral."
The group opposes GM crops as it believes they could pose hidden health risks or lead to super-weeds if their genes mix with plants in the environment.
"If the U.S. says it is going to solve the world food problem through GMOs it is a lie, " said FoE campaigner Geert Ritsema. "The main reason that the United States wants this is that they want to break open the (developing countries) market to GMOs."
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