BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU’s nominee for health chief pledged on Tuesday to oppose the import of some U.S. foodstuffs such as chemically-treated meat that Washington hopes to be able to sell to Europe under a planned multi-billion-dollar transatlantic trade deal.
In comments at his confirmation hearing in the European Parliament that will delight EU heavyweights France and Germany, Vytenis Andriukaitis also said genetically modified crops posed a “philosophical problem” that threatened Europe’s biodiversity.
The United States, now in negotiations with the European Union on a free trade pact that would create a joint market of 800 million people, wants the 28-nation bloc to take a more science-based approach to GM crops and hormone-treated meat.
“I cannot make any compromises on this issue, whether it is hormones in meat or chlorine baths for poultry,” Andriukaitis told EU lawmakers in the hearing on his nomination to be head of health and food safety policy in the next European Commission.
Asked repeatedly by EU lawmakers from across the political spectrum where he stood on GM crops, which are widely grown in the Americas and Asia, the Lithuanian nominee urged caution.
“Cultivation of GMOS is a huge problem from a philosophical point of view,” said Andriukaitis, a doctor by training. “If we want to interfere with biodiversity, we have to be very vigilant and cautious.”
There is strong opposition in a number of EU member states, including France and Germany, to GM foods, growth hormones in cattle and to chicken that is disinfected with chemicals. Europe uses antibiotics.
Andriukaitis’ stance signals further tension in the talks to clinch the free-trade pact, which proponents say must also break down farm trade barriers to deliver the greatest benefits.
An accord would allow the EU to sell more of its luxury cars, trains and chemicals in the United States, a very attractive prospect for an economy whose slow recovery from the euro zone debt crisis is faltering.
Selling the benefits of a deal, which could generate $100 billion a year in economic growth for both the EU and the United States, has also been complicated by concerns about U.S. companies becoming too powerful via the accord.
The EU’s designated trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom of Sweden, told EU lawmakers on Monday that provisions for investor arbitration - so called investor-state dispute settlement - could be dropped from the free trade deal.
Andriukaitis also promised on Tuesday to review the EU’s GM approval process in the first six months of his mandate.
The European Union decided in May to make approval of GM crops easier but to allow some countries to ban them.
In the case of GM crops, the EU has cleared for import some 50 of about 450 commercial strains.
The EU imports about 30 million tonnes a year of GM grains for its cattle, pigs and poultry, but EU retailers hardly stock any GM food because of stiff consumer resistance.
The United States says it is unacceptable that GM strains take years to gain access to European markets after winning clearance from the European Food Safety Authority, compared to about 18 months in the United States.
Editing by Gareth Jones