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John Block: European Trade Deal

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

The Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement is sitting in Congress now. It was not an easy process to get the deal this far. If we can find the votes to pass it, it will be a big win for the American farmer.

Now, on the Atlantic side, we are in the process of negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union. This will be even more difficult – at least from agriculture’s point of view. The EU is not helping.

Just last month, two-thirds of the EU countries filed applications to opt out of cultivating genetically modified (GM) crops. They aren’t going to allow their farmers to grow GM crops. They may not even allow them to be imported. They did this after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) certified the safety of GM crops and said they could be grown.

At this point, we are talking about Monsanto’s corn, which is the only GM crop approved for cultivation. In Europe, it is currently grown primarily in Spain and Portugal. If Europe insists on ignoring science and insists on rejecting the most promising technology in my lifetime, I don’t see how we can ever reach a trade deal.

GM crops have been in commercial use for 20 plus years and have an impeccable safety record. They boost farmers’ incomes and reduce consumer prices.

According to an EU Report on GMO biosafety: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology and in particular GMOs, are not more risky than conventional plant breeding.”

Last year, GM crops were grown in 28 countries around the world on over 181 million hectares, by 18 million farmers. Globally, GM crops have boosted yields by 22% and decreased pesticide use by 37%. Today, we don’t have the backbreaking labor load that my grandfather carried. Think about the energy being saved and the forests that won’t have to be cut down. Today, we are far more efficient and produce much higher yields on the same acres.

Think about how wide the Atlantic Ocean is separating U.S. and Europe. Right now, that’s how far apart we are on farm policy.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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