SENATOR Kit Bond was unequivocal when asked what America's next move would be on the European Union's refusal to accept beef imports because of hormone fears.
"Retaliation," he said. "We have gone through all the hoops they wanted for ten years and they still won't take our beef. We have no choice but to take trade action."
A Democrat for Missouri, Senator Bond is co-chairman of the 48- senator beef caucus which, he claimed, was "ready to swoop into action" with demands for a trade war and a ban on selected EU products coming to the US.
He was scathing about the EU's refusal to accept a World Trade Organisation ruling that American beef, from cattle treated with growth-promoting hormones, was safe to eat and must be allowed to trade freely.
Americans claim that the ban imposed by the EU is now costing their farmers and meat trade more than $200 million (GBP 125 million) a year.
He likened it to the continuing reluctance of European countries to accept that genetic engineering of plants - or, as the Americans prefer to call it, biotechnology - was safe and a scientifically sound step forward for higher- yielding crops which needed fewer chemical treatments. "We have had the beef problem for ten years," he said,
"Anti-biotech is the same song, second verse. I wouldn't comment on the motives for questioning it in the UK, but we would say that the science for biotechnology is very sound. No doubt there are genuine concerns in the UK, but those attacking it are doing so with false science."
An avowed farmers' friend from a rural state, with a National Corn Growers' Association award - one of the many - in his senate building office to prove it, Senator Bond had started the interview by saying that where one US farmer fed 19 people in 1940, his 1999 successor fed 129.
Genetically modified crops have been accepted unreservedly by US scientists, government departments such as the Food and Drug Administration, and by farmers. From the appearance of modified soya, corn (maize) and cotton commercial crops in 1996, more than 58 million acres of them were grown last year. This year's plantings will be up again.
The anger of 100 senators about European Union reluctance to accept biotech in the same cheerful "can do" spirit is as nothing compared to the anger of 435 members of Congress, said Senator Bond, a top of his class law graduate who can play the redneck farmer card equally well.
"We do not want to see our opportunities blocked by non-scientific means. Our science is sound. Biotech is the hope for the future and farmers keep pounding on us for action because they see it that way," he said.
"It has increased crop yields and on cotton we have cut pesticide use by one million gallons. Our farmers want to be involved in the world market."
Americans simply cannot understand what the fuss is about, nor whether concern about biotech and hormones in beef - not, strictly speaking, connected, but seen as "part of the same process" by him - is genuine or a trade-war tactic.
Demands that exports of American soya, of which more than a million tonnes is sold to Europe annually where it is widely used in human and animal foods, should be segregated into genetically modified and GM-free are seen as unreasonable and unworkable.
He said: "I cannot tell who is driving the bus with these demands. Is the resistance from small farmers afraid of competition or consumer groups or environmental activists?"
Opposition to biotech in America had not been strong at any time, he said, and probably just as well: "In a lot of areas in the US, activists would only tear up a field of modified crop once if the farmers found them."
He went on: "I'm all for freedom of choice, but for modified crops and hormones in beef it begins to smell like part of a broader conspiracy."
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Last Updated on 5/28/99
By Karen Lutz