Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Europe this week meeting with agricultural trade officials and stakeholders to expand U.S. agricultural trade and to emphasize the importance of agriculture’s role in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) currently being negotiated.  He met with officials in Brussels, Luxembourg City, Paris, and Dublin to make the U.S. case on disputed issues in farm trade, as the Obama administration and European Union work on negotiations in T-TIP.

Vilsack emphasized the benefits that the trade agreement could have on both the U.S. and EU economies.  However, grounds for disagreement on agricultural issues are numerous including issues regarding genetically modified crops and food processing techniques. Meeting with reporters, Vilsack said that if “sound science” shows such products and practices to be safe, European consumers should have the option of purchasing the food that results. “If we are truly interested in feeding the world, truly interested in doing so with less pesticides and chemicals and truly interested in doing so with more inclement weather and more intense weather patterns because of climate change, we are going to have to adopt science,” Vilsack said.

After talks with Vilsack on Tuesday, EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said he was convinced that Europeans and Americans need “a better understanding of our realities” if negotiations for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are to succeed.

Meanwhile, ministers from the EU’s 28 member countries agreed in principle last week to empower any EU country to prohibit or restrict the growing of genetically modified crops on its territory.  Some European countries are also claiming the sole right to market certain food products under names they consider their exclusive cultural heritage, such as feta cheese from Greece. In addition, EU spokesman John Clancy said in a statement that “the EU will not be changing our food safety laws as a result of this agreement.  That goes for genetically modified food and hormone-treated beef as much as other products. These issues are just not on the table,” he said.