“We are very concerned with the harsh rhetoric of late by Mr. Zoellick,” said Harvey Joe Sanner, soybean farmer and executive director of the Soybean Producers of America in a statement. “A few days ago he called our very valuable European customers Luddites, a term for backward thinking folks.

“I am wondering how brilliant it is for a key government official, who should be promoting sales of U.S. soybeans, to use such derogatory terms in describing our largest single buyer. This is not how we should treat our best customers!"

Zoellick’s comments came as he announced that the United States was filing a case in the World Trade Organization (WTO) calling for an end to the EU's import restrictions on unapproved genetically modified crops.

“There have been reports that his announcement has much of the farm community applauding,” said Sanner. “That applause perhaps should give us pause.”

During the 2001/2002 marketing year, Sanner noted, the EU was the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans, importing nearly 7.8 million metric tons while other buyers in Western Europe bought an additional half million tons.

"U.S. officials should not be alienating our largest foreign buyers. They should be asking who wins and who loses when we try to force feed our customers something that they do not want," said Dan McGuire, trade analyst and SPA chairman.

McGuire compared Zoellick’s tactics in the GMO case to the approach used by the U.S. trade officials against the EU regarding U.S. beef produced with growth hormones.

“The Europeans did not want it, the United States filed complaints against them and won in the WTO, but they are still not buying American beef injected with growth hormones,” McGuire said. “Europe only buys hormone-free beef with most of it coming from South America and other exporting countries.”

“The hormone beef issue is a perfect example of how not to treat our customers, said Sanner. "Why would we continue such a trade destructive policy?"

According to USDA's Export Sales Report for the week ending May 15, 2003, the EU has imported 2 million less metric tons of soybeans than they did last year at this time.

In a recent national random survey of U.S. corn farmers, 77 percent said they agree that the United States should not file a lawsuit against the EU regarding GMOs.

“U.S. corn farmers understand that we've forfeited sales of 100 million bushels of U.S. corn annually to the EU due to GMOs,” notes McGuire. “Our competitors now enjoy that market share, and it's one of the reasons that corn prices are much lower than they should be."

In addition to acknowledging the EU as a valued customer, Sanner criticized those applauding Mr. Zoellick's actions and questioned whether they are doing the bidding of giant agribusiness concerns instead of standing up for U.S. farmers as they claim.

"The National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association admit that we have lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to lost exports resulting from the reluctance of customers to accept genetically modified crops,” he said.

“Have they forgotten the key business principal that says the customer is always right? Do they support forced trade over free trade? This whole thing has a foul odor to it and it does not smell like these organizations, or our trade negotiators are worried about improving the net income for U.S. farmers. Their actions seem to be more inclined to increase the power and profits for those who brought this tension and distrust between buyer and seller in the first place."

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com