That last point was almost the deal-breaker. The European Union had insisted on requiring genetically modified foods or seeds to be shipped in separate containers. Representatives from the U.S. and Canada balked, swearing that it would cost billions to set up separate distribution systems. Although U.S. farmers lose millions in exports annually because of E.U. consumer fears about their crops, the U.S. negotiating team was prepared to walk out rather than cede the point. In the end, negotiators agreed to settle for labels that note the shipment may contain some genetically modified material. That particular label may become a common sight on European loading docks; nearly 50 percent of soybeans (and 35 percent of the corn) grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, and that number is bound to rise, especially if this agreement helps to allay consumer fears about modified crops.
Whether that happens is still very much in question. While representatives from all sides seemed happy with the results, the deal is essentially a back-end protocol: Bulk food products will be labeled for shipping, but the foods that show up on grocery shelves won't be required to have anything identifying them as containing GM materials. That's a battle for another round of talks.