FACTBOX - Key Findings in WTO Ruling on GMO's
DATE: 09 Feb 2006
GENEVA - European states have reacted with defiance to a World Trade
Organisation (WTO) ruling against the European Union and six member
countries over genetically modified foods and crops (GMO).
The confidential verdict, declaring a past EU moratorium and current
bans by six member states illegal, was sent on Tuesday to the EU and the
three WTO member countries that brought the trade complaint - Argentina,
Canada and the United States.
Here are some of the main conclusions of the panel of WTO judges,
according to a copy of the findings obtained on Wednesday by Reuters:
- The panel found that the EU operated a de facto moratorium on
considering new GMO imports between June 1999 and Aug. 29, 2003. This
moratorium resulted in a failure to complete "approval procedures
without undue delay" and so violated WTO rules.
- But as the moratorium has since been lifted, the panel made no
recommendations for action.
- Separately, it also found that undue delay existed in 24 of the 27
individual product applications on which the three complainants had
sought a ruling.
- It asked the WTO's dispute settlement body to request the EU to bring
the measures into line with the rules. But according to trade sources,
virtually all of these products have either since been approved or their
- The judges also found that bans imposed by six EU states - France,
Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy and Belgium - on products already
approved by the EU violated trade rules and need to be revised.
- The individual states had failed to provide adequate scientific
evidence of the risks to human health or the environment.
- But the panel made no overall assessment of whether biotech products
are generally safe or not.
Now, Will Europe Swallow Frankenfoods?
SOURCE: Business Week, USA, by Kerry Capell
DATE: 08 Feb 2006
Probably not, even though the U.S. has won a major victory in the WTO
over genetically modified food exports
Chalk one up for the U.S. On Feb. 7, the World Trade Organization ruled
against the European Union in a dispute over import restrictions on
genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. The preliminary ruling is
hailed as a major win for the U.S. government, farmers, and the biotech
industry. But across the Atlantic, the victory is seen as a pyrrhic one
unlikely to erase European consumers' longstanding aversion to what the
local press has dubbed Frankenfoods.
The long-simmering dispute centers on a 2003 complaint brought by the
U.S., Canada, and Argentina, all major producers of GM crops. These
countries claimed that the EU's six-year de-facto ban on GM products,
beginning in 1998, constituted an unfair trade barrier with no
scientific justification. Although the EU began allowing imports of GM
products in 2004 on a case-by-case basis, individual European countries
have reserved the right to ban GM products that already have been given
the green light by Brussels. The EU, which grows less than 1% of the
world's gene-modified crops, says it has approved more than 30 GM food
and animal products since 1994.
The U.S. charges that the EU's current approval system, which calls for
detailed labeling and traceability requirements, is slow and unworkable.
Brussels says it's simply responding to consumer concerns and ensuring
that GM products are safe. "Europe's decision to halt GM approvals [in
1998] wasn't about erecting barriers to trade," says Sue Mayer, director
of GeneWatch UK, a nonprofit group that monitors genetic technologies.
"It was about responding to public concern in order to have better rules
and scientific knowledge."
American farmers and industry giants such as Monsanto (MON ) charge that
Europe's resistance to GM has cost them hundreds of millions a year in
lost sales in a global market worth $5.5 billion. The U.S. hopes that
the new ruling from the world's trade court will reverse the trend. At a
=46eb. 8 press conference in Brussels, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
Susan Schwab said the WTO decision is likely to lead to a change in the
EU's attitude toward GM products that will be result in greater imports.
That may be wishful thinking. A 2005 Eurobarometer poll showed 54% of
European consumers think GM food is dangerous. And many major
supermarket chains across Europe no longer sell GM products. Britain's
Unilever (UN ) and Cadbury-Schweppes (CSG ), along with Switzerland's
Nestl=E9, stopped using GM ingredients in their products years ago in the
face of growing consumer opposition. "The U.S. effort to force GM foods
upon unwilling consumers is offensive and misguided," Jim Murray of the
European consumer organization BEUC said in a statement.
PROTECTIONISM IN DISGUISE?
Americans, who have been chowing down on GM-derived foods for years, say
European concerns over safety are unwarranted. It's a sentiment echoed
by EuropaBio, the EU association for bioindustries, which maintains that
no scientific evidence indicates GM products are anything but safe.
But many Europeans remain sceptical. After all they have experienced
numerous scares in recent years that sensitized the population to the
hidden dangers lurking in their food supply such as mad cow, dioxin-
infested chicken, and hormone-laden beef. There's also the perception
that the U.S. is trying to bully Europeans in order to boost America's
thriving biotech industry. "European safeguards" are being "sacrificed
to benefit biotech corporations," claimed environmental group Friends of
the Earth Europe in a statement.
The U.S. views Europe's carping over safety issues as an attempt to
disguise old-fashioned trade protectionism as consumer protection. Free-
trade proponents in the U.S. see Europe's resistance to GM as
politically motivated -- a means of protecting the bloc's all-important
farming industry from foreign imports. But others disagree. "It's a bit
rich for the U.S. to say Europe is politically motivated when the main
reason for taking this before the WTO is that the U.S. doesn't want
other countries to follow Europe's lead and place restrictions on GM,"
says GeneWatch's Mayer.
The full details of how the WTO ruling will affect Europe won't be known
until the organization releases its final verdict later this year. In
the meantime, officials on both sides of the Atlantic are plowing
through the 1,000-page decision. The EU hasn't announced whether it will
ask for more time to comply with or appeal the decision.
But already many in Europe expect some national governments might decide
to go with public opinion and defy the EU by banning GM crops. Greece's
Agriculture Minister was quoted in the press last week saying his
country would ignore EU regulations and broaden its unauthorized ban on
GM-modified maize seeds. It seems this food fight is far from over.
EU shrugs off modified foods censure
SOURCE: Financial Times, UK, by Raphael Minder in Brussels and
Edward Alden in Washington
DATE: 09 Feb 2006
A ruling by the World Trade Organisation against European restrictions
on genetically modified foods will not force the European Union to amend
its legislation, EU officials insisted yesterday.
Yet the WTO's interim report, released late on Tuesday, could have a
profound impact on developing countries that have started or are
considering switching to GM technology. This is because it will
reinforce claims championed by the US that GM foods are not only safe
but also enable farmers considerably to cut their production costs.
In Brussels yesterday, Susan Schwab, deputy US trade representative,
welcomed the WTO's decision, adding: "When we are talking about biotech
food, we are talking about an incredible opportunity for farmers
throughout the world, particularly in the developing world.'' The
complaint was filed against Europe in 2003 by the US, Canada and Argentina.
EU officials stressed the WTO's criticism was about former EU regulatory
safeguards but not the Union's existing rules, which came into force
after the tabling of the complaint. A spokesman for Peter Mandelson, EU
trade commissioner, said: "This interim report is largely of historical
interest, as this panel will not alter the system or framework within
which the EU takes decisions on GMOs."
Still, the report could influence what has been a heated European debate
about GMOs because of its condemnation of national curbs that have
remained in place after 2004, when Brussels resumed approvals - albeit
on a limited scale - of GM products.
Later this month the European Food Safety Authority is due to give its
scientific assessment on eight national bans, which could encourage the
European Commission to take another stab at lifting them.
The ruling was seized on by large companies such as Monsanto and
Syngenta, which have been frustrated by European restrictions and the
slow pace of approvals for new GM products. Sarah Thorn, senior director
of international trade at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said:
"The WTO's decision makes it clear that biotech regulations must be
based on sound science and that the EU's approach to biotech crop
approvals is unwarranted."
Environmentalists criticised the ruling, with Friends of the Earth
describing it as an "inappropriate intrusion into decisions about what
food people eat".
Peter Jones, of the European flour milling association, said: "The WTO
can pass all the rules they want, but resistance is coming from the
consumer, and consumers in Britain and Europe don't want GMO foods."