US wins WTO backing in war with Europe over GM food

US wins WTO backing in war with Europe over GM food

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Julian Borger in Washington, Nicholas Watt
in Brussels and John Vidal
DATE: 08 Feb 2006

The World Trade Organisation last night ruled that Europe had broken
international trade rules by blocking the import of genetically modified
food, in a decision US trade officials hailed as a victory.

The WTO found that Europe had imposed a de facto ban on GM food imports
for six years from 1998 which violated trade agreements, and that
Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg also had no legal
grounds to impose their own unilateral import bans.

The decision is subject to appeal and European officials insisted it
applied to the past rather than current EU import policies, but the US
maintained the ruling lent support to the Bush administration's efforts
to force an acceleration in EU approval procedures for GM food imports.

Details of the complex ruling, more than 800 pages long, were not
available last night as trade experts on both sides of the Atlantic
began to digest the report's implications. But US officials said the WTO
decision had broadly vindicated the American position, which had been
supported by Canada and Argentina.

A US trade official described the outcome as "a significant milestone"
in US efforts to have GM crops accepted in international trade. "The
panel did find that there was a general [EU] moratorium and that it did
violate WTO rules."

But there was disappointment in Brussels. "This needs to be examined
very carefully, but some of it will make for difficult reading," one
official said. The European trade commission, headed by Peter Mandelson,
will respond today.

However, European officials pointed out last night that the moratorium
had been lifted in 2004, and that since then the European commission had
licensed more than 30 GM crops, including three last month after
"rigorous safety assessment".

US officials countered that there remained backlogs of up to a decade in
the approval of imports of about 20 types of GM corn, cotton and
soyabean. The Bush administration had argued that the EU moratorium had
had a chilling effect on the development of GM crops around the world,
to the detriment of global food production. "We wanted biotech products
to be judged on their merits, not by a political process," another US
trade official said.

European environment and consumer groups last night called the ruling a
direct attack on European democracy and appealed to governments to stand
up to what they called US "bullying tactics". "US agrichemical giants
will not sell a bushel more of their GM grain as a result of the WTO
ruling," said Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International's trade adviser.

"It's a desperate attempt to force these products on an unwilling
market. This will lead to even greater opposition to GM crops," said
Claire Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth International. "Protecting
wildlife, farmers and consumers is far more important than free trade =

A coalition of 170 regions in Europe and 4,500 smaller areas have said
they want to be GM-free."I do not expect this decision to change
European law, but it will be used by the US government to pressure
countries around the world to further liberalise trade rules," said Sue
Meyer, of the watchdog group Genewatch.


GM food must be allowed into Europe, WTO rules

SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Stephen Castle
DATE: 08 Feb 2006

Europe faces new pressure to open its markets to genetically-modified
food from the US after the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EU
broke international rules with its moratorium on new licences.

A lengthy and complex preliminary ruling from the WTO said that a de
facto Europe-wide ban, which prevented new corn, cotton and soybean
products from entering the European market, was not based on scientific

American sources also said that the WTO had found that six individual
states - France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece - broke
the rules by applying their own bans on marketing and importing GMOs.

The row over GMOs has exacerbated transatlantic tensions over trade. In
most European countries there is acute suspicion of GM technology which
is widely accepted by North Americans. Corn and soybeans that have been
genetically modified to resist insects or disease have been widely grown
in the US for years.

The case refers to the period between 1998 and 2004 when a group of EU
member states blocked all new approvals until a new system was in place
which would boost traceability and labelling of GM products.

Though that ban has now been lifted, US producers are still frustrated
at the pace of the approval procedures in Europe. Moreover they also
believe that, by taking the EU to the WTO, they will deter non-European
countries from blocking GM products.

Last night the European Commission refused to comment on the findings
which have yet to be made public formally. However the EU is likely to
dispute the WTO's preliminary ruling, arguing that the moratorium is now
over, and pointing to the fact that 30 GMOs or derived food and feed
products have been approved for marketing in the EU. If the preliminary
findings are backed up in the WTO's final report, due in several months,
the EU is entitled to appeal.

The US, Canada and Argentina brought the WTO complaint against the EU,
in May 2003, arguing that the moratorium was about protectionism, not
science. The three countries say there is no scientific evidence for the
EU action, which was an unfair barrier to producers of biotech foods
wanting to do business in Europe.

The EU said it needed the block to allow it to gather biotech data and
find out how best to update GMO rules. It argues that, while GMOs are
not inherently unsafe, a case-by-case assessment of environmental, human
and animal health needs to be made.

Two years ago the moratorium was lifted and a modified strain of
sweetcorn, grown mainly in the US, was allowed on to the market. But
Washington continued with the case because it wanted to be sure
approvals for GMO sales were being decided on scientific rather than
political grounds.

Last night's ruling was greeted with relief by US farmers.