GENET archive


9-Misc: On the WTO GMO dispute

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Trade Ruling Is Expected to Favor Biotech Food
SOURCE: The New York  Times, USA, by Andrew Pollack
DATE:   06 Feb 2006

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Trade Ruling Is Expected to Favor Biotech Food

The battle over agricultural biotechnology could reach a tipping point
this week, when the World Trade Organization is expected to render its
verdict on charges by the United States that Europe is illegally
restricting imports of genetically modified crops.

Even if the United States wins -- that is the prevailing rumor --
genetically modified foods would not flood Europe because citizens there
remain wary of them. But the American government and the biotechnology
industry hope a ruling in their favor would sound a warning to other
nations not to follow Europe's lead in restricting farm biotechnology.

"It's pretty clear the U.S. had to draw the line so it didn't get worse
around the world," said Craig Thorn, an agricultural trade consultant in
Washington whose clients have included the biotechnology industry.

An American victory could help developers of genetically modified crops,
including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical, as well as the European
companies Syngenta and Bayer. American farmers growing genetically
modified crops might also benefit from increased exports. Trade
officials in Washington say they expect a preliminary decision from the
three-person panel tomorrow. But the decision has been put off numerous
times since the complaint was first filed in 2003, so another delay is

In its complaint, the United States, joined by Canada and Argentina,
said that European officials placed a moratorium on approving new
biotech varieties in 1998. That violated a global treaty on standards
for food, which requires governments to act without "undue delay" and to
base decisions on scientific risk assessments, not political expediency.

Europe counters that there was no moratorium. Decisions just took time,
it said, because it needed data from the biotech companies and because
it was revising its regulations.

Europe said the crops posed legitimate risks to health and the
environment that had to be weighed with "a prudent and precautionary

Since biotech crops were first planted widely 10 years ago, their use
has increased steadily. Last year, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries
grew the crops on 222 million acres, although the United States
accounted for more than half the total acreage, according to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
The crops are mainly soybeans, corn or cotton containing bacterial genes
that provide resistance to either herbicides or insects.

But consumer opposition and restrictions by various governments have
clearly slowed the adoption of the technology and its application to
other crops like wheat, rice and potatoes. In the United States, where
most soy and half the corn crop is genetically engineered, most
processed food, from corn flakes to salad dressing, has an ingredient in
it from a biotech crop. But in Europe, genetically engineered foods are
hardly found.

The direct economic impact of the halt in approvals has been fairly
small. American farm interests say that about $300 million a year in
corn exports to Europe have dried up since 1998. In contrast, W.T.O.
cases involving American steel tariffs and tax subsidies to exporters,
both of which the United States lost, involved billions of dollars a year.

Even before approvals stopped, Europe accounted for only 4 percent of
American corn exports. Soybeans are still exported to Europe because the
only genetically engineered bean was approved before 1998.

Even if Europe loses, it will argue that the findings are moot because
it resumed approving biotech crops in 2004.

American officials say those recent approvals are a grudging response to
the trade complaint and that decisions are still not coming fast enough.
Even if approvals do accelerate, specialists do not expect large exports
to Europe of either genetically modified corn or food containing biotech

Europe approved new rules in 2003 that require foods with genetically
modified ingredients to be labeled and the ingredients to be traceable
to the farm on which they were grown. Food companies in Europe and
America, worried that such a label will turn away consumers, avoid
biotech ingredients.

"The traceability and labeling scheme puts a black mark on any biotech
product," said Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery
Manufacturers of America, which represents big food companies like Kraft
and Kellogg. The grocery manufacturers and other American industry
groups are urging the government to file a new W.T.O. complaint against
the labeling and traceability rules. United States officials say that is
under consideration.

Opponents of biotech food say that a ruling in favor of the United
States need not dissuade other countries from regulating genetically
modified crops, because the American complaint was not against Europe's
regulations per se, but rather about delays in applying the regulations.

Still, Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at the
Consumers Union, based in Yonkers, said such a ruling would set a bad
precedent. "Safety and health regulations should not be second-guessed
by trade officials," she said.

                                 PART II
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        Draft ruling imminent on trade dispute between EU and US
SOURCE: Friends of  the Earth Europe
DATE:   03  Feb 2006

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WTO: HANDS OFF OUR FOOD! Draft ruling imminent on trade dispute between
EU and US

A special media briefing on the GM trade dispute is available at

as well as a fact sheet on GMOs and the WTO, see

Brussels/Geneva, 3 February 2006 - Opposition to genetically modified
(GM) foods) is likely to increase if the World Trade Organisation (WTO)
rules in favour of a US-led complaint against European GM policy,
Friends of the Earth Europe warned today. A draft final WTO ruling is
expected next week.

The international environmental group accused the WTO of being
secretive, undemocratic and biased towards business interests, and
charged that it is the wrong institution to settle disputes of this kind.

The United States, Canada and Argentina launched a trade dispute with
the EU through the WTO in May 2003. They have been arguing that Europe's
reluctance to embrace GM foods damaged their farmers and was a barrier
to trade. In line with WTO secrecy, the draft ruling will only be sent
to the countries in the dispute. A final ruling is expected later in the year.

Friends of the Earth Europe's Trade Co-ordinator Alexandra Wandel said:
"The World Trade Organisation should keep its hands off our food.
Protecting Europe's wildlife, farmers and consumers from the threat of
genetically modified crops is far more important than free trade rules.
The WTO is secretive, undemocratic and unfair. It should not decide what
the public eats and how we protect our environment."

Adrian Bebb, GM Food Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said:
"Opposition to genetically modified foods is likely to increase if the
WTO decides that European safeguards should be sacrificed to benefit
biotech corporations. The number of bans by countries in Europe against
GM foods is increasing, and the number of regions declaring themselves
GM Free has soared. The WTO, the US administration and biotech firms
should stop their bullying and let Europeans decide what food we eat."

Friends of the Earth has published a fact sheet and briefing on the
dispute today [1] which highlight:

- Opposition to GM foods and crops in Europe has increased since the
beginning of the trade dispute*. *There are now over 170 regions and
4,500 smaller areas that want to be GM-free.

- An alternative dispute settlement procedure is needed to solve trade
and environmental conflicts. This could be the International Court of
Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Additionally, the UN
Biosafety Protocol is an international agreement already in place that
deals with trade in GMOs. Unfortunately, the US has refused to sign it.

- The first ten years of GM crops have failed to deliver the benefits
promised by the biotech industry and have played no role in tackling
poverty and hunger [2].

An international campaign against the WTO dispute called "Bite-back -
WTO: Hands off our food!" is supported by 750 organisations representing
some 60 million people (see The coalition
states that the industry-friendly WTO is not the right place to decide
what food Europeans should eat.

The "Bite Back" citizens' objection was initiated by Friends of the
Earth International with the support of consumer, development and
Farmers' groups, trade unions, research institutes and citizens from
over 100 countries.

[1] A special media briefing on the GM trade dispute is available at

as well as a fact sheet on GMOs and the WTO, see

[2] Who benefits from GM crops
2006/who_benefits_from_gm_crops_Jan _2006.pdf


Alexandra Wandel, Friends of the Earth WTO expert, +49 172 748 3953
Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth GMO expert, +49 1609 490 1163

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Crop resistance: why a transatlantic split persists over
        genetically modified food
SOURCE: Financial Times, UK, by Jeremy Grant and Raphael Minder
DATE:   01 Feb 2006

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Crop resistance: why a transatlantic split persists over genetically
modified food

At the cereal aisle of the Safeway supermarket in Washington's
Tenleytown district, Ellen O'Brien scans the shelves. She picks out a
box of Wheaties, made by General Mills, and turns to eye jars of
Smucker's Goober Strawberry peanut butter.

Does she know both products contain genetically modified ingredients? "I
have to say I'm blissfully unaware," says Ms O'Brien, who works in
healthcare finance. Like most American shoppers, she accepts that three-
quarters of processed foods sold in the US contain GM organisms. But in
Europe, GM food is absent from supermarkets and remains a subject of
much consumer suspicion.

A study produced for the International Food Information Council last
year showed that fewer than 0.5 per cent of American consumers
identified food biotechnology as a safety concern. In contrast, a
Eurobarometer opinion poll across the 25-nation European Union found
that 54 per cent considered GM food to be dangerous. It is a
transatlantic divide that will be thrown into renewed stark relief this
month as a landmark trade dispute between the two regions comes to a head.

The World Trade Organisation is about to rule in a case brought against
the European Union in 2003 by the US, Canada and Argentina, which claim
that an EU moratorium on the approval of GM foods and crops, introduced
in 1998, lacked scientific basis and created an unfair trade barrier.
The case has significance beyond the moratorium, which the EU argues has
in any event become all but obsolete following its enactment of stricter
labelling and tracing legislation and the limited resumption of product
approvals in May 2004, when the EU gave clearance to a GM corn developed
by Syngenta.

Instead, the ruling will be important in efforts by the US to prevent
European GM concerns from spreading, especially to Asia and Africa.
David Bullock, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the
University of Illinois, says with a neatly chosen metaphor: "The US is
trying to nip things in the bud.''

GM crops - first grown in the three nations that brought the WTO case -
now cover 90m hectares (222m acres) in 21 countries. Summing up the
challenge for American farmers - for whom exports already represent one-
quarter of their cash receipts - Richard Crowder, the chief US
agricultural negotiator, says: "As incomes rise in the rest of the world
and our market further matures, trade will be ever more important for

Since the first commercial amounts of GM soyabeans, cotton and maize
were planted in 1996, US farmers have become increasingly reliant on the
advanced crop types produced through genetic modification. The
technology involves selecting specific genes from one organism and
introducing them into another to produce traits - such as drought-
resistance or resilience against pests - that can increase farmers'
harvests. About 85 per cent of soyabeans, 76 per cent of cotton and 45
per cent of maize planted in the US in 2004 were of GM varieties,
according to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

US President George W. Bush once provocatively invited visiting European
leaders to the White House dining room with the words: "Let's go and eat
some genetically modified food for lunch." In Europe, few politicians
are willing to endorse GMOs - and some even avoid condemning the burning
of trial fields by anti-GM activists such as José Bové in France.
Patrick Rudels� heim, a specialist on European GM regulation who
supervised field trials for several leading GM companies, says: "A field
destruction in itself is a serious investment loss, but perhaps more
depressing is the subsequent lack of support from the authorities. It's
often pure judicial laisser faire.''

At the retail level, Europe's GM clock has arguably been turned back in
the past decade. The little GM food that was available, notably tomato
purée sold in the UK by the J Sainsbury and Safeway chains in 1996, was
subsequently removed from the shelves amid a wider food safety debate.
Today, one European supermarket executive says, it would be "almost
commercial suicide'' to sell GM food.

Ragnar Löfstedt, professor in risk management at King's College London,
identifies three main reasons for Europe's aversion to GM food. First,
he argues, Americans' trust in their Food and Drug Administration is far
greater than that of Europeans in their own health regulators (the
wariness dating as far back as the 1960s Thalidomide birth deformities
scandal). Second, the US has avoided food scandals on the scale of the
"mad cow'' crisis of the 1990s, which led to a decade-long ban on
British beef exports. That coincided with the first GM crop trials and
brought "a knee-jerk reaction'' by the EU in its decision to stop
approving new types of GM products in 1998.

Third, Prof Löfstedt and others stress, was a faulty communications
strategy by GM companies, in particular Monsanto of the US, the industry
leader, when it targeted Europe. He says: "Monsanto was not culturally
sensitive enough to realise the potential for a European public
backlash . . . GMOs, rightly or wrongly, are perceived to be an American
issue and Europeans don't like Americans to tell them what to do.''

Europeans have therefore remained sceptical about whether GMOs are
harmless, notably when it comes to growing GM crops alongside
traditional produce, where strains can cross-pollinate. American
politicians and GM scientists argue that the burden of proof lies the
other way, namely to find evidence that GM crops cause harm. Jonathan
Ramsey, a Monsanto spokesman in Europe, says European consumer
perceptions will shift, adding that people had "reflected on the scare
stories that were around 10 years ago on super weeds and fish genes in
tomatoes and have come to see that this was actually scaremongering".

Yet the real ideological - and commercial - battleground for GMOs is
increasingly in the developing world. Alarm was raised in the US when
Zimbabwe in 2002 refused an aid shipment of US grain because it might
have contained GM maize. The debate has also been intense in countries
such as Zambia and Ethiopia. The US has tried to strengthen its case by
arguing that GM crops can alleviate poverty, not least since they
eliminate the need for poor farmers to budget for inputs such as
insecticides. Officials have pointed to agricultural progress in
countries such as Brazil, which almost doubled its GM crops last year to
9.4m hectares, the fastest growth rate worldwide.

However, many environmental and consumer groups contest those benefits.
In a report last month focusing on Monsanto, Friends of the Earth
underlined some of the paradoxical aspects of GM farming in the
developing world - including an alleged increase in the use of
herbicides to combat weeds that have grown tolerant to Roundup Ready
soyabeans, a leading GM crop. The result, according to Charles Margolis
of the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, a non-profit advocacy
group, is that "companies like Monsanto are now telling these farmers to
use really toxic chemicals. It's a joke.''

In spite of such scepticism - and regardless of the WTO case - the US
can point to signs that it is starting to win the argument on GM
acceptance globally, according to recent statistics on the extent of GM
crop plantings. A study produced last month by the non-profit
International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications
and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation showed that developing
countries have adopted GM crops at four times the pace of developed
economies in the last decade. Of the 8m farmers growing such crops
globally, 90 per cent were located in developing countries.

Acceptance of GMOs is receiving a further boost with the emergence of
largely government-backed research into the technology in China - which
is developing a strain of rice rich in vitamin A - (see below right) as
well as work in India and even Iran, which joined the GM-growing club
last year.

Experts say such developments may have more effect than any WTO pressure
on Europe to relax its opposition to GMOs. Even within the Vatican it is
recognised that GMOs can have a role in reducing poverty (see below
left). But the short-term prospects for GM farming in Europe remain
unclear. Of the four countries that started or resumed GM crop
production last year, three were EU members: Portugal, France and the
Czech Republic. However, that has been countered by growing regional
opposition to GMOs - 172 regional governments across Europe have sought
or implemented bans on GM crops, according to Friends of the Earth, the
environmental campaign group.

At a national level, Switzerland's voters rejected GM crops in a
referendum last November. Maria Rauch-Kallat, health minister of
Austria, which currently holds the EU's presidency, says she believes
her country's "strict resistance'' to GMOs will remain. "Like others in
Europe, Austrians are very close to nature. Our vision of a good society
is certainly not one where everybody is allowed to do whatever is
technologically possible.''

According to GM proponents, the first consequence of such resistance is
that Europe is losing corporate investment. They cite Syngenta, which in
2004 started moving its biotechnology research headquarters from Britain
to the US "to be in a more positive environment for this kind of work".
Christian Verscheuren, director-general of CropLife, a trade association
representing Monsanto and other leading GM companies, says: "The
industry has not given up on Europe but it has considerably scaled back."

But the longer-term and more serious impact for Europe may lie beyond
GMOs, in more sophisticated agribiotechnologies to develop modified
foods that carry a particular health benefit - such as reducing the
incidence ofdiabetes.

Some of that research is being carried out in Europe, including a
project called Lipgene, involving 25 laboratories across Europe co-
ordinated by Trinity College, Dublin, which is working on a linseed oil
to contain fats that occur in fish oil and have cardiovascular benefits.
But more advanced and large-scale efforts are under way in the US. Last
month Kellogg, the cereal maker, said it would put in its baked products
a type of soyabean oil developed by Monsanto that eliminates the need
for hydrogenation, a process that normally creates harmful fatty acids.

Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative, says:
"There is some potential that the European industry could be left behind
with regard to other kinds of applications [for GMOs]. If you have a
regulatory and political climate that is not conducive to R&D, they
[Europeans] could end up losing out."

Europeans might not take readily to Goober Strawberry peanut spreads,
with or without genetic tweaks. But for the world food business, even in
Europe, gene modification is fast becoming what could be described, not
just metaphorically, as a bread-and-butter issue.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
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