GENET archive


9-Misc: WTO decision on EU GMO moratorium: European media

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  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,,1705031,00.html?gusrc=rss
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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US wins WTO backing in war with Europe over GM food

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 rules."

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.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  GM food must be allowed into Europe, WTO rules
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Stephen Castle
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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GM food must be allowed into Europe, WTO rules

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.

                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  WTO Rules on Transatlantic Food Fight
SOURCE: Deutsche  Welle, Germany, by Jabeen Bhatt,,1894911,00.html?maca=en-rss-
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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WTO Rules on Transatlantic Food Fight

The World Trade Organization said Tuesday that the EU and six member
nations broke trading rules by imposing a moratorium on genetically
modified (GM) crops and foods in a landmark decision.

On one side of the controversy is the EU, which has a long aversion to
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and strict policies governing
imports. On the other is the US, Canada and Argentina, who say such
policies equal unfair trade barriers and are not backed up scientifically.

So it was up to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to decide. And decide
they did.

In a landmark case with sweeping repercussions, the WTO on Tuesday
issued a preliminary decision on the issue, ruling that the EU - and
Germany, France, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy and Greece - essentially
imposed a moratorium on GMOs for six years beginning in 1998. Such
actions are forbidden under WTO rules.

The long-awaited ruling, which was delivered confidentially to the
parties involved and revealed by US and WTO officials privately, is
expected to take days to analyze - it is a complicated document
consisting of a 1,000 pages that detail the trade histories of certain
crops. A final document is expected by the end of the year.

Most observers had expected that the WTO ruling would favor dismantling
the EU's strict policies and force the EU to accept more GMOs. The EU
"has tied up most of these products without a scientific basis in a
politically-motivated moratorium," said a US trade official, who asked
not to be named. "We think we have a strong case."

A distaste for GMOs

GMOs have been widely used by more than 8 million farmers around the
world for more than a decade, with more than half the crops being grown
in the US, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative in
Washington. These include soy and corn that have been modified to better
resist pests, survive drought or have a higher vitamin and mineral content.

Proponents of GMOs say the fear among consumers is unfounded, since
other countries, namely the US, have been growing and eating these crops
for years - most processed foods in the US contain a GMO.

Europeans have always been far more distrustful of GMOs than their
counterparts abroad calling them "franken foods." So despite an official
EU policy allowing the imports, individual EU governments put
restrictions on imported crops, such as corn, that have been genetically
modified since 1998, when it approved its last batch of GMOs.

Subsequently, France and Germany led calls for a de facto moratorium on
new GM food approval and won the backing of several other EU states.
They formed a minority block that has been able to block any vote on a
new approval.

As a result, the US, Canada and Argentina filed a complaint with the WTO
in 2003 accusing the EU of blocking approvals of new biotech varieties.
They said that violated trade treaties that mandated a quick approval
process based on science. As a result, the food industry was losing
hundreds of millions in sales annually.

EU officials deny any moratorium. They said that examining new products
for safety takes time and that approval laws are fair. And they point to
the approval of sweet corn and other products since 2004 as proof that
the process is working.

"The claim that there is a moratorium on approval of GM products in
Europe is not true," said one EU trade official on the condition of
anonymity before the ruling was released. "We expect the ruling will
note that."

Instead, the EU considers that major GMO producers such as the US should
"adopt a co-operative approach to the development of a sound
international legal framework for these products, instead of taking
hostile steps at the WTO," according to an internal EU trade commission memo.

Ruling will have symbolic effect

The EU's loss won't have a huge impact on sales, because demand for GMO
products is still so low in Europe that farmers and retailers are
reluctant to gamble on offering them. Opponents say that the ruling will
even increase the aversion.

"Opposition to genetically modified foods is likely to increase if the
WTO decides that European safeguards should be sacrificed to benefit
biotech corporations," Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner for Friends of the
Earth Europe, said in a statement prior to the ruling. "The WTO, the US
administration and biotech firms should stop their bullying and let
Europeans decide what food we eat."

Still, ruling in favor of the US-led complaint sends a signal for other
countries to not take similar action.

Meanwhile, EU could now ask for more time to comply or appeal the
decision - or ignore it. Then compensatory fines and arbitration are likely.

"We hope it doesn't go that far," the US trade official said.

                                 PART IV
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  WTO rules EU broke trade rules by stopping genetically modified
food imports
SOURCE: Pravda, Russia
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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WTO rules EU broke trade rules by stopping genetically modified food imports

The WTO has ruled that the EU broke international trade rules by
stopping imports of genetically modified foods, officials said Tuesday.

The preliminary judgment by a World Trade Organization panel concluded
that the European Union had an effective ban on biotech foods in place
for six years from 1998, said the officials, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because it was a confidential report.

The report sided with a legal complaint brought by the United States,
Canada and Argentina over an EU moratorium on approval of new biotech
foods, the officials said. The panel ruled that individual bans in six
EU member states Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg
were against international trade rules.

The decision is said to be one of the most complicated the commerce body
has issued and runs to about 1,000 pages. It has been delayed several
times and diplomats said they were still studying the details late Tuesday.

The complainants claim that there is no scientific evidence for the EU's
actions and that the moratorium has been an unfair barrier to producers
of biotech foods who want to export to the EU.

Friends of the Earth say the case undermines the right of governments to
decide for themselves what is safe for their citizens, and puts pressure
on other countries especially developing nations to accept genetically
modified foods against their will.

The EU ended its moratorium in 2004 when it allowed onto the market a
modified strain of sweet corn, grown mainly in the United States, but
Washington says it will continue with its WTO case until it is convinced
that all applications for approval are being decided on scientific
rather than political grounds, reports AP.

                                 PART V
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Food ruling will keep WTO in activists' sights
SOURCE: The Financial Times, UK, by Alan Beattie
DATE:   07 Feb 2006

------------------ archive: ------------------

Food ruling will keep WTO in activists' sights

When scores of activists dressed as turtles appeared on the streets of
Seattle during the disastrous World Trade Organisation meeting in 1999,
it became clear that the WTO had inadvertently backed into the gunsights
of environmental campaigners.

It has remained there since. On Tuesday, the WTO's dispute settlement
panel released its long-awaited ruling in a transatlantic argument on
one of the most politically charged subjects of all: the EU's
restrictions on allowing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

Environmentalists delivered an onslaught of criticism when the ruling
came down in favour of the US. "The World Trade Organisation with its
secretive decision-making processes is unfit to decide what we should
eat or what farmers should grow," said Alexandra Wandel, trade co-
ordinator at Friends of the Earth. "A new global trading system is
needed that protects people and the environment from the worst excesses
of industry."

The WTO and its defenders say it is merely judging whether existing
rules are followed. But as such cases increase in complexity, so do the
challenges to its judicial system.

The three-person WTO panel was asked to rule not on whether GMOs were
safe, but whether the EU's lengthy and stringent approval process met EU
and WTO rules that products be tested without "undue delay".

The US, whose farmers use GMOs extensively, says GMO products have been
languishing in the approval process since 1998. This, they say, acts as
a form of backdoor protectionism against farm exports from the US and
other countries that use GMOs a lot.

WTO panel rulings often say more about legal process than the
substantive issue. The turtle activists in Seattle, for example, were
complaining about a WTO panel ruling in favour of Thailand against the
US, which required shrimp sold in US markets to be caught using special
nets that allowed turtles to escape.

The ruling actually upheld the right of the US to require use of the
special net, merely finding that it had applied the rules unfairly,
making it easier for Latin American shrimpers to qualify than for their
counterparts in Asia.

But other cases have taken WTO panels towards assessing the appropriate
level of risk themselves.

In 1997, a ruling went in favour of the US and Canada that the EU's ban
on growth hormones in beef was unduly cautious. And in the GMO case, it
had to decide whether, given the scientific complexities surrounding
GMOs, it has moved with proper speed in assessing their safety.

Mary Footer, professor of international economic law at Nottingham
University, says: "There should be a clearer understanding by WTO
members and those choosing the panel about the need to understand
science-based risk assessment."

Dispute panels are generally made up not of scientists but of trade
diplomats who have to rely on expert advice to inform their rulings. But
the EU argues that scientists are divided on the risk from GMOs.

"The science necessary to assess the risks of these new [genetic]
combinations is having a hard time to catch up with the rapid
development of new GM products," it said.

The panel's ruling, given consumer resistance, may not make much
difference to the actual consumption of GMO-based foods in Europe. But
in taking the case, the WTO has ensured its uncomfortably prominent role
in such debates will continue.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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