GENET archive


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

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  WTO ruling not to alter GMO rules, says EU
SOURCE: Xinhua, China
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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WTO ruling not to alter GMO rules, says EU

The WTO ruling against the European Union's genetically modified (GMO)
crop import approval regime is not expected to alter current rules, the
European Commission said on Tuesday. The possible negative ruling by the
World Trade Organization ( WTO) is likely to have little impact as the
EU's legislative situation has changed significantly since the complaint
was originally lodged, according to the commission. "The EU has no ban
on safe GM products," said a statement issued by the Commission, adding
that more than 30 GMO or derived food and feed products have been
approved for marketing in the 25- nation bloc so far. The original
challenge was brought in 2003 by the United States, Canada and
Argentina. Those countries argued that the EU's strict policies,
including an unofficial GMO moratorium that lasted until 2004, were
effectively blocking the import and cultivation of GMO crops into
Europe. But the Commission has repeatedly said that it now has a clear
and fully functioning set of GMO crop approvals rules. Under the rules,
GMO can only be placed on the market after having undergone a stringent
science-based risk assessment on a case by case basis. The commission
insists that the status quo on GMO will remain unchanged. "The WTO
challenge on GMO is unhelpful and unfounded," said the statement.
Source: Xinhua

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Biotech industry hails WTO ruling
SOURCE: The Australian
DATE:   08  Feb 2006

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Biotech industry hails WTO ruling

US BIOTECH industry groups have hailed a world trade ruling condemning
the European Union over its policy on genetically modified (GMO) crops
and foods. Green groups have blasted it as a direct attack on democracy.

In a keenly awaited confidential judgment, the World Trade Organisation
said the EU applied an effective moratorium on GMO imports for six years
from 1998 - illegal under WTO rules.

Six EU countries also broke trade rules by slapping their own bans on
marketing and importing GMO products that had already won EU-wide
approval, according to diplomats who had seen the finding issued by the
Geneva based trade body.

"If confirmed, the verdict seems to be pretty unambiguous," said
Christian Verschueren, director-general of CropLife International,
representing the global plant science industry.

"It seems to send a clear signal that any measures to protect animal,
human and plant health have to be based on sound science," he said.

"We hope that ... we gradually gain more political clarity within the
EU, and get the regulatory machine working more effectively than it has done."

The complaint was filed against the EU in 2003 by Argentina, Canada and
the United States - all major growers of GMO crops such as soy and maize.

US farmers say the EU ban cost them $US300 million ($A404.8 million) a
year in lost sales while it was in effect since many US agricultural
products, including most US corn, were effectively barred from entering
EU markets.

Europe's shoppers are known for their wariness towards GMO products,
often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods" or "Frankenfoods".

But the biotech industry insists that its products are perfectly safe
and say Europe's hostility is unfounded.

Green groups were disappointed by the findings, saying the months of
waiting, and many delays, in the WTO biotech case had already made
Europe take a much more proactive stance on approving GMOs than
warranted by the poor consumer demand for modified foods.

"US agro-chemical giants will not sell a bushel more of their GM grain
as a result of the WTO ruling," said Daniel Mittler, trade adviser at
Greenpeace International.

"European consumers, farmers and a growing number of governments remain
opposed to GMOs, and this will not change in Europe or globally," he
said in a statement.

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Cruel to deny Africa a hand up
SOURCE: The Business Day, South Africa, by Jennifer A. Thomson
DATE:   07 Feb 2006

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Cruel to deny Africa a hand up

THE World Trade Organisation (WT0) is about to rule on the European
Union's (EU's) resistance to genetically modified foods and this will
have a direct effect on starving Africans.

Genetically modified foods are regarded with suspicion and opposition in
Europe and among environmentalist nongovernmental organisations --
Greenpeace panicked Zambia into refusing free genetically modified maize
from the US when stricken by famine in 2002, although Americans eat it
all the time.

The EU tightly restricts imports to a very few genetically modified
products so African countries would face yet another barrier to trade if
they took advantage of the benefits of genetically modified crops. All
this is based on the vague "precautionary principle" that allows
undefined fears of undefinable consequences to be presented as evidence
in EU law and UN conventions.

But rich countries have enough food. Should we allow them to dictate to
us what is best for Africa?

In Africa 70% of the population depends on agriculture as the sole
source of income but Africa's crop productivity is the lowest in the
world and 25% of grain is imported. Worse still, yields are falling.

African scientists are tackling the challenge by developing genetically
modified crops with increased yields.

Africa is home to virulent plant diseases such as cassava mosaic virus
and maize streak virus. In the 1990s Uganda lost nearly all its cassava
(manioc) to cassava mosaic virus, which is spreading rapidly towards
Nigeria, one of Africa's biggest producers. Varieties of maize have been
bred by conventional means to resist maize streak virus but this
resistance often breaks down when grown in areas for which they are not
entirely suitable. Scientists in our laboratories at the University of
Cape Town (UCT), in association with a local seed company, have
developed genetically modified varieties that are resistant to the virus.

Witchweed attacks the roots of crops such as maize and strangles them,
making it almost impossible to remove by conventional weeding. Field
trials in Kenya using a nonmodified maize variety coated with the
herbicide imazapyr have proven successful. Other scientists are
developing similar resistance using genetic modification technology.

And then we come to drought, one of African farmers' greatest problems.

I was recently talking to small-scale banana farmers in Kenya. When
asked what the major constraint to production was, they all replied
"lack of water". Attempts to breed crops tolerant to drought by
conventional methods have not been successful so a growing number of
scientists worldwide are working on the development of drought tolerance
using genetic modification.

At UCT we are using genes from the indigenous South African
"resurrection plant", Xerophyta viscosa, that grows in cracks in rocks.
This plant can survive for long periods at 5% of its normal water
content. It loses all its chlorophyll and looks completely dead but add
water and within 72 hours the plant resurrects in an amazing display.
The first genes we have introduced into transgenic plants show tolerance
to dehydration, heat and salt.

Insect-resistant maize expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin has
been successful in parts of SA, grown by small-scale and commercial
farmers. As well as protecting the cobs from maize borers, it seems to
protect them from post-harvest fungus infection. These fungi can produce
toxins that can cause toxic hepatitis and oesophageal cancer in humans.

Other important initiatives in African laboratories aim to develop
improved varieties of local crops such as cowpea, sweet potatoes, yams
and sorghum. These are staples in many parts of Africa but, because
there is no mass market for them, multinational companies have little
interest in improving their yields: we have to develop them ourselves.

But Europe's resistance to genetically modified foods is affecting
Africa: not only are genetically modified imports banned but the
unscientific fears have spread too. Kenya is considering halting
experiments, Zambia continues to ban donations of genetically modified
maize for famine relief and even SA, with 645000ha placing it among the
top 14 growers of genetically engineered crops, faces new restrictive

Our big hope is that the forthcoming World Trade Organisation ruling --
in a case brought by Argentina, the US and Canada against the EU -- will
open up trade in genetically modified crops and free us to exploit this
opportunity to fight famine and increase trade.

African farmers already suffer from drought, disease, internal trade
barriers, corruption and lack of property rights; refusing them the
benefits of genetically modified food is a cruel and nasty trick.

Thomson is head of the molecular and cell biology department at the
University of Cape Town.

                                 PART IV
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TITLE:  We need to win: Once digested, arguments over EU's moratorium on
        genetically modified crops boil down to science v. politics
SOURCE: National Post, Canada, by Ronald L. Doering and Valerie Hughes
DATE:   07 Feb 2006

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We need to win: Once digested, arguments over EU's moratorium on
genetically modified crops boil down to science v. politics

In the next few days, there will be news reports of a leaked "interim
report" by the World Trade Organization on the long running dispute over
the European Union moratorium against genetically modified crops. The
report will be hundreds of pages long, the longest ever produced by the
WTO, and filled with thousands of pages of technical data: Whatever way
it goes, the losing party is likely to appeal. So why should Canadians
care about this complex, arcane report?

Quite apart from the hundreds of millions of dollars of lost canola
exports, Canadians should care because, on a per capita basis, we are
the most trade-dependent country on Earth. No country has a higher stake
in seeing that our science-based trade rules work. This is a case we
really need to win.
A Canadian victory would not mean that genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) would henceforth flow freely into the European market, or any
other market, for that matter. Nor would it mean that French or Danish
consumers would be forced unwittingly into consuming genetically
modified foods, or that super weeds resistant to herbicides would start
sprouting up across Austria or Italy. The GMOs dispute is not about lax
versus prudent attitudes to biotechnology, or cavalier disregard versus
prudent protection of the environment. The dispute is about ensuring
that Europe's own regulatory system for approving or rejecting GM
products is turned back on and allowed to function as it was designed to
do. A win for Canada means that WTO members will have an opportunity to
trade in GMOs subject to scientific approvals, rather than having their
exports blocked at the border as a result of arbitrary or politically
based decisions.

For several years, efforts were made at the highest political levels to
get Europe to lift its moratorium on GM products to no avail. The
current Director-General of the WTO, Pascale Lamy, was Europe's trade
minister at the time and he staunchly defended Europe's protectionist
actions. When diplomacy failed, Canada took legal action at the WTO,
arguing that EU policies are not based on scientific risk assessments
and are therefore unjustified barriers to trade. Specifically, in 2003,
Canada asked the WTO to determine whether the EU moratorium on the
approval of GM products, and the systematic refusal of various EU member
states to permit marketing such products, are inconsistent with the EU's
WTO obligations. The United States and Argentina brought similar
complaints against the EU and a single panel was established to deal
with all three complainants simultaneously.

Several other WTO members joined in the dispute as so-called third
parties, including Brazil and China. The three complainants plus Brazil
and China are responsible for 94% of total lands devoted to biotech
products throughout the world. Several NGOs, including the Council of
Canadians and Greenpeace, also filed briefs with the panel arguing that
the benefits of GM products are uncertain.

Canada has challenged three measures under three different WTO
agreements: the general moratorium, an across-the-board marketing ban on
products that had not been approved as of October, 1998, when the
approvals system was suspended; the failure of the EU to approve,
without undue delay, specific applications for approval of four
varieties of genetically modified canola; and national measures
instituted by several EU member states that ban the importation, sale or
marketing of biotech products that have already been approved at the
European Community level.

The EU says there is no general moratorium. The complainants concede
there is no legislated moratorium but they allege that there is a de
facto suspension of the approvals process and they point to several
public admissions by EU officials acknowledging its existence. It is
doubtful the panel will be persuaded by the EU's "see no moratorium,
hear no moratorium" defence. The question is whether the panel will
condemn the EU for an omission. And if it does, it will be interesting
to see how the EU goes about complying with such a ruling.

The EU has defended the product-specific marketing bans on the grounds
that these specific cases have been subject to justifiable delays given
the uncertainty of the science, and that additional information is
required before the approval process can proceed. At the EU's request,
the panel called in its own scientific experts to testify about the
reasonableness of the delays in the approval process and the need for
more scientific proof that GM products are safe. It did so despite the
protestations of the complainants, who saw no need for such testimony;
according to the complainants, the safety of the GM products in question
had been judged long ago.

The EU claimed they are entitled under WTO rules to impose provisional
measures because the scientific evidence about GM products is uncertain.
Although the EU got plenty of help from the NGOs on this point, the
scientists generally seemed unconvinced. If there is a general
moratorium or a product-specific ban that is, according to the
scientists, not scientifically based, then the EU has failed to abide by
the rules. If that is the case, the panel should tell the EU to let the
approvals system run its course so that trade in GM products will
henceforth be governed by science, not politics.
Canada used to export over $185-million of canola a year to the EU; last
year it was $1.5-million. Canada has been raising this issue with the EU
since 1997. The science is clear; the law is clear. The EU position is
not about protection; it is about protectionism. The decision will tell
if the WTO is part of the problem or part of the solution.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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

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