GENET archive


9-Misc: WTO biotech ruling reveals special interests, say critics

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Going round in crop circles
SOURCE: Wiener Zeitung, Austria
DATE:   09 Feb 2006

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Going round in crop circles
GM maize must be back on the menu, WTO and EU say

Brussels/Vienna. (beo) According to a verdict by the World Trade
Organisation (WTO), Austria and four other EU-countries have to lift
bans on GM crops such as maize. The decision follows a lawsuit brought
in by the USA and Argentina in May 2003. The two countries had also
complained that the EU had not given out any licenses for the import of
GM crops between the years 1998 and 2004. While the EU now agrees with
the WTO that the bans issued by individual countries against GM crops
have to be lifted, it does not see any need to change EU legislation on
GMOs. Scepticism against genetically modified organisms is high in
Europe, especially in Austria. In a first reaction to the verdict,
farmers said that they saw no need to plant GM crops. Not using modified
seeds made the country's produce more expensive, a farmers'
representative said, but there is a market for it. All parties urged
Agricultural Minister Josef Pröll (ÖVP) to stay firm and defend
Austria's ban vis-àvis the EU.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  WTO Biotech Ruling Reveals Special Interests, Say Critics
SOURCE: IPS NEws, by Emad Mekay
DATE:   08 Feb 2006
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WTO Biotech Ruling Reveals Special Interests, Say Critics

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 (IPS) - A World Trade Organisation decision that
called European safety bans on genetically modified food illegal under
its global trade rules could usher in a new phase of potentially
hazardous "Frankenfoods" worldwide and further erosion of local
protections, say environmental and advocacy groups.

The groups urged the European Union to place human health and
environmental safety first and continue to resist allowing imports of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The long-awaited landmark ruling on the EU's six-year embargo on
genetically engineered crops could affect millions of farmers and
consumers around the world and billions of dollars in trade.

The United States, the main plaintiff in the case, along with developing
nations, whose resistance to GMOs has so far largely hinged on European
backing, may now feel confident that they can adopt the GMO technologies
and retain access to European export markets.

The U.S. biotech industry had complained that the EU action effectively
blocked up to 300 million dollars of potential U.S. agricultural exports
annually. The potential of U.S. exports to huge world markets, like
India, is far greater.

U.S. biotechnology giants like Monsanto, Aventis, DuPont and Dow
Chemical and big agricultural groups such as the National Corn Growers
Association strenuously lobbied the George W. Bush administration to
bring a formal case before the WTO, challenging the EU's GMO regulatory

The United States is the world's largest grower of genetically modified
crops and seeds, like corn and soybeans, with 96.3 million acres
currently under cultivation. Biotech seed sales brought in 2.2 billion
dollars last year.

The WTO verdict on the case -- filed in 2003 by the United States and
some of the countries within its political sphere like Canada,
Argentina, Mexico and Egypt -- will determine whether EU policies will
move beyond the "precautionary principle", a notion that new
technologies, especially those potentially affecting the environment and
public health, should be shelved until risks are ruled out.

But analysts and trade watchdog groups are warning that the ruling could
now form the basis for challenging other GMO bans in Asian and African
countries, which, as members of the WTO, will eventually have to abide
by the ruling.

"It's disappointing that the WTO would seek to override democratic
decisions at literally all levels of government," said Dennis Olson of
the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), based in
Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Critics of the WTO decision point out that there is already a broad
international agreement on how to deal with biotech crops through the
United Nations Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, adopted in 2000.

The protocol gives each country leeway in regulating genetically
modified crops, taking precautionary principles, protecting their
farmers and requiring labeling of these crops and food products.

"Now, the WTO's unelected legal tribunal, at the request of the U.S.
government, has chosen to pre-empt a strong democratic international
consensus," Olson added.

Last Thursday a coalition of environmental and consumer groups published
the conclusions of the ruling, which has not yet been officially
released, saying they wanted to show the world how the Geneva-based WTO
was being driven by special interests.

The WTO has come under fire repeatedly by independent analysts and trade
watchdog groups who say that the organisation's panels often look at
cases strictly with the purpose of opening markets for trade with little
heed to environmental or health goals.

"The WTO should be the last institution to decide what people eat and
grow in the fields," said Alexandra Wandel, of Friends of the Earth Europe.

Right-wing groups and industry organisations here have been waging a
campaign to promote genetically modified (GM) foods and discredit
environmental groups such as the Centre for Food Safety and the Organic
Consumers Association, on the grounds that they stand in the way of
using GMOs to feed the world's hungry and poor.

Last week the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing Washington-
based think tank with close ties to the neo-conservative clique in and
around the Bush administration, said it is launching a book that defends
GM crops because they can save children who suffer from diseases around
the world.

Jon Entine, a researcher at the think tank, said in a press advisory
that some GM food brands, modified to contain vitamin A for example,
remain unutilised because of opposition from environmental and public
safety organisations and that those children were the victims of "anti-
genetic science advocacy groups".

Because of such efforts from the U.S. government and the biotech
industry, the acreage devoted to GM crops is growing, increasing to 222
million acres last year -- one-third was in developing countries.

GMO advocates dangle benefits like a potential increase in agricultural
productivity, drought and disease resistant crops, and the reduction of
the use of insecticides and herbicides.

Yet despite the initial elation in industry groups and the
administration over the WTO ruling, some argue that the victory is not

The Food Products Association, the largest U.S. food and beverage
lobbying group, said Wednesday that U.S. companies would still face
trade barriers in the European Union such as the requirements for
labeling and traceability of foods and animal feed.

"These requirements have established a serious trade barrier that
continues to keep many food products enjoyed here in the United States
out of the European market," said Jeffrey Barach, vice-president of the FPA.

Environmental groups say they are still hopeful the ruling will not be
as destructive as initially thought. The expansion of GM crops in the
U.S. and other major farming countries has been slowing and many
consumers say they are turning to "cleaner" and "tastier" organic or
traditional foods and crops.

"The U.S. administration and agro-chemical companies brought the case in
a desperate attempt to force-feed markets with GMOs," said Daniel
Mittler, of Greenpeace International. "But consumers, citizens and
farmers around the world do not want GMOs and this ruling will change
none of that."

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  EuropaBio statement on WTO ruling on biotech crops
SOURCE: EuropaBio, Belgium
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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EuropaBio statement on WTO ruling on biotech crops

Yesterday, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) issued their findings on
the trade dispute over biotech crops. This case was brought forward by
the US, Canada and Argentina against the European Union. The
complainants have also been supported by a number of other countries
including Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, El
Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Peru,
Thailand, Uruguay. The case was not brought forward by the biotechnology

News reports suggest that the WTO has found that the EU Member States
have not properly implemented the EU rules on biotech crops, nor is the
EU approving products in a timely manner.

The European biotechnology industry, like the European Commission,
supports choice - the choice to grow, import and consume approved GM
products.  The industry continues to back a science-based regulatory
system to ensure farmers have the choice to use sustainable techniques
that best meet the needs of their farming operations. The EU's
regulatory procedure for GM crops sets in place mandatory requirements
to ensure that consumers are provided with information that allows them
to make informed choices about whether or not to purchase these
products.  Countries that do not implement the EU rules, which they
themselves put in place, are denying that choice.

The dispute over biotech crops is not about safety, the crops being
grown around the world have passed stringent food, feed and
environmental safety standards and are as safe as,  or safer than,
conventional crops. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, The World
Health Organization and the European Commission have all found that the
approved crop biotechnology products on the market today do not show any
risks to human health or the environment.

Since the case was launched in 2003, farmers around the world have been
choosing to plant biotech crops at unprecedented rates. Last year alone,
more than 90 million hectares were sown with biotech crops by over 8.5
million farmers in 21 countries including European countries - the Czech
Republic, France, Germany, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

"Scientists worldwide have shown GM crops to be safe, farmers around the
world are increasingly choosing to grow GM crops, the food industry is
increasingly supportive and the general public / consumers are
increasingly open to it," says Simon Barber, Director of the Plant
Biotechnology Unit at EuropaBio - the EU association for bioindustries.

Q&A on the WTO trade dispute over genetically modified products

For further information, please contact
Simon Barber, Director Plant Biotech Unit
Tel: +32 2 735 03 13 Mob: +32 476 442 420
Adeline Farrelly, Communications Director
Tel: +32 2 739 1174 Mob: +32 475 93 17 24
Fax: +32 2 735 4960
About EuropaBio
EuropaBio is the EU association for bioindustries. EuropaBio has 60
direct members operating worldwide and 25 national biotechnology
associations representing some 1500 small and medium sized enterprises
involved in research and development, testing, manufacturing and
distribution of biotechnology products.

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

TITLE:  WTO says Europe's GM ban broke trade rules
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Wagdy Sawahel
DATE:   08 Feb 2006

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WTO says Europe's GM ban broke trade rules

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled yesterday (7 February) that the
European Union and six of its member states broke trade rules by banning
imports of genetically modified (GM) crops and food.

The preliminary ruling, which could have significant implications for
developing countries, still needs to be confirmed in a final decision
next month, and can be appealed.

Dulce de Oliveira, a professor of plant biotechnology and fellow of the
Brazilian Research Council, says the decision could open the European
market to GM products from countries such as Brazil, the world's third
biggest producer of GM crops.

The verdict came in response to a complaint that Argentina, Canada and
the United States made in 2003 against the European Union's ban on GM
imports, imposed in 1999.

They said the ban, which lasted until August 2003, was not
scientifically justified and was therefore an unfair trade barrier.

The WTO has now agreed, adding that six member states -- Austria, France,
Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg -- also broke the rules by applying
their own bans.

Many developing countries have refused to let farmers grow GM crops,
partly because of concerns that the crops could jeopardise their access
to the lucrative European market by contaminating non-GM exports (see
Egypt pulls out of US challenge to Europe's GM ban).

Clare Oxborrow, an anti-GM campaigner with UK-based Friends of the Earth
warns that the ruling could discourage developing countries developing
policies to regulate the use of GM technology.

Asnake Fikre, a plant biotechnologist at Ethiopia's Debre Zeit
Agricultural Research Center, told SciDev.Net that the WTO decision
would encourage pro-GM governments, such as Ethiopia's, to support local
development of GM crops.

He added that anti-GM governments, such as Zambia's, have lost one of
their arguments for not adopting the technology (see As drought takes
hold, Zambia's door stays shut to GM).

Daniel Mittler, trade advisor to the environmental group Greenpeace
International, disagrees. "European consumers, farmers and a growing
number of governments remain opposed to [GM organisms], and this will
not change -- in Europe or globally," he says.

Fernan Lambein, plant biotechnologist at the Institute for Plant
Biotechnology for Developing Countries in Belgium told SciDev.Net that
the WTO decision was about trade not science.

"Personally, I would like to see hungry people in developing countries
eating safe food without paying royalties," he added.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-
biotech Applications, 80 per cent of the global area planted with GM
crops last year was in the three countries that filed the complaint with
the WTO.

The United States accounted for 55 per cent, Argentina had 19 per cent
and Canada six per cent.

Related links:
Friends of the Earth
Brazilian Research Council
Institute for Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, Belgium
Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center, Ethiopia
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
World trade organization


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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