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9-Misc: America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world



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TITLE:  America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by John Vidal
        http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1708781,00.html
DATE:   13 Feb 2006

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America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world
The reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was to prise open
lucrative markets elsewhere

Just a few years ago, World Trade Organisation officials used to act hurt
when described by social activists as irresponsible, secretive
bureaucrats who trampled over national sovereignty and placed free trade
over the environment or human rights. But that was when the global-trade
policeman ruled on disputes that had little bearing on Europeans.

The WTO court's latest ruling will greatly increase the number of people
who believe the organisation needs radical reform, if not burial. This
week three judges emerged after years of secret deliberation to rule that
Europe had imposed a de facto ban on GM food imports between 1999 and
2003, violating WTO rules. The court also ruled that Austria, France,
Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg had no legal grounds to impose
their own unilateral import bans. "Europe guilty!" shouted the US press.
"This is glorious news for the Bush administration," said one blogger.

Actually, the judges said much more, but in true WTO style no one has
been allowed to know what. A few bureaucrats in the US, EU, Argentina and
Canada have reportedly seen the full 1,045-page report, and an edited
summary of some of its conclusions has been leaked. But no one, it seems,
will take responsibility for the ruling, which may force the EU to pay
hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate some of the world's most
heavily subsidised farmers, and could change the laws of at least six
countries that have imposed GM bans.

In fact the US has mostly won a lot of new enemies. Rather than going
away, as the biotech companies and Washington fervently hoped, the
opposition to GM foods seems to have been growing since 2004 when the
case was brought to the WTO. Europe, its member states and its consumers
all rejected the ruling last week, making the WTO look even more out of
touch and incompetent to rule on issues about the environment, health and
consumer choice.

The European commission, which has been trying to force GM crops into
Europe over the heads of its member states, says the ruling is
"irrelevant" because its laws have already been changed. Meanwhile,
individual countries who dislike being told what to eat or grow by the EC
as much as the WTO say they will resist any attempts to make them accept GM.

In the past few days Hungary has declared that it is in its economic
interests to remain GM-free, and Greece and Austria have affirmed their
total opposition to the crops. Italy has called the WTO ruling
"unbalanced" and Poland's prime minister has pledged to keep the country
GM-free. Local government is even more opposed: more than 3,500 elected
councils in 170 regions of Europe have declared themselves GM-free.

There is little the WTO, the EC or the US can do in face of this
coalition of the unwilling. If the US again tries to impose its GM
products on Europe - as it did in the 90s, sparking the whole debacle -
the attempt will backfire. Europe's biotech industry may now try to force
the EC to use the WTO judgment to get the six countries with import bans
to repeal anti-GM laws, but it will meet an even broader, more determined
movement.

In fact, Washington and the US companies are not that bothered by
Europe's predictable reaction. Europe has all but dropped off the world's
GM map. The companies and the supermarkets know there is little or no
demand for GM crops, and that Europe's subsidised farmers are reluctant
to alienate the public further by growing them.

It is now clear that the real reason the US took Europe to the WTO court
was was to make it easier for its companies to prise open regulatory
doors in China, India, south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa, where
most US exports now go. This is where millions of tonnes of US food aid
heads, and where US GM companies are desperate to have access, buying up
seed companies and schmoozing presidents and prime ministers.

More than two-thirds of exported US corn now goes to Asia and Africa,
where once it went to Europe. As the Monsanto man said this week about
the WTO ruling: "Our feeling is that it's important for countries other
than the EU to have science-based regulatory frameworks."

Like the tobacco industry, GM companies are now focusing almost
exclusively on developing countries. But here the industry is meeting
stiff opposition from powerful unions and farming groups. Brazil has
caved in, but Bolivia may shortly become the first Latin American country
to fully reject GM. Some Indian states are deeply opposed, and there have
been major demonstrations in the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia and
elsewhere. India's largest farmers' organisation this week said the
result of the WTO verdict would be that the US would become more
aggressive in dumping GM food on to developing countries.

The US maintains that through the WTO it has won a great victory for free
trade, and passed a significant milestone in US attempts "to have GM
crops accepted throughout the world". Perhaps, but the battle is far from
won, and in the meantime anyone opposing the crops is being reclassed as
an enemy of America.

Within hours of the WTO decision, José Bové, the French farmer who has
led European protests, arrived in New York to give an invited talk to
Cornell students about GM food - and was immediately sent back to France
by the US government.




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