Tuesday, February 7, 2006
In a confidential preliminary opinion, the World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union violated trade rules when it imposed a moratorium on approving genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). The WTO also ruled that six individual states - France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece - broke the rules by applying their own bans on marketing and importing GMO’s.WTO Coverage
The European Union will be forced to open itself to more genetically modified products after the world trade panel ruled today that its strict policy on biotech foods and crops amounts to protectionism. The case, brought by Argentina, Canada and the United States, claimed that the EU's unofficial 1998-2004 moratorium on GMO approvals hurt their exports and was not based on science. US farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 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.
The GMO moratorium ended in May 2004 with EU approval of a canned modified sweetcorn and there have been a handful of approvals since that time. However, the complainants argued that Europe's biotech approvals process is still not working properly.
The European Commission claims the EU has put in place tough but fair laws since 1998 to ensure a smooth approvals process, so there is no reason to change them - whatever the WTO says. The Commission insists that the case is not about Europe's GMO policy as such but what happened between 1998 and 2004. All applications for GMO approvals will continue to be processed and approved on a case-by-case basis using scientific criteria. EU Statement
The WTO issued a clear-cut condemnation of EU policy and criticized national bans on specific GMO products in several EU countries. These products had already won EU-wide approval but several governments used a legal exemption clause to enact national bans. These national bans were cited in the original WTO complaint in 2003.
Green groups predict that opposition to genetically modified foods will increase -- opposition to GM foods already exceeds 70% in Europe.