TODAY IN AGBIOVIEW SPECIAL FROM HTTP://WWW.AGBIOWORLD.ORG : FEB 8, 2006
* WTO: EU Broke International Trade Rules
* WTO Condemns EU Over GMO Moratorium
* WTO Sides With U.S. in Biocrop Dispute With Europe
* WTO Bows to Science, Rejects Politics & Protectionism
* We Need to Win: EU's moratorium ... boil down to science v. politics
* Food Ruling Will Keep WTO in Activists' Sights
* Canola Council of Canada Pleased With WTO Ruling
* GM Food Must Be Allowed Into Europe, WTO Rules
* EU's Resistance to GMOs Hurts the Poor
* Europe 'Missing Out' as GM Issue Comes to a Head
* WTO Set to Push EU Down Genetic Crops Path
* Issue Brief on U.S.-EU Trade Dispute over Genetically Modified Crops
* Q&A: Trade Battle Over GM Food
* Growing of GM Crops Wins Greater Backing in Europe
* GMO Ruling Delights US Farmers but Hurdles Remain
WTO: EU Broke International Trade Rules
- Sam Cage, Associated Press, February 7, 2006
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 for six years from 1998, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is a confidential report.
The report sided with a legal complaint brought by the Uied 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 -- violated international trade rules.
The EU and United States declined to comment as diplomats were still studying the details late Tuesday. The ruling -- said to be one of the most complex the commerce body has issued -- runs to about 1,000 pages. It had been delayed several times.
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.
An environmental group, Friends of the Earth, says the case undermines the right of governments to decide for themselves what is safe for their citizens, and pressures 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. Washington has said 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.
Desiree Fletcher-Hayes, a spokeswoman for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., said Tuesday the company had not yet seen the decision. The Iowa-based company supplies seed and other grain products in nearly 70 countries.
"What this really is is good news for growers. It's important to farmers who are looking to use these modern farm practices," Fletcher-Hayes said.
WTO Condemns EU Over GMO Moratorium
- Richard Waddington, Reuters, Feb 7, 2006
Geneva - The World Trade Organization, in a closely watched ruling, decreed on Tuesday that the European Union and six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to genetically modified crops and foods, diplomats said.
The preliminary finding, contained in a confidential verdict sent to the parties to the dispute, addressed a complaint brought against the EU by the United States, Argentina and Canada. In a 1,000-page report, which diplomats said that they were still seeking to digest, WTO trade judges found that the EU had applied an effective moratorium on GMO imports for six years from 1998. Moratoriums are barred under WTO rules.
"The panel confirmed that there was a moratorium, and that is not allowed," said one diplomat who had seen the verdict. "Members' safeguard measures have also been condemned," he said in reference to the complaint against individual market and import bans imposed by France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece.
Diplomats said that other parts of the WTO ruling, which also covered individual crops and foods, were more mixed, although they were still wading through the detail. The decision, which still needs to be confirmed in a final ruling in a month's time, and can be appealed, came as little surprise to diplomats and industry watchers who had forecast that the EU could come off worst in the long-running case.
"NOT BASED ON SCIENCE"
The EU's opponents asserted that the moratorium, which Brussels argued was never officially declared, hurt their exports and was not based on science. The ruling had been keenly awaited by the world's biotech industry, which would like to ship far more GMOs to Europe.
Although Brussels began once again authorizing imports of GMOs in May 2004, only seven crops and foods have been given the green light, and a number of member states have maintained individual bans. Europe's shoppers are known for their wariness toward GMO products, often dubbed "Frankenstein foods" by European media.
Opposition is estimated at more than 70 percent, a stark contrast to the United States where the products are far more widely accepted. But trade sources said the ruling would send a message to other WTO members, including some in Africa, which have been taking, or are considering taking, a similar line to that of the EU, that they could face legal action.
U.S. farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while it was in effect since many U.S. agricultural products, including most U.S. corn, were effectively barred from entering EU markets. "Biotechnology produces safe food ... we believe it will help reduce poverty in poor countries. We believe it enhances development and it provides important environmental benefits," said United States Trade Representative Rob Portman before the ruling's release.
The EU says its cautious approach to GMOs is in line with scientific opinion which, it says, has concluded that GMOs must be assessed on a case-by-case basis even if they are not intrinsically unsafe.
WTO Sides With U.S. in Biocrop Dispute With Europe
- Justin Gillis and Paul Blustein, Washington Post, February 7, 2006; http://www.washingtonpost.com
The World Trade Organization has ruled that European resistance to genetically engineered crops amounted to a de facto moratorium that violated international trade rules, according to sources familiar with the ruling who demanded anonymity because the document is confidential.
The finding is a symbolic victory for U.S. farmers and agricultural companies, as well as those in Canada and Argentina, who had challenged Europe's anti-biotechnology stance in the world trade body in Geneva. How much practical effect it will have remains to be seen, though, as resistance to gene-altered crops remains high among European consumers and most European grocery chains refuse to stock products made with such ingredients.
The sources, who were still digesting the lengthy ruling late this afternoon, said the WTO appeared to have found in favor of the United States, which filed the case together with Canada and Argentina, on a majority of the two dozen crops that were part of the dispute. The WTO also found that national bans on certain biotech crops issued by Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg violated trade rules.
The ruling had been widely expected, and it was embraced by pro-biotechnology groups even before it was issued. "The decision was never really in doubt, but its global impact could be huge," said Gregory Conko, an analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, in a statement. "With the voice of the world community now clearly on the record, we hope the Europeans will quickly dismantle their bans and let science-based policy and consumer freedom prevail."
But anti-biotech groups condemned the ruling and the trade case that led to it. Mary Bottari, an advocate at Global Trade Watch, part of a network of consumer groups founded by Ralph Nader, called the case a "bare-knuckled attempt by the United States to frighten developing nations away from following Europe's example of regulating these products to protect the environment and public health."
European regulators contend that even if the rules the United States challenged -- which were in place for six years, from 1998 to 2004 -- amounted to a moratorium, the ban has been effectively lifted by a stringent new regulatory framework that took effect in 2004.
The United States acknowledges that Europe now appears to be moving forward in considering biotech crops, but contends the process is still too slow and the regulatory standards are unreasonable given that biotech crops pose few risks.
WTO Bows to Science, Rejects Politics & Protectionism
- Steve Dittmer, Agribusiness Freedom Foundation Feb 7, 2006 http://www.agribusinessfreedom.com
If there is one thing we've observed despite the globalization of trade, it's that the old game of politics still too often trumps science or economics. And politics usually lags behind change and innovation in either science or the marketplace, often creating a confusing, dark cloud for farmers and ranchers around the globe.
This cloud is particularly evident in that supposed society of enlightenment known as Europe or the EU. It seems that its trade policy draws much more from its emotional and artistic side than from its science and rational thought. A World Trade Organization (WTO) interim report issued Tuesday looks like a silver lining behind this cloud. The report held that the EU and six member states broke trade rules, in effect barring genetically modified crops.
We have organizations like the WTO to substitute agreed-upon rules -- incorporating science and stable procedures -- for emotional, political decisions. Free and fair trade would benefit the largest number of nations overall in the long run.
But in the '80s, the beef industry relearned about politics and non-tariff trade barriers. The EU decided to keep U.S. beef out of the competitive mix in Europe by banning beef from animals on which growth promotants had been used. Never mind that the science showed there was no problem or that many of the growth promotants were sold by European companies.
Regardless of science or favorable WTO rulings, over 20 years later we still can't ship most U.S. beef into the EC. In the late '90s, the EU figured they'd use the same tactic on genetically modified (GM) crops. This time, they didn't always ban them outright but set up approval procedures for the new GM crops -- and then "forgot" about most of the applications and went into a bureaucratic stall. After five years of promises that they'd get around to evaluating key crop products "soon," several major crop producers and exporters lost patience and filed a complaint with the WTO. Canada, Argentina and the U.S. charged that if the EU set up approval processes, then it should go about processing applications, not just take the apps and throw away the key. The WTO apparently agrees.
After two years of evaluating the claims, the WTO has finally issued a preliminary report. An official who has seen it indicated that the WTO report confirmed the EU had, in effect, instituted a moratorium on GM applications. Such moratoriums are not allowed under WTO rules. And there have been no scientific objections raised by any internationally recognized scientific body -- including the EC's own -- that there were any food safety or environmental problems with GM crops.
The political foot dragging has mainly been a reaction to European "green" activist groups and other special interest groups who have been uttering panicked cries of "There might, there might, there might ... be a danger here!" They have not offered any proof, scientific or otherwise, just an unhealthy fear of the negative they can't prove or see or taste.
Meanwhile, the world's farmers have tested and are increasingly adopting varieties of seeds that deliver insect resistance, pesticide and herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, better yields, lower costs and more income. Whether they're running a huge combine in Illinois or a hoe in some developing country, farmers can figure this stuff out pretty quickly.
Last year, over eight millions farmers in 17 countries planted over 200 million acres with GM seed, a 20-percent increase over 2004. Corn and maize, soybeans, potatoes, rape and cotton are some of the crops. Naturally, the U.S. and Canada got on the stick early, but Argentina and Brazil are now significant producers. By 2003, 20 to 40 percent of Brazil's soybean crop was GM. Farmers in EU countries like France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Denmark are now planting some GM crops.
There are some fascinating ironies here. The "green" zealots who oppose GM crops are the same ones opposing pesticides and herbicides, while GM crops allow farmers to eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. In fact, the introduction of biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in significantly more reductions in pesticide use than the higher-priced, lower-yielding organic alternative promoted by these activists.
Some European elites claim concern for feeding the poor of developing countries while simultaneously opposing GM crops -- the GM crops that reduce the likelihood of crop failures and famine from crop disease or insects. And the EU politicians listened to their illogic rather than their own scientists.
Poor farmers in famine-plagued developing nations need these technologies more than anyone. Some 90 percent of the farmers using biotech seeds around the world -- some 7.4 million -- are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, according to the U.S. trade representative. This ruling is good news for these and other food producers.
At first, European farmers sat back and accepted the de facto protection from competition. But few farmers are going to sit back very long and give up protection from insects and diseases or pass up cost savings and bigger yields for no good reason.
Exactly how the EU will react to the WTO's ruling remains to be seen. EU politicians could appeal aspects of the decision they don't like and continue with their tactics of delay. Or, they could start running their approval processes like a government instead of a black hole. If they ignore the ruling, under WTO rules, the EU will owe millions if not billions of dollars to the U.S., Canada and Argentina in return for lost trade.
They could just decide to accept science and tell their scare mongering special interest groups and overwrought constituents that they have nothing to fear.
But at least there is some hope for America's farmers, ranchers, researchers and supplier companies that science and innovation are not forever going to be given that haughty European reaction of "unacceptable." After all, the new plant genetics produced by biotechnology are some of the most closely regulated examples of progress. Governments have set up the regulatory requirements, from both environmental and human safety aspects, and found no fault.
Meanwhile the hysteria from the special interest groups is typical "green," anti-technology philosophy: keep the poor and hungry dependent on handouts from big government; paint the United States as a marketing bully; play up fear of innovation and science; and badmouth U.S. food companies.
This WTO ruling appears to be one step toward preserving choices and options for both agriculture and consumers worldwide. Continuing to allow irrational fears to go unchecked, and protectionism and politics to substitute for sound science and free trade and innovation, would be a step backwards for everyone.
We need to win: Once digested, arguments over EU's moratorium on genetically modified crops boil down to science v. politics
- Ronald L. Doering and Valerie Hughes, Financial Post; National Post's Financial Post & FP Investing (Canada) 02/07/2006
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.
Food Ruling Will Keep WTO in Activists' Sights
- Alan Beattie, Financial Times (UK), February 7 2006
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.
Canola Council of Canada Pleased With WTO Ruling
- Neil Billinger-CJWW News 2006-02-07
A trade victory for supporters of genetically modified (GMO) crops. The World Trade Organization (WTO), in a preliminary report, says the European Union broke international trade rules by barring GMO crops and foods. The complaint was filed by Canada, the United States and Argentina.
Even though the Europeans will be able to appeal the ruling, the decision is being welcomed by the Canola Council of Canada. Joanne Buth (pronounced booth) is the Vice-President of Crop Production and Biotechnology. She says there is no scientific evidence to ban GMO products.
80 percent of Canadian canola is grown with genetically modified varieties. Buth says Canada has not been able to sell canola into the European edible oil market since the mid-90's. She also hopes the WTO ruling will convince developing nations not to adopt European standards.
GM Food Must Be Allowed Into Europe, WTO Rules
- Stephen Castle, Independent (UK), 8 February 2006 http://news.independent.co.uk/
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 concerns.
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.
US Trade Representative's Website on Biotech and the WTO Case
* Agricultural Biotechnology
* WTO Case on Biotechnology: Background
* Timeline for WTO Case on Biotechnology
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Safe, Effective and Unfairly Blocked By EU
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Worldwide
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Food Security and Poverty Reduction
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Food Safety and Environmental Benefits
*Agricultural Biotechnology: The U.S. Regulatory System
EU's Resistance to GMOs Hurts the Poor
- James Wachai, Feb. 7, 2006. http://www.gmoafrica.org
The bitter dispute between the U.S., Canada, and Argentina, on one hand, and the European Union (EU), on the other, over the latter's restrictive policies towards genetically modified foods reaches what is likely to be an acrimonious peak this week when the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules if the EU has violated trade rules by blocking foods produced using modern biotechnology techniques. Acrimonious because the EU is preemptively threatening to dishonor the verdict if it’s in favor of the U.S., Canada and Argentina. The EU is keen on blocking genetically modified foods without scientific justification.
The dispute dates back to the spring of 1998 when five EU member states –Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg – issued a declaration to block GMOs approvals unless the European Commission (EC) proposed legislation for traceability and labeling of GMOs. A year later in June 1999, EU environment ministers imposed a six-year de facto moratorium on all GMOs. The official moratorium has since lapsed but EU’s recalcitrance towards GMOs and obstruction remains.
EU's ban on GMOs has exasperated the U.S., Canada and Argentina – leading growers of crops with GMO enhancements - to initiate a WTO dispute settlement process against the EU in May 2003, arguing that the moratorium harmed farmers and their export markets, particularly for corn and soybeans, and which are critical sources of revenue for farmers.
Now, the WTO's verdict is due today (February 7, 2006). They have already reported it will be the longest report document of its kind. This suggests that EU political pandering may have seeped into the WTO process complicating what should be a simple trade dispute resolution. This is unfortunate for more than just the two parties involved.
The stakes are too high, not only to the parties in dispute, but to the entire world, and especially developing world. The dispute is not just another transatlantic trade skirmish. At stake are consumers’ rights to have real choices with regard to their food, and farmers’ freedoms to use approved tools and technologies to safely produce those food choices.
The EU has never justified its restrictive policies towards GMOs, which makes everybody question the motive behind GMOs ban. When it slapped a moratorium on GMOs, the EU cited undefined safety concerns as the reason for the drastic action. Their own scientists and regulators have repeatedly addressed and dismissed the safety issues for these GMO crops. Were similar undefined, precautionary principle standards applied to other growing practices – such as organic – Europe would have to similarly ban all foodstuffs.
In the absence of verifiable scientific justification to block GMOs from its territories, the EU is guilty of violating the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), to which it is a signatory. The SPS, particularly, recognizes that countries are entitled to regulate crops and food products to protect health and environment. The agreement requires, however, "sufficient scientific evidence" to support trade-restrictive regulations on crops and food products to protect the environment.
The EU’s argument in the WTO dispute is greatly eroded by the fact that various scientific bodies have, repeatedly, vindicated GMOs. For example, the United Kingdom-based Institute for Food Science and Technology (IFT) – an independent body for food scientists and technologists – has declared that "genetic modification has the potential to offer very significant improvements in the quantity, quality and acceptability of the world’s food supply."
In 2004, the U.S. National Research Council (NRC), a division of the National Academy of Sciences (NAC), issued a report in which it found that genetic engineering is "not an inherently hazardous process," calling fears of the anti-biotech crowd "scientifically unjustified."
In June 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report that acknowledged the potential of genetically modified foods to enhance human health and development. The report, Modern Food Biotechnology, Human Health and Development, noted that pre-market assessments done so far have not found any negative health effects from consuming GM foods. Surely, no respectable scientific body would endorse a flawed innovation.
These findings may help to explain why agricultural biotech innovators and product developers continue to thrive. Cropnosis – a leading provider of market research and consultancy services in the crop protection and biotechnology sectors – estimates that the global value of biotech crops stands at $5.25 billion representing 15 percent of the $34.02 billion crop protection market in 2005 and 18 per cent of the $30 billion 2005 global commercial seed market.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in a report released early this year, reveals that since the commercialization of the first GM crop a decade ago, 1 billion acre of land, in 21 countries, is under biotech crops. In 2005 alone, the global area of approved biotech crops was 222 million hectares, up from 200 million acres in 2004. This translates to annual growth rate of 11 percent.
The lucrative nature of GM crops -- they yield high and require less pesticides and herbicides -- is driving many developing countries to embrace them. However, many, especially in Africa, where agriculture constitutes 30 per cent of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), have been reluctant cultivate GMOs for fear of losing their European agricultural markets. This is why Europe’s accession to GMOs remains critical to Africa’s adoption of GMOs. The EU, by default, is preventing many poor countries to benefit from GMOs.
If Europe opens its doors to GMOs, many poor countries stand to gain from this technology and both the economic as well as life-saving benefits it has to offer. Many in poor countries, predominantly, live on agriculture. They must be given a chance to benefit from modern agricultural technologies such as biotechnology. Denying poor countries an opportunity to reap from crop biotechnology, which has proved so successful in other parts of the world, amounts to condemning billions of people who live in poor countries to a slow and painful death.
The writer, a freelance writer and currently based in the United States, is a native of Kenya and former science reporter/correspondent for several European and African publications.
Europe 'Missing Out' as GM Issue Comes to a Head
- Anthony Fletcher, Food Navigator.com, Feb. 7, 2006
Europe is missing out on the biotech revolution in agriculture, said the president of the European Federation of Biotechnology. Prof. Dr. Marc Van Montagus words come just days before an expected WTO ruling on the USs complaint against a European import ban of genetically modified (GM) products.
The announcement, expected later today, could provide pro-GM campaigners with significant impetus if it sides with the US viewpoint "Europe is lagging behind its worldwide competitors and European farmers are deprived of access to one of the fastest growing technologies in agriculture," he told a press conference in Brussels. He added that the European Union is far behind its competitors in terms of number of hectares under GM cultivation.
Van Montagu produced the first GM plant in Europe. He is also convinced that technology transfer and plant biotechnology research could revolutionise both agriculture and the food industry. "Fighting the vicious circle of hunger and poverty is the most urgent task that faces our society, and will require a reformulation of current models of agriculture," he said.
New figures published by The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), show that in 2005 the number of hectares globally cultivated with GM crops increased by 9.0 million hectares. Among the growing number of countries cultivating GM crops, five of them are EU Member States. EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, says that this is encouraging, but European involvement still remains low in global terms. "The fact that Europe is lagging behind in the commercialisation of GM-crops doesn't make things easier for young R&D driven companies," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, EuropaBio secretary general. "The question is how many companies decided not to start up in this area in Europe, and how many opportunities have we lost to maintain our leadership?"
In any case, the US-led dispute over GM in Europe is coming to a head this week. A WTO dispute settlement panel is expected to release its preliminary decision later today after several delays. The battle is seen as one of the most technical disputes ever handled by the decade-old WTO.
Opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods) is likely to increase if the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in favour of a US-led complaint against European GM policy. Pressure group Friends of the Earth has already accused the WTO of being secretive, undemocratic and biased towards business interests, and charged that it is the wrong institution to settle disputes of this kind.
WTO Set to Push EU Down Genetic Crops Path
- Lucia Kubosova, EU Observer, Feb. 7, 2006 http://euobserver.com/9/20845
All eyes are on the World Trade Organisation today (7 February) as it is supposed to rule on the EU's rules and practices on genetically modified products, in what could become a serious blow to the bloc's reluctance to allow biotech foods and crops.
The case was brought to the trade organisation (WTO) by Argentina, Canada and the US in 2003, with the three countries objecting to the EU's unofficial moratorium on genetic product (GMOs) approvals in 1998-2004.
They argue the ban was not based on science and hurt their exports, adding that the union's rules on GMOs still do not work properly even though the moratorium has been lifted and several new biotech products have been authorised.
EU officials are not expecting a complete condemnation of the bloc's policy on modified food and crops, but do foresee criticism of national bans on specific products in some member states, which often cite lack of evidence as a reason for their boycotts.
Environmentalists maintain Brussels will come under even stronger WTO pressure to push GMO approvals, while some 70 percent of EU citizens oppose such moves.
Little evidence. Earlier this year, the European Commission ordered Greece to lift its ban on GMO maize seeds made by US biotech giant Monsanto, arguing Athens did not provide any proof for claims that the products damage human health. Greek authorities are planning to take the case to the EU courts, but EU judges have previously ruled against a similar ban by the region of Upper Austria.
EU policy on GMOs is based on a 2001 law that provides for a case-by-case authorisation regime for the release of GMO products into the bloc's common market on the basis of a safety check by national authorities and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).
EU-wide debate. National governments' attempts to ban GMO products approved in Brussels have come about as a result of popular opposition to the biotech industry. Last November, Swiss citizens supported a five-year moratorium on the farming of genetically modified plants and animals, paving the way for introduction of the toughest restrictions yet in Europe.
Austrian have authorities reacted by promising they would hold a pan-European debate about the future of GMOs across the continent during their presidency in the first half of 2006, with the meeting scheduled for 4 and 5 April.
Issue Brief on U.S.-EU Trade Dispute over Genetically Modified Crops
- Released by Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
Q&A: Trade Battle Over GM Food
- BBC News, Feb 7, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4690010.stm
The World Trade Organization is about to rule on a case brought by the US, Canada and Argentina against the EU's 1998-2004 unofficial moratorium on approval of GM foods. Its 1,112-page preliminary ruling, due on 7 February, remains officially confidential until a final ruling is released, some weeks later.
The BBC News website explains what the case is all about.
What is the accusation?
- The US, Canada and Argentina say that the de facto EU moratorium - a period of six years in which the EU authorised no genetically modified organisms - was not scientifically justified and amounted to an unfair trade barrier. The complainants also say the EU system for approving GM products is still not working properly, even though the moratorium has been lifted.
What is the EU's defence?
- The EU says every country has the "sovereign right to make its own decisions on GMOs in accordance with the values prevailing in its society". It began to authorise GMOs again in 2004 after introducing two sets of new rules on:
* Labelling - ensuring consumers would know when they were buying a GM product
* Traceability - ensuring products containing GMOs could be traced and recalled if necessary.
The EU says its current system for authorising GM products on a case-by-case basis is designed to ensure they are safe for the environment, human health and animal health.
How much economic damage did the moratorium do? - US farmers say that the ban cost them $300m per year in lost sales. For example, US maize exports to Europe fell sharply. However, the EU says this is partly due to the fact that the US is now less competitive than some other exporters, such as Brazil and Argentina. It says imports from these countries have not been affected by its rules on GMOs.
Is the EU now approving GMOs again?
- There have been at least 10 approvals since mid-2004 (though three were for different uses of the same product). Overall, more than 30 GMOs or derived food and animal feed products have been approved for marketing in the EU. However, some countries such as Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg still have national bans, known as safeguards, on some types of GM maize and rapeseed. The case taken by the US, Canada and Argentina to the WTO complains about this too.
What is the point of the case, now that GMOs are being approved again? - The US says it still needs to be convinced that the EU is judging applications for approval of GM products on scientific rather than political grounds. The EU responds that its approval process "may appear to be lengthy for some countries which adopt a more lenient approach towards food and environmental safety issues".
The US also hopes that a sympathetic WTO ruling will prevent European concerns about GM foods spreading to other parts of the world. These first arose when Zimbabwe refused a shipment of US food aid in 2002. Zambia and Ethiopia have also raised concerns about GM food donations.
Are Europeans still opposed to GM foods?
- Yes, a Eurobarometer poll in 2005 indicated that 54% of European consumers think GM food is dangerous. Most European supermarkets choose not to stock products containing GM products on the grounds that many clients would decide to shop elsewhere. The environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth says a WTO ruling against the EU could increase this popular opposition.
Why is there such a difference between European and US attitudes to GMOs? - One reason is that Europe has experienced a number of serious food scares, from mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth to bird flu. Some experts also say that US citizens trust the Food and Drug Administration far more than Europeans trust their food safety regulators.
How long has this argument been rumbling on? - France and Greece originally called for a de facto EU moratorium on approvals of GMOs in June 1999. It came into effect a bit later, when they won the backing of Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium and Austria. The US announced its intention to bring a case to the WTO in May 2003. It was formally lodged in August 2003.
The WTO decided to gather the views of independent scientists from both the US and Europe, which lengthened the process. The preliminary ruling has been delayed more than once, and stretches to more than 1,000 pages - both signs of the complexity of the case.
GMO ROW TIMELINE
1994: EU authorises first GM product
1997: Austria bans a type of GM maize even though it has EU approval
1998: EU approves GM food product for last time until 2004
1999: France and Greece lead calls for de facto moratorium on GMO approvals
2003: US, Canada and Argentina take case against EU to WTO
2004: EU laws on labelling and traceability come into effect, and GMO
Growing of GM Crops Wins Greater Backing in Europe
- Financial Times, Letter to the Editor, Feb. 7, 2006 posted at http://www.ustr.gov/
Sir, Your article "Crop resistance" (Comment & Analysis, February 1) summarised a fairly complex subject. However, there are four other significant trends.
First, the growing of genetically modified crops by farmers in Europe, and support from governments, are increasing. Recently, only two European countries had commercially grown GM crops - but by 2006 this had grown to six. The 8.5m GM farmers around the world grow GM crops because they bring direct benefits - increased protection against parasites, reduced chemical usage and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. European governments are becoming more positive as they acknowledge the economic potential for farmers and food industries that the technology offers. Those countries that are more supportive of the technology (such as Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands) also rank among the highest in recent indices about innovation, research and development, and economic development. The European Commission also highlights that "biotech can foster growth, create new jobs and benefit a wide range of sectors".
Second, European consumers are joining their overseas counterparts by being more open to the technology, although admittedly they still have questions to ask. Polling by the Commission in 2005 showed that fewer than one in four Europeans were worried about GM in farming. When asked to rank influencing factors on their purchasing decisions, less than 1 per cent of Belgians say GM content in a product influences their buying decision. After many "scare stories" driven by non-governmental organisations in past years, many opinion polls show decreasing public concern about GM technology. Public support will further increase when the next generation of GM crops offers direct consumer benefits such as reduced levels of "bad fats" or increased vitamin content.
Third, European governments are increasingly aware of the value that GM crops offer the developing world. The United Nations has stated that "opposition in richer countries to GM crops may set back the ability of the poorest nations to feed growing populations". Last year, the Danish Social Democrat party very publicly reversed its previous anti-GM stance, with its environment minister stating: "These crops can play a great role in the fight against poverty in developing countries." And the British government, for similar reasons, has decided to direct more foreign aid to develop GM crops in Africa.
Finally, the article implies again that GM technology is a US invention. GM technologies were first developed in Europe by eminent European scientists such as Von Montagu and Schell, who pioneered GM techniques several decades ago. Three of the world's largest GM seed companies are European. Significant research is also done at European universities and institutes.
It would be a tragedy in a globalised world of both agriculture and scientific research if Europe's innovations were not to bring benefits home to European consumers and economies.
Simon Barber, Director, Plant Biotechnology Unit, EuropaBio (the European association for bioindustries), 1040 Brussels, Belgium
GMO Ruling Delights US Farmers but Hurdles Remain
- Sophie Walker, Reuters, http://www.planetark.com/ February 8, 2006
WASHINGTON - American farm groups roundly cheered a ruling on Tuesday which condemned Europe for holding out against genetically modified foods and crops, saying it would serve as warning to other nations and help US exports.
The World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union applied a moratorium on approving genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in violation of trade rules, diplomats said. In a preliminary decision, 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.
"We're very pleased. It really helps answer a lot of questions in the world trade environment," said Len Corzine, president of the National Corn Growers Association. "We don't expect the EU to become big importers of US corn, but it cast a big shadow across other nations. This is a message to the world that (we) won't put up with the EU violating the rules."
"It shows that science has prevailed, which is a good step forward, and ... is going to prevent other countries from undertaking a similar kind of moratorium," said Michelle Gorman, director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau. "There will be some relief for trade," said Gorman, adding that she had not seen the 1,000-page report, which US administration officials and lawyers were still poring over.
The European Union's action effectively blocked up to $300 million of US agricultural exports annually, said Sean Darragh, executive vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
The ruling sends a strong message to other countries considering their own regulations regarding biotech crops, said one industry source with government experience.
"It will be a valuable case for the US government in protecting the rights of its exporters around the world - there will be an immediate impact on the regulatory environment of biotech," the source said. "It would have been bad news for the US if it had lost because biotech regulations are in a state of flux around the world. This shows that WTO rules apply and that countries have to operate science-based regulating principles."
But few farmers will be holding their breath for immediate results, be they material changes in EU regulations or new shipments of US crops. Several sources said they expected the EU to appeal, and added that the unwinding of its current system was more complicated than just opening up the pipelines for more GMO applications.
"EU regulations are more complex than the moratorium - there's also traceability and labeling regulations," said Gorman at the American Farm Bureau.
And regardless of the ruling, there are still differences of opinion between US and EU consumers that American farmers have to overcome, one expert noted. European Union consumers are much more wary of genetically modified foods. "The outcome here is a victory for the principles of international trade ... but part of the opposition to the food is not strictly about the safety of the foods," said Calestous Juma, professor of international development at Harvard University.
"There are some deeper ... differences between the EU and the United States."