Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org : February 9, 2006
* WTO Rulings and Conclusions - Document
* Hard to Swallow
* Beyond the WTO Decision on GMOs: Let Them Eat Precaution
* Now, will Europe swallow Frankenfoods?
* 'Satan's Drink' and a Sorry History of Global Food Fights
* GM Crop Imports Create New EU-US Row
* Europe Bridles at WTO View on National Biotech Bans
* Trading Blows Over Frankenfoods
* U.S.: WTO Ruling Should Benefit Farmers
* Unyielding Views on Biotech
* Europe Has Right to Avoid GMO's
* WTO to EU: Belly up, Sucka
* And Now for Some Really Good News... Jose Bove Sent Packing by U.S.
Note from Prakash:
Due to overwhelming hits received on our website because of the WTO ruling, our server went mad, was dead for a while, angrily spit out multiple copies of our press release to you and did not send out a follow-up news coverage of the issue. I apologize to my readers of AgBioView for this. I encourage you to read the last issue of our newsletter at
WTO Rulings and Conclusions
Apparently some one has leaked the document of the WTO ruling on biotech crops to the activists who have promptly posted it. You can view twenty pages of it at
WTO Ruling May Open Door to More Global Biotech Crops
- Gabrielle Grenz, Agence France Presse, February 8, 2006
Washington - The World Trade Organization decision striking down EU barriers to genetically modified crops could open the door to wider global use of biotech crops, US industry and government officials say. The preliminary ruling in Geneva on Tuesday was hailed by US officials and industry leaders, who have argued a de facto EU moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) lacks a scientific basis.
"This decision affects not only Argentina, Canada and the United States, who prevailed in this complaint, but the future of agricultural biotechnology for all countries," said CS Prakash, president of the AgBioWorld Foundation in Auburn, Alabama, which promotes biotechnology. "This ruling enables developing nations to feel confident that they can adopt the modern crop technologies they need to feed their people while retaining access to European export markets."
Prakash said some 90 million hectares (222 million acres) were planted with biotech crops last year, one-third of which was in developing countries.
US Trade Representative Rob Portman said that if the ruling stands, it would be an important step for biotech crops around the world. The decision affected mainly corn, soybeans and cotton crops. "It is a safe and beneficial technology that is improving food security and helping to reduce poverty worldwide," he said.
"We believe agricultural biotechnology products should be provided a timely, transparent and scientific review by the European Union, and that is why Canada, Argentina and the United States brought the case in the first place."
Chris Horner, spokesman for Monsanto, one the leading US companies in biotech, said the impact on the company's operations was not yet clear. "Our feeling is that it's important for (other countries than the EU) to have science-based regulatory frameworks," he said.
Leon Corzine, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, said his group was pleased with the WTO decision "It's going to be helpful in world trade," he said, noting that US corn producers export about 17 percent of their harvest.
Corzine noted that Europe represented about one percent of US corn exports in 2004, with 54 percent going to Asia and 11 percent to Africa, "I don't think that that market will automatically open back up but we'll have the opportunity for trade with Europe."
More significantly, he said the WTO ruling is "a message" to developing nations and others that "we do have rules in the WTO and everyone needs to obey them, and that the moratorium that the EU had was illegal." "Resolution of this issue is important to farmers around the world," said Sean Darragh, executive vice president the US-based Biotechnology Industry Organization.
"The European Union's inaction has effectively blocked up to 300 million dollars of US agricultural exports annually to the detriment of American farmers. Globally, more than eight million farmers in 21 countries have already adopted biotech crops."
Hard to Swallow
- Lene Johansen, TCS, Feb 9, 2006
Environmentalists in Europe have reacted with predictable outrage to the news that the World Trade Organization this week ruled in favor of the US in the dispute over genetically modified (GM) crops, and despite losing the EU has steadfastly defended its protectionist practices.
In the weeks leading up to the decision, green groups around Europe mobilized. Friends of the Earth reached out to its various national counterparts to prepare them to react quickly. Their press releases regurgitate translations of what Friends of the Earth in Washington, D.C. issued on the ruling. The gist of the statement is:
1. The WTO is not a democratic organization.
2. The WTO should not decree what consumers have to buy.
3. The WTO has no understanding of GMO.
4. International institutions should regulate GMO.
5. Scientists agree that GMO are dangerous for human health and the environment.
6. The precautionary principle should be the basis of the regulation.
The arguments are the same the greens deploy every time an international organization issues statements against their wishes. What they don't realize is that the WTO is no less democratic than, say, the UN. But since the foundation for the UN's regulatory regime on GMO is the precautionary principle in the Cartagena Protocol for biosafety, the UN is more democratic according to our green friends.
The WTO does not decree what consumers have to buy; the ruling simply ensures that consumers get to choose what products to buy. The EU ban was an efficient way of making sure consumers did not have GMO as an option. Personally, I would prefer to eat canned corn containing BT corn, because it has a lower level of carcinogenic fungus than the non-BT variety. The greens want to take this choice away from European consumers.
The job of the WTO is not to decide what is safe, either for the environment or people's health. There is no regulatory regime in the world that is stupid enough to decree that something is safe. This is because nothing is completely safe; every human action has a certain level of risk connected to it. The question is how risky. Like anything else, GMO can be very risky or not risky at all. GMO can even be less risky than traditionally bred crops in certain instances, because recombinant gene technology is more accurate than other breeding techniques, such as wide cross breeding and mutation radiation breeding.
The scientific community has held a consensus on the risks connected to GMO since Mary-Dell Chilton presented the first recombinant petunia at the Miami Winter Symposium on Molecular Genetics of Plants and Animals in 1983. The scientific organizations that have endorsed this breeding technique as responsible and sustainable include the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, and the Royal Society. UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and NATO.
Besides, it is not the job of the WTO to overrule national governments on risk evaluation unless the national governments use those evaluations as trade barriers. In this case, the EU is trying to protect its spoiled and over-subsidized agricultural sector from cheaper grains from the U.S., South America, and Asia.
What the greens conveniently forget in their statements is that WTO is an international organization. Most of the world's nations have chosen to become members and ratify the WTO protocols. The diplomats who work there are emissaries of their national governments. Reframing the organization in press releases will not change the reality.
The greens might wish that there were just one protocol, just one organization, which they had to lobby to force their reactionary biotechnology policy down our throats. It would be so much easier for them to pool their resources that way. Luckily for those of us who embrace national sovereignty, democracy, and technological progress, the governments of this world has not been able to create a consensus to this effect.
The greens say the precautionary principle should be the basis of GMO policies internationally. It is a simple and comforting way of looking at risk for people who cannot be bothered to follow the scientific debate on GMO, or deduce the logical economic and social consequences of stopping this technology. Because there is no amount of scientific evidence that will be sufficient to prove that GMOs are safe, because safe is not provable, this principle leads to inaction. It is a stop sign for progress and development.
The greens will never be satisfied with any decision to accept GMO; no amount of evidence will convince them that they are wrong. Time is on the side of reason, however.
As Max Planck said, innovations rarely succeed by gradually winning over and converting their opponents. Rather, the opponents die out and the succeeding generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.
The author is Director of U.S. Operations for the Swedish think tank, Eudoxa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond the WTO Decision on GMOs: Let Them Eat Precaution
- Jon Entine http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/entine200602080747.asp
The rebuke of the Europe-wide ban on bioengineered crops and food by the World Trade Organization has sent anti-biotech advocacy groups scrambling. The United States, Argentina, and Canada had argued that the moratorium had more to do with protectionism than precaution, and the WTO agreed.
Well-funded activists are now flooding the Internet with hysteria-grams trying to recast this stunning victory for common sense and careful science into a morality play: nefarious corporations aligned with bully nations (Canada?) force feeding "Frankenfoods" to helpless consumers.
Even before the lengthy and complex decision was handed down, Greenpeace blasted the WTO as "unqualified to deal with complex scientific and environmental issues." Friends of the Earth Europe scowled that "European safeguards" were being "sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations." The U.S.-based Consumers Union lambasted what it called a “preemptive effort to chill the development of new policies for regulating GM crops.”
Let's separate the chaff from the wheat. If this decision is upheld by WTO members, Europe will not be forced to alter its regulations or labeling requirements or "force" consumers to "buy and eat food that they do not want," as Europe’s leading consumer organization, BEUC, claims. It will demand the EU observe its own regulatory process -- using sound science to evaluate new products. That's not been happening. Although the EU officially lifted its legal ban on GM crops and foods in 2004, squabbling among member states have left the moratorium in place, with 16 products bottled up in committees.
Some European countries have been exploiting the controversy to protect their farmers and keep prices high, international agreements and public policy be damned. Even with this ruling, political realities suggest this subterfuge may not end soon. Just last Monday, the Greek agricultural minister announced Greece would defy EU regulations and broaden its unauthorized ban on GM-modified maize seeds.
Greenpeace and Co. has been on the attack since the first generation of biotech crops -- soybeans, wheat, cotton, and canola that generate natural insecticides, making them more resistant to pests and drought -- were introduced more than a decade ago. Why? Because they were brought to market by corporations and aimed mostly at commodity crop farmers. Biotech farming has generated enormous economic and environmental benefits, dramatically reducing reliance on environmentally harmful pesticides by supercharging the natural defenses of a crop using genetic material already in place or by introducing genes from other plants or animals.
We're now entering the second phase of the biotech revolution -- addressing malnutrition and aiding smaller farmers. Scientists are developing nutrition-enhanced crops and foods such as "golden rice" that could help tens of millions of malnourished children who go blind or die each year from Vitamin A deficiency. On the horizon are futuristic "farmaceuticals" -- medicines made by melding basic methods of agriculture with advanced biotechnology, such as potatoes transformed into edible vaccines against diarrhea, a leading cause of death in the developing world.
Yet, in a dark, parallel universe of the privileged, anti-biotechnology groups contend we should abandon even these revolutionary life-saving uses of crop biotechnology. Egged on by socially responsible investors and funded by the organic and natural product industries, which thrive on GM food scares, professional protestors are quick to cite the lowest common denominator in fabricated scientific disputes: the so-called "precautionary principle" -- the controversial notion, rejected by mainstream science, that innovation should be shelved unless all risks can be avoided. They assert that "Trojan Horse" genes not subject to built-in checks and balances in nature could unleash a "genetic Godzilla," causing environmental havoc.
Slogans like "better safe than sorry" may have a nice ring of moderation, but they are scientifically simplistic. There have been no documented health problems linked to GM crops and absolutely no evidence that genetic modification poses greater risks than crossbreeding and gene-splicing, which have given us such products as the tangelo and seedless grapes. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has endorsed the safety and health benefits of biotech crops, urging their extension to the developing world.
The hypothetical risk of biotechnology has to be balanced against the lives being lost as new products remain trapped in a regulatory maze. In 2002, Zambia and Zimbabwe, wary of offending their major trading partners in the EU, cited the "precautionary principle" in rejecting donations of bioengineered grain that could have helped feed ten million undernourished people, thousands of whom ultimately died.
Today in the Philippines, where 42 percent of the diet comes from white rice, a recent study by U.N. food experts estimates that Golden Rice could avert 879 deaths, 1,925 corneal ulcers, and 15,398 cases of night blindness each year. A Philippines-based based anti-biotechnology group with ties to Greenpeace has aggressively lobbied against Golden Rice on the grounds that the benefits from beta-carotene are minimal — claims rejected by scientists.
We should also be skeptical of opinion polls cited by biotech opponents suggesting that consumers, particularly in Europe, are dead set against these new products. "If you really want to understand whether European shoppers will buy genetically modified foods given the opportunity, ignore the agents provocateurs, the media, and the panicked reactions of the big supermarket chains, and look instead at the behavior of ordinary consumer," notes David Bowe, a member of the European parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy. "When Safeway and Sainsbury's put GM tomato puree side by side with their non-GM counterpart in 1999 the proof was definitely in the puree. The GM product was seen to offer real added value. It was less expensive and in numerous blind tastings consumers seemed to prefer the flavor. It sold as well as the non-GM product."
While not a silver bullet, GM technology offers unique tools to address international food needs. Biotech crops are grown mostly in major farming nations like the U.S., Argentina, and Canada, but farmers in developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, and in Eastern Europe, with hungry stomachs to feed, are vigorously embracing the technology. Last year, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grew biotech crops on 222 million acres, an 11-percent year-to-year increase.
There are valid concerns about biotechnology, including the degree to which corporations should be allowed to patent beneficial seeds, keeping in mind that Monsanto, Bayer, Novartis, and other firms need to recoup their development costs, which have multiplied exponentially because of the country-by-country Rube Goldberg-like approval process.
But years of demagoguery and misinformation have taken an enormous toll -- polluting public opinion, profoundly altering the trajectory of biotechnology applications, and damaging the financial wherewithal of corporations and university research projects. The biggest losers are the children, frozen out of the benefits of the green revolution that many of us take for granted.
Jon Entine, adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is author of Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture.
Now, will Europe swallow Frankenfoods?
- Kerry Capell, Business Week, Feb 9, 2006 http://www.businessweek.com/
Probably not, even though the U.S. has won a major victory in the WTO over genetically modified food exports.
Chalk one up for the U.S. On Feb. 7, the World Trade Organization ruled against the European Union in a dispute over import restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. The preliminary ruling is hailed as a major win for the U.S. government, farmers, and the biotech industry. But across the Atlantic, the victory is seen as a pyrrhic one unlikely to erase European consumers' longstanding aversion to what the local press has dubbed Frankenfoods.
The long-simmering dispute centers on a 2003 complaint brought by the U.S., Canada, and Argentina, all major producers of GM crops. These countries claimed that the EU's six-year de-facto ban on GM products, beginning in 1998, constituted an unfair trade barrier with no scientific justification. Although the EU began allowing imports of GM products in 2004 on a case-by-case basis, individual European countries have reserved the right to ban GM products that already have been given the green light by Brussels. The EU, which grows less than 1% of the world's gene-modified crops, says it has approved more than 30 GM food and animal products since 1994.
Import booster? The U.S. charges that the EU's current approval system, which calls for detailed labeling and traceability requirements, is slow and unworkable. Brussels says it's simply responding to consumer concerns and ensuring that GM products are safe. "Europe's decision to halt GM approvals [in 1998] wasn't about erecting barriers to trade," says Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK, a nonprofit group that monitors genetic technologies. "It was about responding to public concern in order to have better rules and scientific knowledge."
American farmers and industry giants such as Monsanto (MON ) charge that Europe's resistance to GM has cost them hundreds of millions a year in lost sales in a global market worth $5.5 billion. The U.S. hopes that the new ruling from the world's trade court will reverse the trend. At a Feb. 8 press conference in Brussels, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the WTO decision is likely to lead to a change in the EU's attitude toward GM products that will be result in greater imports.
That may be wishful thinking. A 2005 Eurobarometer poll showed 54% of European consumers think GM food is dangerous. And many major supermarket chains across Europe no longer sell GM products. Britain's Unilever (UN ) and Cadbury-Schweppes (CSG ), along with Switzerland's Nestlé, stopped using GM ingredients in their products years ago in the face of growing consumer opposition. "The U.S. effort to force GM foods upon unwilling consumers is offensive and misguided," Jim Murray of the European consumer organization BEUC said in a statement.
Protectionism in disguise?
Americans, who have been chowing down on GM-derived foods for years, say European concerns over safety are unwarranted. It's a sentiment echoed by EuropaBio, the EU association for bioindustries, which maintains that no scientific evidence indicates GM products are anything but safe.
But many Europeans remain sceptical. After all they have experienced numerous scares in recent years that sensitized the population to the hidden dangers lurking in their food supply such as mad cow, dioxin-infested chicken, and hormone-laden beef. There's also the perception that the U.S. is trying to bully Europeans in order to boost America's thriving biotech industry. "European safeguards" are being "sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations," claimed environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe in a statement.
The U.S. views Europe's carping over safety issues as an attempt to disguise old-fashioned trade protectionism as consumer protection. Free-trade proponents in the U.S. see Europe's resistance to GM as politically motivated -- a means of protecting the bloc's all-important farming industry from foreign imports. But others disagree. "It's a bit rich for the U.S. to say Europe is politically motivated when the main reason for taking this before the WTO is that the U.S. doesn't want other countries to follow Europe's lead and place restrictions on GM," says GeneWatch's Mayer.
The full details of how the WTO ruling will affect Europe won't be known until the organization releases its final verdict later this year. In the meantime, officials on both sides of the Atlantic are plowing through the 1,000-page decision. The EU hasn't announced whether it will ask for more time to comply with or appeal the decision.
But already many in Europe expect some national governments might decide to go with public opinion and defy the EU by banning GM crops. Greece's Agriculture Minister was quoted in the press last week saying his country would ignore EU regulations and broaden its unauthorized ban on GM-modified maize seeds. It seems this food fight is far from over.
'Satan's Drink' and a Sorry History of Global Food Fights
- Calestous Juma, Financial Times (UK) February 9, 2006
In a long-awaited decision, the World Trade Organisation has ruled that the European Union's moratorium on approving genetically modified foods imposed in 1998 violated international trade rules.
Supporters of biotechnology have argued that the foods are safe to grow and consume. But critics have been demanding that new products must be shown to be safe before they are commercialised. The focus on health and environmental safety, however, often hides the main source of controversy. The driving force behind the dispute is technological competition between the two trading powers. The focus on safety is largely a smokescreen used to conceal concerns about Europe's loss of competitiveness in biotechnology.
We live in a new world marked by rapid technological innovation and global integration. Europe and the US should learn to manage new technologies collectively, not to suppress them. Failure to do so will shift technological leadership to other regions, such as China, that have made significant strides in using new technologies for economic growth. Attempts to stall the diffusion of biotechnology are not the first examples of safety arguments being invoked by promoters of incumbent products. Take coffee: in the 1500s Catholic bishops demonised coffee as "Satan's drink" and urged a ban. It was competing with wine. In its defence, Pope Clement VIII proclaimed: "Why, this 'Satan's drink' is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptising it and making it a truly Christian beverage." More than a century later, coffee was pitted against tea as the incumbent English drink. To defeat the competition, King Charles II decreed the banning of coffeehouses in 1675 only to revoke the decision two days before it came into effect.
In Germany, coffee was outlawed or its sale severely restricted for economic reasons. "It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the like amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors," declared Frederick the Great in 1777.
Historical cases of technological competition were limited in their reach. Today's global economy demands that governments find ways to ensure that the benefits of new technologies are widely shared. Judicial rulings will safeguard the integrity of international trading rules. But they will not guarantee consumer enthusiasm for products that threaten their settled ways.
The US has its celebrated cases of opposition to new technologies. Margarine, a French invention, was subjected to decades of slander by the dairy industry. The Horse Association of America launched a two-decade battle against the internal combustion engine. Similarly, decades of opposition to mechanical refrigeration waned in the face of technical improvements and market expansion.
Like in earlier cases, the WTO ruling has far-reaching implications for governments, business and the international community. First, promoting wider access to new technologies builds trust in the global trading system. Technological monopoly by a handful of nations can only breed disenchantment with globalisation. It is also for this reason that many developing countries remain wary of biotechnology. They are more concerned about exclusion than they are about safety. In other words, they perceive exclusion as a more serious risk than the adoption of the biotechnology. When given a chance, these countries have shown enthusiasm for adoption as in Argentina, Brazil and China.
Second, governments need to work harder to harmonise their regulatory practices. The traditional practice of projecting national laws globally must be replaced by greater efforts to agree on international standards.
But the debate about the risks of GM foods involves perceived rather than real risks. This is largely a political rather than a scientific issue. The business community has to improve its management of public perceptions of the risks of new technologies. The biotechnology industry can broaden its support by working on products for unmet needs. There is considerable scope for extending biotechnology applications to new fields such as environmental management and biofuels production.
The ruling also raises concerns about the impact of transatlantic relations on international trade. It is time for the US and Europe to provide new leadership on how to maximise the benefits of new technologies and minimise their risks. If they do not, leadership will shift to new players in other regions.
The writer is professor of international development at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government
GM Crop Imports Create New EU-US Row
- Rhys Blakely, The Times (UK), Febr. 8, 2006 http://business.timesonline.co.uk/
European Union officials have accused the United States of attempting to skew public opinion on genetically modified crops by leaking a secret report on an alleged illegal blockade of imports.
The row, over one of the most complex cases ever heard by the World Trade Organisation, has placed relations between the EU and the US under renewed strain, with acrimonious briefings and counter briefings breaking out from officials on both sides.
An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Times Online: "This is the confidential Interim Report, not yet the final decision which is expected in April ... we regret that others have chosen to break that confidentiality and speak only to redress any bias."
American officials had claimed that the 1,000-page draft WTO report had showed that the EU acted illegally in preventing GM imports. In comments designed to engineer a further easing of European import restrictions, the US said that a moratorium on GM imports, in place since 1998, reflected business protectionism rather than concerns about the health of consumers or the environment.
However, EU officials said that since the United States, along with Argentina and Canada, filed the case in 2003, it has changed the way it approves GM foods for the European market. A EU official said: "Since May 2004 the EC has approved for import and sale nine new GM products. The system is working. The science is sound. Products are being processed and approved. "The approval process and the consumer safety standards applied in the EU may be more stringent than in the US - but GM imports to the EU are rising, especially from competitive exporters like Brazil."
However, Susan Schwab, the US deputy trade representative, said that Washington now expected a change in the EU's attitude towards GM products which would be demonstrated by more imports. "What will be the impact of the report on behaviour? Proof will be in trade flows, in the transparency of the approval process," she told a briefing during a visit to Brussels. "If you are a producer or an exporter, the proof of the pudding is in trade flows."
Europe Bridles at WTO View on National Biotech Bans
- Jeremy Smith, Reuters Feb 8, 2006
Brussels - European countries bristled on Wednesday at a world trade ruling that touches on national sovereignty over genetically modified (GMO) foods, with some saying they would do their level best to keep farming GMO-free.
Europe's consumers are well known for their scepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops, often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods". The biotech industry insists their products are perfectly safe, however, and no different to conventional foods.
Late on Tuesday, a World Trade Organization panel ruled that various EU countries -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg -- had broken international trade rules by imposing national bans on marketing and growing specific GMOs. Some of those countries reacted angrily to the WTO ruling, saying they would defend their legal right to block EU-approved products if they wanted, since this was the will of consumers. EU law dictates that such bans must be scientifically justified.
Austria, one of the EU's staunchest biotech sceptics, has banned imports of three GMO maize types and is considering a ban on growing a GMO rapeseed. Government officials say they will continue to be as restrictive as possible for the time being. "The protection of people and the environment have absolute priority, and the most recent scientific research vindicates our cautious approach in this matter," said Austrian Health Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat, responsible for national GMO policy. "We will exhaust all possibilities to keep Austria's agriculture GM-free and ensure consumers' safety."
France Still Sceptical
France, home to anti-GMO and free trade firebrand Jose Bove, has a long-standing consumer opposition to biotech food. Europe's agricultural powerhouse, France bans two types of GMO rapeseed but has allowed some small-scale growing of GMO maize.
French consumer and farming groups deplored the WTO ruling, insisting that a large majority of consumers were firmly opposed to GMOs and said the EU's temporary approvals ban was correct. "We think the moratorium was totally justified insofar as we need to assess GMOs' benefits for consumers as well as their potential risks," Olivier Arnault, food officer at France's largest consumer group UMC-Que Choisir, told Reuters.
A poll published in France this week showed that 78 percent of those questioned would like a temporary ban on GMO products in order to evaluate their health and environmental impact. Green groups said consumer resistance to GMOs has increased in Europe since the three major GMO growers filed their WTO complaint in 2003. The ruling will not encourage consumers to buy more GMOs, they say, and maybe make the opposition stronger.
"The WTO has bluntly ruled that European safeguards (bans) should be sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. "This will backfire and lead to even greater opposition to genetically modified food and crops. Consumers worldwide will not be bullied into eating GM foods."
U.S. officials regretted there was a level of misinformation in Europe about the benefits of biotech crops but hoped that the WTO ruling would let the EU open its doors more to GMO imports.
"It is unfortunate the extent to which certain groups have decided to demagogue the issue and mischaracterise the quality ... and environmental implications of biotechnology," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters. "The proof will be in trade flows and transparency and ease of approval processes. Time will tell," she said in Brussels.
Trading Blows Over Frankenfoods
- Editorial, Financial Times (UK) Feb 9, 2006 http://news.ft.com/
There was more at stake in the ruling on genetically-modified organisms by the World Trade Organisation's dispute panel than the food on European dinner plates. The judgment - yet to be publicly released - has upheld complaints by the US and others that the EU's restrictions on GMOs were acting as a form of trade protectionism.
Some environmentalists were outraged, not just at the decision but at the WTO's legitimacy to be involved. They were wrong, but the WTO and its members need to think carefully about how they can insulate themselves from such attacks in the future.
The way this dispute ended up at the WTO was unfortunate. The EU's de facto moratorium on GMOs, now dropped, involved terrible policymaking. The Commission was bounced into it by the European parliament, and six member states went further, banning even products approved by the EU.
The problem should have been resolved by negotiation. But once litigation started, the WTO panel was right to rule. The panel was asked to assess not the safety of GMOs but merely whether the EU followed reasonable procedures in forming its regulations. Excessive regulation is undoubtedly used as a form of underhand protectionism, and the EU has some of the most restrictive food standards in the world.
Still, rulings such as this take the WTO deep into politically hazardous territory. Members of such panels - often trade diplomats, not lawyers or scientists - have to make sometimes fine judgments about science-based risk assessments. Though the panel members can take expert advice, they are not themselves experts.
Moreover, through chance rather than design, the judicial process has assumed a greater share of the WTO's power over recent years. The WTO, perhaps wisely, has always had a very weak executive in its secretariat. But the torpor in the Doha round of trade talks suggests also an increasingly enfeebled legislature. With cases such as Brazil's victory over American cotton subsidies, its judiciary continues to grow in scope and strength.
It risks attacks on the WTO's legitimacy to have such power handed to judicial panels of three people who continue their day jobs while hearing cases, and whose proceedings generally take place in secret.
If the WTO is to be judicialised it must also be modernised. Dispute panels should be held in public (currently this requires consent from the disputant countries and the panel itself), its rulings should be published as soon as they are given and the WTO's member countries should start a debate on the proper influence of the dispute settlement process within the overall system.
The WTO acted properly in this case. If it is to enjoy the same legitimacy into the future, it needs to modernise its procedures. Too much is at stake to allow its authority to be questioned.
U.S.: WTO Ruling Should Benefit Farmers
- Sam Cage, The Associated Press, Feb 8, 2006
A World Trade Organization ruling against EU curbs on imports of genetically modified foods should bring great benefits to farmers and rural areas worldwide, U.S. officials said Wednesday. "The continuing adoption of agricultural biotechnology worldwide is evidence it provides tremendous benefits to farmers and rural communities," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
But the European Union countered that the WTO panel vindicated its current regulations on biotech products, saying that there was never a European moratorium on the imports of genetically altered crops from the United States or elsewhere.
A preliminary judgment Tuesday by a WTO panel concluded that the European Union had an effective ban on biotech foods for six years beginning in 1998, according to trade officials. The report largely sided with a legal complaint brought by the United States, Canada and Argentina over an EU moratorium on approval of new biotech foods, ruling that individual bans in six EU member states -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg -- violated international trade rules.
U.S. farm groups hailed the decision, as did members of the U.S. Congress from farm states. The farm groups had contended they were losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in export sales of genetically modified crops to the EU. Types of corn, cotton and soybeans had all been blocked by the EU. "This decision is an important step toward opening the European markets to American farmers," said Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat.
Sean Darragh, of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group for producers of genetically modified crops, said the ruling would be important to farmers in the United States and in 20 other countries that grow biotech crops. "The European Union's inaction has effectively blocked up to $300 million of U.S. agricultural exports annually to the detriment of American farmers," he said.
The complainants claim there is no scientific evidence for the EU's actions and the moratorium has been an unfair barrier to producers of biotech foods who want to export to the EU.
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. Brussels says the 25-nation bloc has approved the import of nine biotech crops since 2004, but 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.
"The panel found that there were delays in approving the products, which might be said to constitute a de facto moratorium during that period," said an EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a confidential report "We dispute that a moratorium existed and we contest the claim that delays in the past were excessive. The panel clearly said that no moratorium currently exists," the official added.
The ruling will open the door to more European customers for U.S. businesses but also will set an example for other world markets, said Leon Corzine, chairman of the National Corn Grower's Association, based in suburban St. Louis.
But environmental group Friends of the Earth says the case undermines the right of governments to decide what is safe for their citizens, and pressures other countries -- especially developing nations -- to accept genetically modified foods against their will.
The panel "has ruled that free trade should take precedence over the precautionary principle and the democratic right to regulate for the protection of either health or the environment," said Caroline Lucas, a European lawmaker representing the British Green Party.
Unyielding Views on Biotech
- Paul Geitner and Andrew Pollack, The International Herald Tribune, Feb. 9, 2006 http://www.iht.com/
It was the longest and possibly the most complex ruling ever put out by the World Trade Organization, running to more than 1,000 pages. But after years of litigation, little is likely to change - at least for consumers here - as a result of the finding that the European Union breached trade rules by restricting imports of genetically modified crops and food.
The problem lies largely in differing ways of looking at biotechnology and the products derived from it. The United States, which brought the suit along with Canada and Argentina, argued about free trade and the ability of farmers to capitalize on scientific advances.
"The facts on agricultural biotechnology are clear and compelling," the U.S. trade representative, Rob Portman, said in a statement after the WTO's preliminary ruling was leaked from Geneva late Tuesday. "It is a safe and beneficial technology that is improving food security and helping to reduce poverty worldwide."
In Brussels on Wednesday, the deputy U.S. trade representative, Susan Schwab, said the EU's position had made it "difficult for farmers and consumers to benefit from these foods."
For the Europeans, though, the case is also about politics, responding to public fears - justified or not - about perceived threats to health and the environment. On a continent scarred in recent years by health scandals ranging from mad cow disease to dioxin contamination of eggs and chickens, there is little appetite to experiment any more with the food supply.
There also is an element of allowing each country the sovereign right to make such decisions itself - even if it means ignoring multilateral agreements. Friends of the Earth, a leading environmentalist group, described the report in a statement as "an inappropriate intrusion into decisions about what food people eat." "The WTO has bluntly ruled that European safeguards should be sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations," said Adrian Bebb, a campaigner on genetically modified organisms at Friends of the Earth Europe.
The commission reacted angrily to the comments, according to one person familiar with the thinking within its trade department. "They are misleading people," he said, asking not to be identified because the WTO report remains confidential. "Nothing in this panel finding will argue that states cannot set the rules they wish for GM products," the person said.
Trade officials said the report had found that the EU had an effective moratorium on approving biotechnology products from 1998 until 2004, when a new approval process and labeling rules for biotech products in the EU took effect.
Europe argued that it did not have a moratorium but that it had taken time to weigh the possible risks posed by genetic engineering. It favored a "precautionary" approach as opposed to Washington's "laissez-faire" stance, it said.
The complaint against the European Union, filed in 2003, charged that a moratorium on approvals of genetically modified crops that Europe adopted in 1998 had violated a food trade treaty requiring regulatory decisions to be made without "undue delay" and to be based on science.
The complaint also said that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg had violated trade rules by banning biotech crops that had been approved by the European Commission. The panel ruled in favor of the United States and its allies regarding the bans by the six countries. It also ruled for the complainants on all but a handful of specific crops, according to Val Giddings, a biotechnology industry consultant who said he had been briefed on the ruling.
Peter Power, the European Union's spokesman for trade, denied that the EU currently bans biotech products, pointing out that three corn varieties were approved by the EU last month. He said the EU would not change its current approval process, calling the WTO report "largely of historical interest."
But a U.S. trade official said some applications filed in the 1990s had still not been approved. Moreover, the recent approvals have generally been for importing crops, not for growing them. The official disclosed details of the case on the condition that he not be identified, as preliminary WTO decisions are confidential. He said he was commenting because parts of the decision had already been leaked to the news media.
The decision could still be changed before it is released, though such an action would be unusual. Europe could ignore the ruling and instead accept retaliatory tariffs on some of its exports to the United States.
Even though the ruling is not expected to flood Europe with biotech foods, U.S. government and industry officials said it would help discourage other countries from adopting similar barriers and would set a precedent that countries must have sound scientific reasons for rejecting genetically modified crops. Some countries have feared they would lose exports to Europe if they were to grow the crops.
"One of the reasons we brought the case was because of the chilling effect the EU's actions had on the adoption of biotechnology," the U.S. trade official said on Tuesday.
Illustrating the resistance in Europe, the French cabinet this week adopted a bill to allow regulated trials of biotech crops, AFX News reported. The government, which faced the prospect of heavy fines for failing to follow EU directives from 2001 and 2003, hopes a law will be adopted by the end of the year.
Some experts, though, said the WTO's decision could harden resistance to the foods. "To the extent the issue has died down a little in Europe, it risks bringing it to the forefront again," said Charlotte Hebebrand, president of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council, a group based in Washington that supports open trade. Until Friday, Hebebrand worked in the European Commission's Washington office.
Julian Kinderlerer, assistant director of the Sheffield Institute of Biotechnological Law and Ethics in England, said: "What will the political fallout be of effectively Americans saying, 'Tough, you've got to eat it'? I think the fallout would be quite nasty."
Europe Has Right to Avoid GMO's
- Editorial, Pitt News (Student paper of the Univ of Pittsburgh), Feb 9, 2006 http://www.pittnews.com/
Genetically modified crops have been controversial since they were first engineered and put on the market. Proponents argue that using modified seeds results in higher yields; opponents cite potential long-term health risks, loss of biodiversity and unavoidable cross-contamination between modified and nonmodified crops as reasons to treat these products with extreme caution.
In the United States, the overwhelming majority of foods are at least partially composed of genetically modified organisms. Bovine growth hormones, a pending strand of 'golden rice' with a higher-than-normal vitamin A content, and also seeds manufactured by major GMO producer Monsanto which are resistant to Monsanto herbicides are all examples of genetic engineering. Consumers have no real way to determine the status of the food in their grocery carts, because there are no labeling requirements in this country. This is largely because the FDA has approved many species of GMOs.
Europe, on the contrary, has proven to be more concerned about the potential risks of genetic engineering. Many countries within the EU require clear labeling of GMO ingredients, do not allow their farmers to grow modified crops and/or restrict the importation of engineered foods.
Because of this, the United States, Canada and Argentina filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, alleging that several EU member states were effectively banning GMOs, and that that was in violation of international trade rules.
The WTO's ruling, which is still preliminary, is being interpreted differently by the U.S. and the EU. American officials concluded that the EU did have an effective ban, and EU officials believe that there is clear evidence that there is no current moratorium.
This should never have gotten to the WTO. Countries in Europe have the right to keep products they find questionable out of their borders. As sovereign nations, they have an obligation to protect their citizens. If European researchers believe GMOs to be a threat, then so be it. There should be no mention of economics or international trade law in a question of health.
America and friends are arguing from the premise that GMO and non-GMO crops are equals - a premise which the EU does not share. That the WTO did not investigate the questionable safety of genetically engineered crops before coming to its conclusions is an indication that the organization does not understand, or does not care to understand, this difference of opinion.
Allowing the deep-pocketed companies that manufacture GMOs to control the world's agriculture and forcing countries to expand their diet to include GMOs is flat-out wrong. The WTO needs to back away from the issue and realize that some circumstances fall outside the mandates of free trade. Countries have a right to choose what they consume.
WTO to EU: Belly up, Sucka
- David Roberts blog at http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/2/8/133856/9623
In other big news today, the WTO ruled that the European Union has to accept genetically modified food, like it or not. More specifically, it ruled that countries that have banned the import of GMOs have broken international trade laws, since such bans have insufficient "scientific basis."
This is glorious news for the Bush administration, which is eager to pry open EU markets for America's copious output of GM crops. The WTO ruled yesterday that there is no scientific justification for opposition in the EU to genetically modified crops.
Decisions about such issues are political decisions based on values, not science. The WTO decision is apparently based on an assumption that EU decision making about GM foods should be based only on a narrow calculus. This is of course a value judgment about what factors should matter and which ones should not in making a decision about GM foods. But shouldn’t citizens in a democracy have the right to make decisions in any which way that they choose?
As suggested above, there is of course no scientific justifications for focusing on nuclear research in Iran, banning human cloning, or disallowing performance enhancing drugs in athletics. Each of these issues involves societal decisions about what is right, what is wrong, what is appropriate, what is desired. In short, none of these decisions are determined by science, but by our values and how they are manifested in policy and power. The WTO needs a broader perspective. On this issue, the EU is in the right.
Read discussion on this at http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/author_pielke_jr_r/000709what_about_democracy.html
French Anti-globalization Activist Sent Packing by U.S.
- Tim Mccahill, Associated Press, Feb 9, 2006
NEW YORK - A French anti-globalization activist best known for ransacking a McDonald's restaurant near his home in 1999 was stopped at an airport upon arrival in the United States, denied entry by customs officials and put on a plane back to France.
Jose Bove, who had been invited to speak at an event sponsored by Cornell University, was not eligible to enter the United States under the visa waiver program, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Janet Rapaport said late Wednesday.
The visa waiver program allows residents of 27 participating countries, including France, to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without getting a visa, according to information on the Department of State Web site.
People traveling under the program are screened before they are allowed to enter the United States, according to the Web site. Rapaport said she did not know why Bove was ineligible. After arriving Wednesday afternoon at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Bove was detained and questioned by customs officials, Rapaport said. He was returned to France that evening.
Bove had been set to speak Thursday in New York at an event sponsored by Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said Sean Sweeney, director of Cornell's Global Labor Institute and a faculty member at the school.
"We're bitterly disappointed," he said. "A lot of time and effort was spent to bring him over."
Bove also had other engagements in New York and was to travel to the Cornell campus, in upstate Ithaca, next week to speak with students, Sweeney said.
ast November, Bove was sentenced to four months in prison for destroying a field of genetically modified corn planted by an American seed company in southern France in July 2004. He also participated in protests during the World Trade Organization meetings held in December in Hong Kong, where he was briefly detained after arriving but allowed to enter following an intervention by the French consul general.