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Date:

February 17, 2006

Subject:

Creating A Better World; No Private Sector Please; Get Real, UK Farmers Told; Garden of Eden; NGO Credibility Crisis

 

Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - February 17, 2006

* Misinformation: Biotech Crops are a Boon to Humankind
* FAO: Do Not Leave GMOs in the Hands of the Private Sector
* U.K. Farmers Told: Look Beyond the Gate
* India Plans Biotech Regulatory Body
* India - Open Up Biotech Sector: Spirnak, US State Dept.
* Garden of Eden? - 'Nature' Bloggers Muses at AAAS Meeting
* .... While - 'Millions More Starving' by 2015
* Power Shift and the NGO Credibility Crisis
* Biosafety Course in Belgium - Scholarships Available
* Database of Articles on GM Crop Plants
* Cut and Dried?
--

Misinformation: Biotech Crops are a Boon to Humankind

- Honolulu Advertiser, Feb 16, 2006 http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com

Over the past few years, I've heard various statements made, many of them blatantly untrue, by misinformed individuals and/or groups who believe that ag biotechnology is the enemy to mankind.

Nothing could be further from the truth. During the last 42 years that I've worked in the farming industry, I've seen the emergence of biotech crops from their earliest beginnings to today where over a billion acres have been planted in the world. There have been no adverse effects caused directly by biotech crops. In fact, numerous benefits have been realized:

* Biotech crops require fewer chemical applications, making it safer for farmers to work in the fields.
* These crops encourage no-till farming, resulting in less runoff of chemicals and fertilizers.
* Our water quality is better as a result of fewer chemicals leaching into our water sources, thereby promoting a healthier environment.
* Biotech crops encourage higher production, so less land and fewer resources are used to increase crop yields.
* Newer biotech crops are making better foods that are high in vitamins and have other healthy traits, and other crops are now being developed that are drought-tolerant, saving our Earth's precious water resources.

The list of advantages goes on. I encourage everyone who is interested to learn more about agricultural biotechnology and the exciting doors it opens in creating a better world.

- Roger A. Johnson, Kahuku

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FAO: Do Not Leave GMOs in the Hands of the Private Sector

- Agence France Presse ,06 février, 200; 'Ne pas laisser les OGM dans les mains du secteur' privéhttp://www.cyberpresse.ca/article/20060206/CPACTUALITES/602060317/5024/CPDMINUTE
Improved automatic translation below ; sent by Vivian Moses

Rome - The GMOs, developed with care, could have "a considerable potential" for poor countries if the public sector took the trouble to be interested, surmised Shivaji Pandey and Andrea Sonnino, president and secretary of the Working group on biotechnologies of FAO (the UN food and agriculture body).

Q: What, according to FAO, is the interest of biotechnology and the GMOs for countries with agricultural poor yields?

A: The genetically modified crops have a considerable potential. They can make it possible to obtain cultures better resistant to cold, drought, or to produce food with much better nutritional qualities, like the content of vitamins. For example, the scientists designed a rice species, cultivated today in China, which resists the bacterial attacks better and thus makes it possible to decrease the use of the pesticides.

But one should not be naive. Hunger is initially a political and economic problem.

Q: Do the developing countries benefit from these possibilities?

R: No, with some exceptions like China, India, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Today, the investments in agricultural biotechnologies are concentrated in the hands of the private sector of some rich countries. That does not push research to the needs for poorest. Many crops, like rice, sorghum and potato, could however be of an interest for the small farmers of these countries. There are also very specific crops, like teff, a cereal cultivated primarily in Ethiopia, in the heart of the food of its populationh.

But it is urgent for that the public sector be interested in the question.

Q: GMOs are still the subject of an acute scientific controversy. What is the position of FAO?

A: One cannot accept the position of certain NGOs which categorically reject GMOs. On another side, nor can give full power to the multinationals which would like to flood the market without having to pass through necessary controls. Our position is clear: GMOs must be evaluated individually, tested in confined conditions and put on the market only if the risks are tiny and there are tangible advantages. A modified corn resistant to the American insects will not necessarily resist Kenyan insects. There areh even risks, by changing the environment, of kill the "good" insects and to leaving the "bad" ones alive.

The problem it is that at the present time, many of the developing countries do not have the means of evaluating and managing these risks.

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U.K. Farmers Told: Look Beyond the Gate

- Fordyce Maxwell, Scotsman (UK), Feb 17, 2006 http://business.scotsman.com

Sean Rickard's uncompromising message to farmers is familiar - forget subsidies, start thinking like the owner of every other type of small or medium-sized business, and welcome to the real world of producing what consumers want.

The difference now, he said at Kelso yesterday, is that there are signs farmers are starting to listen and realise that their world is changing.

The former chief economist of NFU England and Wales and occasional academic adviser to the government on rural policy left his audience at a Scottish Enterprise Borders conference with three thoughts.

One: the type of subsidy support farmers have been used to and find it hard to wean themselves off is in its end-game. The only question, he said, is how long it can stagger on.

Two: the primary role for farmers remains food production, not looking after the countryside. "You must," he said, "think and act like other small and medium-size businesses and concentrate on capturing value for what you produce."

Three: farmer-controlled businesses (FCBs) are the future. Run properly - and ten of the top 25 food companies now operating in Europe started as FCBs - they can help add much more value and contribute much to the rural economy.

The audience's response? Prolonged applause - even if some went on to question his earlier dismissal of organic farming as a niche fad for better-off consumers and his remarks on the "minor role" of farming in the rural economy and the inexorable trend towards bigger, "highly productive and more efficient" farms.

Farming is not the backbone of the countryside, he said. Governments and European Union farm ministers have recognised that single farm payments will be cut until they disappear and if farmers can't cut unit costs to make a profit they, too, will disappear - as poor business performers should. The NFU used to rail at his suggestion that 20 per cent of farmers produced 80 per cent of output, he went on. It's worse than that - 20 per cent produce 85 per cent.

That means, among other things, that the green, organic vision for the future of the holier-than-thou rope-sandal brigade was hogwash, twaddle and rubbish, he suggested.

Not that conventional farmers had much to shout about. Since 1992, the value of food sales had doubled from £65 billion to £111bn. Farming's share of that had dropped from £18bn to about £16bn. Rickard said: "To have a future farmers have to go beyond the farmgate." They must learn new marketing skills, form FCBs with professional directors, and adopt genetically modified technology. "Some farmers still have the idea that politicians will pay them to deliver. Welcome to the real world, where you have to deliver to the consumer."

In that process there will be mistakes, burnt fingers, bust businesses and some unhappy people, he said, adding: "That's business life, there has to be risk. True entrepreneurs thrive on it and keep going."

Farmers, he said, must adopt a new mindset: "Stop thinking the world owes you a living and expecting government to bail you out."

**********************************

India Plans Biotech Regulatory Body

- IANS, http://autofeed.msn.co.in

New Delhi, February 16: The government on Thursday announced plans for a biotechnology regulatory body, taking note of crop failures and farmer suicides on account of spurious seeds, particularly genetically modified cotton.

"The government is in the process of setting up a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority which will be the nodal authority for release, import and post-release monitoring of genetically modified (GM) crops and seeds," President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said here in his address to a joint session of parliament. "The quality control of GM seeds is an important issue and it is proposed to strengthen the state seed testing laboratories," the president assured.

India has granted permission to only four companies, including US-based Monsanto Seeds' Indian subsidiary, to sell GM cotton seeds that protect the cotton crop from the bollworm pest. However, there have been mixed reports about the performance of GM cotton. A regulatory body is expected to provide better safeguards to farmers.

Kalam also announced plans to promote the use of bio-fuel by launching a National Bio-Diesel Programme in the fiscal 2006-07.

***************

Open Up Biotech Sector for Investment: Interview with Spirnak, US State Dept.

- Prabha Jagannathan, The Economic Times (India), Feb 14, 2006

Flush with its recent success at clinching a WTO ruling against GMO bans imposed by EU member nations, the US is looking for big ticket liberalisation on investments in the agri-biotech sector in India to suit its long-term trade interests, even while in rolling in core priorities of developing countries.

The road to these objectives has been paved by the new Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Research and Education, headed jointly by ICAR director-general Mangala Rai and the USDA's foreign agricultural service (FAS) adminsitrator, Ellen Terpstra.

Senior advisor on agricultural biotechnology, US department of state, Ms Madelyn E Spirnak, outlined to Prabha Jagannathanthe US priorities.

Excerpts:
The US and India have been through cooperative exercises on bio-technology earlier. How is the current Indo-US Knowledge Initiative different?

- This initiative is different. It deals overall with the common interests and priorities of both countries but agri-biotech is a focus area. We're still looking at which of the areas of education, research, setting up a bio-safety regulatory framework, post-harvest technology, etc, are likely to be most useful (preliminary project recommendations are likely to be firmed up prior to President Bush's visit here in early March). But both agri-biotech and information sharing on post-harvest technologies are priority areas. We have set up an agri-trade policy forum which is looking at innovation and regulatory issues.

India is a developing country whose priorities lie in food yield and security. Is finding common ground between priorities of India and the US easy?

- India is primarily interested in research linked with its concerns. But we have to discuss in detail and decide what should be tackled on priority: enforcement, regulatory issues, research.... We could give India important advise on agri-biotech research to match its hunger eradication and food security concerns. Again, the timetable from lab research to application on the ground takes a long time. We could help in this area too by sharing our experiences without compromising on health and safety concerns.

Do you support the view of developing and less developed countries that patents of agri-technology -- particularly that dealing with staple crops -- should be shared with them by the developed countries?

- I have no personal views on that. However, a lot of important agri-technology research work has been shared with the public sector in the developing world. For instance, on GM papaya that is tolerant to the spotted ring worm virus. In South America, there is GM soyabean, maize and cotton. And in Iran, there is Bt rice. In this part of the world, we've been working through USAID along with public sector research institutions on products such as the pest-resistant GM eggplant. This could be released for commercial use by 2007. We are sharing information on this with Philippines and Bangladesh. The virus-resistant groundnut could also be released commercially by 2007.

Work is also going on on fungus-resistant potatoes. Drought and salt tolerant rice is likely to be released by 2009. Information is also being shared on iron-fortified and nutrition-reinforced GM crop varieties. In India, we find that farmers are interested in new technology in agriculture. So, research, through institutions such as the ICAR and agri universities, is very active in developing products useful for India. GM rice or wheat is complex. But India is already working with the IRRI on saline tolerant rice. Vietnam is also working on Bt rice.

Where does India stand in terms of agri-biotech awareness vis-a-vis other developing countries?

- I would say that awareness is the highest in Latin America, also in terms of putting a regulatory framework in place and implementing it. I have seen the draft biotech Bill (released in April last year, it became highly controversial for identifying the development of 18 GM corps and for not emphasising adequate risk evaluation. It also proposes the development of transgenic animals, aquaculture and GM foods.) India is still getting the policy right but the sky is the limit here.

What are the US' own priorities in the agribiotech JV? Isn't there a trade aspect to it?

- The US has two goals in agri-biotech involvement in developing countries. One is the development aspect of agri-biotech. How to use it to the optimum to improve productivity and yield in the agriculture sector in order to fight hunger and poverty effectively. Increasing the yield per ha of crops also means that the farmers will spend less on inputs such as pesticides. Application of agri-biotech will also safeguard the environment by reducing soil erosion. We also have to work on an integrated programme involving both post-harvest and SPS concerns.

The US' second goal is, of course, to make sure that markets in these countries remain open. For that, we have to ensure that the regulatory policy being framed is based on science. We do also want investments in the bio-tech sector to be opened up, but in an integrated manner. (The draft biotech policy suggested exemption of all biotech units from the requirement of compulsory licensing and allowing 100% FDI through the automatic route. )

Isn't it true that in the US crop yields and productivity have plateaued? Can poor farmers in India afford to risk this?

- Well, biotechnology continues to grow with us. We do reach a point where the returns start to diminish. And if it takes ten long years to apply lab research to the farm, it is possible the technology needs to be updated constantly. As for whether the Indian farmer can afford to take the risk, agri-biotech area coverage has almost trebled in 2004-05. That is incredible and it says that farmers are more than receptive to agribiotech. For the farmer, input costs are reduced significantly with use of biotech crops. It's true that farmers fail to remain interested unless workable economics can be ensured. Bt Cotton allowed 50% less pesticide use. That means that instead of the conventional 6-7 sprays, he is now making do with only one or two sprays.

But the Bt Cotton story here hasn't been without controversy. Promised yields have not happened...

- We have to recognise that yield is only one aspect of agri-biotech application. Disease and pest tolerance are other aspects in transgenic crops. Nutritionally fortified (ICAR has released iron-fortified rice varieties) crops for the poor have to be considered. Salinity tolerance among staple crops like rice and nutritional foodgrain are also crucial for meeting the concerns of developing countries. Yield also depends on other external factors such as sufficient moisture, ideal climactic conditions, soil nutrients, etc. So, transgenic crops may not always result in a significant increase in yield but are nonetheless important for developing countries.

The Knowledge Initiative involves culling out a scientifically-based regulatory framework on agri biotech issues in the developing world and their actual implementation. Yet, the debate has not at all been settled even in the developed world, witness the EU-US war over GM bans by EU member countries.

Though the US is not a member of the Convention on Biodiversity, in the US we have a very stringent policy on consumer safety on biotech products, with three separate agencies vetting them. In some cases, it has taken 18 years before a product could be put on commercial trials. The case in the WTO against the EU ban on GMOs was filed by the US along with Argentina and Brazil. In the EU, we felt that the regulatory process was not working correctly.

**********************************************

Garden of Eden?

http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060213/full/060213-13.html

'AAAS Science Festival - Emma Marris writes back from Saint Louis, where thousands of scientists and policy experts are meeting to swap news in all areas of research, from climate change to bioterrorism. The American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting runs from 16-20 February.'

I got off to a rather muddled start this morning as a bus scheduled to take the press to a breakfast at the Missouri Botanical Garden failed to appear for a half an hour-trapped, apparently, in the mysterious traffic jams that seem to plague this otherwise empty-feeling city.

Once at the garden, the generally jet-lagged press smashed itself into a tiny but charming room with a view of a long pool, which leads to an enormous geodesic dome containing a tropical rainforest-the fantastically-named Climatron. That sounds to me like a very large robot that terrorizes humanity by causing hailstorms or heat-waves. But it's just a greenhouse.

AAAS President Gilbert Omenn gave a speedy presentation about the "grand challenges and grand opportunities" which are the theme of the meeting, from multidisciplinarity to the millennium development goals. We were then treated to a panel on the inroads science can make on poverty in the developing world.

But when Claude Fauquet of the Danforth Plant Science Center spoke about the promise of genetically-modified (GM) cassava, and Missouri Botanical Garden president Peter Raven chimed in with praise of the technology, some eyebrows in the roomed raised a smidge.

Of GM crops, Raven said: "Those countries that do not have an adequate base in science and technology have been generally been bullied by other countries - notably Europe - not to adopt them."

Some of the skepticism in the room was fired by the fact that the biotech giant Monsanto is based in St. Louis, was a major donor on a new research building for the botanical garden, and has its logo stamped on the official freebie tote bag from this meeting. There's nothing to suggest that the speakers here today don't genuinely believe that GM technologies are providing a good way to help the developing world. But Monsanto's presence in the room raises a little warning flag for me.

***************

'Millions More Starving' by 2015

- Ania Lichtarowicz, BBC News, Feb 17, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/

St Louis, Missouri - The world will have 100 million extra hungry people by 2015, say scientists. They were speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Despite great improvements in food availability in the 1960s and 1970s, these trends are reversing in many developing countries, they say. The United Nations' goal of halving hunger by 2015 looks unattainable without new technologies and greater financial investment, they add.

Ten pre-school children die every minute from malnutrition and this number has not changed since the early 1980s despite global promises. Professor Per Pinstrup-Anderson, from Cornell university in New York, says that improving agriculture is the key. "When you put money in the hands of farmers that money is spent on creating employment and reducing poverty elsewhere," he said. "We have found in our research that for every dollar you invest in agricultural research you generate about $6 of additional income among the farmers and about $15 of additional economic growth in the society as a whole. Much of that will help poor people in those countries."

More commitment needed. There is some good news though. China and Vietnam have considerably increased food availability and cut the number of people who do not get enough food. But this has only been achieved by improving infrastructure and using technology including GM crops to increase yields and this is missing in many other countries.

For instance, east Kenya last year faced a famine. In the west of the country there was an excess of corn, but this was shipped to Europe because neither the means nor the money was available to get the corn to those starving in the east. Scientists at the AAAS meeting in St Louis, Missouri, say situations like this will continue to occur unless governments in developing countries increase their commitments to ending poverty and hunger.

**********************************************

The Power Shift and the NGO Credibility Crisis

- James McGann and Mary Johnstone, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Winter/Spring 2005 [edited for brevity; Thanks to Andy Apel for forwarding]
http://www.globalpolicy.org/ngos/credib/2006/01shift.htm

World politics has undergone a radical and often-overlooked transformation in the last fifteen years, resulting neither from the collapse of the Soviet Union nor the rising tide of fundamentalism, but from the unprecedented growth of non-governmental organizations around the globe. NGOs or Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have moved from backstage to center stage in world politics, and are exerting their power and influence in every aspect of international relations and policymaking.

Fundamental questions include: how many NGOs actually exist, and what are their agendas? Who runs these groups? Who funds them? And, perhaps most significantly, to whom are NGOs accountable, and how and what influence do they actually have on world politics? This article will attempt to address these questions and suggest some ways in which NGOs can become more transparent and accountable as a means of protecting the credibility and independence of these vital organizations.

There is no global method to ensure that NGOs are accountable to anyone, a fact that leaves their mandate compromised if NGOs do not as a sector prioritize the achievement of transparency and accountability. There is a need, therefore, at the very least, for committed action on the part of NGOs towards organizational and systemic transparency that is in line with their role in impacting policy and engaging the public in dialogue on the challenges facing our world. In a period of intense scrutiny of governments and corporations, it is only logical that NGOs should be closely examined.

On transparency, an ideal next step would be committed, coordinated action toward a plan of action intended to achieve specific goals regarding transparency as defined by NGOs. This can only be realized if we create a transnational culture of accountability and greater transparency within the NGO community that is based on a set of international best practices and minimum standards that make all NGOs accountable for their integrity and performance. These standards and best practices must be developed, implemented, and monitored through an international inter-sector partnership. NGOs have been vested with great power, and with that power comes a profound responsibility to all the citizens of the world.

**********************************************

Biosafety Course in Belgium - Scholarships Available

- CropBiotech Update, Feb 27, 2006 http://www.isaaa.org/kc

The Institute for Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO) has a mission to assist developing countries to have access to the latest plant biotechnology developments.

IPBO will hold a third summer course on Biosafety Assessment and Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology, in Ghent, Belgium, between July 31st and August 11th, 2006. Topics covered by the course include biosafety and biotechnology, biosafety evaluation, the development of national biosafety frameworks, and international platforms for biosafety regulation.

The course will have a maximum of 20 participants: students, scientists, and government officials involved in various aspects of biosafety of agricultural biotechnology. Twelve scholarships are available for students from developing countries, sponsored by the Flemish Interuniversity Council. Deadline for application is March 1st, 2006.

For further information contact Veerle Van Ongeval (veong@psb.UGent.be) or Dr. Nancy Terryn (nancy.terryn@UGent.be) or visit: http://www.ipbo.ugent.be/news/news.html

**********************************************

Database of Articles on GM Crop Plants

- - CropBiotech Update, Feb 27, 2006 http://www.isaaa.org/kc

The Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities is an association of seven academies of sciences and humanities created to promote scientific exchange and high quality research. The "Green Biotechnology" Commission of the Union has compiled a database containing about 240 publications on various aspects of genetically modified crop plants, with the aim of providing an overview of agricultural biotechnology applications in developing countries.

The collection contains, in addition to many original publications, extensive reviews produced by organizations such as the Royal Society, the International Council for Science, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as well as introductions to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety by the World Conservation Union and the UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Global Reviews of Commercialized Transgenic Crops published by ISAAA are also included in this database.

For more information and to access the database visit:
http://www.akademienunion.de/publikationen/literatursammlung_gentechnik/english.html

**********************************************

Cut and Dried?

- Sue Mayer, Financial Times (London), Feb. 15, 2006

'The World Trade Organisation has ruled that Europe's moratorium on GM organisms was wrong. But biotech companies beware - the decision does not mean that countries are ready to roll over, says Sue Mayer'

Last week, industry analysts were predicting that markets for GM crops would soon be expanding globally. Their claims were based on reports that the US, Argentina and Canada had "won" in their World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute with Europe over GM crops and foods. For the GM crop growing countries and the biotech industry, the tactic of using the WTO to steamroller European recalcitrance over GM organisms (GMOs) seems to have come up trumps. But the reality is likely to be less clear, although the determination of the US to bully countries into accepting GM food shouldn't be underestimated.

The US, Argentina and Canada made their complaint to the WTO in May 2003. Europe's moratorium on approvals for importing and growing GM crops, introduced at the end of 1998, had angered the three countries, which grow around 90% of all GM crops. They also complained about bans by six countries, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg, on certain GM crops that had been approved before the moratorium.

The US and its allies said the moratorium, "undue" delays in approvals, and national bans could not be justified scientifically. This was, they said, delaying progress in the development of GM crops and their role in tackling world hunger.

Europe responded by arguing that it had taken a justifiable precautionary approach because the science of GM crops and foods was uncertain.

The interim report of the WTO's dispute panel was finally sent to the parties on February 7. It was about 18 months behind schedule and ran to more than 1,000 pages, the longest in the WTO's history. Like the whole of the dispute proceedings, the report is confidential to the parties, and public access is limited to leaks. Only the conclusions and recommendations of the interim report are currently accessible via a leak to the Geneva-based Institute of Agricultural Trade and Policy.

In a nutshell, the WTO dispute panel has said that Europe's moratorium on GMOs - which ended in 2004 with the approval of a GM maize variety - led to trade rules being broken because it caused "undue" delays in the approvals process. In relation to individual products, the panel has also said that 24 of 27 applications awaiting approval were subject to "undue" delays.

Scientific investigation
At a time of considerable political controversy, active revision of regulations and further scientific investigation into GMOs, the WTO's dispute panel has made the rather extraordinary judgment that Europe's assessments of GM crops and foods were simply taking too long.

The dispute panel also said the bans by six member states were not based on an adequate risk assessment and so were not scientifically justified according to WTO rules. This represents an intervention into countries' freedom to establish the levels of environmental and human safety they deem appropriate.

But what practical effect could the panel's report have? On the one hand, it could be used to pressurise countries to evaluate GMOs according to a narrow risk assessment that gains WTO approval, and to do this without "undue" delay. Any bans on GMOs could be judged to conflict with trade rules. Consumer choice, time for public deliberation, protecting non-GM or organic agriculture, or seeking maximum environmental and health protection seem, according to the WTO panel, not allowable. No doubt the US, Canada and Argentina will be pointing this out to other countries that have taken what they see as an unhelpful position on GMOs.

On the other hand, there is the public and political reaction to the WTO's decision. There is little evidence of increasing support for GM crops and foods, and moves to coerce countries and citizens into accepting GM food could backfire. There are now 172 regions and provinces in Europe that have declared themselves GM-free. A recent poll showed that 58% of European citizens are worried about GMOs. Austria and Greece have made defiant statements in response to the report and, in a national referendum last year, the Swiss voted for a five-year moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops.

Scepticism about GM is not restricted to Europe. All the states in Australia growing oilseed rape have moratoriums on growing, despite federal-level approval for GM oilseed rape. Farmers in Mali have rejected GM crops as an attack on their way of life, and consumer surveys in Russia, China and South Africa demonstrate a lack of appetite for GM products. From this perspective, the WTO's intervention looks set to intensify controversy.

For trade between Europe and farmers in the US, Canada and Argentina, the decision will have little if any effect. The loss of trade in GM crops has not come as a result of regulatory delays, but because food producers have responded to consumer concerns by removing GM ingredients from products. There seems to be no intention on the part of European food companies to move from this position.

Serious consequences

If there had not been a moratorium in Europe while new rules were agreed, several serious consequences would have arisen. The indirect effects on farmland wildlife of growing GM herbicide-tolerant crops would not have been considered in assessments, even though the UK's farm-scale evaluations showed that bird populations could be adversely affected by growing GM oilseed rape or sugar beet. There would have been no requirement to monitor environmental or human health effects. Consumers would not have been able to make a choice about products derived from GM crops, as new labelling laws now allow for. And there would have been no traceability requirement for GM foods, so if an adverse effect had emerged it would have been impossible to withdraw the product quickly and easily. Following bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), traceability is a cornerstone of European food safety systems.

Europe's moratorium on GM crop approvals was not an "undue" delay - it allowed for the introduction of important new rules. All countries should be able to establish the safety rules that they consider appropriate for safety without fear of bullying and arm twisting.

Although the panel's interim report is provisional, based on past performance it is unlikely it will be modified before it has final approval. The EU can then appeal, but, if the appeal is upheld, the WTO will then ask the EU and member states to comply with the findings of the panel. Because the moratorium no longer exists, this is partly irrelevant. However, at least some of those countries with national bans look unlikely to roll over and submit. Only then will sanctions be discussed.

In today's world, with such widespread opposition to GM, the WTO complaint and the panel's report may look increasingly misjudged. Investors would be advised to show some caution about the future of GM crops because the instincts of the biotech industry in relation to consumer reaction are usually wrong.

Sue Mayer is director of GeneWatch UK<http://www.genewatch.org>, one of a coalition of 14 international organisations that made a submission to the WTO dispute panel.

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What they say about the WTO's finding

"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."
CS Prakash, president, AgBioWorld Foundation

"The WTO can pass all the rules they want, but consumers in Britain and Europe don't want GM foods."
Peter Jones, committee chair, European Flour Milling Association

"Our feeling is that it's important for other countries than the EU to have science-based regulatory frameworks."
Chris Horner, Monsanto spokesman

"This shows how the WTO is acting against the interests of consumers and farmers. The US will now become more aggressive in dumping GM food on to third world countries."
Krishan Bir Chaudhary, chair of BKS, India's largest farmers' organisation

"If the ruling stands, it would be an important step for biotech crops around the world. The technology is improving food security and helping to reduce poverty worldwide."
Rob Portman, US trade representative

"We do not want GM foods and our hope is that all of us can continue to produce non-GM foods. The decision by the WTO does nothing to change our stand."
Mundia Sikatana, Zambia's agriculture minister

"The hysteria from the special interest groups is typical anti-technology philosophy: keep the poor and hungry dependent on handouts from big government; paint the US as a marketing bully; play up fear of innovation and science; and badmouth US food companies. This ruling appears to be one step towards preserving choices."
Steve Dittmer, executive vice-president, Agribusiness Freedom Foundation

"The protection of people and the environment have absolute priority, and the most recent scientific research vindicates our cautious approach in this matter."
Maria Rauch-Kallat, Austria's health minister

"This will open the door to more European customers for US businesses, but also will set an example for other world markets."
Leon Corzine, chair, US National Corn Growers' Association

"The EC must refuse to pay any compensation to these countries. They have willfully insisted on producing something for which there is no market, and are deluded if they think this ruling will change that."
Gundula Azeez, policy director, Soil Association

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

"We do not want GM on Polish territory."
Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Polish prime minister

"There is no viable market for GM in Europe, but US farmers could win back their market share by producing non-GM food that people want to eat."
Carrie Stebbings, coordinator, GM Freeze

"It is unfortunate the extent to which certain groups have decided to demagogue the issue and mischaracterise the quality ... and environmental implications of biotechnology."
Susan Schwab, deputy US trade representative

"Consumers, citizens and farmers do not want GMOs, and this ruling will change none of that."
Daniel Mittler, trade campaigner, Greenpeace International

"We would not want this verdict to represent an attempt to undermine the legislative sovereignty of the EU."
Giovanni Alemanno, Italy's agriculture minister

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