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U.S. Files Complaint With WTO Regarding EU Moratorium on GMCropsU.S. Files Complaint With WTO Regarding EU Moratorium on GMCrops

June 23, 2003

4 Min Read
U.S. Files Complaint With WTO Regarding EU Moratorium on GMCrops

U.S. Files Complaint With WTO Regarding EU Moratorium on GMCrops

WASHINGTON--The United States, along with countries thatinclude Canada and Argentina, filed a case with the World Trade Organization (WTO)against the European Union (EU) alleging the EU's five-year moratorium forapproving agricultural biotech products is hindering trade and is illegal. At apress conference held May 13, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and U.S.Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick estimated hundreds of millions ofdollars have been lost in U.S. sales due to the moratorium. They also reportedrecent food aid sent to Africa, which was turned away due to biotech concerns,added to the U.S. government's push to dissolve the moratorium.

In October 1998, the EU approved nine agricultural biotech products forplanting or import, but then suspended consideration for all new applications."The EU's moratorium violates WTO rules," Zoellick said. "We'vewaited patiently for five years for the EU to follow the WTO rules and therecommendations of the European Commission, so as to respect safety findingsbased on careful science."

Zoellick added, "The EU's persistent resistance to abiding by its WTOobligations has perpetuated a trade barrier unwarranted by the EuropeanCommission's own scientific analysis, which impedes the global use of atechnology that could be of great benefit to farmers and consumers around theworld. With this case, we are fighting for the interest of American agriculture. Farmers here and elsewhere must be assured that their crops won't beunfairly rejected simply because they were produced using biotechnology."More than 145 million acres of biotech crops were grown in 2002 throughout theworld. In the United States, as much as 75 percent of soy and 71 percent ofcotton crops are biotech.

According to Veneman, third world countries that would have benefited fromcertain biotech crops may be doing themselves more harm than good by refusinggenetically modified (GM) food aid. "The dangerous effect of the EU'smoratorium became painfully evident last fall when some famine-stricken Africancountries refused U.S. food aid," she said. "Uganda refused to plant adisease-resistant type of banana because of fears that it would jeopardizeexports to Europe."

However, according to an EU press release, Pascal Lamy, the EU tradecommissioner, stated, "The EU's regulatory system for GMO authorization isin line with WTO rules: It is clear, transparent and non-discriminatory. Thereis therefore no issue that the WTO needs to examine. The United States claimsthat there is a so-called moratorium, but the fact is that the EU has authorizedGM varieties in the past and is currently processing applications."

David Byrne, EU commissioner for health and consumer protection, stated thelack of consumer demand for GM products is the reason for low GM food sales tothe EU market. EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom added,"This U.S. move is unhelpful. But in the meantime, the Commission stronglybelieves that we in Europe should move ahead with completing our legislation ontraceability and labeling on food and feed, currently before the EuropeanParliament."

In terms of the concerns surrounding the labeling of biotech products thathave also plagued the U.S. government, Veneman stated at the press conferencethat Europe "ought to look to the model of our organic law" asguidelines for how it should set up European labeling.

Regarding the United States' concern that poor countries are turning awaymuch-needed food due to the European Union's GM concerns, the EuropeanCommission reported that African countries have requested main donors of foodaid avoid providing GM food. The Commission added it is the legitimate right ofdeveloping countries to fix their own level of protection. "Food aid tostarving populations should be about meeting the urgent humanitarian needs ofthose who are in need," the Commission stated. "It should not be abouttrying to advance the case for GM food abroad."

Filing this case with the WTO is the first step of the process, which is thenfollowed by 60 days of requesting and conducting consultations. If, at the endof this period no resolution has been met, then the United States andcooperating countries may seek the formation of a dispute settlement panel tohear arguments. This procedure, including appeal, typically takes a total of 18months, according to USDA.

According to Craig Winters, executive director of The Campaign to LabelGenetically Engineered Foods, the positive side of this latest biotechdevelopment means presidential candidates in 2004 will need to have a positionon GM foods. "The debate over genetically engineered foods will getsignificantly more attention because of this WTO action," Winters said."And the closer the American public looks at this global food fight, themore they will see that the system regulating genetically engineered foods inthe United States is greatly lacking in appropriate safeguards."

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