» WELCOME
» AN INTRODUCTION
» PROFILES
» LM WATCH
» CONTACT
» LOBBYWATCH LINKS
»


GM food fight: EU wins the latest round with a sucker punch (5/9/2003)

This article by a Canadian food lawyer makes some interesting poiints despite the fact that its author appears to genuinely believe resistance to GMOs is really about trade protectionism - even though he simultaneously admits:

"European consumers won't buy products labeled as containing GMOs, supermarkets won't stock them, and food manufacturers will re-formulate to avoid biotech derived ingredients altogether before they will ever label food as containing GMOs."

For good measure he also notes, "This is roughly what would happen in Canada and U.S., as well, if labelling is ever made mandatory".
---
GM food fight: EU wins the latest round
Food In Canada 19, September 2003
Ronald L. Doering [shortened]
www.foodincanada.com

...The food fight became a trade war when the U.S., Canada and Argentina launched an action before the World Trade Organization (WTO) on May 13. President Bush's rhetoric became strident, accusing the Europeans of perpetuating starvation in famine-ravaged Africa by threatening to reject future exports of Zambia corn to the EU if they accepted GMO food aid from the U.S.

Prime Minister Chrétien scored some points when he took a strong stand at the Canada-EU summit where he made the issue central to the talks. Both Bush and Chrétien kept hitting on the issue at the G8 summit.

What was all this punching about? Chrétien said:

"Canada wants the EU to end the moratorium in the form of labels for GMO products." The U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said, "all we ask is for the consumers to have the right to make their own decisions."

This is where the sucker punch comes in. "If labelling is what you want, we'll give you labelling", says the EU, knowing full well that the expanded labelling and traceability regime will have the same effect as the ban. They know that Canada and the U.S. cannot practically comply with the complex traceability requirements. They also know that European consumers won't buy products labeled as containing GMOs, supermarkets won't stock them, and food manufacturers will re-formulate to avoid biotech derived ingredients altogether before they will ever label food as containing GMOs. (This is roughly what would happen in Canada and U.S., as well, if labelling is ever made mandatory). 

So this latest round ends, with the EU still standing and Canada and the U.S. still frustrated, swinging in the air.  Are the U.S. and Canada going to throw in the towel?  Apparently not, for at least three reasons:

First, because they are worried about the contagion effect, i.e. if the EU isn't challenged, the Zambian situation could spread to the big food markets in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and these countries could use the EU regulatory framework as the basis for their regulations.

Second, the U.S. and Canada may want to continue the action as a way to keep pressure on the EU to convince member states to follow the EU directive.  Third, while our case is not nearly so strong as has been assumed by many North American commentators, we could win. 

Of course, winning isn't really winning. The U.S. and Canada won the beef hormone case three times before the WTO, but we are still not selling any more meat than we are selling canola - the EU chose to accept retaliatory action rather than import North American beef. We can expect a similar response in this case.

But U.S. and Canadian industry, media and the trade law community are adamant that their governments continue with the WTO challenge. My partner, trade law specialist Rick Dearden, agrees: "If the effect of the new measures is no different from the moratorium, then they must be taken before the WTO for what they are - a disguised barrier to trade. They cannot be left unchallenged."

So the fight will continue. The EU will hunker down and play out the clock for endless rounds. Like the beef hormone case, the fight will drag on for years. Politics and protectionism can out punch trade rules and science for a long time - a strategy well known to the U.S.

Ronald L. Doering, B.A., LL.B., M.A., LL.D., was the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and now practices food law in the Ottawa offices of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP. He can be reached at: [email protected]  

Go to a Print friendly Page


Email this Article to a Friend


Back to the Archive