EXCERPTS: "It's a desperate attempt to force these products on an unwilling market. This will lead to even greater opposition to GM crops. Protecting wildlife, farmers and consumers is far more important than free trade rules." (item 1)
"This ruling flies in the face of democracy, because it limits the ability of elected governments to set their own food safety, public health and environmental health measures. These should be decided by citizen-elected decision-makers, not the WTO."
"The US system for assessing safety of GE food has repeatedly been found to be inadequate, even by their own National Research Council. The rest of the world should not have to accept the low standards of the US when it comes to protecting its citizens and its environment from potential harm." (item 2)
US wins WTO backing in war with Europe over GM food
Julian Borger in Washington, Nicholas Watt in Brussels and John Vidal
The Guardian, February 8, 2006 http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,,1705031,00.html
The World Trade Organisation last night ruled that Europe had broken international trade rules by blocking the import of genetically modified food, in a decision US trade officials hailed as a victory.
The WTO found that Europe had imposed a de facto ban on GM food imports for six years from 1998 which violated trade agreements, and that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg also had no legal grounds to impose their own unilateral import bans.
The decision is subject to appeal and European officials insisted it applied to the past rather than current EU import policies, but the US maintained the ruling lent support to the Bush administration's efforts to force an acceleration in EU approval procedures for GM food imports.
Details of the complex ruling, more than 800 pages long, were not available last night as trade experts on both sides of the Atlantic began to digest the report's implications. But US officials said the WTO decision had broadly vindicated the American position, which had been supported by Canada and Argentina.
A US trade official described the outcome as "a significant milestone" in US efforts to have GM crops accepted in international trade. "The panel did find that there was a general [EU] moratorium and that it did violate WTO rules."
But there was disappointment in Brussels. "This needs to be examined very carefully, but some of it will make for difficult reading," one official said. The European trade commission, headed by Peter Mandelson, will respond today.
However, European officials pointed out last night that the moratorium had been lifted in 2004, and that since then the European commission had licensed more than 30 GM crops, including three last month after "rigorous safety assessment".
US officials countered that there remained backlogs of up to a decade in the approval of imports of about 20 types of GM corn, cotton and soyabean. The Bush administration had argued that the EU moratorium had had a chilling effect on the development of GM crops around the world, to the detriment of global food production. "We wanted biotech products to be judged on their merits, not by a political process," another US trade official said.
European environment and consumer groups last night called the ruling a direct attack on European democracy and appealed to governments to stand up to what they called US "bullying tactics". "US agrichemical giants will not sell a bushel more of their GM grain as a result of the WTO ruling," said Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International's trade adviser.
"It's a desperate attempt to force these products on an unwilling market. This will lead to even greater opposition to GM crops," said Claire Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth International. "Protecting wildlife, farmers and consumers is far more important than free trade rules."
A coalition of 170 regions in Europe and 4,500 smaller areas have said they want to be GM-free."I do not expect this decision to change European law, but it will be used by the US government to pressure countries around the world to further liberalise trade rules," said Sue Meyer, of the watchdog group Genewatch.
Greens condemn WTO ruling on GE crops
Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Press Release: Green Party
The preliminary decision of a World Trade Organisation dispute resolution panel regarding genetically engineered crops has been condemned by Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.
"This ruling flies in the face of democracy, because it limits the ability of elected governments to set their own food safety, public health and environmental health measures. These should be decided by citizen-elected decision-makers, not the WTO," Ms Fitzsimons says.
The decision concerns a dispute between the US and the EU over the import of GE foods. Between 1998 and 2004, in response to demand from its citizens, the EU imposed a moratorium on the approval of GE food for import. The US claims this cost its producers $300 million per year. Canada and Argentina supported the US in the case it took to the WTO over the issue.
The preliminary ruling, which has not yet been released publicly, found in favour of the US. If it remains unchanged, it is likely to be used as a tool to limit the ability of democratically elected governments to set their own food safety standards.
"The implications of this ruling are huge. It will set a precedent which may see countries being prevented from taking a precautionary approach to setting environmental or health measures to limit imports when there is scientific uncertainty about the impact of the imported foods or other goods,"
Ms Fitzsimons says.
"Imagine if New Zealand could not impose biosecurity restrictions just because we did not yet have scientific evidence that an organism would prove harmful in our environment. What if the organism wiped out kiwis?
"What if New Zealand had not been able to restrict import of table grapes when several black widow spiders were found in bunches, even though it was uncertain whether black widows would be able to survive and reproduce in New Zealand? Should we have been forced to accept further imports?
"The US system for assessing safety of GE food has repeatedly been found to be inadequate, even by their own National Research Council. The rest of the world should not have to accept the low standards of the US when it comes to protecting its citizens and its environment from potential harm.
"This ruling may also lead the USA to challenge other countries' rights to require labelling of GE foods. This would mean consumers would have no ability to avoid GE foods imported into their countries.
"The Greens call on the government to support calls for an overhaul of the WTO rules. Uncertainty of health and environmental impacts should be a valid reason to restrict trade," Ms Fitzsimons says.
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