|EU Commissioners must heed Council critics / WTO analysis + date for final ruling (11/4/2006)|
1.EU Commissioners must heed Council critics on GMOs
EXCERPT: [EU Commissioners ] Mr Mandelson, Mr Verheugen and Mr Potocnik have previously used the threat of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute on GMOs to justify a position in favour of the biotech industry. However, the preliminary ruling of the WTO panel (1) reveals that the panel dismissed many of the claims of the US, Canada and Argentina and, crucially, did not rule on the right of countries to set strict biosafety regulations. (item 1)
1.EU Commissioners must heed Council critics on GMOs
Brussels, 11 April 2006 EU Commissioners will be making a grave mistake, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace warned today, if they ignore the strong criticism levelled by member states on the way GMOs are currently authorised in the EU. The Commission, which has persistently refused to acknowledge any problems in the process, will hold a debate on GMO policy tomorrow, Wednesday 12 April.
"The GMO authorisation process must be halted until it is truly independent and fulfils legal requirements," said Eric Gall of Greenpeace. "The European Commission has ignored the failings of its system for far too long, but must now listen to member states and allow for a stringent, transparent and independent risk evaluation of GMOs."
The Commission's internal discussion follows a public debate in the Environment Council on 9 March, where a vast majority of member states criticised the current GMO authorisation procedures. Member states urged the Commission to improve the implementation of EU GMO legislation and risk evaluation, in particular for long-term effects on health and the environment. They called for more transparency and questioned the appropriateness of using 'comitology procedures' to decide on GMOs, which leave all power to approve them with the Commission even when most EU governments is opposed.
At tomorrow's debate, DG Trade, DG Industry and DG Research are expected to try and prevent a change in Commission policy. Mr Mandelson, Mr Verheugen and Mr Potocnik have previously used the threat of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute on GMOs to justify a position in favour of the biotech industry. However, the preliminary ruling of the WTO panel (1) reveals that the panel dismissed many of the claims of the US, Canada and Argentina and, crucially, did not rule on the right of countries to set strict biosafety regulations.
"Nothing in the WTO ruling prevents the Commission from supporting strict rules for the authorisation of genetically modified products, including the evaluation of long-term effects on health and the environment," said Helen Holder of Friends of the Earth Europe. The Commission can no longer use the WTO to justify its automatic approval of all GMOs for the sole benefit of the biotech industry."
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe argue that the legal requirements to evaluate long-term effects of GMOs and to take into account scientific uncertainties and member states objections have been so far been ignored by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission. GMOs are solely assessed on the basis of data provided by the applicant company, most of which is kept secret as confidential business information. This lack of transparency is in breach of EU law and prevents the public and independent scientists from examining the risks of a GM (genetically modified) product.
(1) Leaked on 28 February by Friends of the Earth, see: http://www.foeeurope.org/biteback/WTO_decision.htm
2.In-depth analysis of the EC-Biotech WTO Interim Report Center for International Environmental Law
Please find [a link below to] a legal analysis of the EC-Biotech Interim Report prepared by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe.
As you know, on February 7, 2006, a Dispute Settlement Panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued the interim report in the European Communities Measures affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products (EC-Biotech) case. Interim reports in the WTO contain all of the elements of a final report, but are released only to the parties to the dispute. As of this writing, the EC-Biotech report is still officially interim and secret, but has been made available to the public by Friends of the Earth Europe, which obtained a leaked report.
The objective of the CIEL analysis is to provide an overview of the main findings and reasoning in the Panel's Interim Report. The analysis evaluates the Panel's findings in relation to the three categories of challenged measures the alleged general moratorium on the approval of biotech products, the related product-specific measures, and the EC member State measures related to the import and/or marketing of specific biotech products on as well as addresses crosscutting issues such as transparency, public participation, and the relevance of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) in interpreting WTO. Nevertheless, the analysis does not cover the arguments of the Parties or the findings of the Panel in their entirety. Instead, it focuses on the points of the reasoning of the Panel most relevant for the challenged measures and for broader discussions on the relationship between WTO rules and biosafety and biotechnology regulations.
The analysis is posted on the CIEL website at http://www.ciel.org/Tae/ECBiotech_InterimReport_31Mar06.html.
We hope you will find it useful.
3.Agriculture WTO Panel to Issue Final Ruling In Dispute Over GMOs in Early May
GENEVA--A World Trade Organization panel is due to issue a final ruling in early May in the dispute over the European Union's alleged moratorium on the market authorization of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The four parties in the dispute--the EU on one side, the United States, Argentina, and Canada on the other--have submitted written comments on the panel's interim report circulated Feb. 7 (26 WTO, 02/8/06). Because of the complexity of the 1,050-page interim ruling, the parties were given extra time to submit their comments and criticisms. The panel will take these comments into account before circulating the final ruling.
WTO panels rarely alter their interim conclusions in the final report, and legal experts following the case believe the panel in the GMO dispute will maintain its preliminary findings. The experts have described the ruling as "well-crafted" since it gives both sides reasons to claim victory while avoiding the politically charged question of whether GMO products are safe(29 WTO, 02/13/06).
The ruling will only become official once it has been circulated to the entire WTO membership and formally adopted by the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body. Because the ruling must be translated into the WTO's three official languages (English, French, and Spanish), officials said the ruling may not be circulated until sometime shortly before the WTO's annual summer break in August. The parties will have 60 days from the date of adoption by the DSB to decide whether to appeal the panel's ruling.
In its interim ruling, the panel upheld claims from the United States, Argentina, and Canada that the EU maintained an effective de facto moratorium on approvals of GM foods between 1999-2003, violating the requirement that the authorization requests be processed without "undue delay" under the WTO's Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). The panel also agreed with the co-complainants that marketing or import bans on GMO products in six EU member states -- France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, and Greece -- were in violation of WTO rules.
The panel, however, said the co-complainants failed to prove that the EU's assessment procedures were not appropriate in relation to the actual risk posed by GM products, that there was insufficient scientific evidence to justify its assessment procedures, and that the EU failed to apply its procedures in a consistent manner by subjecting biotech products and products produced using biotech processing aids to different approval requirements.
The panel also refused to rule on whether GM foods are generally safe or not, and whether an EU moratorium on GM foods still existed even though the European Commission has approved a handful of biotech products for use over the past year.