EU Defies U.S. in Row over GMOs

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Thursday, May 15, 2003 at 6:06PM :

This is but one attack the U.S. is waging against the E.U.
EU Defies U.S. in Row over Genetically Modified Foods

Stefania Bianchi
Inter Press Service

The European Commission has condemned the U.S. decision to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation against the European Union's de facto ban on genetically modified foods.
Senior EU officials dismiss the U.S. administration's move as "legally unwarranted", "economically unfounded" and "politically unhelpful".

BRUSSELS, May 14 (IPS) - The European Commission has condemned the U.S. decision to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation against the European Union's de facto ban on genetically modified foods.

The United States consider the current European Union (EU) moratorium on the commercial development of genetically modified (GM) foods as an "illegal" barrier under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Senior officials of the 15-nation EU's executive arm, the European Commission, dismiss the U.S. Administration's move as "legally unwarranted", "economically unfounded" and "politically unhelpful".

The U.S., along with twelve other agricultural exporting nations, including Argentina, Canada and Egypt, want the EU to repeal its five-year moratorium on GM foods, or face sanctions under WTO rules.

U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, accuses the EU of procrastinating over the issue and says that its resistance to WTO rules has "perpetuated a trade barrier", impeding the use of a technology that could "benefit farmers and consumers around the world".

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, however, argues, "The EU's regulatory system for GMO's authorisation is in line with WTO rules: it is clear, transparent and non-discriminatory. There is therefore no issue that the WTO needs to examine."

In a statement Tuesday, Lamy denied the U.S. claim of a moratorium, saying, "The EU has authorised GM varieties in the past and is currently processing applications. So what is the real U.S. motive in bringing a case?"

Lamy's view was echoed by his fellow commissioners.

"We have been working hard in Europe to complete our regulatory system in line with the latest scientific and international developments. The finalisation period is imminent," said David Bryne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection.

Margot Wallström, EU Commissioner for the Environment, added that the Commission would not be rushed over the issue.

"This U.S. move is unhelpful and can only make an already difficult debate in Europe more difficult. But in the meantime, the Commission strongly believes that we in Europe should move ahead with completing our legislation on traceability and labelling and on food and feed, currently before the European Parliament. We should not be deflected or distracted from pursuing the right policy for the EU," she said.

This assurance came in the aftermath of anxiety expressed by the non-governmental organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) International over the U.S. move. This was an attempt by the Bush Administration to "prevent any effective labelling of food derived from GM ingredients," the group said Monday-

Statements by senior officials in Brussels however indicated that EU is unlikely to lift the block on GM foods, which is widely supported by European consumers. There is currently a lack of consumer demand for GM-products which accounts for the low sales of GMOs on the EU market.

Under the EU system, the prospective effects of GMOs on human, animal and plant health and the environment have to be scientifically assessed before being approved for marketing. For four years the EU's regulatory regime was unable to address the challenges of genetic modification, but a new regulatory framework was adopted in March 2001 and came into force in October 2002.

Recently two cotton seed oils for food use have been placed on the market in the EU following authorisation and a number of new applications for marketing GMOs are currently at an advanced stage of examination.

The EU is also finalising the adoption of rules on labelling and traceability, which aim to give EU citizens more information on GMOs.

However, NGOs such as the FoE International fear the latest move by Washington could bring the full force of WTO sanctions on the European Union, giving the U.S. the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on EU goods.

EU consumer and green lobby groups have opposed the U.S. claim, saying it goes against the wishes of the majority of consumers in Europe.

"If this attempt succeeds, the U.S. will force GM foods onto European markets regardless of the wishes of the consumers. The European Commission and national governments must find the courage to stand up to this outrageous piece of bullying. Decisions over the future of GM crops in Europe must not be made by George Bush in the White House," says FoE policy director Liana Stupples.

U.S. Trade Representative Zoellick has threatened a WTO case on the EU on several occasions, most recently in January this year. But it is believed that it was postponed in the run-up to the war in Iraq as the U.S. tried to gain EU support.

Zoellick says that the EU's resistance over GMOs has resulted in a number of developing countries cutting down on the production of GM crops because they cannot export them to European countries. This, he said, was harming farmers worldwide.

However, in recent years, a number of developing countries suffering food shortages, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, have refused GMO food aid and the European Commission says that it is the right of the governments in such countries to make decisions over GM foods.

The row over GM foods also threatens to hinder a deal on agriculture under the Doha Round of global trade talks within the WTO. The U.S. and EU are in a dispute over agricultural reform in developing countries. (END)

-- Sadie
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