Greenpeace Dismisses WTO Ruling on GMOs

Greenpeace Dismisses WTO Ruling on GMOs

The World Trade Organization (WTO), responding to intense pressure from the Bush Administration and the biotech industry, has ruled that the European Union's (EU) moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from 1998-2004 was illegal. The moratorium was put in place because of EU concerns on human safety, environmental pollution, and inadequate testing, and has subsequently been officially lifted. Canada and Argentina backed the U.S. in filing a complaint with the WTO in 2003, alleging that the moratorium was a violation of international trade laws. The Bush Administration has claimed that the EU ban has hurt U.S. farmers who grow genetically engineered crops, and that the EU should pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties to the U.S. But market analysts point out that the WTO ruling will not benefit the biotech industry, because EU food manufacturers and supermarket chains, fearing a consumer backlash, will continue to refuse to sell food products containing GMOs, no matter what the WTO says. U.S. Trade officials have admitted that the main impact of the WTO ruling will be to intimidate smaller nations from banning GMOs. 

Greenpeace tonight dismissed as irrelevant a WTO ruling that reportedly backs the US, Canada and Argentina in their efforts to force Europe to accept genetically modified organisms (GMOs); according to first press reports, the WTO decided that EU national bans contravened trade rules. The environmental organisation considers that just as the WTO case did not challenge EU laws designed to protect the environment, it could not be used to undermine existing international agreements on biosafety.

"U.S agro-chemical giants will not sell a bushel more of their GM grain as a result of the WTO ruling. European consumers, farmers and a growing number of governments remain opposed to GMOs, and this will not change – in Europe or globally," said Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International trade advisor. "The $300 million lost exports for US GM maize growers per year will continue, and remain a warning to exporting countries that GMOs are not wanted in Europe."

"This verdict only proves that the WTO puts trade interests above all others and is unqualified to deal with complex scientific and environmental issues. The US administration and agro-chemical companies brought the case in a desperate attempt to force-feed markets with GMOs, but will continue to be frustrated," said Daniel Mittler.

In August 2003, the US, Canada and Argentina took the EU to the WTO for suspending approvals for biotech products, and for six member states' national bans on EU-approved GMOs.

Despite the ongoing case in Geneva, European governments voted with a clear majority in 2005 to retain existing national bans on GMOs and individual countries continue to reject GMOs. Greece last week announced an extension of its ban on seeds from a type of GM maize produced by Monsanto. Austria also recently announced its intention to ban the import of a GM oilseed rape. These bans, in addition to those imposed last year by Hungary and Poland, 172 regions in Europe which have declared themselves GMO-free zones, and a Swiss moratorium decided by public referendum, show that Europe is steadfast in rejecting GMOs.

EU legislation on the approval and labelling of GMOs is not at stake and will remain unaffected by the outcome of the WTO case.

Greenpeace European Unit campaigns for the environment by exposing deficient EU policies and laws, and challenging EU decision-makers to implement progressive solutions.

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