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U.S. Challenges Europe's Policy on Biotech Crops
(Beyond Pesticides, May 16, 2003)
On May 14, 2003 the Bush Administration warned that it is bringing a case in the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the European Union (EU) over the EU's five-year moratorium on the commercial development of genetically engineered (GE) foods. The U.S. has been joined by Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay.

The U.S. argues that the EU policy is an "illegal" trade barrier under WTO rules, harming the U.S. economy, stunting the growth of the biotech industry and contributing to increased starvation in the developing world. However, under WTO rules, members are allowed to develop their own approval procedures, and EU officials say this is what they are doing. "We have been working hard in Europe to complete our regulatory system in line with the latest scientific and international developments," said EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne. "The finalization process is imminent. This is essential to restore consumer confidence in GMOs in Europe."

Environmentalists believe the move is the latest in a series of attempts by the US to block other countries' decisions to protect their environment, human health and social standards. "The Bush administration is catering to the interests of major biotech corporations rather than human health," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. "They have been reduced to using the secretive and undemocratic procedures of the WTO to try to force people into accepting food they do not want."

The move could bring the full force of WTO sanctions to bear in order to force GE food into European markets regardless of the wishes of European consumers. WTO procedures are complex and secretive, and have been heavily criticized by environmentalists and others for their pro-business bias. In particular, WTO rules are hostile to the fundamental precautionary principle.