29th September 2006
The World Trade Organisation tomorrow publishes its ruling on a claim by the US and two other countries that Europe's six year ban on growing and importing GM products was illegal.
The USA, Canada and Argentina brought the case against the EU in 2003, alleging that their GM exports were falling and that there was no scientific evidence to justify the moratorium. The moratorium was lifted in 2004 when the Commission approved the import of a variety of GM maize. But five EU countries - Austria, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Greece and Hungary - still bar the import or use of some genetically modified goods.
The WTO is likely to say tomorrow that only minimal changes are needed to the implementation of the EU's system for approving GM products. The system itself is not in dispute. The three nations bringing the GM case are expected to welcome the ruling. They will claim that Europe must now drop restrictions on GM products and that other countries should not legislate against them.
The RSPB, GeneWatch UK and the GM Freeze Campaign believe this claim is wrong and deliberately misrepresents the case. Countries will still be able to legislate against the use of GM crops or foods; they can still complete risk assessments of GM goods before their import or use, and they can continue to set their own level of risk, and act upon it. That means a government could decide that even the smallest risk of contamination of, for example, wild species growing close to GM crops, or to human health from GM foods, was reason enough to ban GM products.
Alex Gonzalez, Trade Policy Officer at the RSPB, said: "This WTO ruling does not mean governments should start taking risks with GM products. We know from large-scale trials in the UK that some GM crops could harm wildlife and that is reason enough to ban their import."
Dr Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch UK, said: "Other countries should not feel intimidated by the bully boy tactics of the USA. Nothing in the WTO decision can override countries' right to regulate GMOs and choose the level of risk they feel appropriate."
Carrie Stebbings, Co-ordinator of the GM Freeze Campaign, said: "The current widespread GM contamination of US rice imported in to Europe proves that strict regulations are justified to protect our food supplies from illegal and potentially dangerous GM varieties. The current rice crisis also shows that the US cannot be trusted to regulate GM crops to the standards we expect in Europe."
Contacts: RSPB: Alex Gonzalez, Trade Policy Officer: 07854 240041 or 01767 680551
GeneWatch UK: Dr Sue Mayer, Director: 07930 308807
GM Freeze Campaign: Carrie Stebbings, Co-ordinator: 020 7837 0642
Notes to editors:
(1) For details about the WTO GMO dispute, see http://www.genewatch.org/sub.shtml?als[cid]=538152
(2) Following the publication of the WTO's findings, the countries involved have 60 days to appeal.
(3) The RSPB, GeneWatch and GM Freeze were part of an international coalition which submitted evidence to the WTO’s dispute panel. The other coalition members were: Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Center for Food Safety (USA); Council of Canadians; Polaris Institute (Canada); Grupo de Reflexion Rural Argentina; Center for Human Rights and the Environment (Argentina); Gene Campaign (India); Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (India); Fundacion Sociedades Sustentables (Chile); Greenpeace International; Californians for GE-Free Agriculture; International Forum on Globalisation.
(4) Tomato puree was the first GM food to go on sale in the UK, in 1996. Two years later, Iceland became the first UK supermarket to ban GM ingredients from its own brand products.
(5) The EU ban ran from late 1998 to 2004. The UK ran a series of farm scale trials from 1998 to 2003. Four GM herbicide tolerant crops were tested and of those, spring and winter oilseed rape and sugar beet was shown to pose risks to farmland wildlife. The experiment was the biggest trial of GM crops in the world.