GeneWatch PR: European Commission must appeal WTO ruling on GM crops and food

3rd November 2006

Today, GeneWatch UK and the RSPB have called on Peter Mandelson, European Union's Trade Commissioner, to appeal the WTO's findings on GM crops [1]. A WTO Dispute Panel recently decided upon a case brought by the USA, Canada and Argentina against Europe's moratorium on GM crops and said that there had been 'undue delay' in processing applications and that there was no scientific basis for the national bans on GM crops and food [2].

A legal analysis of the WTO Dispute Panel's report, prepared for GeneWatch and the RSPB, has revealed that serious errors have been made in the interpretation of trade law [3]. The Panel determined that only narrow technical and scientific matters were relevant to the assessment of the risks of GM crops and foods. This is at odds with other WTO decisions and international law. If unchallenged, the Panel's errors could mean that the precautionary principle will not be allowed to be used in laws designed to protect the environment, human health or other consumer concerns.

The Panel also decided that international laws governing the safety of trade in GMOs but not agreed to by the USA did not apply between the parties in the WTO case [4]. Therefore, if countries have international legal obligations to follow the precautionary principle outside the WTO, the WTOs ruling could mean that these would not be taken into account in a dispute between WTO Members. If unchallenged, this ruling could further undermine the precautionary principle and throw international laws into confusion.

The panel's report will be formally adopted by the WTO within 60 days from 29 September 2006 unless appealed by the EC.

"The WTO's decision could have far reaching implications for how countries are allowed to regulate many activities, not only GM crops. The Panel said that countries can regulate GM crops, but then left little room for scientific uncertainty and social and economic considerations to be taken into account," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK's Director. "People want a precautionary approach to GM crops and the WTO shouldn't cow-tow to the USA's industrial interests in this way. Europe must appeal if it believes in safe trade."

"The consequences of over-ruling national scientific and environmental concerns are significant and the WTO has to be challenged," said Alex Gonzalez-Calatayud, Trade Policy Officer of the RSPB "The precautionary principle is a key element of national environment and health policy and should not be dispensed with by the WTO."

Contact:

GeneWatch: Sue Mayer - 01298 871898 (office); 07930 308807 (mobile

RSPB: Alex Gonzalez-Calatayud - 01767 680551 (office); 07854 240041 (mobile)

Notes to editors:

  1. GeneWatch UK and the RSPB have written to Peter Mandelson asking him to instruct his officials to start appeal proceedings at the WTO.
  2. In a complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2003, the US, Canada and Argentina are challenging the European Union over its de facto moratorium on the approval of genetically modified (GM) foods and crops (European Communities Measures Affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products WT/DS 291, 292 and 293 -see: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news06_e/291r_e.htm). The decision of the Dispute Panel was published on 29th September 2006. Parties then have 60 days to appeal, but only on points of law.
  3. The note 'The WTO GMO dispute: Implications for developing countries and the need for an appeal' by Alice Palmer, a lawyer with expertise in international law, is available at 'Dispute Panel Findings summary'.
  4. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (the Biosafety Protocol) was agreed under the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2000. The Biosafety Protocol is an international treaty with over 130 states parties which is aimed at protecting biological diversity, and human health, from any risks arising from the transport and use of  'living' genetically modified organisms. It is based on the precautionary principle. The EC, Canada and Argentina but not the US are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and none of the Complaining Parties is a party to the Biosafety Protocol.

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