EU and US Consumer Groups call on EU to "resist U.S. pressure and protect consumer rights on GM foods"

January 23, 2006

London, 20 Jan 2006

The TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) demands that the European Union and U.S. governments listen to consumers and not attempt to force genetically modified (GM) foods on to European markets. The call comes amid reports of a WTO ruling – expected in the next two weeks - in favor of the United States challenge to European delays in approving new types of genetically modified (GM) foods.

The Bush Administration claims that the EU's cautionary approach has resulted in lost markets for American farmers. Yet, consumer suspicion over the GM content in U.S. maize (corn) had already caused sales to Europe to drop by more than half, before the delay in GM crop approvals began in 1998. European consumers continue to avoid GM foods.

Jim Murray of the European consumer organization BEUC said: "The U.S. effort to force GM foods upon unwilling consumers is offensive and misguided. Consumers cannot be forced to buy and eat food that they do not want."

Rhoda Karpatkin representing the US-based Consumers Union said: "A WTO ruling in favor of the U.S. will only increase consumer suspicion of GM crops and of a global trading system that subsumes the public interest to the interests of giant biotechnology firms."

TACD, which includes all the major consumer organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, supports labeling and safety testing of GMOs, and consumer choice about consuming them.

STATEMENT ON WTO DECISION ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

News reports indicate that early in 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to rule in favor of the United States on a Bush Administration challenge to European delays in approving new types of genetically modified (GM) foods and various European Union member state bans on specific GM varieties.

The current U.S. case does not challenge present European Community (EC) regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which include rules on safety testing, labeling and traceability, but concerns the EU's delay in granting new approvals of GM crops while the European-wide policies were being put into effect.

The Bush Administration claims that the EU's delay in granting new GM crop approvals has resulted in lost markets for American farmers. But clearly consumers' preference for non-GM food is the true engine of the market collapse for American crops. Even before the delay in GM crop approvals began in 1998, U.S. corn sales to Europe had dropped by more than half.

"The US effort to force GM foods upon unwilling consumers is offensive and misguided," said Jim Murray of the European consumer organization BEUC. "Consumers cannot be forced to buy and eat food that they do not want."

TACD has vigorously protested the United States suit and has repeatedly urged the US and the EU to resolve disputes over consumer, public health and environmental matters outside of the WTO where public interest regulations are regularly ruled against in the name of free trade.

If the WTO panel rules against the right of individual governments to regulate the use of GM products, the shock waves will be global. The number of countries that regulate GM products in the public interest is growing rapidly and today half of the world's population lives in countries that require premarket approval of these products. Even in the United States, three California counties ban growing of all GM crops.

"This suit can be seen as a preemptive effort to chill the development of new policies for regulating GM crops around the globe," said Rhoda Karpatkin representing the US-based Consumers Union. "Ironically, the US may have won the battle but it is losing the war. A WTO ruling in favor of the U.S. will only increase consumer suspicion of GM crops and of a global trading system that subsumes the public interest to the interests of giant biotechnology firms."

In a similar WTO case, in 1996 the US launched a case on behalf of the US Cattlemen's Association against Europe's ban on hormone-treated beef. Yet while the U.S. "won" the beef-hormone dispute in 1999, Europe has still not opened its markets to U.S. beef, because European consumers do not want hormones in their meat. The repercussions of this case are still being felt almost ten years later as the EC continues to pay a ransom in the form of $116 million dollars worth of punitive trade sanction for the privilege of maintaining their public health policy on hormones. The EC recently counter sued in the WTO to get these sanctions lifted.

TACD, which includes all the major consumer organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, supports labeling and safety testing of GMOs, and consumer choice about consuming them.

Editors Note: TACD consists of EU and U.S. consumer organizations that develop joint consumer policy recommendations for the EU and U.S. in an effort to promote the consumer interest in transatlantic policymaking. TACD's network of 65 EU and U.S. national consumer organizations has a direct paid-up membership of some 20 million consumers. For more information, please visit www.tacd.org.

Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue
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