European Commission regrets US decision to file WTO case on GMOs as misguided and unnecessary

May 14, 2003

Brussels, 13 May 2003

The US announced today their intention to request WTO consultations on the EU's authorisation system for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The European Commission regrets this move as legally unwarranted, economically unfounded and politically unhelpful.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "The EU's regulatory system for GMO's authorisation is in line with WTO rules: it is clear, transparent and non-discriminatory. There is therefore no issue that the WTO needs to examine. The US claim that there is a so-called "moratorium" but the fact is that the EU has authorised GM varieties in the past and is currently processing applications. So what is the real US motive in bringing a case?

"David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer protection stated: "We have been working hard in Europe to complete our regulatory system in line with the latest scientific and international developments. The finalisation process is imminent. This is essential to restore consumer confidence in GMO's in Europe."

Mr. Byrne recalled that it is the lack of consumer demand for GM-products that accounts for the low sales of GMOs in the EU market. "Unless consumers see that the authorisation process is up to date and takes into account all legitimate concerns, consumers will continue to remain sceptical of GM products."

EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstrom added: "This US move is unhelpful. It can only make an already difficult debate in Europe more difficult. But in the meantime, the Commission strongly believes that we in Europe should move ahead with completing our legislation on traceability and labelling and on food and feed, currently before the European Parliament. We should not be deflected or distracted from pursuing the right policy for the EU."

The EU stance on GMOs is in line with WTO rules

The EU wants to address the challenges posed by modern technologies of genetic modification. Its regulatory system provides a reliable framework for GMOs in the EU, meeting demands for human and animal health and the environment in the EU. Under the EU system, the prospective effects of GMOs on human, animal and plant health and the environment have to be scientifically assessed before being approved for marketing. Under the EU system, companies intended to market GMOs in the EU must first submit an application to a Member State including a full environmental risk assessment. The assessment is sent to the European Commission who circulates it to all other Member States. In case of objections the European Commission seeks an opinion from the Scientific Committee (and the European Food Safety Authority in the future) and takes then a decision. A total of 18 GMOs have already been authorised in the EU.

Reference is often made to a so-called "moratorium" in the EU on approval of new GM varieties. This relates to the fact that since October 1998, no new GMOs have been authorised for release into the environment due to the fact that the EU's regulatory regime was incomplete to address the challenges posed by modern technology of genetic modification. This new regulatory framework was adopted in March 2001 and entered into force in October 2002.

The entry into force of these improved rules on approval procedures has enabled biotech companies to submit revised applications for approval of their innovative products. Recently two cotton seed oils for food use have been placed on the market in the EU following authorisation. A number of new applications for marketing of GMOs are at an advanced stage of examination and may therefore be granted over the next months in line with EU legislation.

The EU is also finalising the adoption of rules on labelling and traceability, which aim at responding to citizens' demands for more and better information on GMOs, and the need to facilitate the freedom of choice between new and more traditional agricultural products. Therefore, the EU system is and will be science-based, not driven by economic considerations.

It must be recalled that the US has so far opposed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which has been signed by over 100 countries and is intended to ensure through agreed international rules that countries, exporters and importers have the necessary information to make informed choices about GMOs.

The case for appropriate approval mechanisms and marketing regulations has been reinforced by the problems experienced in the US. The "Starlink" case is a clear example of the need for appropriate rules for authorisation and traceability of GMOs. In 2000, GM corn not approved for human consumption was found to have entered in large amounts the US food supply chain; More than 300 product brands had to be recalled from supermarkets by US authorities. In a study of February 2002, the American National Academy of Sciences concluded that there are a number of inadequacies in the way GM plants are regulated in the US.

The development argument ignores legitimate concerns of developing countries

A number of developing countries, including a large number African countries suffering a shortage of food have requested main donors of food aid to avoid providing GMO food. The European Commission finds it unacceptable that such legitimate concerns are used by the US against the EU policy on GMOs. The European Commission believes that it is the legitimate right of developing countries' governments to fix their own level of protection and to take the decision they deem appropriate to prevent unintentional dissemination of GM seeds.

Food aid to starving populations should be about meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of those who are in need. It should not be about trying to advance the case for GM food abroad (while staying away from the international consensus such as the Cartagena Protocol), or planting GM crops for export, or indeed finding outlets for domestic surplus, which is a regrettable of the US food aid policy.

The European Commission policy is to source food aid for emergency situation as much as possible in the region, thus contributing to the development of local markets, providing additional incentives for producers and ensuring that products distributed closely match local consumption habits.

GM crops of interest to developing countries, such a drought tolerant, acid soil tolerant crops are still in laboratories. Commercially available GM crops are largely dominated by herbicide tolerant crops (75%) and insect resistant crops (17%). However, the use of herbicides on small farmers in poor countries is very limited while insecticides are generally used on commercial crops such as cotton but not on staple crops.

Some key figures related to commodities market

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DN: IP/03/681 Date: 13/05/2003

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