Editorial: Now, will Europe swallow Frankenfoods?

US - Probably not, even though the U.S. has won a major victory in the WTO over genetically modified food exports.

Chalk one up for the U.S. On Feb. 7, the World Trade Organization ruled against the European Union in a dispute over import restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. The preliminary ruling is hailed as a major win for the U.S. government, farmers, and the biotech industry. But across the Atlantic, the victory is seen as a pyrrhic one unlikely to erase European consumers' longstanding aversion to what the local press has dubbed Frankenfoods.

The long-simmering dispute centers on a 2003 complaint brought by the U.S., Canada, and Argentina, all major producers of GM crops. These countries claimed that the EU's six-year de-facto ban on GM products, beginning in 1998, constituted an unfair trade barrier with no scientific justification.

Although the EU began allowing imports of GM products in 2004 on a case-by-case basis, individual European countries have reserved the right to ban GM products that already have been given the green light by Brussels. The EU, which grows less than 1% of the world's gene-modified crops, says it has approved more than 30 GM food and animal products since 1994.

Import booster?

The U.S. charges that the EU's current approval system, which calls for detailed labeling and traceability requirements, is slow and unworkable. Brussels says it's simply responding to consumer concerns and ensuring that GM products are safe.

"Europe's decision to halt GM approvals [in 1998] wasn't about erecting barriers to trade," says Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK, a nonprofit group that monitors genetic technologies. "It was about responding to public concern in order to have better rules and scientific knowledge."

American farmers and industry giants such as Monsanto (MON ) charge that Europe's resistance to GM has cost them hundreds of millions a year in lost sales in a global market worth $5.5 billion. The U.S. hopes that the new ruling from the world's trade court will reverse the trend. At a Feb. 8 press conference in Brussels, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the WTO decision is likely to lead to a change in the EU's attitude toward GM products that will be result in greater imports.

Source: CheckBiotech
calendar icon 10 February 2006
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