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Planet Ark World Environment News EU Won't Appeal WTO Ruling on GMO Moratorium

Date: 22-Nov-06
Country: BELGIUM
Author: William Schomberg and Jeremy Smith

But the decision will not settle transatlantic differences over how the European Union currently allows GMO imports, which the majority of European consumers view with suspicion and some have dubbed "Frankenfoods".

"The European Commission has decided not to appeal the GMO decision as the current regulatory provisions are not in any way affected by the judgment," Peter Power, a European Commission spokesman for trade issues, said on Tuesday.

"The current approval system works, as evidenced by the approval of 10 authorisations since the (WTO dispute) panel was established. More authorisations are in the pipeline."

But the United States, which also announced that it would not appeal despite disagreeing with some aspects of the lengthy verdict, said that the findings meant that Brussels was obliged to speed up its GMO approvals.

It noted that some product approval applications had been waiting for over 10 years and that applications for "many commercially important products continue to face unjustified, politically motivated delays", US ambassador to the WTO in Geneva Peter Allgeier said in a statement.

"The findings of the (WTO) panel uphold the pinciple of science based policymaking over unjustified, anti-biotech policies," he added.

Earlier this year, the WTO found the EU had operated a de facto moratorium on GMO products, breaking global trade rules.


"HISTORICAL INTEREST"

The case was brought by leading GMO producers Argentina, Canada and the United States. It did not touch on the sensitive issue of whether GMOs are safe or whether they can be considered comparable with conventional products.

"Where the judgment goes against the EU, namely in relation to the system that operated prior to 2004, the impact of that judgment is entirely of historical interest," Power said.

Tuesday was the deadline for either the EU or the United States to appeal.

The WTO found that by not approving GMO products between 1998 and 2004, the EU was applying an effective moratorium which constituted "undue delay" and violated trade rules.
The ruling also condemned six EU countries -- Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg -- for applying their own bans on biotech that had been previously approved by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.

"The findings of the (WTO) panel uphold the pinciple of science based policymaking over unjustified, anti-biotech policies," Allgeier said.

In the WTO case, the United States said its farmers were losing some US$300 million a year because of the EU action and the WTO ruling could help overcome reservations about GMO crops elsewhere in the world.

Some anti-GMO campaigners criticised the Commission's decision not to appeal.

"This sets a dangerous precedent for future environmental disputes. It is not for the WTO to decide what we eat or how we protect our environment," said Adrian Bebb of environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe. "Whatever the WTO says, Europeans will continue to reject genetically modified foods."

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