EU GMO laws under attack

Senior Bush administration officials are pressuring the European Union to abandon its plan to adopt new regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). US officials argue that the new proposals discriminate against US products, which in-turn could cost US companies 4.4 billion euro a year.

US officials claim that the new proposals by the European Commission, which require the labelling of genetically engineered products, violate World Trade Organisation requirements, raising the possibility of another major trade dispute. The US has yet to announce publicly what type of punitive action it might take against the EU. The US has the possibility to bring a legal case before the WTO, and if it wins, could impose strict economic sanctions on the EU.

The costs of the new EU regulations could far exceed other transatlantic trade battles, such as those over bananas and growth hormones in beef. The US is especially concerned that new EU legislation will force exporters into expensive testing of agricultural products for GMO content because GM crops are not separated from natural crops in the US. Current EU regulations already ban most US corn products


The European Commission reiterated on Monday (27 August) their faith in its proposed regulation on genetically modified products despite a report that the US might challenge it at the WTO.

A European Commission spokesperson said the rules proposed last month were "absolutely necessary to foster consumer confidence" in biotech foods, "and therefore also trade in those products."


The European Commission adopted a proposal on the labelling and traceability of genetically modified organisms on 25 July. The objective was to reassure consumers and environmentalists that food and the environment are safe from potential risks posed by GMOs. The new rules complete the Directive on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs (90/220/EEC). The regulation on labelling and traceability of GMOs in foodstuffs for human consumption and animal feed has been expected since the autumn of 2000.

The approvals for the marketing of new GM products were suspended in June 1999. No new GM crops have been approved in the EU since April 1998.


The Commission proposal will be debated by the Council and the European Parliament in the next months, and should enter into force in 2003 at the latest. The rules on the labelling and traceability of foodstuffs are subject to the co-decision procedure. The Commission is planning two further proposals relating to GM seed in the autumn. The labelling provisions for food and feed will be reviewed after two years of operation.


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