EU GMO ban was illegal, WTO rules

The World Trade Organisation has confirmed a ruling against the EU in a case brought by the US and other nations against a de facto moratorium on genetically modified products.

The final ruling of the international trade body’s settling panel in the GMO dispute between the EU on the one hand and the US, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico and New Zealand on the other was leaked by diplomats on 10 May 2006. The 1,000-page document, which will not be officially released before June 2006, confirms a  preliminary ruling made on 7 February 2006. 

The final ruling will not have immediate effects, because it concerns the EU GMO moratorium, which ended in April 2004. It may however affect the way that the EU deals with GMOs in the future. New, more permissive rules on GMOs were introduced in 2004 partly to address concerns brought forward by the EU’s adversaries in the trade dispute. 

The report also criticises GMO bans still in place in Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Greece, in spite of the EU’s new system of rules. The Commission has repeatedly tried to lift those bans, but failed to do so because of procedural loopholes (see ‘Issues’ in ‘Europe’s biotech bans in WTO firing line‘). In April 2006, the Commission made a number of proposals to address these issues. 

NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) said that the World Trade Organisation was not the right place for settling a political dispute such as the one on GMO. Adrian Bebb of FoEE said: “This is no victory for the United States or the biotech companies. Countries still have the right to ban or suspend genetically modified foods and crops. Europe’s only failure was the way they did it and not why they did it.” FoEE added that the WTO had indeed rejected most of the pro-GMO coalition’s request. 

Eric Gall of Greenpeace said: “All this verdict proves is that the WTO is unqualified to deal with complex scientific and environmental issues, as it puts trade interests above all others. Its only effect has been to reinforce the determination of EU countries to resist bullying by pro-GE governments and to say no to GE crops and food.”

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