The World Trade Organisation has ruled against the EU in a case brought by the US and other nations against a de facto moratorium on genetically modified products.
A WTO panel ruled on Tuesday (7 February) that the EU’s moratorium on GM products, effective between June 1999 and August 2003, was illegal. The decision may be appealed by the European Commission after it is officially confirmed in a final ruling due in March.
New EU rules to approve GM products were agreed in 2004, but the US, supported by Argentina and Canada, claims that the procedures are still too lengthy. These, a US trade official said, are “based on political expediency more than on health or safety concerns”.
Those claims were dismissed by the Commission, which says it has already approved “more than 30 GMOs or derived food and feed products” for marketing in the EU. “Contrary to US claims, the EU is one of the largest importers of GMOs and derived food and feed,” the Commission said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Commission is still struggling to enforce orders to some EU countries to lift national bans on GM products, such as was the case with Greece in January.
In addition, public opinion in Europe is largely sceptical about GM products. A Eurobarometer survey published on 7 February reveals that 62% of respondents across the EU-25 are “worried” about the food safety risks posed by GMOs.
Greenpeace said the WTO case should “not be used to undermine existing international agreements on biosafety” as spelt out in the Cartagena Protocol.