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February 2006 Updates

Europe's Rules on GMOs and the WTO

Official EU Statement
February 7, 2006

There is a need for strong regulatory oversight of GM technology

There is a general consensus between scientists that GMOs are not inherently unsafe, but that their safety for the environment, human health and animal health needs to be assessed on a case by case basis before marketing. This approach is supported by international organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the Codex Alimentarius, the FAO or the OECD. The EU legislation follows strictly the internationally recommended approach and reflects the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which the EU is a signatory.

The EU regulatory framework also provides for strict monitoring of GM products after their initial release to market through the implementation of mandatory labelling and traceability rules. The EU believes that such regulatory oversight is of utmost importance to address any potential failure of the regulatory system, such as those that have been experienced in the US in the recent past when non-approved GMOs such as Starlink GM maize, or Bt 10 GM maize entered the US food chain.

The EU has no ban on safe GM products

In the EU, GMOs can only be placed on the market after having undergone a stringent science-based risk assessment on a case by case basis. This approach is fully in line with international standards, in particular with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as well as with the relevant Guidelines adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 2003 and by the International Conventional on Plant Protection.

So far, more than 30 GMOs or derived food and feed products have been approved for marketing in the EU. As an example, in early January 2006, the EU granted approvals to three new GM maize products after a rigorous safety assessment.

Contrary to US claims, the EU is one of the largest importers of GMOs and derived food and feed. The EU is the largest soybean and soy meal importer and the fact is that soy imports consist largely of Monsanto "Round-Up Ready" soybean, which is cultivated in all the main soybean global producers, i.e. the US, Brazil and Argentina. The claim that the there is a moratorium on approval of GM products in Europe is self-evidently untrue.

The EU approval process may appear to be lengthy for some countries which adopt a more lenient approach towards food and environmental safety issues. The longer times to assess the safety of GMOs in the EU are due to the complexity of the science involved as well as to delays incurred by biotech companies to provide suitable data demonstrating the safety of the products.

The WTO challenge on GMOs is unhelpful and unfounded

In May 2003, the US, supported by Canada and Argentina, launched a WTO case against the EU concerning the EU authorisation regime for GMOs. Whilst the three complainants publicly argue that the WTO case is straightforward and clear, the panel has taken a number of years to reach final conclusions on the dispute. This shows that the matters at stake are far more complex than claimed by the US, Argentina and Canada.

Indeed, against the arguments of all three complainants, the WTO panel agreed with the EU that it would be unwise to rule on such a complex topic without hearing the views of scientists. The panel eventually decided to gather the views of independent and highly reputable scientists from different parts of the world, including Europe and America. That consultation process confirmed the legitimacy of the health and environmental issues addressed in EU regulations and procedures. The US has explicitly said that it does not challenge the EU's legal framework for clearing GMOs for import and distribution.

10 years after the first commercial release, 90% of GMOs remain cultivated in 4 countries : USA (55%), Argentina (19%), Brazil (10%), Canada (6%).

The EU remains confident that its regulatory regime over GMOs and GM food and feed is fully compatible with its international commitments including those under the WTO. The US has not at any stage challenged the EU's legal framework.

What are the US's real concerns with the EU system?

The US appears not to like the EU authorisation regime, which it considers to be too stringent, simply because it takes longer to approve a GMO in Europe than in the US. The US appears to believe that GMOs that are considered to be safe in the US should be de facto deemed to be safe for the rest of the world. The EU has argued that a sovereign body like the EU and its Member States, or indeed any country in the world, has the right to enact its own regulations on the food that its citizens would eat, providing that the measures are compatible with existing international rules and based on clear scientific evidence.

The US also opposes GMO traceability rules because it considers that they constitute an obstacle to US commodity exports, despite the fact that US traders can in fact meet those requirements without difficulties.

The US is also adamantly opposed to labelling rules for food products produced from GMOs, even though these rules are designed to help ensure that customers are well-informed about what they are buying.

US soybean and soy meal exports have steadily declined over the last ten years because of a decline of competitiveness of US agriculture on the global market. The trends in EU maize imports further confirm that US farmers are no longer low-cost producers and are less and less able to compete with emerging countries such as Brazil or Argentina on global commodity markets. EU trade data show clearly that EU rules on GM are not affecting the imports of more competitive GMO exporters.

Getting the rules on GMOs right

The EU has always acknowledged that biotechnology offers promising avenues to develop agricultural production, in particular for developing countries, and it can contribute to the fight against food insecurity.

The EU has always made it clear that every country has the sovereign right to make its own decisions on GMOs in accordance with the values prevailing in its society. This principle obviously applies to both developed and developing countries. It is the legitimate right of developing countries' governments to fix their own level of protection and to take the decisions they deem appropriate to prevent unintentional dissemination of GM seeds. This right is fully recognised in international agreements such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which the EU considers to be the key international agreement governing the transboundary movements of GMOs.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety provides an international forum for the international governance of GMOs. So far more than 130 countries actively participate to it. However, the US, Canada and Argentina have refused to ratify it.

The EU considers that major GMO producers such as the US should adopt a co-operative approach to the development of a sound international legal framework for these products, instead of taking hostile steps at the WTO.

More information on the EU regulatory framework covering GMOs, GM food and feed


America's Masterplan Is to Force GM Food on the World

By John Vidal
The Guardian
February 13, 2006

The reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was to prise open lucrative markets elsewhere

Just a few years ago, World Trade Organisation officials used to act hurt when described by social activists as irresponsible, secretive bureaucrats who trampled over national sovereignty and placed free trade over the environment or human rights. But that was when the global-trade policeman ruled on disputes that had little bearing on Europeans.

The WTO court's latest ruling will greatly increase the number of people who believe the organisation needs radical reform, if not burial. This week three judges emerged after years of secret deliberation to rule that Europe had imposed a de facto ban on GM food imports between 1999 and 2003, violating WTO rules. The court also ruled that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg had no legal grounds to impose their own unilateral import bans. "Europe guilty!" shouted the US press. "This is glorious news for the Bush administration," said one blogger.

Actually, the judges said much more, but in true WTO style no one has been allowed to know what. A few bureaucrats in the US, EU, Argentina and Canada have reportedly seen the full 1,045-page report, and an edited summary of some of its conclusions has been leaked. But no one, it seems, will take responsibility for the ruling, which may force the EU to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate some of the world's most heavily subsidised farmers, and could change the laws of at least six countries that have imposed GM bans.

In fact the US has mostly won a lot of new enemies. Rather than going away, as the biotech companies and Washington fervently hoped, the opposition to GM foods seems to have been growing since 2004 when the case was brought to the WTO. Europe, its member states and its consumers all rejected the ruling last week, making the WTO look even more out of touch and incompetent to rule on issues about the environment, health and consumer choice.

The European commission, which has been trying to force GM crops into Europe over the heads of its member states, says the ruling is "irrelevant" because its laws have already been changed. Meanwhile, individual countries who dislike being told what to eat or grow by the EC as much as the WTO say they will resist any attempts to make them accept GM.

In the past few days Hungary has declared that it is in its economic interests to remain GM-free, and Greece and Austria have affirmed their total opposition to the crops. Italy has called the WTO ruling "unbalanced" and Poland's prime minister has pledged to keep the country GM-free. Local government is even more opposed: more than 3,500 elected councils in 170 regions of Europe have declared themselves GM-free.

There is little the WTO, the EC or the US can do in face of this coalition of the unwilling. If the US again tries to impose its GM products on Europe - as it did in the 90s, sparking the whole debacle - the attempt will backfire. Europe's biotech industry may now try to force the EC to use the WTO judgment to get the six countries with import bans to repeal anti-GM laws, but it will meet an even broader, more determined movement.

In fact, Washington and the US companies are not that bothered by Europe's predictable reaction. Europe has all but dropped off the world's GM map. The companies and the supermarkets know there is little or no demand for GM crops, and that Europe's subsidised farmers are reluctant to alienate the public further by growing them.

It is now clear that the real reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was was to make it easier for its companies to prise open regulatory doors in China, India, south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa, where most US exports now go. This is where millions of tonnes of US food aid heads, and where US GM companies are desperate to have access, buying up seed companies and schmoozing presidents and prime ministers.

More than two-thirds of exported US corn now goes to Asia and Africa, where once it went to Europe. As the Monsanto man said this week about the WTO ruling: "Our feeling is that it's important for countries other than the EU to have science-based regulatory frameworks."

Like the tobacco industry, GM companies are now focusing almost exclusively on developing countries. But here the industry is meeting stiff opposition from powerful unions and farming groups. Brazil has caved in, but Bolivia may shortly become the first Latin American country to fully reject GM. Some Indian states are deeply opposed, and there have been major demonstrations in the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia and elsewhere. India's largest farmers' organisation this week said the result of the WTO verdict would be that the US would become more aggressive in dumping GM food on to developing countries.

The US maintains that through the WTO it has won a great victory for free trade, and passed a significant milestone in US attempts "to have GM crops accepted throughout the world". Perhaps, but the battle is far from won, and in the meantime anyone opposing the crops is being reclassed as an enemy of America.

Within hours of the WTO decision, José Bové, the French farmer who has led European protests, arrived in New York to give an invited talk to Cornell students about GM food - and was immediately sent back to France by the US government.


US May Press Africa on GMOs

By Shapi Shacinda
February 8, 2006

LUSAKA - The U.S. may push Africa to accept gene-altered (GMO) food now that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled the EU broke rules by barring GMO foods and seeds, but Africans vowed on Wednesday to resist.

"We do not want GM (genetically modified) foods and our hope is that all of us can continue to produce non-GM foods," Zambian Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana told Reuters in Lusaka.

"The decision by the WTO does nothing to change our stand in this matter."

The WTO ruled on Tuesday that the European Union and six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to genetically modified crops and foods.

A U.S. trade official confirmed findings of the preliminary ruling, contained in a confidential report sent only to the parties. The closely watched verdict addressed a complaint brought against the EU by leading GMO producers the United States, Argentina and Canada.

The European Union's opponents asserted that the moratorium, which Brussels argued was never official, hurt their exports and was not based on science.

Manufacturers of the biotech seeds, designed to increase yields and resist pests better than normal seeds, maintain they are safe for human consumption.

European consumers, fearing the effects of "Frankenstein foods" have resisted them. Even African countries facing food shortages, such as Zambia, have refused to accept gene-altered food donations, arguing their safety had not been ascertained.

Those countries that take in GMO-food demand stringent certifications and milling before it arrives on their borders.

Regional heavyweight South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent to embrace the controversial technology.


Campaigners and analysts saw the U.S. using the World Trade Organization ruling to press Africans to accept GMO food imports on the basis that Europe, which has usually backed the obstinate African position, will itself have to take them.

"Politically, I think it is very clear that the U.S. will try and use this case to force GMOs into African markets. American industry is already saying that the result is a signal to the rest of the world," Daniel Mittler, trade adviser at Greenpeace International, told Reuters by telephone.

"They are implying that while the EU may be able to resist an outlawing of national bans on GMOs, developing countries will not and will have to open their markets," Mittler said.

Africans argue that better technology to increase irrigation, more widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, and improved monitoring of market trends will help deliver improved harvests and defeat hunger.

"It is obvious to everyone that the U.S. will interpret the WTO ruling as a message to Africans that it is now time to eat GMOs and stop the noise-making ... after all, the EU has been put on a leash in the matter," said an agriculture consultant in Malawi, one of the countries that often require food aid.

But Zambian minister Sikatana said there was no looking back: "We made a decision based on facts and those facts have not changed. We hope no one in Africa feels they have to change their views based on that ruling, it will not do."


Researcher Fined for Dumping Bio Waste

By Jon Brodkin
Needham (MA) Times
February 2, 2006

The state fined a medical researcher $8,800 for illegally disposing of more than 2,000 test tubes containing "DNA research waste" at the Needham transfer station, the Department of Environmental Protection said Monday.

When Christopher Southgate hired a junk removal firm last September to clean out the basement of his Newton home, the firm took a freezer full of biological medical waste and disposed of it illegally at the Needham transfer station, the DEP said.

Employees at the transfer station found the freezer Sept. 15, and realized it was full of medical waste, even though the test tubes weren't labeled, said Tara Gurge, Needham's health agent.

"They weren't really labeled, they didn't say what they were, but it was obvious it was medical waste," she said.

Southgate, who now lives in Sudbury, was required to pay the $8,800 fine and compensate Needham for money it spent to properly dispose of the biological waste.

Southgate, who has a Ph.D., was doing research with "recombinant DNA molecules," said Ed Coletta, DEP spokesman. Coletta did not know whether the DNA was from humans or animals.

None of the waste spilled from the test tubes, Coletta said. If humans came into contact with the material, there would be a risk of infection, he said. After the waste was found, it was sterilized and disposed of properly, he said.

"Finding an abandoned freezer full of biological waste can be frightening," Pamela Talbot, director of the state Environmental Strike Force, said in a news release. "Anyone engaged in generating or handling these kinds of wastes must dispose of them in accordance with the law. Illegal disposal is a clear threat to the public health and safety and will not be tolerated."

The freezer found at the Needham transfer station contained 38 boxes, each holding between 60 and 80 test tubes of biological waste. That puts the total number of test tubes at somewhere between 2,280 and 3,040.

Southgate has a listed phone number in Newton, but calls to that number are greeted with an automated message saying, "I am unable to answer your call right now, please call again." There are no listings in Sudbury under the name Southgate, according to, the Internet phone directory.

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