WTO condemns EU genetic food ban

The World Trade Organisation on Friday finally made public a dispute panel verdict that the European Union’s six-year moratorium on imports of genetically modified food and crops broke international trade rules.

The panel also condemned the ban by six EU members – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg – on a number of individual products previously approved by Brussels as safe.

But the 1,000-page report, the longest in WTO history, failed to uphold the main charges levelled by the US, Canada and Argentina, the world’s biggest producers of genetically modified crops, and will not result in any change in current EU policy, according to officials in Brussels.

The panel decision, which largely confirms an interim ruling in February, does not touch on the key issues in the transatlantic dispute, in particular whether GM foods are safe. Nor did it question EU controls on imports of GM foods and crops or the right of countries to ban such foods or crops on health or environmental grounds.

While US consumers readily buy genetically-modified products, European consumers are generally suspicious of what have been dubbed “Frankenfoods”.

Environmental groups said the report showed the WTO was not fit to judge disputes of this kind. “This trade dispute has been a pointless exercise that will change absolutely nothing,” said Adrian Bebb, GM food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “Europeans will continue to reject genetically modified foods.”

US and EU officials said they would study the report before deciding on any appeal. They have 60 days to do so. However, diplomats said they thought an EU appeal was unlikely since the ruling left its current system of GM approvals in place.

The de facto EU moratorium, which operated between 1998 and 2004, has been lifted, since when 10 GM products have been authorised, according to the European Commission. More than 30 applications are being examined.

Most of the products involved in the dispute have been voluntarily withdrawn from the market. However, since it was brought to the WTO in 2003, Hungary, Greece, Austria and Poland have introduced new bans on GM products.

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