WASHINGTON (US) / BRUSSELS (Belgium) – The United States administration is to bring a case in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the European Union over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), according to media reports today [1]. The US case may be joined by Argentina and Canada, large-scale GMO producers, and by Egypt, hoping for a US free trade deal later this year.

The US will argue that the current European Union (EU) moratorium on the commercial development of GM foods is an “illegal” trade barrier under WTO rules. But environment pressure group Friends of the Earth International is warning the move is the latest in a series of attempts by the US to block other countries’ decisions to protect their environment, human health and social standards.

The move threatens to bring the full force of WTO sanctions to bear in order to force GM food into European markets regardless of the wishes of European consumers. The US is likely to attempt to prevent any effective labelling of food derived from GM ingredients.

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has threatened a WTO case over GM on several occasions, most recently in January this year, but is believed to have been told by the White House to back off during attempts to secure European support for the invasion of Iraq. The US Administration has been lobbied heavily by GM companies such as Monsanto (MON) and by big US farming interests such as the National Corn Growers Association.

WTO procedures are complex and secretive, and have been heavily criticised by environmentalists and others for their pro-business bias. In particular, WTO rules are hostile to the fundamental precautionary principle. [A full Friends of the Earth briefing on the WTO disputes procedure is available from the Friends of the Earth London press office: + 44-20 7566 1649].

“This may be the moment of truth for the future of GM food in Europe, and future trade relations between the European Union and United States,” according to Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth in Washington. “It is clear that this US Administration, backed by some of the richest and most powerful lobbyists in US politics, is determined to use the secretive, biased and undemocratic procedures of the WTO to bully people into accepting food they do not want,“ Bohlen added.

Juan Lopez of Friends of the Earth in Brussels added : “If this attempt succeeds, the US will force GM foods onto European markets regardless of the wishes of consumers. The European Commission and national governments must find the courage to stand up to this outrageous piece of bullying. Decisions over the future of GM crops in Europe must not be made in the George Bush White House.”


[1] The Financial Times reports today that “The US is set to announce today it will file a long-anticipated case in the World Trade Organisation aimed at forcing the European Union to lift its de facto moratorium on genetically modified foods, according to administration and congressional officials.” The Associated Press reports that “President George W. Bush’s administration has decided to bring a trade case against the European Union over Europe’s ban on imports of genetically modified food, congressional officials say.”


Friends of the Earth in WASHINGTON:
Larry Bohlen +1-202-783-7400 ext 251

Friends of the Earth in BRUSSELS:
Adrian Bebb: +49-816699 24 56 (mobile)
Juan Lopez: +32-2-477391496 (mobile)