January 16, 2002 – The US comments to the WTO on EU proposed Regulations, (1) obtained by Friends of the Earth (FoE) show the strong opposition the US is mounting to EU legislation on GMOs. Over the past few months more than 6 countries worldwide have faced overwhelming US pressure when trying to implement strict GMO regulations.

The US comments identify as the “core problem facing the European Union in biotechnology” the fact that EU Member States have the final say in the authorisation procedure. They consider that the recent proposals fail to address this and complain that “decisions will still be made through political process” and therefore “individual Member States will continue to be able to hold the approval process hostage to political concerns”. The US administration has already announced their hope that the moratorium will be lifted following the mid-March EU Summit [2]. There is, therefore, a potential risk that during its Presidency, the Spanish government might push for GMO authorisations to be re-started under the so-called ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ initiative with the biotech industry [3].

The US considers the Proposals as non-operational and underlines throughout its comments the difficulties in implementation or enforcement of the EU proposals. Regarding labelling, the US asserts that the Proposal “does nothing to ensure food safety”, “encourages fraudulent labelling claims” and “would undermine consumer confidence”.

According to Friends of the Earth, the United States – which is a non-signatory to key international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Biosafety Protocol and the Kyoto Protocol – has nothing to teach the European Union about environmental or consumer protection standards. “The American administration is determined to weaken the EU’s legislation on GMOs and is prepared to use bully-boy tactics to do so”, said Gill Lacroix, Biotechnology Coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe. “A recent EU opinion poll shows that 94.6% of citizens want the right to choose about GM foods(4), and that right can only be ensured by labelling and traceability of GMO-derived products. The European Commission and the Member States must stand firm in the face of US pressure and give EU citizens the strict regulations on environmental and consumer protection that they demand”.

In recent months, the Washington administration has stepped up pressure on any country that wants to adopt strict legislation on GMOs. Leaked documents from the US and Argentinean governments obtained by FoE [5] show the pressure that the US and biotech companies have put on countries like Croatia and Bolivia which wanted to adopt strict GMO regulations. Currently, the pressure is also enormous in Asia in countries such as China, Korea and Thailand that plan to introduce new labelling laws for GMOs. Last year, US threats to Sri Lanka of action under the WTO led to the abandonment of a proposed ban on GMOs that was to have been implemented in September 2001.[6]

Juan Lopez, Adviser on Genetic Engineering at Friends of the Earth International, said that the US pressure on other countries to interfere in their decision-making processes is outrageous. “The US is effectively saying not only that citizens’ demands should be ignored but also that EU Member States should not have the right to take decisions about the GMO authorisation process. That is absolutely unacceptable in the interests of democracy. EU Member States, as well as other countries round the world, should tell the US government to back off, ignore their threats, and stand up for their democratic rights”.

Friends of the Earth Europe, Gill Lacroix, T. 32-2- 542 01 82, mobile 32-(0)476-244.161
Friends of the Earth International, Juan Lopez, T. 32-2-542 01 87, mobile 32-(0)477-391.496
To view the US comments to the WTO on the proposed EU regulations, visit: www.foeeurope.org
[1] Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning traceability and labelling of GMOs and traceability and labelling of food and feed products produced from GMOs (COM(2001) 182) and Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on genetically modified food and feed (COM(2001) 425).
[2] The EU’s de facto moratorium was initiated by five Member States in 1999 – Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg – which demanded traceability and labelling regulations before any more GMOs are approved for release in the EU. Since then, three more Member States – Austria, Belgium and Germany – have adopted positions which support the moratorium.
[3] This initiative, first put forward by the Commission in July 2000, proposes that GMO approvals could start again if the biotech companies commit, under voluntary agreements, to adhere to the conditions of both the revised deliberate release directive (before it is officially in place) AND the future EU Regulations on Traceability/Labelling of GMOs and GM Food/Feed.
[4] Eurobarometer 55.2 of December 2001 “Europeans, science and technology”.
[5] Bolivian resolution on GMOs, and documents from the Argentinean Embassy and Mission and the Bolivian Mission.