CANCUN (MEXICO) / BRUSSELS (BELGIUM) – Stakes were raised today in the Europe-US trade dispute over genetically modified (GM) food and farming as a new alliance of civil society groups pledged to create an unprecedented mass citizen objection to the dispute .
The organisations involved , spanning more than 140 countries, aim at collecting objections from citizens from all 146 World Trade Organisation (WTO) member countries, as a challenge to the WTO’s secretive trade dispute mechanisms.
The civil society groups representing consumers, environmentalists, farmers, trade unionists and developing countries, launched their campaign on the day the United Nations Biosafety Protocol regulating GM food worldwide comes into force, September 11, 2003.
The new campaign launched today – ‘Bite Back: WTO hands off our food’ – invites the public to make their own legal submissions to the GM dispute in the form of a citizen’s objection , insisting that the WTO must respect people’s right to choose what they eat and allow them to protect their environment.
The WTO, currently holding its 5th Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, promotes its disputes mechanism as its “most individual contribution” to the stability of the global economy. However it is conducted in secrecy with no access to the general public. The ‘Bite Back’ campaign will directly challenge this and put the WTO inadequacies in dealing with food in the public spotlight.
If the WTO deems that the European Union (EU) is breaking trade rules it will allow the US to force Europe to approve more GM foods and crops – or face huge financial penalties.
The Biosafety Protocol is the first treaty that officially seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by GM organisms (GMOs). It will require all exporters of GMOs which are to be released into the environment to take measures to prevent contamination of GM seed products by implementing an ‘identity preservation’ system. It also allows countries to take a precautionary approach if faced with scientific uncertainty over the impacts on the environment.
Lianas Stupples of Friends of the Earth said:
“The US Administration, lobbied by the likes of biotech giant Monsanto, is using the undemocratic and secretive WTO to force feed the world genetically modified foods. The public should have the right to decide what they eat. Decisions about our food should not be made by the WTO or by Monsanto. It is clear that the WTO is neither fit nor independent enough to judge whether the public should eat GM foods or not.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
In Cancun: Liana Stupples, +52 9981204564
Alexandra Wandel +52 9981 20 45 86
or in Europe: Adrian Bebb, +49 160 949 01163
Juan Lopez, Biosafety Protocol expert, +32-2-542 01 87
NOTES TO EDITORS:
 After the US together with Canada and Argentina submitted a complaint to the WTO over the EU’s de facto moratorium on GMOs, the WTO established a panel on 29 August. The US and EU are now preparing their submissions. A verdict is expected for spring 2004.
 The campaign was launched by Friends of the Earth International with support of José Bové’s Confederation Paysanne, Vandana Shiva’s Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology, Lori Wallach’s Public Citizen, the trade union network Public Services International, the International Gender and Trade Network and more
 The citizen’s objection is a legal submission to the WTO. In general there is great resistance by WTO Members to intervention of non-members in their disputes.