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16th May 2022

WTO set to push EU down genetic crops path

All eyes are on the World Trade Organisation today (7 February) as it is supposed to rule on the EU's rules and practices on genetically modified products, in what could become a serious blow to the bloc's reluctance to allow biotech foods and crops.

The case was brought to the trade organisation (WTO) by Argentina, Canada and the US in 2003, with the three countries objecting to the EU's unofficial moratorium on genetic product (GMOs) approvals in 1998-2004.

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They argue the ban was not based on science and hurt their exports, adding that the union's rules on GMOs still do not work properly even though the moratorium has been lifted and several new biotech products have been authorised.

EU officials are not expecting a complete condemnation of the bloc's policy on modified food and crops, but do foresee criticism of national bans on specific products in some member states, which often cite lack of evidence as a reason for their boycotts.

Environmentalists maintain Brussels will come under even stronger WTO pressure to push GMO approvals, while some 70 percent of EU citizens oppose such moves.

Little evidence

Earlier this year, the European Commission ordered Greece to lift its ban on GMO maize seeds made by US biotech giant Monsanto, arguing Athens did not provide any proof for claims that the products damage human health.

Greek authorities are planning to take the case to the EU courts, but EU judges have previously ruled against a similar ban by the region of Upper Austria.

EU policy on GMOs is based on a 2001 law that provides for a case-by-case authorisation regime for the release of GMO products into the bloc's common market on the basis of a safety check by national authorities and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).

EU-wide debate

National governments' attempts to ban GMO products approved in Brussels have come about as a result of popular opposition to the biotech industry.

Last November, Swiss citizens supported a five-year moratorium on the farming of genetically modified plants and animals, paving the way for introduction of the toughest restrictions yet in Europe.

Austrian have authorities reacted by promising they would hold a pan-European debate about the future of GMOs across the continent during their presidency in the first half of 2006, with the meeting scheduled for 4 and 5 April.

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