FoE warns about impending GM trade war

Related tags Gm Gm foods European union

The US has complained to the World Trade Organisation about the
recent decision in the EU to tighten the labelling restrictions for
GM products, increasing the likelihood of a new trade war between
the two blocs, warns Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has warned that a trade war could be looming between the US and the EU over the labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and has condemned US attempts to force Europe to accept such products.

The EU recently voted to tighten even further its regulations on the labelling of GM products, and has rejected complaints from the US - where GM foods are much more widespread - that the restrictions were illegal under international law, that they will restrict trade and be costly to US business.

In a statement released yesterday, FoE said it had obtained European Commission documents responding to complaints made to the World Trade Organisation by the US and several other countries. In these documents, the European Commission defends its proposals and says it will push forward with plans to trace and label GM foods and animal feeds.

The proposals are due to be agreed by the Council of Agricultural Ministers on 14-16 October and the Council of Environment Ministers on 17 October in Luxembourg.

According to FoE, the US complained that establishing a tougher labelling and traceability regime for GM foods in Europe would be "more trade restrictive than necessary"​, and should not include animal feeds (even though, FoE point out, most GM crops are fed to farm animals).

The US was also upset that EU Member States had the final say on the approval of new GM food and crops, rather than scientists. This would, it argues, leave "substantial room for political interference"​ and "individual Member States will continue to be able to hold the approval process hostage to political concerns"​.

According to the papers obtained by FoE, the Commission rejected all these claims, stating that "since there is solid, cumulatively very strong evidence that European consumers are interested to know whether their food is derived from genetically modified organisms, it is totally justified for labelling to provide them with this information as well".

The Commission has also rejected calls for a controversial GM-Free label - a proposal supported by the UK government and the biotech industry. The Commission said this would confuse people, and that consumers wanted to know what was in their food - not what was absent.

Not surprisingly, FoE is concerned about the prospects of a trade war between the US and Europe, and more specifically that the US point of view might eventually prevail.

"The United States administration wants to remove the right of European consumers to say no to GM food,"​ said Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Europe. "If it succeeds in preventing GM food from being labelled it will become almost impossible to avoid it. The European Commission has rightly rejected US complaints. Ministers must now go further by tightening GM labelling rules when they meet in Luxembourg later this month. Consumers must come before the biotech interests of the United States government."

Strong words, and ones which ministers will no doubt take on board before deciding whether to approve the legislation later this month. If approval is forthcoming, as it almost certainly will be, the likelihood of WTO intervention will become even greater - and that will ultimately be in no-one's interest.

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