Complexities of GM issue delay WTO decision

Related tags Gm European union Maize Genetically modified food

Stakeholders in the food chain, along with technocrats and
politicians in Brussels, must wait until October this year to get
the final word from the WTO on the GM complaint filed by the US,
Canada and Argentina, reports Lindsey Partos.

These three major GM crop producing countries set off to the world's trade arbiter two years ago, complaining that the EU's moratorium on approvals of genetically modified organisms was a barrier to trade.

Chairman of the GM dispute panel at the World Trade Organisation, Swiss trade diplomat Christian Haberli, recently told the parties that the panel's ruling, due by the end of June, was now being put off until the end of October.

Haberli cited the complexity of the case, the large amount of documentation submitted, as well as the decision to consult with scientific experts on technical issues raised as the reasons for the delay.

A de facto moratorium​ in place since 1998 saw Europe refusing to approve any new GM cops for entry into the food chain.

But since the US complaint was issued, Brussels has brought in tough new labelling legislation for GM ingredients: the labels alert consumers to any engineered foodstuffs used in a food recipe.

Through greater transparency for the consumer the new rules, seen by critics as Europe caving into pressure from the US, actually ushered in the possibility for new GM approvals and heralded an end to the moratorium.

But since their introduction, only two products have been cleared for import: a GM sweetcorn supplied by Swiss biotech firm Syngenta and Monsanto's MON810 biotech maize, engineered to be resistant to the European corn borer.

The lack of approvals, despite a host of applications, reflects the deep divisions in Europe over GM acceptance.

And while the biotech companies continue to push forward their applications for approval, there is little chance the European food industry will actually use the GM ingredients in their formulations.

By all accounts, the business savvy food maker, who cannot afford to lose sales, will opt to skip the use of GM ingredients in their European food formulations: knowing, as they do, that the cynical European consumer will refuse to buy any GM food product.

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