'Leaked' WTO report stirs GM food controversy

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wto Genetically modified organism Genetic engineering

A pressure group has alleged that a leaked confidential WTO ruling
on the recent GM food trade dispute shows that many pro-GM
arguments were lost.

UK-based environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) claims that the 1,000-page report, distributed earlier this month only to the countries involved in the dispute, reveals that despite claims to the latter, the US, Canada and Argentina in fact failed to win most of their arguments.

But biotech industry body EuropaBio has slammed the pressure group for spreading "mischievous nonsense" and trying to frighten people.

"What I sense is that Friends of the Earth and others are making statements about the WTO suggesting that it is forcing people to have things they don't want, when this is not the case at all,"​ Simon Barber, director of the plant biotech unit (PBU) of EuropaBio, told FoodNavigator.

"Argentina, Canada and the US were concerned that the full democratic process was not being used properly. People are not being forced to have things they do not want."

FoE however insists that the alleged leaked report, which Barber says he has not read, is the report that the biotech industry didnt want the public to see.

"It reveals that the big corporations that stand behind the WTO failed to get the big win they were hoping for,"​ said FoE Europe GMO campaigner Adrian Bebb.

"Free trade proponents needed a clear victory in this dispute to be able to push governments in the EU and the developing world to accept genetically modified food."

The WTO ruled last month that any European ban on GM imports contravened the rules of free trade. But according to FoE, the WTO did not rule on two of the most important questions before it, namely whether GM foods are effectively the same as non-GM foods, and if they are safe.

The FoE also claims that the WTO dismissed eight other complaints in relation to the moratorium, and did not recommend any further action, since the moratorium ended in 2004.

But Barber claims that FoE is purposefully mixing up the argument.

"It was the industry's view that the regulatory process was not being properly implemented, and that some Member States were following illegal bans.

"Environmental protection has never come into this discussion. The only thing being challenged was the trade rules."

In any case, FoE argues that the WTO is not and should not be the appropriate body to deal with conflicts between trade rules and environmental protection.

The pressure group has now launched an online action today calling on the governments to reject the WTO as a forum to decide on what it calls "environmental trade disputes".

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