European Union Moratorium on Biotech Foods
"Biotechnology crops not only are helping to meet
the world’s food needs, they also are having a positive environmental impact
on our soil and water resources. Farmers who grow biotechnology crops in 21
countries around the world, including 5 in the EU, stand to benefit from
— Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, September 2006
On September 29, 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO)
released a final decision in favor of the United States, Argentina, and
Canada in their WTO case against the European Union (EU) over its illegal
moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products and unjustified EU
member-state bans of previously approved products. In a
joint statement released by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and U.S.
Trade Representative Susan Schwab, Secretary Johanns stated, "Today's decision
affirms what the world's farmers have known about biotechnology for many years.
Since the first biotechnology crops were commercialized in 1996, we've seen
double-digit increases in their adoption every single year."
The final decision
preliminary decision announced in
The United States, joined by Argentina and Canada, filed
a WTO dispute in August 2003 against the
European Union (EU) over its illegal moratorium on approving
agricultural biotech products adopted in October 1998. Other countries expressing support for this case
included: Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand,
Peru, and Uruguay.
Since the late 1990's, the EU has pursued
policies that undermine agricultural biotechnology and trade in biotech foods.
First, six member states (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and
Luxemburg) banned modified crops approved by the EU, and the Commission refused
to challenge the illegal bans. In 1998, member states began blocking all new
biotech applications. This approval moratorium has caused a growing portion of
U.S. agricultural exports to be excluded from EU markets and has unfairly cast
concerns about biotech products around the world, particularly in developing
The EU moratorium was based on political
concerns, and was not grounded on any health or safety risks related to
biotechnology. To the contrary, there is no internationally recognized science
that demonstrates any safety issues associated with the use and/or consumption
of approved biotech products. Under WTO rules, when WTO members establish
approval processes, they take on obligations to operate those approval processes
in a manner that is based on science and not subject to unnecessary delays.
The United States believes that the EU adoption
of a biotech moratorium unwarranted by valid scientific concerns is plainly
inconsistent with these fundamental WTO obligations.
For years, the United States refrained from
bringing a WTO case, because the EU continually assured us that the moratorium
would soon be lifted. But the EU was not able to overcome its internal political
pressures and lift the moratorium.
Finally, in August 2003, the United States—joined by Argentina and Canada—challenged
in the WTO the EU’s moratorium on approving biotech varieties for sale or use in
the EU. The United States and our partners took the case to ask that our farm
products are given a fair, rules-based scientific review.
The WTO case alleged that the EU’s
moratorium violates WTO rules by blocking U.S. exports without a valid
scientific basis and imposes undue delay on approvals.
The United States believes it has
shown that the EU’s moratorium is based on political expediency, rather than on
health or safety concerns. Indeed, the EU’s own scientific authorities
consistently find biotech varieties to be safe. According to the EU’s regulatory
process, these varieties should have been approved for sale and use in the EU,
but the EU has failed to approve them.
The first step in the WTO dispute was to request and
WTO procedures are designed to
encourage parties to resolve their differences. Dispute
settlement procedures, including appeal, typically take a total of 18 months.
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