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EU crop biotechnology moratorium ruled illegal

Agriculture.com Staff 10/12/2006 @ 7:50am

The World Trade Organization recently ruled that a European Union moratorium on approvals of agricultural biotechnology products is illegal, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative says.

The ruling in favor of "science-based policymaking over unjustified, anti-biotech policies" brings the United States "one step closer to clearing barriers...and expanding global use of promising advances in food production," according to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, the top U.S. trade negotiator.

"I urge the EU to fully comply with its WTO obligations and consider all outstanding biotech product applications and evaluate their scientific merits in accordance with the EU's own laws," Schwab said.

The decision upholds a challenge brought to the WTO in 2003 by the United States, Canada and Argentina. The three countries said the moratorium on biotech application approvals, adopted in 1998, did not comply with WTO trade rules.

The WTO says its members' crop and food product safety regulations must be based on scientific evidence and not be used to interfere with the trade of safe products.

Following the moratorium challenge, the EU approved "a handful" of biotech product applications but the broad ban remained in effect.

A dispute-settlement panel formed after the challenge was submitted sought evidence and opinions from independent and WTO experts on the science-based merits of biotech products.

Many scientists have determined that foods produced using biotechnology procedures pose no threat to people or the environment, according to USTR late last month.

In addition, the release states that biotechnology "has delivered" on promises to increase agricultural yields and enhance food security for the world's growing population, reduce pesticide use, improve nutrition and disease prevention, and increase the incomes of farmers.

The dispute -- the longest-lasting case in WTO history -- also challenged product bans imposed by EU members Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg on products the EU had approved before the moratorium.

In each instance, the panel determined that the bans "were not supported by scientific evidence" and were inconsistent with WTO rules, according to the release.

Despite the moratorium, there is "considerable support for agricultural biotechnology within Europe," USTR said.

Worldwide use of biotech crops has continued to increase with an estimated 90 million hectares planted in 2005, more than one-third in the developing world, USTR said.

Leading producers of biotech crops include the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China.

Biotech crops are grown also in Australia, Colombia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Honduras, India, Iran, Mexico, Paraguay, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Uruguay.

Both sides in the dispute have 60 days to decide whether to appeal any part of the ruling.

The World Trade Organization recently ruled that a European Union moratorium on approvals of agricultural biotechnology products is illegal, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative says.

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