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WTO reiterates ruling against EU's de-facto GM moratorium

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled against an EU 'de-facto moratorium' on genetically modified (GM) seeds in a decision that the European Commission has described as obsolete - a new regulatory framework is currently being implemented.

Since the case was first taken...

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled against an EU 'de-facto moratorium' on genetically modified (GM) seeds in a decision that the European Commission has described as obsolete - a new regulatory framework is currently being implemented.

Since the case was first taken to the WTO by the US, Canada and Argentina in 2003, the EU has taken decisions on 10 GM product applications and is reviewing more than 30 others. 'The situation prevailing today in the EU is fundamentally different to the one considered by the panel,' said Peter Power, spokesperson for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. Speaking to the BBC, he added: 'This confirms that the EU system for GM approval authorisation has functioned in strict application of the law.'

The WTO ruling confirmed a preliminary verdict that was issued in February. At the time, US industry groups said that the de-facto moratorium had cost US exporters some USD 300 million per year since 1998.

Justifying the delay in reaching a decision on some products with the precautionary principle, the European Commission said in February: 'The EU approval process may appear to be lengthy for some countries which adopt a more lenient approach towards food and environmental safety issues. [...] The US appears to believe that GMOs that are considered to be safe in the US should be de facto deemed to be safe for the rest of the world.' The EU and its Member States will retain the right to enact their own regulations on the food that their citizens eat, a statement added.

The WTO did not address whether biotechnology products are safe, or whether they are in any way different to their conventional counterparts.

The ruling does however state that the EU should now comply with global trade rules, saying that the five-year de-facto moratorium 'resulted in a failure to complete individual approval procedures without undue delay'. The decision does not, however, bring into question the EU's right to carry out risk assessments before approving seeds.