- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

From combined dispatches

GENEVA — The World Trade Organization has ruled that the European Union broke international trade rules by stopping imports of genetically modified foods, officials said yesterday.

The preliminary judgment by a WTO panel concluded that the European Union had an effective ban on biotech foods for six years from 1998 without adequate scientific evidence, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is confidential.

While the ruling won’t open markets in Europe — where some governments are fighting EU-wide rules that the European Commission says will allow such crops — it may set a precedent for nations including China, India, Brazil, Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia. Those countries have rules stipulating strict consumer labeling and tracing of goods containing bioengineered ingredients.

The report sided with a legal complaint brought by the United States, Canada and Argentina over a European moratorium on approval of new biotech foods, the officials said. The panel ruled that individual bans in six of the 25 European Union member states — Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg — violated international trade rules.

The European Union and United States declined to comment as diplomats were still studying the details late yesterday. The ruling — said to be one of the most complex the commerce body has issued — is about 1,000 pages. It had been delayed several times.

The complainants said there is no scientific evidence for Europe’s actions and that the moratorium has been an unfair barrier to producers of biotech foods that want to export to the European Union.

An environmental group, Friends of the Earth, says the case undermines the right of governments to decide for themselves what is safe for their citizens, and pressures other countries — especially developing nations — to accept genetically modified foods against their will.

The European Union ended its moratorium in 2004 when it allowed onto the market a modified strain of sweet corn, grown mainly in the United States. The U.S. has said it will continue with its WTO case until it is convinced that all applications for approval are being decided on scientific rather than political grounds.

Desiree Fletcher-Hayes, a spokeswoman for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., said yesterday the company had not seen the decision. The Iowa company supplies seed and other grain products in nearly 70 countries.

“What this really is is good news for growers. It’s important to farmers who are looking to use these modern farm practices,” she said.

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