WTO ruling: GE chess game ends in stalemate

Feature story - 12 May, 2006
In a three-year game of international chess, the EU and US squared off at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in what was billed as a winner takes all game. At stake, consumer choice about what they put on their plate: the food they want to eat or the food genetic engineering companies want to sell. In the end, the game ended with no clear winner.

The US and EU are split over GE.

The US, with support from Canada and Argentina, wanted the EU to acceptits genetically engineered (GE) produce. The EU responded to itscitizens' wishes  and opted for a more precautionary approach toGE food. The WTO, while admitting that it could not decide whether GEfood is safe or not, still decided that it was the best judge of whatthe citizens of Europe should be eating.

"Allthis verdict proves is that the WTO is unqualified to deal with complexscientific and environmental issues, as it puts trade interests aboveall others. Its only effect has been to reinforce the determination ofEU countries to resist bullying by pro-genetic-engineering governmentsand to say no to GE crops and food," said Eric Gall, Greenpeace EUpolicy adviser.

Both the EU and US will attempt to spin theverdict in their favour in this case. In  reality, the finalruling by the WTO has given neither side in the dispute a clearvictory.

The pawns in this battle are the European farmers,consumers and even the EU member states that want to maintain theirright to determine whether or not they want GE crops to contaminatetheir fields and food.

As the chess game was being played therest of the world simply did what their citizens wanted. More and morecountries implemented bans on GE organisms. So far 12 bans on specificGE organisms are already in place in seven countries. Even as the WTOhanded down its ruling, Poland is forging ahead with plans to ban thetrade and growing of GE seed.

Poland is the second largestagricultural producer in the EU and their act of solidarity withfarmers and consumers across the EU and beyond sends a strong signalthat Poland and Europe have chosen the road of GE-free rather thancontamination by GE crops.

After three years, the wrangling atthe WTO is over for now. But the ruling won't silence the resistance toGE in Europe, and individual governments are likely to defy the WTO foras long as their people remain opposed to being force-fed products thatare unsafe for the environment.

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