Global coalition submits anti-GMO case to WTO

Campaign groups say trade body must not be stooge for biotech

Press release - 27 May, 2004
A coalition of 15 environmental, nature and rural organisations from Europe, Asia and the Americas today submitted evidence to a World Trade Organisation dispute panel currently considering a US-led complaint against the European Union.

The Bush administration wants the WTO to force the EU to accept GM food. The WTO will next week hold the first oral hearings in the case.

The 15 groups - the 'Amicus Coalition' - have filed a so-called amicus curiae brief that accuses the US of trying to scare developing countries into adopting the controversial technology. The Coalition believes that the WTO does not have the legitimacy to decide what Europeans should eat. Neither should it enact decisions that interfere with environmental laws enshrined in mutlilateral environmental agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. To do so would subordinate consumer rights and environmental safety to narrow trade rules. The trade body should reject the challenge, the Coalition argues, because it risks undermining a country's ability to set its own standards for GM crops and foods. The Coalition's submission states that:

- GM crops are being developed by corporations primarily to meet the needs of large farmers in the developed world;

- intellectual property rights and monopoly control of seeds by multinationals mean that poor farmers in developing countries are unlikely to benefit from GM crops;

- herbicide use may increase as a result of GM crops and GM yields are variable;

- Argentina is suffering harmful social, environmental and health effects from the introduction of GM crops, especially soya.

The Amicus Coalition also demonstrates that in spite of claims made that the safety of GM crops and foods is 'proven', risks to the environment are serious and may be irreversible. The brief underlines that:

- increased use of chemical weedkillers may damage wildlife;

- contamination of non-GM crops and related wild species may arise;

- there has been no monitoring of GM crops for adverse effects;

If the European Union loses the case, it will have to pay compensation and/or face trade sanctions. Greenpeace fears that this outcome could also discourage other countries from implementing appropriate measures to protect the environment from GMOs and effectively force them to accept GM foods and crops.

Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said: "It's not the job of the WTO to promote GMOs on behalf of the Bush administration and the biotech industry. Neither is it the job of a trade body to rule on environmental and health standards. This isn't about free trade, it's about forced trade, and more specifically about the US trying to force smaller countries to accept GM crops whether they like it or not. Our submission to the panel highlights the known and potential problems posed by GM crops. We're telling the WTO that the US complaint is designed to scare countries around the world into toeing the line."

The US, Canada and Argentina argue that the European Union has violated WTO agreements by not authorising any new GMOs since 1998. As the largest producers of GM crops they have the most to lose from restrictions on trade in GM technology.

Notes: 1. An amicus curiae brief is information supplied as a 'friend of the court'. The full brief and background information is available on A three person Panel of trade experts has been appointed to adjudicate the three disputes as a single panel (the 'WTO GM dispute'). The parties will have filed their submissions by the end of May 2004, and the first oral hearing is expected in early June. A decision is expected in the latter part of 2004, which may be followed by an appeal on points of law to the Appellate Body of the WTO.3. Members of the WTO GMO amicus coalition:GeneWatch UK ; Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD - UK); Five Year Freeze (UK); Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, UK); The Center for Food Safety (USA); Council of Canadians; Polaris Institute (Canada); Grupo de Reflexión Rural Argentina; Center for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA - Argentina); Gene Campaign (India); Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (India); Fundación Sociedades Sustentables (Chile); Greenpeace International; Californians for GE- Free Agriculture; International Forum on Globalisation