WTO - "Straitjacket" on Right to Say No to GMOs

Press release - 21 July, 2003

Greenpeace volunteers dressed as Uncle Sam dump GE maize on other volunteers representing consumers in straitjackets, suffocating their demand for the right to say no GE food.

Greenpeace activists today replaced the insignia at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) headquarters in Geneva with a new sign, "World Transgenic Order", denouncing the WTO for promoting corporate interests of the genetic engineering (GE) industry.

The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the WTO was expected to discuss the complaint by the US against the European Union's de facto moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). (1)

Greenpeace activists dressed as Uncle Sam shoved other activists representing consumers into straitjackets, suffocating their demand for the right to say no to GE food by dumping GE maize on them.

"The WTO is once again about to operate on behalf of corporate interests assisting the US and its GE industry in force-feeding consumers with unwanted GE food by fighting legitimate regulations with trade sanctions. For an organisation already suffering from a lack of public legitimacy this is likely to be another major mistake," said Bruno Heinzer, Greenpeace GE Campaigner in Switzerland.

This trade dispute highlights the inherent bias within the WTO towards favouring narrow corporate interests, like the GE industry's aggressive pursuit of global markets, at the expense of the broad public interest and international agreements.

The US launched its challenge at the WTO on May 13th prior to the 50th ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which is widely believed to be the ultimate target for its action. With this UN Protocol, the majority of countries now commit to the Precautionary Principle, on the basis of which countries have sovereign right to regulate and if necessary reject genetically modified organisms (GMO) as they may pose a threat to the environment and to public health.

"The internationally endorsed Precautionary Principle must not be over-ruled at the expense of promoting corporate interest and survival of the GE industry, in serious trouble because of the spreading market rejection of GE products. It is vital that the world governments secure their ability to adopt restrictions on GMOs, including introduction of bans, labelling systems and measures to eliminate genetic contamination," concluded Heinzer.

"The WTO must not be allowed to impose its own world order and undermine key UN agreements, and national and international environmental policies and laws," said Zeina al Hajj, Greenpeace International Trade Campaigner.

Greenpeace believes that the WTO is an inappropriate and incompetent body to deal with environmental issues such as GMOs with major impact on the environment and public health.

VVPR info: Photos available from Greenpeace International Photo Desk, John Novis, Mob: +31653819121; Video available from Clement Tolusso, Greenpeace Switzerland, Mob +41 792134106

Notes: (1) The US filed the complaint on May 13th. After the 60 days of consultation period between the US and the EU, the US is expected to take the case to the monthly meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body. The agenda of the July 21 meeting available from the WTO site at: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/dispu_e.htm#news(2) The US complaint is supported by Argentina and Canada who are engaged in consultation with the EU and filed own complaints against the EU. Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, India, Peru and New Zealand are third parties to the complaints. Egypt withdrew its earlier support, "in conscious emulation of the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection, and with the desire to reduce further distortions and impediments to international trade that may result due to the further pursuit of this matter within the WTO", stated in a letter of the Ambassador of the permanent mission of Egypt to the EU in Brussels, Souleiman Awad, to Mr. Jim Murray, Director, European Consumers Organisation, Brussels, Belgium. (3) The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the first legally binding global agreement dealing with GMOs. Palua became the 50th country to ratify on June 13, 2003. The Protocol will come into effect on September 11, 2003. Visit web site \{ HYPERLINK http://www.greenpeace.org \}www.greenpeace.org for more information on WTO and Greenpeace.