WTO to bulldoze European bans on GMOs?

Press release - 28 July, 2005
The right of consumers to say 'no' to genetically modified (GM) food is under attack by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Greenpeace warned today.

Greenpeace activists mock the giant US biotech company Monsanto by driving a 'WTO' steamroller over a map of Europe made out of non-ge (genetically engineered) vegetables.

As trade leaders gathered for the General Council meeting at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva (1), 20 Greenpeace activists, imitating US biotech giant Monsanto, drove a 'WTO steamroller' over a map of Europe made out of non-GE food products. The activists were protesting against the Bush Administration for suing the European Union because it has restricted genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"The US wants the WTO to bulldoze GMO restrictions and to impose the biotech industry's corporate agenda onto the world in the name of free trade. Governments must stand up to this arrogant bullying, exercise our right to ban GMOs and to decide what we eat. They must not let Bush and the WTO to overrule public opinion, environmental concerns, national or international laws," said Daniel Mittler, trade policy advisor at Greenpeace International.

Consumers in Europe and around the world are rejecting GM-food (2), but the EU Commission responded to the WTO complaint by urging European countries to concede to WTO pressure and lift their national bans on GMOs. In a vote this June, however, EU member states stood firm when a clear majority voted in favour of keeping the existing national bans in place (3). The preliminary results of the WTO trade war on GMOs was expected to be shared secretly with the dispute parties on August 5th 2005, but delayed to October yesterday (4).

The US complaint does not only target the EU, it threatens restrictions on GMOs worldwide. Under the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (5), countries have the right to regulate and reject GMOs if they are seen as a threat to the environment or public health. By attacking the EU, the US is giving a clear signal to developing countries that it will use the WTO against them if they try to restrict GMOs.

Greenpeace thinks that the WTO is an inappropriate and incompetent body to deal with environmental issues such as GMOs. "The future of the food we eat must not be decided by a secretive WTO court made up of trade policy experts. Governments must take urgent action to restrict the power of the WTO so it cannot be used to threaten our environmental laws and human rights again," concluded Mittler.

Other contacts: Clement Tolusso, Press Officer, Greenpeace Switzerland, +41.792.134.106Daniel Mittler, Trade Policy Advisor, Greenpeace International, +49.171.876.5345Bruno Heinzer, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace Switzerland, +41.794.008.831

VVPR info: Photos/video availableGreenpeace International Photo Desk, John Novis, +31.653.819.121;Greenpeace International Video Desk, Michael Nagasaka, +31.646.166.309

Notes: Notes to Editors(1) The General Council is the highest decision making body of the WTO outside of Ministerials and is meeting from July 27th-29th 2005. Negotiators are trying to agree on a plan for global trade in the run up to the next WTO Ministerial meeting, scheduled to take place in Hong Kong from December 13th-18th 2005.(2) According to the Eurobarometer poll (55.2), 95% of EU consumers want the right to choose GM-free food, 86% want more information about GM food and 60% think that GM crops could have negative effects on the environment. The poll also indicates that over 70% of EU consumers reject GM food. For more information on consumer rejection see Greenpeace's European Markets Report at:http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/european-markets-report-2005#For other consumer reports please see:China: http://www.greenpeace.org.au/truefood/news2.html?mode=intl&newsid=225Canada: http://www.biotech-info.net/consumers_reject.htmlRussia: http://www.cee-foodindustry.com/productnews/news.asp?id=60290&k=russians-reject-gm(3) EU Council votes on safeguards and GM maize MON863 (Luxemburg 24 June 2005) http://europa.eu.int/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/05/793&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=enGreenpeace background briefing on EU National bans: http://eu.greenpeace.org/downloads/gmo/NationalBans0507.pdf(4) The interim report of the WTO panel was supposed to be shared with the US, Canada, Argentina and the EU, who are all parties of the dispute, on August 5 2005. However, the panel announced on July 28th, that due to the complexity of the issue, the case will be further delayed and the final result will not be issued until December. For further information please see Greenpeace briefing: "The US assault on Biosafety - The WTO dispute on GMOs" at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/the-us-assault-on-biosaftey(5) The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the first international agreement to deal with the transboundary shipment of GMOs. It gives countries the right to withhold imports of GMOs that they believe carry environmental or health risks. The Protocol came into force on 11 September 2003.Greenpeace is part of the international "Bite back" campaign, a global coalition of 725 organisations, representing over 55 million people, which demands that farmers and consumers, not the WTO, should decide what they farm and eat. See www.bite-back.org.

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