U.S. wins one in WTO ruling against EU on biotech products

The World Trade Organization has ruled in favor of the United States, Argentina, and Canada in a WTO case against the European Union over its moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products and state bans of previously approved products.

“Today's decision affirms what the world's farmers have known about biotechnology for many years,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

“Since the first biotechnology crops were commercialized in 1996, we've seen double-digit increases in their adoption every single year. Biotechnology crops not only are helping to meet the world's food needs, they also are having a positive environmental impact on our soil and water resources. Farmers who grow biotechnology crops in 21 countries around the world, including five in the EU, stand to benefit from the decision.”

The United States brought a WTO challenge in May 2003, after five years of delays by the EU in complying with WTO rules. “We are a step closer to clearing barriers faced by U.S. agricultural producers and expanding global use of promising advances in food production,” said Susan Schwab, U.S. trade representative.

“I urge the EU to fully comply with its WTO obligations, and consider all outstanding biotech product applications, and evaluate their scientific merits in accordance with the EU's own laws, without undue delay.”

The WTO case also challenged product bans imposed by Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg on seven biotech crops approved by the EU prior to the adoption of the moratorium.

In each case, the panel upheld the United States' claims that in light of positive safety assessments issued by the EU's own scientists, the state bans were not supported by scientific evidence and were thus inconsistent with WTO rules.

Although the EU approved a handful of biotech applications following the initiation of the case in 2003, the EU has yet to lift the moratorium in its entirety. Some biotech product applications have been pending for 10 years or more, and applications for many commercially important products continue to face what the United States asserts are politically motivated delays.

USDA also pointed out that numerous organizations, researchers and scientists, including the French Academy of Sciences, have determined that biotech foods pose no threat to humans or the environment.

About 222 million acres were planted to biotech crops in 2005, up from 200 million acres in 2004. Of this, over one-third were in developing countries. Biotech crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers in 2005.

Leading producers of biotech crops include the United States, with approximately 123 million acres under cultivation in 2005; Argentina, 42 million acres; Brazil, 23 million acres; Canada, 14 million acres; and China, 8 million acres.

Other countries growing biotech crops include India, Iran, the Philippines, Australia, South Africa, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany.

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