Bridges Trade BioResVolume 4Number 16 • 10th September 2004

GMO UPDATE: US-EU BIOTECH DISPUTE; EU REGULATIONS; THAILAND


GMO UPDATE: US-EU BIOTECH DISPUTE; EU REGULATIONS; THAILAND

Biotech Case: Scientists to be heard, final decision postponed

On 26 August, the WTO panel assessing the complaint brought by the US, Argentina and Canada against the EC’s de facto moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) announced it would seek expert advice on technical and scientific issues raised in the dispute. Shortly before this, the panel had postponed the timing of its final report from September 2004 to March 2005.

The decision to set up an expert panel was seen by trade commentators as a victory for the EC, which had requested such a panel to be established. The EC’s defence has focused on the scientific uncertainty surrounding GMOs, and possible risks to human health and the environment (see BRIDGES Trade BioRes, 11 June 2004). The US, on the other hand, has stressed that GMOs pose no additional risks as compared to traditional crops, and has argued that appointing scientists and technical experts to provide testimony is unnecessary because the crux of the matter — the fact that the EC refuses to apply its own approval mechanisms for biotech products — is not a scientific issue. According to sources, a first scientific hearing will take place in November. Some observers have expressed concern that the scientific hearings could result in further delays, mirroring an earlier case against the EC involving a ban on imports of beef raised with growth hormones (see BRIDGES Weekly, 13 November 2003).

For further information, submissions and amicus curiae briefs, see Trade-environment.org.

Commission postpones decision on GM seed rules, approves GM maize

At their 8 September meeting, the European Commission postponed a decision on a new draft directive for GM seeds, which would have set a labelling threshold of 0.3 percent below which seeds would not need to be labelled as containing GMOs. According to Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen, the Commission felt that more information was needed on the “economic impact” of the 0.3 percent threshold, which industry groups claim would be costly to implement. Environmental groups welcomed the delay, reiterating their calls for a 0.1 percent threshold, which is already applied in Denmark’s biotech legislation.

Also at the meeting, the Commission decided to add 17 varieties derived from Monsanto’s MON 810 maize in the Common EU Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Plant Species, thereby clearing the way for the varieties to be planted across Europe. The parent variety of the insect-protected maize had already been approved in 1998, but had so far only been listed in Spain’s and France’s national catalogues, allowing only farmers in those countries to access the seed. In addition, the Commission has for the third time asked Ministers to decide on the approval of a GMO — Monsanto’s Roundup Ready oilseed rape. The European Food Safety Authority had judged the GM variety to be as safe as conventional oilseed rape, but concerns have been raised by the UK Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment over adverse effects on arable weed populations resulting from herbicide management (see BRIDGES Trade BioRes, 22 January 2004).

Thailand extends GMO ban

Thailand’s cabinet has overturned a decision by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to lift a three-year ban on GMOs, deciding instead to keep the ban in place until national biosafety regulations had been developed. According to Science Minister Korn Dabbaransi, the cabinet plans to set up a panel to hear the pros and cons of biotechnology. “We will have academics from all universities to hear their view on three options - 1) to promote GMOs [genetically modified organisms] freely in Thailand, 2) to allow the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, or 3) to ban GMOs completely,” Korn said. Following an earlier announcement by the Prime Minister on 20 August that the ban would be lifted, opponents to the introduction of GMOs in Thailand had raised concerns, stating that allowing GMOs into the Thai market could further impoverish farmers because of the high prices demanded by large GMO multinationals. They also warned that the modified genes would contaminate the natural environment, and cautioned about possible unknown effects of GM products, such as the production of new allergens or toxins. Other opponents argued that Thailand had crumbled under the pressure of pending free trade talks with the US, thus putting GMOs on the bargaining table — a charge strongly denied by Thaksin.

ICTSD reporting; “GM trade war outcome delayed,” FOE, 26 August 2004; “WTO ruling delayed in transatlantic row over GMOs,” REUTERS, 26 August 2004; “Inscription of MON 810 GM maize varieties in the Common EU Catalogue of Varieties,” EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 8 September 2004; “Europe rejects looser labels for genetically altered foods,” NYT, 8 September 2004; “Thais lift ban on GMO planting, to regulate trials,” REUTERS, 21 August 2004; “Asia heads toward use of GMO foods despite activist protests,” AFP, 27 August 2004; “POLICY REVERSAL/ Green light for GMOs,” THE NATION, 24 August 2004; “Thai Cabinet Overturns GMO Approval,” AFP, 27 August 2004.