WASHINGTON, D.C. May 14, 2003 -- CropChoice news: The Bush
administration filed suit today at the World Trade Organization
to force Europe to lift its ban on genetically modified
food, a move that was postponed earlier this year by
the debate on Iraq.
The administration was backed by the speaker of the
House, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, and other senior
Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have been promoting
the lawsuit for months. American farmers have led the
complaints, saying they have invested in the technology
needed to raise genetically modified crops only to see
one of the biggest markets — Europe — closed
to their products.
Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative,
said the administration had run out of patience waiting
for the European Union to lift what he called a five-year-old
moratorium that blocked several hundred million dollars
of American exports into Europe. Worse, he said, European
attitudes were spreading unfounded fears in the developing
world, where the need is greatest for the increased
yield of genetically modified crops.
"In developing countries, these crops can spell
the difference between life and death," he said.
"The human cost of rejecting this new technology
Mr. Hastert estimated that American farmers lost $300
million in corn exports each year because of the European
policy toward genetically modified food and animal feed.
"There's no question in my mind that the European
Union's protectionist, discriminatory trade policies
are costing American agriculture and our nation's economy
hundreds of millions of dollars each and every year,"
Mr. Hastert said.
But European officials said today that they were dumbfounded
by the suit. They said there was no moratorium on genetically
"The U.S. claims that there is a so-called moratorium,
but the fact is that the E.U. has authorized G.M. varieties
in the past and is currently processing applications,"
said Pascal Lamy, the top European trade official. "So
what is the real U.S. motive in bringing a case?"
In practice, the Europeans did have an informal moratorium
on new varieties of genetically modified food from 1998
until last year, when the E.U. instituted a new regulatory
system that has approved two applications, with others
At the center of the debate over genetically modified
crops, if not the suit filed today, is a growing disagreement
between the United States and Europe over what steps
are necessary to protect public health and the environment.
European consumers are far more wary of genetically
modified food than are Americans, and many object to
what they consider aggressive American promotion of
those foods, influenced by agribusiness.
The European Union is demanding that genetically modified
food be labeled as such. They also want to be able to
trace the origins of the food's ingredients and are
near completion of new legislation to require both.
The United States opposes such labels and tracing mechanisms,
saying they are too costly and impractical.
Margot Wallstrom, the European environmental commissioner,
said the European legislature would complete its measure
to require labeling and methods for tracing food and
animal feed that is genetically modified.
"This U.S. move is unhelpful," she said.
"It can only make an already difficult debate in
Europe more difficult."
The United States agriculture secretary, Ann M. Veneman,
said today that the case was aimed atprotecting American
farmers and ranchers.
"With this case," she said, "we are
fighting for the interests of American agriculture.
This case is about playing by the rules negotiated in
good faith. The European Union has failed to comply
with its W.T.O. obligations."
European officials lashed back at the administration
today, refusing to be blamed for blocking genetically
modified food aid and reminding the United States that
it had refused to join 100 other countries and sign
the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. That agreement
sets out rules for exporters and importers of genetically
modified crops to provide the proper information about
the food and feed.
The United States was joined by Argentina, Canada and
Egypt. Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras,
Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay expressed support
as third parties without direct commercial interest.
Many of these countries are in negotiations with the
United States for a free trade agreement.
Nonprofit groups opposed to the W.T.O.'s influence
said the case showed how globalization undermined local
and national governments.
"The people eating the food or living in the environment
that could be affected must decide domestic policy,
not some secretive W.T.O. tribunal of three trade experts,"
said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global
But several African farmers and scientists at a news
conference here joined Mr. Zoellick and Ms. Veneman
in praising the American action.
"We believe it is better to give a person food
to eat today than wait 10 years to be sure it is safe,"
said Darin Makinde, dean of the school of agriculture
at the University of Venda in South Africa.
"Two elephants are fighting — the United
States and Europe — and it is Africa that is suffering,"