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Corn+Soybean Digest

U.S. and Cooperating Countries File WTO Case Against EU Biotech Moratorium

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman today announced the United States, Argentina, Canada and Egypt will file a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against the European Union (EU) over its illegal five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products. Other countries expressing support for this case by joining it as third parties include: Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay.

"The EU's moratorium violates WTO rules. People around the world have been eating biotech food for years. Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population, offers tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition and protects the environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use," said Zoellick. "We've waited patiently for five years for the EU to follow the WTO rules and the recommendations of the European Commission, so as to respect safety findings based on careful science. The EU's persistent resistance to abiding by its WTO obligations has perpetuated a trade barrier unwarranted by the EC's own scientific analysis, which impedes the global use of a technology that could be of great benefit to farmers and consumers around the world."

Veneman said, "With this case, 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 WTO obligations. Biotechnology is helping farmers increase yields, lower pesticide use, improve soil conservation and water pollution and help reduce hunger and poverty around the world.

The WTO agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) recognizes that countries are entitled to regulate crops and food products to protect health and the environment. The WTO SPS agreement requires, however, that members have "sufficient scientific evidence" for such measures, and that they operate their approval procedures without "undue delay." Otherwise, there is a risk countries may without justification use such regulations to thwart trade in safe, wholesome, and nutritious products.

Before 1999, the EU approved nine agriculture biotech products for planting or import. It then suspended consideration of all new applications for approval, and has offered no scientific evidence for this moratorium on new approvals. As EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said almost three years ago (July 13, 2000): "We have already waited too long to act. The moratorium is illegal and not justified...the value of biotechnology is poorly appreciated in Europe."

Agricultural biotechnology is a continuation of the long tradition of agricultural innovation that has provided the basis for rising prosperity for the past millennium. Humankind has historically progressed in boosting agricultural productivity, quality and choices by harnessing science to develop new forms of crops.

More than 145 million acres (58 million hectares) of biotech crops were grown in the world in 2002. Worldwide, about 45% of soy, 11% of corn, 20% of cotton and 11% of rapeseed are biotech crops. In the United States, 75% of soy, 34% of corn and 71% of cotton are biotech crops.

Numerous organizations, researchers and scientists have determined that biotech foods pose no threat to humans or the environment. Examples include the French Academy of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the French Academy of Sciences, the 3,200 scientists who cosponsored a declaration on biotech foods and numerous scientific studies including a joint study conducted by the seven national academies of science (the National Academies of Science of the United States, Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, plus the Royal Society of London and the Third World Academy of Sciences).

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