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Greens condemn WTO ruling on GE crops

8 February 2006

Greens condemn WTO ruling on GE crops

The preliminary decision of a World Trade Organisation dispute resolution panel regarding genetically engineered crops has been condemned by Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

"This ruling flies in the face of democracy, because it limits the ability of elected governments to set their own food safety, public health and environmental health measures. These should be decided by citizen-elected decision-makers, not the WTO," Ms Fitzsimons says.

The decision concerns a dispute between the US and the EU over the import of GE foods. Between 1998 and 2004, in response to demand from its citizens, the EU imposed a moratorium on the approval of GE food for import. The US claims this cost its producers $300 million per year. Canada and Argentina supported the US in the case it took to the WTO over the issue.

The preliminary ruling, which has not yet been released publicly, found in favour of the US. If it remains unchanged, it is likely to be used as a tool to limit the ability of democratically elected governments to set their own food safety standards.

"The implications of this ruling are huge. It will set a precedent which may see countries being prevented from taking a precautionary approach to setting environmental or health measures to limit imports when there is scientific uncertainty about the impact of the imported foods or other goods," Ms Fitzsimons says.

"Imagine if New Zealand could not impose biosecurity restrictions just because we did not yet have scientific evidence that an organism would prove harmful in our environment. What if the organism wiped out kiwis?

"What if New Zealand had not been able to restrict import of table grapes when several black widow spiders were found in bunches, even though it was uncertain whether black widows would be able to survive and reproduce in New Zealand? Should we have been forced to accept further imports?

"The US system for assessing safety of GE food has repeatedly been found to be inadequate, even by their own National Research Council. The rest of the world should not have to accept the low standards of the US when it comes to protecting its citizens and its environment from potential harm.

"This ruling may also lead the USA to challenge other countries' rights to require labelling of GE foods. This would mean consumers would have no ability to avoid GE foods imported into their countries.

"The Greens call on the government to support calls for an overhaul of the WTO rules. Uncertainty of health and environmental impacts should be a valid reason to restrict trade," Ms Fitzsimons says.


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