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EU snubs US call to change rules on gene-engineered seeds

Two months ago, World Trade Organization judges reaffirmed preliminary decisions finding the EU's ban on new biotech seeds, in place from 1999 to 2004, was illegal.

The European Union rebuffed US demands for changes to rules on the import of genetically modified seeds, saying its current laws don't block shipments from companies such as Monsanto Co., DuPont Co. and Syngenta AG. Two months ago, World Trade Organization judges reaffirmed preliminary decisions finding the EU's ban on new biotech seeds, in place from 1999 to 2004, was illegal. The EU said it won't appeal that ruling because judges didn't challenge the bloc's current food approvals system and the 10 new products licensed since 2003 prove the ban is no longer in place.

„Most of the findings of the panel have become theoretical,” Raimund Raith, the EU's legal counsel in Geneva, told a meeting of WTO ambassadors. The EU's approvals process „has been functioning normally” with 30 products in the pipeline for marketing authorization, he said. The US yesterday pressed the 25-nation bloc to change its laws, saying the EU „has yet to lift the moratorium in its entirety” because some governments, including Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Italy, still block new seeds. The EU ban cost American exporters $300 million (€ 233.9 million)a year in the $5.5 billion (€ 4.3 million) global biotech market, US industry groups have said.

The US may eventually ask the WTO to examine whether current EU laws comply with the ruling. The US „recognizes that despite the moratorium” and the national bans, „there is considerable support for agricultural biotechnology” in the EU, said Peter Allgeier, US ambassador to the WTO. „Applications for many commercially important products continue to face unjustified, politically motivated delays.” (Bloomberg)