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GM food dispute intensifies

( 2003-08-10 16:20) (eastday.com)

The Bush administration has requested formation of a World Trade Organization dispute panel as the United States pressed ahead with a case against the European Union over genetically modified food.

The formal request for a WTO hearing panel had been expected after the United States and its partners in the dispute - Canada and Argentina - had been unable in June to narrow their differences with the EU over a European moratorium on importation of genetically modified crops.

Us trade Representative Robert Zoellick said on Thursday the administration had no choice but to proceed with a WTO case in an effort to force the 15-nation EU to accept genetically modified crops produced in the United States and other countries.

"This trade barrier harms farmers and consumers around the world by denying them the benefits of productive, nutritious and environmentally friendly biotech products," Zoellick said.

The eu imposed the moratorium because of concerns about food safety, which the United States contends are not supported by various scientific studies showing that genetically modified food poses no risks to humans.

"This is a good day for America's farmers," said Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, in reaction to the Bush administration's announcement. "The lifting of the EU's unscientific moratorium would help reduce unwarranted concerns about biotech in the developing world."

The eu recently moved to implement a system that would allow consumers to buy genetically modified food that had been clearly labeled. However, US farm groups object that the labeling will be cumbersome to implement and is not needed since the food is safe.

Biotech crops, including corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist insects or disease, have been widely grown in the United States for years. US farmers say the EU moratorium has cost them US$300 million in lost sales annually of bioengineered corn.

The united States first gave notice that it planned to bring a WTO case against the EU in May. But under WTO rules, any country filing a trade complaint must first engage in informal consultations before making a request for a WTO panel to hear the dispute. The request for formation of a panel triggers a process in which both sides will file briefs and hold oral arguments before the WTO panel rules on the issue.

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