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International Coalition Intervenes in WTO Dispute Over Genetic Foods

May 27, 2004

In defense of the European Union’s de facto moratorium on the approval of genetically engineered foods and crops, a coalition of 15 leading public interest groups (see below for names) from around the world today filed a detailed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the World Trade Organization (WTO).1 The Amicus Coalition, which includes public interest, environmental and legal organizations, believes that the WTO should reject a challenge from the U.S., Canada and Argentina because it undermines the capacity of a country to decide how it wants to manage genetically engineered crops and foods.

The U.S., Canada and Argentina have challenged the EU over its stance against the approval of genetically engineered foods and crops, arguing that the EU is in violation of WTO agreements. These countries are the largest producers of genetically engineered crops and have the most to lose from restrictions on trade in these foods and crops.2 Next week, the WTO will hold the first oral hearing in the case.

“There is clear evidence of the negative effects of genetically engineered crops on the environment,” said Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., “and there is very little evidence of their safety for human consumption. Given what we do and don’t know about these foods, every country should have the inalienable right to do what it feels is necessary to protect its citizens and environment.”

The Amicus Coalition maintains that if the EU loses the case, the consequences would be severe:

  • The EU will have to pay compensation to he United States, Canada and Argentina and/or face trade sanctions;
  • The EU and other countries might feel constrained in their ability to protect public health and the environment from genetically engineered products and effectively be forced to accept gene-altered foods and crops; and
  • The WTO will be seen as the enforcer of the interests of global corporations at the expense of people and the environment.

“The science of GM crops and foods is very uncertain,” said Dr. Sue Mayer, of GeneWatch UK, a member of the Amicus Coalition. “The potential for serious and irreversible risks to the environment and human health remains. We believe countries should be able to decide their own level of protection from the risks of GM crops and food, free from bullying by the GM exporting countries. The WTO must not let itself be used as the stooge of the biotech industry when it considers this case.”

“People in Europe, like in many other parts of the world, want a cautious approach to genetically modified crops and food,” said Carrie Stebbings, Coordinator of the Five Year Freeze and a member of the Amicus Coalition. “They also want choice. Europe has been revising its regulations and undertaking scientific research to inform its decisions.”

View amicus curiae brief
View amicus curiae brief summary
View WTO dispute background

Notes to editors:

1. An amicus curiae brief is information supplied as a “friend of the court.” The full brief and background information is available in advance to journalists on Ongoing information is available on

2. A three person panel of trade experts has been appointed to adjudicate the three disputes as a single panel (the “WTO GM dispute”).  The parties will have filed their submissions by the end of May 2004, and the first oral hearing is expected in early June.  A decision is expected in the latter part of 2004, which may be followed by an appeal on points of law to the Appellate Body of the WTO.

3. Members of the WTO GMO amicus coalition:

GeneWatch UK; The Center for Food Safety (USA); Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD – UK); Five Year Freeze (UK); Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, UK); Council of Canadians; Polaris Institute (Canada); Grupo de Reflexión Rural Argentina; Center for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA – Argentina); Gene Campaign (India); Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (India); Fundación Sociedades Sustentables (Chile); Greenpeace International; Californians for GE-Free Agriculture; International Forum on Globalization

4. Contact details for the organizations

The Center for Food Safety
660 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, #302, Washington DC 20003
Tel: (202) 547-9359
Contact: Joe Mendelson, Legal Director,

GeneWatch UK
The Mill House, Manchester Road, Tideswell, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 8LN, UK
Tel: + 44 1298 871898  Fax: +44 1298 872531
Contact: Dr Sue Mayer, Executive Director

Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD)
52-53 Russell Square, London, WC1B 4HP, UK
Tel: + 44 20 7637 7950  Fax: +44 20 7637 7951
Contact: Alice Palmer, Programme Director

Five Year Freeze
94 White Lion Street, London, N1 9PF, UK
Tel: +44 20 7837 0642 Fax: + 44 20 7837 1141
Contact:  Carrie Stebbings, Campaign Co-ordinator

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK
Tel: +44 1767 680551 Fax: + 44 1767 685145
Contact:  Alexandra González-Calatayud, Trade Policy Officer, Environmental Policy Department

Council of Canadians
502-151 Slater, Ottawa, ON K1P 5H3, Canada
Tel: +1 613.233.4487, ext. 245 Fax: + 1 613.233.6776
Contact: Nadège Adam, Biotech Campaigner

Polaris Institute
312 Cooper Street, Ottawa ON, K2P 0G7, Canada
Tel: + 1 613.237.1717 Fax: + 1 613.237.3359
Contact: Lucy Sharratt, Researcher, Bio Justice Project

Center for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA)
General Paz, 186 – 10mo. Piso, “A”, Córdoba 5000, Argentina
Tel: + 54 351 425 6278
Contact: Victor Ricco, Legal Advisor, Public Participation Area Co-ordinator

Grupo de Reflexión Rural Argentina
Rondeau 812 Marcos Paz (CP 1727) -PBA- Argentina
Tel: +54 220 477 35 45
Contact: Stella Semino
Hellingkorsvej 15 A, DK 4000, Denmark
Tel: + 45 46 32 53 28

Fundación Sociedades Sustentables
Seminario 774, Santiago, Chile
Contact: Maria Isabel Manzur
Tel: +56 2 2235459

Gene Campaign
J-235/A, Sainik Farms, Khanpur, New Delhi – 110 062, India
Tel: +91 11 26517248  Fax: +91 11 26965961
Contact: Dr. Suman Sahai, Campaign Convenor

Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security
7 Triveni, A-6 Paschim Vihar, New Delhi-110 063, India
Tel: + 91 11 2525 0494
Contact: Devinder Sharma, Chair