WTO Votes Against Ban on Genetically Modified Crops

The World Trade Organization says the European Union broke the group's rules when it imposed a ban on genetically modified crops. Though the vote is a win for the biotech industry, the WTO's final call on the case isn't expected until later this year — and Europe could appeal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And our business news begins with a ruling on biotech crops.

That preliminary trade ruling may help determine the future of biotech products worldwide. The World Trade Organization says the European Union broke the group's rules when it imposed a ban on genetically modified crops. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

In its ruling, the WTO agreed with the U.S., Canada, and Argentina, the countries that brought the complaint. It found that between 1998 and 2004, the E.U. had in place a moratorium on approving genetically modified products, a clear violation of WTO rules.

The WTO also agreed with the complainants on another key point, that policies allowing individual countries to impose their own bans on biotech products also violates the trade group's rules. U.S. officials hailed it as a significant win in their in their long-running battle with Europe over genetically modified products.

It's a dispute that began in the mid-1990s, as biotech foods were just being introduced, and concerns abut their safety began sweeping through Europe. By 1998, countries like Austria, Germany, and Greece, citing health concerns, began issuing their own bans on biotech crops already approved by the European community. The E.U. started working on a new regulatory process for genetically modified crops in a way that was acceptable to its member states. That process took six years, and last year, the E.U. began approving crops again. But because of the moratorium, United States farmers say they lost some 300 million dollars in annual corn sales to Europe.

Yesterday's ruling, though a win for the biotech industry, doesn't change anything yet. The WTO's final ruling in the case isn't expected until later this year, and Europe could appeal.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

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