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U.S. Protests EU Proposal to Allow Member States to Ban Approved GMOs

Friday, April 24, 2015
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The European Commission announced April 22 a proposal to allow individual European Union member countries to restrict or prohibit within their territory the use of genetically modified organisms as human and animal food that the EU has authorized. The U.S. expressed disappointment with the proposal but gave no initial indication of how it might respond if the measure is approved.

A Commission press release states that the current EU-wide GMO authorization system will not be amended; instead, once a GMO is authorized for use as food or feed in Europe, EU member states would be able to decide whether to opt out from allowing that particular GMO to be used in their food chain. Member states would have to justify that their opt-out measures comply with EU law, which includes the principles of the internal market and the EU’s international obligations, including those under World Trade Organization rules. Opt-outs would have to be based on legitimate reasons other than those assessed at the EU level; i.e., risk to human or animal health or the environment.

U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman said the U.S. is “very disappointed” with the Commission’s proposal, which “is not constructive” at a time when the U.S. and the EU are negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement. Froman also noted that the proposal “appears hard to reconcile with the EU’s international obligations,” noting a 2006 WTO decision that EU member-state bans on the importation and cultivation of genetically engineered products violated WTO rules because they were not based on risk assessments. Further, Froman said, “dividing the EU into 28 separate markets for the circulation of certain products seems at odds with the EU’s goal of deepening the internal market.”

The Commission proposal, which mirrors and complements the rights already given to member states with respect to GMOs for cultivation, will now be sent to the European Parliament and the Council.

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