This has been bothering me for a long time, and I’ve finally decided to write about it. The US, Canada and other countries are currently in a battle with the EU and others on the topic of GMOs. The problem started several years ago when the EU put the brakes on the import of GMO products in order to study them more thoroughly. This seems like a reasonable course of action considering that consumption of GMO products is a relatively new thing and the effects they may have on humans are still unknown.
The plaintiff countries don’t see it that way. They claim that the lack of evidence of bad effects on humans is justification to demand that the defendant countries be forced to buy their products. This is completely preposterous and defies common sense and many lessons from the past few centuries. Was is a good idea to use Mercury and Asbestos before fully understanding their effects on humans?
The plaintiff countries are trying to use the World Trade Organization to make their case. There apparently are rules in the WTO stating that a country must have “reasonable cause” for refusing to import a product. I think most people would agree that safety is “reasonable cause.” In general I agree that this might be a beneficial rule, but when a country has concerns about safety I think that should trump any other WTO rule.
This boils down to: why should any sovereign country be forced to import a product that they have reasonable grounds to declare they would like to study it in more depth? This obviously isn’t some case of a country trying to block imports to gain a competitive advantage for national products. Plus, if an importing country has more stringent safety rules than those who export a product, shouldn’t they be allowed to take such action? In this case the exporting country obviously has incentive to declare a product “safe” as quickly as possible.
The EU has offered to remove the moratorium if strict new labelling rules are met, where any product containing GMO ingregients must be labelled as such. Of course the plaintiff countries don’t want this because they fear that consumers, when given the possibility of an informed choice, will choose other products. I think this nicely proves the point that the health effects are unknown since the companies selling products with GMO ingregients know they need to hide that fact. This part of the story reminds me of labelling dispute last year over animal hormones http://www.thier.ca/cbc/archives/ 000001.html
Here is some background on this issue: