The US Government, trade organisations and biotech industry have welcomed the World Trade Organisation ruling supporting the US contention that the European Union had, between 1998 and 2004, constructed an illegal barrier to trade in genetically modified organisms.

“The continuing adoption of agricultural biotechnology worldwide is evidence it provides tremendous benefits to farmers and rural communities,” said US agriculture secretary Mike Johanns.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said that the decision reflects scientific evidence that GMOs are safe.

Responding to the WTO’s ruling in favor of the USTR’s case, GMA senior director of international trade Sarah Thorn said: “The WTO’s decision makes it clear that biotech regulations must be based on sound science and that the EU’s approach to biotech crop approvals is unwarranted.”

However, Thorn added that the GMA feels that EU traceability and labelling legislation represents an additional barrier to trade.

“WTO standards require that all members base their regulations on science, and we believe that the EU’s traceability and labelling requirements are equally flawed. The EU has ignored this mandate by implementing a biotech labelling scheme that is based instead on politics. While the WTO’s most recent ruling eases one barrier to trade, the EU traceability and labelling requirements will continue to limit trade opportunities without justification,” Thorn concluded.

The biotech industry has emphasised the international implications of the decision. “This decision affects not only Argentina, Canada and the United States, who prevailed in this complaint, but the future of agricultural biotechnology for all countries,” said Professor C.S. Prakash, president of the AgBioWorld Foundation.

The EU declined to comment, as the decision was still under examination. Alexandra Wandel, Friends of the Earth Europe’s trade coordinator in Brussels, urged the EU to resist the decision. “Europe should fight this decision and lead the calls for a new global trading system that protects people and the environment from the worst excesses of industry,” she said. “The WTO undermines democracy and puts business interests before the welfare of the public. It should not be allowed to rule on what we eat or what our farmers grow.”