February 10, 2006

WTO and GM foods

The European Union almost completely bans the import of genetically modified foods and crops. The World Trade Organization has ruled this week that the ban violates its agreements.

The WTO allows its member countries - or more precisely their governments - to restrict the trade of certain products in order to protect human, animal or plant life, but it requires that this be based on sound science. This is a good idea. Domestic producers are always looking for ways to exclude foreign competitors from their national markets. The requirement of sound science makes it more difficult for governments to surrender to the demands of domestic producers, and thus makes life better for consumers - all of us.

The ruling on the EU ban on GM foods and crops rightly says that it has no scientific justification. Friends of the Earth – U.S. has "criticized the ruling as an inappropriate intrusion into decisions about what food people eat." Its president, Brent Blackwelder, said: "The WTO is unfit to decide what we eat or what farmers grow." Blackwelder is right. And the WTO agrees with him. The WTO does not decide what we eat or what farmers grow. It has ruled that European consumers and farmers must be free to decide for themselves. The EU ban is the truly inappropriate intrusion into decisions about what food people eat.

You can
Prometheus, where commenters set Roger Pielke straight, and Muck and Mystery. Many other bloggers also comment the ruling. Several of them make two mistakes - that the WTO is forcing GM foods down our throats and that Europeans are the same thing as the EU governments. EU governments don't want GM foods, but you cannot say the same of "Europeans." Europeans who do not want GM foods will be free not to grow or eat them. Thanks to the WTO, the rest of us will hopefully be free to grow or eat them.

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