WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ag Secretary Mike Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced Friday that the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of the United States, Argentina and Canada in their WTO case against the European Union over its illegal moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products and unjustified EU member-state bans of previously approved products.

"Today's decision affirms what the world's farmers have known about biotechnology for many years," Johanns said. "Since the first biotechnology crops were commercialized in 1996, we've seen double-digit increases in their adoption every single year. Biotechnology crops not only are helping to meet the world's food needs, they also are having a positive environmental impact on our soil and water resources. Farmers who grow biotechnology crops in 21 countries around the world, including five in the EU, stand to benefit from today's decision."

The United States brought a WTO challenge in May 2003, after five years of delays by the EU in complying with WTO rules as well as its own procedures and the recommendations of its own scientists. The WTO report issued today is the longest in the history of the WTO.

"After eight years of legal wrangling and stalling by Europe, we are a step closer to clearing barriers faced by U.S. agricultural producers and expanding global use of promising advances in food production," said Ambassador Schwab. "I urge the EU to fully comply with its WTO obligations, and consider all outstanding biotech product applications, and evaluate their scientific merits in accordance with the EU's own laws, without undue delay."

In addition to the EU's across-the-board moratorium on product approvals, the WTO case challenged product bans imposed by six EU Member States (Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Luxembourg) on seven of the biotech crops approved by the EU prior to the adoption of the moratorium. In each case, the panel upheld the United States' claims that, in light of positive safety assessments issued by the EU's own scientists, the Member State bans were not supported by scientific evidence and were thus inconsistent with WTO rules.

Although the EU approved a handful of biotech applications following the initiation of the case in 2003, the EU has yet to lift the moratorium in its entirety. Some biotech product applications have been pending for 10 years or more, and applications for many commercially important products continue to face unjustified, politically-motivated delays.

Despite the EU's moratorium, there is considerable support for agricultural biotechnology within the EU. The United States looks forward to working with European trading partners to enhance the availability of this technology to farmers and consumers throughout the world.

Positive aspects of ag biotechnology

Agricultural biotechnology promotes economic development, and has delivered on its promise to feed a hungry world, increase product yields, reduce pesticide use, improve nutrition and disease prevention, enhance food security, and increase incomes of farmers -- most of whom are in the developing world. Agricultural biotechnology is a continuation of the long tradition of agricultural innovation that has provided the basis for rising prosperity for the past millennium.

Numerous organizations, researchers and scientists have determined that biotech foods pose no threat to humans or the environment. These include the French Academy of Sciences, the 3,200 scientists who cosponsored a declaration on biotech foods, and numerous scientific studies -- including a joint study conducted by seven national academies of science (the National Academies of Science of the United States, Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, plus the Royal Society of London and the Third World Academy of Sciences).

Worldwide use of biotech crops has continued to grow. About 222 million acres were planted with biotech crops in 2005, up from 200 million acres in 2004. Of this, over one third was in developing countries. Biotech crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers in the same year, with about 90 percent from developing countries.

Leading producers of biotech crops include the United States, with approximately 123 million acres under cultivation in 2005, followed by Argentina, with 42 million acres; Brazil, with 23 million acres: Canada, with 14 million acres; and China, with 8 million acres. Other countries growing biotech crops include India, Iran, Philippines, Australia, South Africa, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Spain, France and Germany.

  • FACT SHEET: Agricultural Biotechnology: WTO Case on Biotechnology - PDF

  • FACT SHEET: Agricultural Biotechnology: The U.S. Biotechnology Regulatory System - PDF

  • FACT SHEET: Agricultural Biotechnology: Food Safety and Environmental Benefits - PDF

  • FACT SHEET: Agricultural Biotechnology: Food Security and Poverty Reduction - PDF

  • FACT SHEET: Agricultural Biotechnology: Farmed Worldwide - PDF

  • SOURCE: USDA news release.