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US, Canada, Argentina Protest EU Ban on Genetically Modified Food - 2003-08-18

The United States, backed by Canada and Argentina, has formally complained to the World Trade Organization that the European Union ban on genetically modified food is illegal.

Washington calls the European Union's refusal to import genetically modified food discriminatory and illegal under international trade rules. It says no scientific evidence exists to show that the crops harm human health or the environment as the Europeans claim.

The EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, calls the U.S. move unnecessary litigation. He says the European rules governing GM food are clear, transparent and non-discriminatory.

Under WTO rules on the settlement of trade disputes, the European Union is allowed to temporarily delay investigation. But the dispute panel will be automatically formed at the end of the month, when Washington is expected to repeat its request.

Last month, the European Union ended a five-year moratorium on biotech products, but said these products had to be labeled as such. U.S. farmers say the labeling will be costly and an unfair trade barrier.

If the WTO dispute panel sides with Washington, the United States, Canada, and Argentina, would be allowed to impose trade sanctions on Europe. American farmers estimate they have lost about $300 million a year because of EU restrictions on corn exports.

The panel's decision can be appealed, and the process could take up to 18 months.