World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on GMOs: what impact on nanotech?
In a move sure to have implications for nanotechnology, the World Trade Organization ruled Tuesday that the European Union (EU) breached international rules by restricting imports of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), crops and food made from them.
The ruling was seen as a victory for US government and industry in its efforts to open European markets to GM foods.
"This ruling enables developing nations to feel confident that they can adopt the modern crop technologies they need to feed their people," said said Professor C.S. Prakash, president of the AgBioWorld Foundation, the organization that sponsored a declaration of support for agricultural biotechnology signed by over 3,400 scientists, including 25 Nobel Laureates.
Environmental groups, however, were not so optimistic.
"US agro-chemical giants will not sell a bushel more of their GM grain as a result of the WTO ruling," said Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International trade advisor. "European consumers, farmers and a growing number of governments remain opposed to GMOs, and this will not change – in Europe or globally."
For its part, the EU expects the ruling to change little.
"For the moment, we see no consequences for our legislation," Agence France-Presse quoted a commission spokeswoman, Barbara Helfferich, as saying. The EU's executive, the European Commission, also said the decision would have no immediate impact.
But the ruling sets a precedent for the role of individual nations in limiting the introduction of new technologies, like nanotech, even within their own borders.
US government officials believe, for example, that the ruling will set a precedent that countries must have sound scientific reasons for rejecting genetically modified crops. The same rule could then be applied to nanotechnology, putting the burden of proof on nanotech opponents to prove a product's harmful potential before banning it. The precautionary principle advocated by many nanotech opponents, in contrast, suggests that products or technologies should be avoided until proven safe.
The battle over GMOs in Europe is often seen as an example of how public resistance can overcome corporate marketing and political pressure when citizens are strongly opposed to a new technology. Tuesday's ruling may redraw the battle lines, offering valuable lessons to anyone watching the spread of nanotechnology and wondering what will come next.