Commission accused of hiding GM facts from public

An official complaint accusing the European Commission of hiding key information about genetically modified (GM) food has been filed with the European Ombudsman.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) have accused the Commission of withholding important information after it refused to release key documents in the GM trade dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Commission was asked to show FoE documents from Europe’s submission to the GM trade dispute in August last year, but the EC refused to make them public, stating that the WTO dispute had “to be assimilated to court proceedings” and that publishing these documents would undermine their case.

However, the FoE complaint argues that the WTO dispute mechanism is not a court because it is not presided over by judges.

The GM trade dispute will be decided behind closed doors by political figures and, unlike a court, all 148 of its members can object to the findings. Moreover, the US government publishes all of its submissions on the internet.

“The WTO is not a court and should not be treated as one,” FoE GM food campaigner Adrian Bebb pointed out. “It is a political organisation that trumps free trade over environmental and social concerns, and it’s about time the Commission stopped hiding behind its lawyers and faced the public.”

Brought against Europe’s precautionary position on GM foods by a US-led coalition in 2003, the trade dispute is about to enter a key stage, with scientists reporting their conclusions at a secret meeting this week in Geneva.

The panel of trade experts will then publish a report this summer, which will then lead to an appeal phase and then a final ruling, probably early next year.

Concerns about the safety of GM foods has been mounting in Europe over recent years, with nearly three quarters of people in the UK shown to be worried about the health and environmental implications of GM crops in a recent survey (see related story), and a petition signed by over 100,000 EU citizens was delivered to the WTO last year, urging it not to undermine the sovereign right of any country to protect its people and environment from contamination from GM foods and crops.

“The European public has every right to know what the Commission is saying about the safety of genetically modified foods,” Mr Bebb concluded.

By Jane Kettle

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