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The UN Biosafety Protocol — which allows countries to ban imports of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if they fear it might have an "adverse effect" on biological diversity or human health — comes into force today (11 September 2003).

But as it does so, the right to impose such bans is being attacked by a US action launched in August against the European Union. The United States — which is not party to the protocol — claims that a five-year-old European ban on food containing GMOs is a breach of another set of international rules, the World Trade Organisation's requirements for free trade.

Meanwhile Tewolde Egziabher, director of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Agency and one of the architects of the Biosafety Protocol, argues that the US action is designed to intimidate African countries, which want to use the protocol to set up their own systems for regulating imports of GM food.

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