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The United States is to file a complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenging Europe's alleged five-year moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops.

In a statement issued on Tuesday (13 May), the United States said that – in partnership with Argentina, Canada and Egypt – it would file a WTO case against Europe's "illegal, non-science based" trade barrier on GM foods.

The European Union (EU) threatens to "deny the full development of a technology that [provides] a very significant means to combat hunger and malnutrition that afflict hundreds of millions of people across the developing world,” said US Agriculture Secretary Ann M Veneman.

But in a statement also issued on Tuesday, the European Commission denied that it had placed a moratorium on GM crops, dismissing the US administration's move as "legally unwarranted, economically unfounded and politically unhelpful".

"The EU’s regulatory system for authorisation [of GM crops] is in line with WTO rules," said EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy. "The EU has authorised GM varieties in the past and is currently processing applications. So what is the real US motive in bringing a case?"

The European Commission also argued that US insistence that GM crops were key to development was in danger of undermining the concerns that many poor nations have over the adoption of GM technology.

"The European Commission finds it unacceptable that such legitimate concerns are used by the United States against the EU policy," the statement said. "It is the legitimate right of developing countries’ governments to fix their own level of protection and to take the decision they deem appropriate to prevent unintentional dissemination of GM seeds."

Nevertheless, the US legal action is supported by several developing countries in Latin America, including Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

Link to Inter Press Service news story US WTO dispute could bend poor nations to GMOs

Link to Inter Press Service news story EU defies US in row over genetically modified foods

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