03 September 1997
Fischler unhappy with WTO ruling

By Boyd Champness

THE European Commission will fight the World Trade Organisations ruling that the EUs ban on the importation of hormone-treated beef is illegal, EC farm commissioner Franz Fischler said today.

Speaking at the Transport and General Workers Union food safety conference on a satellite link-up, Mr Fischler raised the question of whether it was fair of the WTO to impose regulations on individual countries who were looking after the health interests of their consumers.

The conference, at Church House, Westminster, was set up to debate the remit of the proposed Food Standards Agency.

Responding to questions after his address, Mr Fischler said the ECs view was that the report handed down by the WTOs ruling panel was “unsatisfactory” because it did not take into consideration the “scientific arguments” put forward by the EC.

Several weeks ago, the WTO ruled that the EU ban on hormone-treated beef from US and other markets, imposed in 1989, was not based on sound scientific evidence and therefore acted as a trade barrier. The WTO is expected to tell the EU to either open its markets to hormone-treated beef or reimburse US and other farmers for lost trade.

Mr Fischler also expressed his dissatisfaction about the path the genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) debate was taking.

He said the present EU legislation on the introduction of GMOs was not good enough and that, prior to the ECs summer break, it was agreed that new legislation should be developed.

“Increasingly, we must give consumers clear and concise information about the risks involved with the introduction of GMOs,” he said.

He said the level of information being circulated on GMOs differed between EU countries. He believed that Germany and many of the northern European countries were very good at releasing “objective” information on GMOs, as opposed to other EU countries.

The EUs food inspection system also came under attack from Mr Fischler, who said that current inspection systems were antiquated and unsatisfactory and that additional training was needed.

While diseases such as brucellosis had largely been kept under control, Mr Fischler said emerging health hazards such as other diseases and pre-harvest contamination were not being detected.

“We must stand ready to re-deploy food control officers, taking them away from repetitive tasks on production lines and concentrating their efforts on the prevention of hazards nearer to their source,” he added.