The World Trade Organisation has ruled that the EU was wrong to impose a moratorium on GMO approvals from 1999 to 2004, and that member states should not apply national bans on GM crops.
A draft ruling in the case against the EU brought by the USA, Canada and Argentina was circulated to the parties earlier this week.
Though the findings are supposed to be confidential until a final report is published in six weeks’ time, the contents have been widely leaked.
It is understood that the WTO criticises the EU for its moratorium, though in practice it has no powers to impose sanctions, as the EU has since implemented a new regulatory framework and resumed approvals.
The USA, Canada and Argentina had argued that the moratorium cost them millions of dollars in lost sales.
But the ruling is also believed to be critical of the EU for not enforcing its new approvals process and allowing certain member states – Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg – to set national GMO bans.
The outcome has been welcomed by EU biotech body, EuropaBio.
“We need to see the EU’s laws functioning in a consistent and timely manner,” said director of plant biotech, Simon Barber.
“We currently have a situation where some member states ban EU-approved products without offering any scientific justification whatsoever.”
He hoped the ruling would encourage the EU Commission and council to take a firmer line.
The commission itself was not commenting, though a statement pointed out that it had already approved over 30 GM products for marketing in the EU.
“The US appears not to like the EU regime, simply because it takes longer to approve a GMO in Europe than in the USA,” it said.