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EU's anti-GM stance under threat

A Greenpeace protester destroys GM plants in England
A Greenpeace protester destroys GM plants in England

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Bush administration could decide within weeks to take the European Union before the World Trade Organization for blocking genetically modified crops.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said this week that the EU's four-year moratorium on approving new genetically modified (GM) crops violated WTO rules.

"I think the European view on this is Luddite," Zoellick said. "I personally am of the view that we now need to bring a case."

Corn growers in the United States say they are losing $300 million annually because their GM crops are barred -- along with many other modified products -- from the European market.

Biotech firms say GM seeds resist insects and disease, requiring less pesticide. They also say GM food is not dangerous.

"You can cry wolf for so long, but in the end people begin to realise that perhaps it's not quite as bad as they think," says Vivian Moses of Cropgen.

"I also think they are getting the idea that more and more people and more and more farmers around the world are actually using these techniques."

About 70 percent of soybeans and more than 25 percent of corn in the United States is grown from GM seeds. Biotech company Monsanto wants to bring biotech wheat to market.

The United States had been gently pushing Europe to lift its ban on new GM crops.

Consumer groups say that even if Washington were to force GM food onto the European shelves, consumers will not buy it until people are convinced it is safe.

"I think if the USA were to instigate a trade war with Europe, it would be a strategy that would fall right back in their face," says Leona Supples of Friends of the Earth.

"Here in Europe, consumers have clearly said that they don't want to GM foods thrust down their throat.

"We are going through a legitimate political system to try to make choices about whether we want to have these GM products in our country or not."

Meanwhile, Europe's aversion to GM food is spreading to Africa and Asia.

The United States says its offer of GM food to developing nations can help feed the world's poor and hungry.

But anti-GM campaigners disagree, saying that politics and war are the reason for most famines, not a lack of food.

"Food aid allows you to dump cheap food to the African countries and prevents their own indigenous, sustainable agriculture from taking off," says Dr. Mae-Wan Hoe, director of the Institute of Science in Society.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy says the EU will fight if the United States files a complaint with the WTO.

The EU has already been loosening its moratorium, Lamy says, and any complaint would be counterproductive.

"If there was to be litigation, of course we would fight it and I believe we would win it, which is probably not exactly what the U.S. is looking for," Lamy told reporters.

"I have always said that doing this ... would make a solution more complex rather than more simple."

Some pro-GM companies also have been resisting calls for Washington to push Europe with legal action because a WTO case could take three years to resolve.

But U.S. action appears increasingly likely -- even if it slows down the acceptance of GM foods in Europe.

-- CNN's Jim Boulden contributed to this report

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