China, Costa Rica, and the European Union earlier this month put new food safety-related issues on the agenda at the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures. China told the SPS Committee that it plans to amend its safety assessment of agricultural genetically modified food and feed, sometimes referred to as biotech products. A WTO meeting summary said that China’s announcement was welcomed by the United States and Paraguay, but it did express concern that the change could have a negative impact on international trade. China’s current GMO approval process is marked by delays and a lack of transparency, according to the U.S. It is a serious concern for exporters, and anything that would further prolong or complicate China’s approval process would concern the WTO. China said it plans to improve the safety assessment and invited counties to participate in the review. Costa Rica’s measure to temporarily suspend import certificates for avocados because of the avocado tree disease called sunblotch viroid raised concerns from Mexico and Guatemala. Costa Rica first notified the WTO about the problem last May and has since suspended import certificates for certain exporters. Costa Rica said the suspended certificates are intended to protect its avocado growers from the disease. It promised to maintain a dialogue with its trading partners. South Africa and the U.S. were also concerned, should the suspensions last for too long. The European Union’s approval process for biotech or GMO products also came in for critical reviews from the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. According to the U.S., the amendment would allow EU member states to restrict or ban biotech or GMO products without having any justified reasons. The other nations expressing their objections said the EU amendment would amount to being an unfair barrier on international trade. EU representatives said the European proposal is not a ban or restriction on GMO food, but only provides a possibility for EU member states to opt out of a decision if they have overriding issues. The EU also claims their amendment does not involve life or health of humans, plants or animal, and therefore does not merit wider notice. The SPS Committee is currently chaired by Felipe Hees of Brazil. Earlier this year, the WTO body reviewed import restrictions on Japanese food due to the earthquake and flooding of a nuclear power plant, the EU’s regulation of novel food, and restrictions due to citrus black spot. The SPS Committee will meet again in the fall.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)