GENEVA, Feb 7 (AFP): The US-led dispute over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is coming to a head this week, with the World Trade Organisation set to rule on Washington's complaint against a European import ban.
A WTO dispute settlement panel is expected to release its preliminary decision Tuesday after several delays blamed on the complexity of the case.
The battle is seen as one of the most technical disputes ever handled by the decade-old WTO and is emotionally charged because of the use of GMOs in food.
The WTO ruling is expected to run into several hundred pages.
Another source forecast that the WTO would find against the European Union, claiming that Brussels' defence was shaky and had been undermined by internal divisions.
The 149 trading nations in the WTO set the framework for global commerce. The Geneva-based organisation referees disputes between its members and can authorise retaliatory customs duties against rule- breakers.
The EU said the moratorium was needed to enable it to gather data from biotech firms and decide how to update its rules on GMOs.
But the three countries argued that Brussels was dragging its feet and abusing WTO rules that enable trading nations to restrict imports on health grounds.
The complaint also targeted individual member countries of the 25-nation EU, including Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg.
With EU countries deeply divided, its European Commission executive arm rules on which GMO varieties can be imported on recommendations from the European Food Safety Authority.
For campaigners, the issue goes far beyond a simple spat over trade rules, because European consumers have proven so wary of GMOs in their food.
Pro-GMO groups say the concerns are unscientific and note that farmers who grow such insect-resistant crops do not need to spray harmful pesticides.
But opponents say too few studies have been done-and too little time has elapsed-to be sure that GMO crops do not damage non-GMO varieties and that such food is harmless for humans.
A WTO preliminary ruling remains officially confidential until the final decision is released, usually within two months. Any of the parties can appeal.