WTO says E.U. illegally blocked genetically modified crops

After years of striving to pry Europe open to biotech crops, Washington scored a crucial victory yesterday: A World Trade Organization panel found that the European Union had illegally blocked imports of genetically modified crops, and that several E.U. nations had no legal right to impose their own bans. Although the E.U. has licensed limited GM crop imports recently, the Bush administration says the issue now is clearing a decade’s backlog of trade applications — and dispelling the chilling effect E.U. resistance has had on sales worldwide. European consumer and eco-advocacy groups say the ruling is an attack on the rights of E.U. nations to decide what kinds of foods they will approve. A coalition of 170 European regions and 4,500 smaller areas has vowed to be gene-mod free, and the foods remain extremely unpopular with European consumers. The E.U. may appeal — or could opt to accept penalties instead of complying with the ruling.