By in the late 1990s, genetically modified crop plants already made up a significant proportion of all crops in the USA, and some of the safety assessment requirements had been relaxed.
By contrast, the EU had issued a temporary de-facto moratorium on such plants as long as the EU Directives were under review. A significant difference between the US and the EU stance concerned the role of the precautionary principle. The US was sharply opposed to it, while the EU declared that it guided their decisions. As a result of their different positions they faced a trade war.
At their summit in July 1999 the Head of States of the G8 asked the OECD to prepare a report on "Biotechnology and other aspects of food safety" within a year in order to avoid such an undesirable outcome. OECD had a good reputation in the field since they had previously issued some widely accepted standards, like the principle of familiarity (with releases) and the concept of substantial equivalence (with novel food).
Two existing groups were commissioned to prepare a report: the Task Force on Food Safety was mainly responsible; the Working Group on Harmonisation of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology dealt with environmental aspects. Additionally, an Ad Hoc Group dealt with aspects such as consumer interests. Various countries contributed chapters to the reports of the groups. ITA was commissioned to prepare the Austrian draft contributions to the report of the Working Group and to revise them according to the discussions within the OECD. The task was to highlight the work already done by the OECD to facilitate harmonisation, as well as to report the differences in the positions of various countries (mostly of the US and the EU) and to look for possible compromises.
The comprehensive OECD report was presented to the ‚sherpas' of the Head of States of the G8 in May 2000. It was subject to negotiations at their summit in July 2000.