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GENET Mail Out 3/99: Biosafety Protocol 1

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 GENET Mail Out 3/99


Since June 1996, delegations of meanswhile 135 countries are negotiating a legally binding treaty which purpose is to assess and minimize risks in the field of transboundary transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs). LMOs are organisms which are modified by means of genetic engineering. They possess new combinations of genetic material which could not have been gained by conventional breeding, thus overcoming natural barriers of reproduction. This Biosafety Protocol could regulate the international exchange of and trade with transgenic seeds, grains, animals or bacteria. The negotiations are based on Articles 19.3 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), elaborated during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro/Brasil in 1992 and on Decision II/5 of the Second Conference of the Parties (COP) to this Convention in Jakarta/Indonesia in 1995. The 4th COP in May 1998 decided that the Biosafety Protocol should be finalized with the 6th round of negotiations !
until February 1999.


1)	Precautionary Principle	(Rio-Declaration, Principle 15)
   The Precautionary Principle allows to take protective measures
   before damages occur and before definitive scientific evidence
   for their causality is elaborated and accepted.

2)	Advance Informed Agreement	(CBD, Art. 19.3)
   As a prerequisite for the implementation of the Precautionary
   Principle the importing country has to be informed about the
   exporter's plans and to be given the time to assess the
   implications of the imported LMO. The import only can take
   place after the importing country allows it by explicit

3)	Biodiversity & Health Protection	(CBD, Decision II/5)
   The Biosafety Protocol has to ensure safety for the transfer,
   handling, and use of any LMO resulting from modern
   biotechnology that may have environmental impacts that could
   affect the conservation and sustainable use of biological
   diversity, taking also into account the risks to human health.
   The import country is allowed to perfom risk assessment as
   basis for its import decision.


While the Biosafety negotiations took place, transnational companies as Monsanto and AgrEvo were allowed to market genetically modified plants in Canada, the US and Argentina and to introduce their products into human food and animal feed. After a decade of heavy investments, first income from genetic engineering in agriculture could be realized. The successful market introduction did not smoothed the waves were stirred up. More and more independent scientists published reports that showed that industry's safety assumptions were flawed. These findings together with the patenting of plants and the aggresive policy of selling unlabeled modified food to the consumers denying their rights to choose what to buy and eat caused a severe public crisis - first in Europe, now spreading widely into India and other countries.


The 6th and final round of negotiations took place in Cartagena/Colombia, February 14-23, 1999. The developing countries see the Biosafety Protocol as chance to assess the risks of a new technology before it enters their territories. They call for an inclusion of all LMOs under the protocol and the risk assessment. The risk assessment has to include socio-economic analysis, a demand which was recently supported by the UN Development and Industrial Organisation. As incentive for the private sector to deliver appropriate data for the risk assessment, the developing countries demand options for liability in the case of environmental damages. The US together with Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay - planting 99% of the world's GE crops - formed the Miami Group and together with the North American and European biotech industry blocked any effort to create a Biosafety Protocol. The Miami Group wanted a biosafety protocol which in the first place serves its own trade and!
 economic interest. With all means it opposed the implementation of the Precautionary Principle as central demand of the Rio. The EU defined its position as mediator between the first two groups and as supporter of the developing countries. Since the EU considers the own biosafety regulation as effective the developing countries were the only which need the Protocol. Five hours before the end of the negotiations the EU recognized that its negotiation strategy directly supported the blockade of the Miami Group. Although the US politics not to ratify the CBD and therefore not beeing able to join the Biosafety Protocol stands firm since years the EU puts all efforts in compromising with the Miami Group and "getting them in the boat" by "moral persuasion", giving away political credibility bit by bit.

On February 18 the Chair issued the Draft Protocol as basis of further negotiations. This text clearly supported the interests of the EU and the Miami Group, but was still unacceptable for all three groups. The most crucial point for developing countries was the exclusion of more than 90% of all LMOs from the protocol (LMOs for contained use including green houses and field releases with protective measures) and the risk assessment (LMOs which are commodities e.g. maize kernels and soy beans). The EU facing a WTO-suit against its LMO-labelling laws could not accept the saving clause on the priority of the WTO. The Miami Group opposed the Protocol as a whole as "unworkable". On the next day all developing countries - except those three of the Miami Group - formed the Like-minded Group. In the early morning of February 24, the Like-minded Group joined the EU in its final proposal for a compromise. As expected, the Miami Group rejected this package. The purpose of this coalition !
was rather to blame the US and its supporters to havoc the negotiations than to support the empty Draft Protocol and the EU package. Consequently the Like-minded Group withdraw its support in the final plenary and reiterated its demands for a strong Protocol. The session was suspended, it seems likely that it will be continued in fall 1999 before the next WTO-round in Seattle/USA.


-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

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