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6-Genetech §§: Canadian minster of Agriculture will force every country to accept GE food

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TITLE:  Ottawa to fight for global biotech rules
SOURCE: Globe and Mail, Canada, by Heather Scoffield
        sent by AGNET, Canada
DATE:   August 5, 1999

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Ottawa to fight for global biotech rules

Canadian Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief is, according to this
story, planning to fight for strict international rules that
would force countries to accept safe genetically modified foods,
even if their consumers do not want them, saying in an interview,
"The world wants a clear set of rules in reference to
biotechnology, whether you're a supporter of biotechnology or

The story says that the minister went to the cabinet last week
with his platform for the round of multilateral trade
negotiations set for Seattle this November. The platform, which
will be made public this month, recommends that Canada join the
United States in pushing hard for a new set of scientific rules
for genetically modified foods under the World Trade Organization
, Mr. Vanclief said.

But such a stand is bound to be controversial, both in Canada and
abroad. On one hand, Canadian farmers, who are major exporters of
genetically modified crops such as canola, potatoes, corn and
soybeans, are facing rising barriers to trade from the European
Union, Japan and Brazil. The EU, for example, will not import any
Canadian canola even though Canadian regulators say it is
perfectly safe.

The agricultural community, backed by Mr. Vanclief, wants to see
strict trade rules that prevent countries from banning their
produce unless they have strong proof that the food is dangerous.
"We say all of those things must be based on science, the best
available," the minister said. But Canadian consumers, like
consumers in Europe, are, the story says, increasingly concerned
about eating genetically modified foods. Mistrust of federal
approvals for such products seems to be growing, some groups say.

Mike McBane, national co-ordinator for the Canadian Health
Coalition, which represents seniors, community groups and unions,
was quoted as saying, "There's absolutely no science behind it.
They do no assessment for food or plants." Government regulators
take existing studies done by biotechnology companies and use
them to decide whether the biotechnology products are safe for
the environment and for people's health. "This is what they call
a science-based system."

Government officials have confirmed that they do no original
testing themselves, but they examine all the existing literature
on a product before they approve it. But Mr. McBane and others
said the federal government has abandoned the so-called
precautionary principle of withholding its approval of a product
if there is even a risk that it is unsafe.

Richard Gottlieb, a Montreal-based international-trade lawyer was
quoted as saying, "The government has a lot of money invested in
the biotechnology industry and has no interest in exposing the
issues." Some parliamentary committees have suggested that Canada
agree to label biotechnology products in order to give consumers
more choice yet allow producers to sell their goods freely.

The story notes that in a report released yesterday, the Senate
committee on agriculture and forestry recommended that Ottawa
indeed fight for science-based rules at the next round of World
Trade Organization talks, but at the same time, the report was
quoted as saying, "recognizing the great difficulties associated
with identity preservation, labelling should also be discussed in
order that consumers can make informed choices about what they
are consuming."

But Mr. Vanclief said yesterday that the labelling discussion had
no place in his WTO platform. Instead, he said, the Codex
Alimentarius Commission, under the UN's World Health
Organization, should deal with that issue. The agriculture
community has, the story says, been dead set against labelling,
fearing that labels will prompt consumers to turn up their noses.

Biotechnology is only one element of the WTO platform that Mr.
Vanclief plans to announce this month. Canada is also to place a
priority on fighting other countries' export subsidies for
agriculture and on setting up rules for the use of domestic

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-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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