BIOSAFETY: US biotech industry on biosafety protocol
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MOST PROPOSALS BAD FOR INDUSTRY SAYS BIO
`BIOSAFETY PROTOCOL' RULES COULD HINDER GLOBAL TRADE
February 12, 1999
BioWorld via NewsEdge Corporation : WASHINGTON - Starting this weekend,
more than 160 nations will enter final negotiations on a Biosafety
Protocol in Cartagena, Columbia, that could severely restrict the trade
of a wide swath of products exported by U.S. manufacturers, including
foodstuffs, textiles and pharmaceuticals.
With global trade opportunities hanging in the balance, the U.S. has no
seat at the negotiating table. Nevertheless, a contingent of State
Department officials and representatives from a number of potentially
affected industries will make the trip to Cartagena, in an attempt to
sway the voting delegations into adopting more trade friendly policies.
"For the key issues in this protocol, there are a number of proposals,"
said Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture at the
Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). "And [although] most of those
proposals are bad, a few may be palatable. We really don't know what will
The protocol is a part of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity,
and was originally aimed at ensuring that genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) do not overwhelm native organisms, inhibit their ecological niche
and cause their extinction. In other words, the convention wanted to
ensure that genetically modified seed crops capable of reproduction do
not wreak havoc on native species of plants by "out-competing" them.
Negotiations Ongoing Since 1992
Negotiations on the protocol have been ongoing in some fashion since
1992, but formally began in 1996. As the negotiations proceeded, some
countries lobbied to expand the protocol to include all products that are
derived from GMOs. This proposal risks putting in place an entirely new
set of regulations that would require additional permits for any product
that fits this description, including products such as recombinant
insulin, garments and textiles made from genetically modified cotton,
detergents using enzymes as cleaning agents, and a host of raw and
processed food products.
Karil Kochenderfer, director of international trade and environmental
affairs at the Grocery Manufactures of America, said cotton is "one of
the crops where biotechnology has made the largest penetration. By
expanding the scope of the treaty, [officials] have lost sight of the
fact that biotechnology is an area where sound environmental policy and
sound trade policy go hand in hand."
President Clinton has signed the Convention on Biodiversity, but Congress
has not ratified it. In fact, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has never placed the item on the
committee's agenda - in effect, tabling the treaty. As a result, the
U.S., the country with the world's largest biotechnology industry, has no
vote in the proceedings in Cartagena.
Instead, the U.S. must rely on nations with similar interests to ensure
the protocol doesn't include all products derived from GMOs. Giddings
said environmental groups opposed to biotechnology (such as Greenpeace)
and several developing nations - India and Malaysia among them - have
lobbied for strict regulations. They argue that little is known about the
effects of releasing GMOs into the environment. In addition, some nations
are proposing strict regulations in an effort to trigger technology
Many members of the European Union, Australia and New Zealand are
lobbying for a much narrower definition of products covered under the
"The definition of the products covered under this treaty is critical, "
Giddings said. "If the scope includes pharmaceuticals, we have a train
wreck on our hands. If it is expanded beyond the original intent of the
convention, we have serious problems with it."
Sara Radcliffe, research manager of biologics and biotechnology at the
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said her
group is lobbying to ensure the protocol doesn't include human
pharmaceuticals or research materials.
The Biosafety Protocol could take several different turns. At its most
innocuous, the protocol could simply ratify current biotechnology
regulation methods, which are left to individual countries, and could
ensure countries do not use those regulatory barriers to unfairly block
trade. Or, the countries could elect a new regulatory regime - one that
covers the totality of biotechnology, and places strict limits on
transfers of products derived from GMOs.
Kochendorfer said that, usually in such negotiations, "people meet and
meet and meet, and a consensus begins to build. This protocol seems to be
building more and more dissonance. The outcome is really uncertain."
Giddings noted that the entire argument over the protocol has obscured a
basic fact about biotechnology, which is that it serves to protect rather
than hinder biodiversity.
"The greatest threat to biodiversity is not biotechnology," he said.
"It's razing the rainforest to plant crops to feed an expanding
population. What biotechnology offers is the opportunity to plant on
existing agricultural land more-sustainable, higher-yielding crops." *
<<BioWorld -- 02/11/99>>
[Copyright 1999, American Health Consultants]
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