BIOSAFETY: Canada's view on the biosafety protocol
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The Edmonton Journal Fri 12 Feb 1999 PAGE A18
Andrew Duffy, Southam Newspapers
Canada favours pact on genetically engineered foods
THE BIOSAFETY TREATY
Final negotiations begin today on an international treaty to cover
genetically engineered crops that could impose tough new rules on the
export of Canadian grains.
Negotiating teams from 174 countries, including Canada, are meeting in
Cartagena, Colombia, to finalize a pact aimed at setting new rules for
trade of genetically altered seed and food.
Canada, with an estimated 2.8 million hectares of land devoted to the
cultivation of genetically modified corn, canola, soya, flax, cotton seed
and potatoes, has much at stake.
Canadian agricultural exports accounted for more than $22 billion in
about one-third of the country's favourable balance of trade.
The biosafety treaty could require Canadian exporters to separate
genetically modified grains from natural ones, seek government approval
their products from importing countries and label their goods as
The proposals are designed to ensure countries concerned about the
impact of engineered crops can protect their fields and consumers.
One proposal to be discussed by negotiators would apply the rules to
made with genetically altered ingredients: things like soda pop, potato
chips, vaccines, even blue jeans.
"We believe this protocol has the potential to seriously disrupt trade in
agricultural and agri-food products," said Jeff Atkinson, spokesman for
Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
Atkinson said the protocol could heap millions of dollars of costs onto
farmers, who increasingly rely upon export markets for their incomes.
"Anything that impacts on agricultural trade impacts on the livelihood of
farmers. "We're worried that there are too many holes in this protocol."
Seven years in the making, the biosafety protocol is the result of a
Nations environmental agreement that Canada played a key role in
establishing. More than 130 countries signed the Biodiversity Convention
the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. Canada was one of its leading
proponents and was the first country to ratify the convention, which
to protect the world's variety of animals and plants and their habitats.
The new protocol is aimed at protecting crop diversity, which is among
most pressing of biodiversity issues.
An estimated 75 per cent of genetic diversity in the world's 20 key food
crops has already been lost.
Most of that diversity -- important to ensuring that crops survive in
changing conditions -- has been lost in the past 50 years as genetically
altered, high-yield crops have been introduced around the world.
Last year, about 30 million acres of farmland were planted with
modified seeds -- 10 times more than the year before.
But some areas, like Europe, have steadfastly resisted the invasion of
new, altered varieties. (Prince Charles has vowed not to let any
genetically altered food pass his lips, saying "that takes mankind into
realms that belong to God and to God alone.") It's one of the reasons
international observers expect Europe and developing nations will push in
Colombia for a strong biosafety treaty, while big grain exporting
like Canada, the United States and Australia will try to secure a
"Canada has invested heavily in biotechnology -- and we're trying to
these products into markets whether they want them or not," said Mark
Winfield, research director of the Canadian Institute for Environmental
Canada's negotiators want a treaty that requires approval permits for
genetically modified products only when they pose a clear threat to the
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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