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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 
the 
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 
1997, 
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 
of 
their products from importing countries and label their goods as 
"genetically altered."
The proposals are designed to ensure countries concerned about the 
possible 
impact of engineered crops can protect their fields and consumers.
One proposal to be discussed by negotiators would apply the rules to 
goods 
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 
the 
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 
United 
Nations environmental agreement that Canada played a key role in 
establishing. More than 130 countries signed the Biodiversity Convention 
at 
the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. Canada was one of its leading 
proponents and was the first country to ratify the convention, which 
seeks 
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 
the 
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 
genetically 
modified seeds -- 10 times more than the year before.
But some areas, like Europe, have steadfastly resisted the invasion of 
the 
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 
countries 
like Canada, the United States and Australia will try to secure a 
narrowly 
defined agreement.
"Canada has invested heavily in biotechnology -- and we're trying to 
force 
these products into markets whether they want them or not," said Mark 
Winfield, research director of the Canadian Institute for Environmental 
Law 
and Policy.
Canada's negotiators want a treaty that requires approval permits for 
genetically modified products only when they pose a clear threat to the 
environment.

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-| GENET
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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