BIOSAFETY: Summary in Guardian (London)
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- Date: Tue, 2 Mar 99 00:00:45 -0000
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By Jeremy Lennard in Bogota
Tuesday February 23, 1999
A treaty among 170 countries to ensure safe trade in genetically modified
organisms has been sabotaged by the United States, which believes its
business interests are threatened.
The US has refused to allow commodities like soya bean and corn, which
account for 90 per cent of the world trade in GMOs, to be included in the
negotiations. If they were included they would need to be clearly
labelled when being traded between countries, something the Americans are
anxious to avoid because it could lead to their products being boycotted.
The US action came only 24 hours before a deadline for the biosafety
negotiations in Cartagena to be completed. The US refused to bow to
pressure from the vast majority of the 170 countries present, who called
for a cautious approach to the international trade.
It is likely that a protocol will still be signed, but after working
groups failed last week to produce a consensus on a paper for the final
debates, the treaty is likely to favour free trade concerns over
environmental prudence, and play into the hands of biotech companies such
as the US giants Monsanto and Dow.
'The US is willing to threaten biodiversity in the name of short-term
profits. It wants a biotrade, not a biosafety, protocol,' said
Greenpeace's political adviser, Louise Gale. 'Over the past two years the
US has flooded the world market with unregulated and unlabelled
gentically-engineered [GE] grain. It is clear it wants to continue this
practice and will sabotage any efforts to set international rules for GE
Although the US has no formal delegation in Cartagena, it sent a powerful
lobby group of biotech company representatives. They have worked with a
handful of other countries to ride roughshod over the concerns of the
European Union and the developing world, which fears it will become a
unwitting testing ground for biotechnology.
Last week the British delegation broke ranks with its EU colleagues when
it helped to write a set of proposals strongly in favour of the US
position, and which will form the watered-down basis of any treaty signed
The proposals essentially reduce any potential agreement to govern the
trade in genetically engineered seed, and offer few or no restrictions on
the trade in genetically engineered grain to be used in food, and other
commodities containing GMOs. If adopted, the paper will also sideline
liability concerns for another four years while freeing up trade.
Unless the majority of the countries can force their agenda at the
eleventh-hour, the right of countries to say no to the import of
genetically modified organisms will not be subject to global agreement,
except for seeds. Instead it will be reduced to a decision by individual
states, which can be contested before the World Trade Organisation.
At the same time, the rights of individual countries to insist that
genetically engineered grain, for example, be segregated from
conventional grain, and that commodities containing genetically modified
organisms be labelled, has been fudged.
The implications of a weak protocol for importer countries and the vast
majority of the developing world were demonstrated at the weekend with
the arrival of a US grain-carrier at the nearby Caribbean port of Santa
Marta. Its cargo would be unaffected by the current proposed wording of
The cargo ship Abydos docked on Saturday to unload 17,000 tons of maize,
which even by the biotechnology industry's estimates could contain up to
3,500 tons of genetically engineered grain. Colombian law makes no
provision for the presence of GE grain in the shipment, and the country
becomes a passive recipient without the right of prior consultation.
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax : #49-551-7701672
-| email: firstname.lastname@example.org