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6-Genetech §§: BIOSAFETY - UN/UNEP press releases



-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  A) Annan urges accord on rules for modified organisms
        B) Governments meet to conclude biosafety treaty
        C) Press Backgrounder: Biotechnology and the Biosafety
           Protocol
SOURCE: A) Reuters
        B) + C) United Nations Environmental Programs, News
                Release 2000/1
DATE:   A) December 29, 1999
        B) + C) January 4, 2000
----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


Dear GENET-news readers,

this message will be the first of a series of mails informing
about the resumed biosafety negotiations in Montreal. For the
official documents go to http://www.biodiv.org/biosafe/
BIOSAFE6.HTML. A list of selected NGO web pages covering the
issue will be given later.

Biosafety Timetable

January 20-21 - Informal Regional and Interregional Meetings

January 24-28 - Resumed Session of the First Extraordinary
                Meeting of the Partis to the Convention of
                Biological Diversity

Yours,

Hartmut Meyer

                         *****

Annan urges accord on rules for modified organisms

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan called on Wednesday for agreement at talks in Montreal next
month to send the world a strong message on biosafety and
regulating the movement of living modified organisms. "Success in
these negotiations would send a strong and timely signal to the
international community that environmental concerns can be
satisfied without creating new obstacles to free trade," he said,
alluding to widespread controversy over exports of genetically
modified crops.

In a message marking the International Day for Biological
Diversity and the sixth anniversary of the entry into force of
the convention on that subject, he said negotiations on a
protocol on biosafety and the transboundary movement of living
modified organisms had reached a critical stage. A meeting of the
176 parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity would
resume in Montreal next month with a view to finalising a
protocol, he said. "I urge all concerned to work constructively
to ensure the successful outcome of these negotiations," Annan
added.

He said the three main objectives of the convention were the
conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its
components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits
arising from the utilization of genetic resources. "These three
areas are interdependent; if the convention is to be successful,
progress in each is essential," he said. Annan said many nations
were making commendable efforts to adhere to the convention.
"Still, the threats to species and ecosystems remain ominous;
species extinctions caused by human activities continue at an
alarming rate," he said. "On this last Biodiversity Day of the
20th century, let us resolve to make the next century a
harmonious one: between economy and environment, between
consumption and conservation, between present needs and those of
the future."

Annan said. "And let us keep constantly in mind that preservation
of the planet's biological diversity is a common concern of all
humankind and an essential feature of the transition to
sustainable development."

                          *****


Governments meet to conclude biosafety treaty

MONTREAL/NAIROBI -- The world's governments are resuming talks
here from 24 - 28 January in an effort to finalize and adopt a
legally-binding agreement on reducing any potential risks
resulting from the transboundary movement of living modified
organisms (LMOs). Ministers are expected to participate during
the final two days.

"The ability of modern biotechnology to contribute to human well
being in the 21st century will be boosted dramatically if the
international community takes action now to create credible and
effective safeguards for the environment," said Klaus Toepfer,
Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme,
which administers the secretariat of the Convention on Biological
Diversity, under which the talks are talking place.

"Reducing unnecessary and potentially catastrophic risks is in
the best interest of everyone - developed and developing
countries, consumers and industry, and all those who care deeply
about our natural environment." The resumed talks follow a
suspension of the First Session of the Extraordinary Conference
of the Parties of the Convention in February 1999 in Cartagena,
Colombia, when officials were unable to finalize the text of a
Biosafety Protocol in the time available due to a number of
outstanding differences. Since then, Colombian Environment
Minister Juan Mayr Maldonado, in his capacity as President of the
Extraordinary Session, has held two rounds of open-ended informal
consultations, the first in Montreal in July, the second in
Vienna in September. At these meetings, representatives of all
the negotiating groups that emerged from the Cartagena meeting
expressed their commitment to concluding a Biosafety Protocol and
confirmed that the political will to achieve this does exist. The
negotiating groups are the Miami Group (Argentina, Australia,
Canada, Chile, Uruguay, and the US), the European Union, the
Central and Eastern European Countries, the Compromise Group, and
the Like-Minded Group of Countries (which includes most of the
developing countries).

The talks have stalled over a number of issues. In particular,
governments have disagreed over the proposed scope of the
treaty's regulatory powers. Some have wanted to restrict the
scope of the Protocol to LMOs intended for introduction into the
environment, such as seeds. Others have argued for a broader
scope that would include LMOs that are agricultural commodities
or that are used for food, feed, or processing. At the Vienna
informal consultations there was a general agreement that the
scope should be broad.

Negotiators also advanced on a conceptual framework for designing
the practical procedures that would apply to these commodities.
Another contentious issue is liability: if LMOs enter the
environment and cause damage, who pays? Also unresolved is how to
minimize the potential socio-economic impacts, such as the
competitive decline of traditional crops faced with LMO imports.
Still another unresolved question relates to the Protocol's
relationship to other international agreements, particularly
those under the World Trade Organization.

LMOs include various food crops that have been genetically
modified for greater productivity or nutritional value, or for
resistance to pests or diseases. Common examples include
tomatoes, grains, cassava, corn, and soybeans. Seeds for growing
crops are particularly important because they are used
intentionally to propagate or reproduce LMOs in the environment.
Together, these agricultural LMOs form the basis of a multi
billion-dollar global industry. Pharmaceuticals derived using
LMOs form the basis of an even larger industry.

The biosafety talks reflect growing public concerns about the
potential risks of biotechnology. Many countries with modern
biotechnology industries do have domestic legislation. However,
there are no binding international agreements covering LMOs that
cross national borders because of trade or accidental releases.

Another concern is that many developing countries lack the
technical, financial, institutional, and human resources to
address biosafety. They need greater capacity for assessing and
managing risks, establishing adequate information systems, and
developing expert human resources in biotechnology.
www.biodiv.org and www.unep.ch/conventions/

                           *****


Press Backgrounder:
Biotechnology and the Biosafety Protocol

>From mapping the human genome to cloning sheep, biologists have
been at the forefront of scientific progress over the past two
decades. While advances in biotechnology promise extraordinary
improvements in human well-being, they can also raise serious
ethical, environmental, and health concerns. Modern biotechnology
has great potential for human well-being if developed and used
with adequate safety measures for the environment and human
health.

The relatively new concept of "biosafety" describes efforts to
ensure that humanity receives the benefits but avoids the risks
resulting from modern biotechnology. The first intergovernmental
talks on a legally binding biosafety agreement are taking place
under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

What is biotechnology? For millennia, humans have artificially
altered the genetic makeup of plants and animals through breeding
selection and cross-fertilization. Since the early 1970s,
however, modern biotechnology has enabled scientists to transfer
genetic material (DNA the biochemical instructions governing the
development of cells and organisms) through biochemical means and
to radically alter the intricate genetic structure of individual
living cells. They can now introduce a great diversity of genes
into plants, animals, and micro-organisms almost instantly. For
the first time, humanity has the power to transfer genes from one
type of organism to another for example, to insert genes from a
bacterium into a tomato to create a transgenic plant. Modern
biotechnology includes recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques (also
called genetic engineering) as well as the use of monoclonal
antibodies and new cell- and tissue-culture methods.

What are Living Modified Organisms (LMOs)? LMOs include a variety
of food cropsthat have been genetically modified for greater
productivity or for resistance to pests or diseases. Common
examples include tomatoes, grains, cassava (a starchy root grown
in Sub-Saharan Africa and other tropical areas), corn, and
soybeans. Seeds for growing new crops are particularly important
because they are used intentionally to propagate LMOs.

What are LMO products? LMOs form the basis of a range of products
and agricultural commodities. Citing the precautionary principle,
some experts cite the risk that pieces of DNA remaining in these
non-living products could possibly replicate under certain
conditions; others consider this to be extremely unlikely.
Processed products containing dead modified organisms or non-
living LMO components include certain vaccines; drugs; food
additives; and many processed, canned, and preserved foods.
Depending on the precise definition, they can also include corn
and soybean derivatives used in many foods and nonfoods,
cornstarch used for cardboard and adhesives, fuel ethanol for
gasoline, vitamins, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, and yeast-based
foods such as beer and bread.

What are the potential benefits of biotechnology? Genetic
engineering promises remarkable advances in medicine,
agriculture, and other fields. It can alter the growth
characteristics of micro-organisms, insects, fish, and animals or
make them produce new substances. It can improve the resistance
of plants to pests and environmental pressures and increase their
commercial value. It can create food crops with increased yields,
raising the protein generated from limited land and resources. It
can also make plants more resistant to disease and insects. Other
benefits include new medical treatments and vaccines, new
industrial products, and improved fibres and fuels.

What are the potential risks? Biotechnology is a very new field,
and much about the interaction of LMOs with various ecosystems is
not yet known. The introduction of genetically modified organisms
should not proceed faster than advances in scientific
understanding. Some of the concerns about the new technologies
include unintended changes in the competitiveness, virulence, or
other characteristics of the target species; the possibility of
adverse impacts on non-target species (such as beneficial
insects) and ecosystems; the potential for weediness in
genetically modified crops (a plant becomes too resistant and
invasive, perhaps by transferring its genes to wild relatives);
and the stability of inserted genes (the possibilities that a
gene will lose its effectiveness or will be re-transferred to
another host). A specific example that has recently been cited
involves the insertion of protease inhibitor genes (PIs) into
plants; these small proteins interfere with enzymes in the
intestinal tracts of insects and can disrupt development and
destroy larvae in both pests and beneficial insects. Similarly,
Bt-toxins engineered into a wide range of transgenic plants may
build up in the soil and harm pollinators and other beneficial
insects.

What is biosafety? Biosafety is a new term used to describe
efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting
from biotechnology and its products. It is based on the
precautionary principle, which states that the lack of full
scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse to postpone
action when there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage.
While developed countries that are at the center of the global
biotechnology industry have established domestic biosafety
regimes, many developing countries are only now starting to
establish their own national systems.

Why is biotechnology also a trade issue? The commercialization of
biotechnology has spawned multi-billion-dollar industries for
foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals that continue to grow at a
dramatic pace. Under World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations,
the regulation of trade must be based on "sound scientific
knowledge". Under environmental regimes, the agreed standard of
proof is the precautionary principle. The WTO also does not
accept socio-economic concerns, such as the risk that exports of
genetically engineered crops may replace traditional ones and
undermine local cultures and traditions in importing countries.
The subsidiary agreements of the WTO, including the Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS), Technical Barriers to Trade
Agreement (TBT), and the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual
Property (TRIPs), also contain specific provisions that apply to
the biosafety issue.

Why is an international Biosafety agreement needed? The
objectives of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity are
"the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of
its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits
arising out of the utilization of genetic resources." The
biosafety talks reflect growing public concern about the
potential risks posed by living modified organisms. A particular
concern is that many developing countries lack the technical,
financial, and institutional means to address biosafety. They
need greater capacity for assessing and managing risks,
establishing adequate information systems, and developing expert
human resources in biotechnology. While many countries with
modern biotechnology industries do have domestic legislation,
there are no binding international agreements covering LMOs that
cross national borders because of trade or accidental releases.
An international regime is needed now while the biotechnology
industry is still young and major errors have not yet been
committed. 


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|                   GENET                     |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
|                                             |
|             Hartmut MEYER (Mr)              |
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