GENET archive


6-Genetech §§: EU statement on biosafety negotiations

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TITLE:  EU pushes for environmental agreement on GMOs in Montreal
SOURCE: European Commission, DN: IP/00/36
DATE:   January 17, 2000

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EU pushes for environmental agreement on GMOs in Montreal

Brussels -- An international conference will seek to finalise the
Protocol on Biosafety in Montreal on 24 to 28 January. The
protocol is an international environmental agreement under the
Convention of Biodiversity, which aims to facilitate a proper
risk assesment prior to cross-border movements of Living Modified
Organisms (LMOs) derived from biotechnology. After five years of
negotiations, the European Union considers that the agreement
must now be concluded. It should be based on the precautionary
principle and balance environmental and trade concerns.

A primary objective of this protocol is to enable developing
countries often lacking adequate legislation and administrative
capacity to take well founded decisions on the import of living
genetically modified organisms and thereby to protect their
biodiversity. The international community must also demonstrate
that it takes the concerns of the citizens about the safety of
biotechnology seriously. EU Environment Commissioner Margot
Wallström urges all Governments to go to Montreal with a sincere
willingness to conclude an agreement.

The final negotiation meeting of the Protocol on Biosafety, an
important international agreement for the protection of the
environment, will take place in Montreal on 24-28 January 1999.
This would be the first Protocol under the Convention on
Biological Diversity adopted at the Rio Conference in 1992.
Formal negotiations were kicked off by the second Conference of
the Parties to that Convention in 1995 in Jakarta. The parties
set out to establish appropriate procedures and to enhance the
safe transfer, handling and use of any living modified organisms
resulting from biotechnology that may have adverse effect on
biodiversity taking also into account risks to human health. It
was decided that the Protocol should create a framework for
international transboundary movements of living modified
organisms derived from modern biotechnology.

The previous attempt to finalise the Protocol in Cartagena,
Columbia in February 1999, ended without agreement after the
Miami group, comprising 6 major crop exporting countries
including the US, opposed an EU compromise proposal supported by
all other participants. The Commission, on the basis of unanimous
Council Conclusions, has consistently worked towards a credible
and realistic Protocol. Governments have to respond to the
concerns about the possible impact of biotechnology on
biodiversity expressed within the scientific community and the
public at large.

We are now in a situation where widespread dissemination and the
release of living genetically modified organisms into the
environment take place in the context of experimental field
trials, large scale agriculture, marketing of agricultural
commodities and products. International action based on the
precautionary principle is necessary. An indispensable step to
achieve safety in biotechnology is to provide any country of
import with the possibility to take reasoned and scientifically
based decisions prior to the import of living modified organisms.

At the same time, the Protocol should strengthen environmental
protection. It should not be used to create unnecessary barriers
to trade. The Commission will continue to promote the EU's
balanced approach to the Protocol and continue to support the
Chairman to the negotiations, the Colombian Minister of the
Environment, Mr Mayr, in his efforts to find an agreement in

The most critical outstanding issues include workable rules for
cross-border movements and documentation requirements for
agricultural LMO commodities intended for food, feed or
processing. Secondly, the mutual supportiveness of the trade
related aspects of the Protocol and the WTO rules needs to be
clarified. It would not be acceptable to subordinate the Protocol
to the WTO.

Finally, in the context of science based risk assessment, the
precautionary principle needs to be recognised as a legitimate
basis for decision-making on the authorisation of Living Modified

Commissioner Wallström, who herself will attend the negotiations,
affirms that:

"The Commission will continue to play a bridge-building role,
while staying firm on essential points. We need to take the
concerns of the citizens about the safety of biotechnology
seriously. The Protocol should in particular help developing
countries that do not yet have adequate mechanisms to deal with
imports of living modified organisms. It should enable them to
take decisions that they are confident with. We want a Protocol
that contributes to the reduction of environmental risks by
ensuring a fair sharing of responsibilities and good co-operation
between exporting and importing countries. The Commission urges
all Parties the negotiations to come to Montreal determined to
reach an agreement and to be ready to take the justified concerns
of other Parties into account." 


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