GENET archive


6-Genetech §§: BIOSAFETY - World NGO statement

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

TITLE:  NGO position statement on Biosafety Protocol negotiations
SOURCE: GENET, attending ExCOP1 in Montreal
DATE:   January 25, 2000

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NGO Position Statement

Extraordinary Conference of the Parties:
Biosafety Protocol Negotiations

We, members of civil society from around the world, have high
expectations for this meeting. We seek the adoption of a strong
precautionary Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological
Diversity, as do millions of other world citizens. We are
increasingly concerned about genetically modified organisms put
in our food and being grown in our countries without anyone fully
understanding the effects of these organisms on our ecosystems
and food chains.

For these reasons, we expect governments to reach a final
agreement on a Biosafety Protocol and ensure that the Protocol
reaffirms and reinforces the goals of the Convention on
Biological Diversity by establishing rules to protect
biodiversity. It would be irresponsible of our governments, our
formal representatives, to ignore the obligations to protect our
biological heritage and global food security undertaken when they
ratified the Convention.

A minority of countries, only interested in protecting their
industriesΠcommercial investments in GMOs, stalled the Biosafety
Protocol in Cartagena last year. These countries must not be
allowed to obstruct our work again this week. Unfortunately, we
do not see any change in their intentions.

1. After years of dismissing the potential hazards of genetically
modified organisms, these countries still attempt to render the
Protocol meaningless by reducing its scope. We appeal to all
governments to recognize that adverse impacts on biodiversity and
human health may arise from any activities involving GMOs -
including transboundary movements, handling, transit, or use, especially
centers of origin and biological diversity.

Scientifically, all GMOs pose the same kinds of risks to
biodiversity and human health, whether they are from transgenic
crops, vaccines, artificial vectors, or other amplified nucleic
acid sequences. Thus, there should be no exclusions to the
Protocol's scope - all activities involving GMOs should be
included in a single process for assessment and advanced informed

2. We are extremely concerned that several negotiating groups are
promoting an unworkable distinction between GMOs transferred for
planting and GMOs transferred for direct use as food, feed, or
processing. A maize kernel will not respect its legal status, nor
will it respect political boundaries: once sown, it will grow
intentionally or unintentionally, with or without approval. The
intention behind a transfer is irrelevant; a Protocol must create
a precautionary process to assure that the consequences of a
transfer are acceptable. It is reasonable to expect that, at
minimum, the Biosafety Protocol will set out three essential
obligations for countries wishing to export GMOs: notably, to
provide advance notification, to disclose full information, and
to require explicit consent from the receiving country before any
transboundary movement occurs. Without such a precautionary
process, developing countries are likely to become the dumping
ground for GMOs and products which cannot be sold anywhere else.

3. We are disappointed that certain delegations continue to
undermine the need for the Precautionary Principle, a principle
which rightly seeks to prevent harm to the environment or human
health from GMOs. The Precautionary Principle is consistent with
sound science since it promotes rational and prudent decision
making in the absence of conclusive scientific knowledge. The
lack of scientific consensus over genetic engineeringís potential
environmental and health impacts necessitates placing the burden
of proof on those who want to introduce these organisms.

Past experience with the overly hasty release of toxic chemicals
and ozone depleting gases demonstrates the enormous effort and
expense involved in cleaning up after ill-considered actions.
Living organisms represent even greater risks; once released,
GMOs cannot be recalled if they damage the environment -- they
multiply, migrate, and mutate.

4. For ensuring biosafety, traceability is critical for
governments serious about pursuing the conservation and
sustainable use of biological diversity.

There are no credible reasons to refuse to label and segregate
these products. Labelling and segregation of GMOs in food and
agriculture has already become the market reality in many
industrialized countries. We must enable national authorities,
farmers, and food buyers to identify GMOs at any stage of

5. Despite being a non-party to the Convention, the United States
government acts to subordinate this Protocol to international
trade rules, such as those of the World Trade Organization. We
offer our support to the vast majority of countries which, by
ratifying the Convention, are committed to upholding
environmental values. Even a member of the U.S. Congress recently
observed that "when the health and safety of consumers and the
environment is the price, free trade is just too expensive."
These negotiations are not primarily about trade; they concern
biodiversity and the life support systems for the worldŒs people.
Protection of biological diversity is an imperative, not a luxury
or an afterthought.

6. There is increasing evidence that introducing GMOs has
significant socio-economic impacts. Without a strong liability
regime, those suffering serious impacts - particularly indigenous
and farming communities - would be subsidizing the biotech
industry. The Protocol must include mechanisms for all affected
peoples to obtain fair compensation.

We welcome the delegates' determination to leave Montreal with a
Protocol signed by the end of this week. We share their
commitment to place the conservation and sustainable use of
biodiversity at the heart of this Protocol. Failure to establish
a strong precautionary Protocol would betray the needs and
expectations of citizens world-wide. We urge our representatives
to adopt a strong precautionary Protocol mindful of the wisdom
attributed to Chief Seattle:

"We do not inherit the Earth from our parents; we borrow it from
our children."

German NGO Forum on Environment and Development (Germany)
World Development Movement (U.K.)
Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina)
Red Alerta Sobre Transgenicos (Argentina)
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (South Africa)
RAFI -- Rural Advancement Foundation International(Uruguay, Canada)
Council for Responsible Genetics (USA)
Tinker Institute on International Law and Organizations (USA)
Washington Biotechnology Action Council (USA)
Institute for Applied Ecology (Germany)
Institute of Science in Society (U.K.)
Friends of the Earth International
Third World Network
Biotech Action Montreal (Canada)
Women's Environmental Network (U.K.)
Genetics Forum (U.K.)
Greenpeace International
Greenpeace Argentina (Argentina)
Australian GeneEthics Network (Australia)
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (USA)
Council of Canadians (Canada)
The Edmonds Institute (USA)
Sobrevivencia (Paraguay)
Biowatch (South Africa)
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (U.K.)


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| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
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