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TITLE:  Neither early warning nor early listening - What the CGIAR is not
doing
SOURCE: ETC, Mexico/Canada, News Release
DATE:   February 27, 2002

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html -----------------


Neither Early Warning nor Early Listening - What the CGIAR is Not Doing:

Silent Science

If you don’thave anything nice to say don’tsay anything at all? When the
policy committee of the world’s most important agricultural science network met
last week, they evaded all the tough questions related to transgenic maize in
Mexico - the crop’s center of genetic diversity. Last year, and again last
month, the Mexican Environment Ministry confirmed that farmersí maize
varieties in at least two states had been contaminated with DNA from genetically
modified maize.

“Hot tamale” dropped: The uproar over the Mexican transgenic maize scandal
has derailed industry plans to get EU governments to abandon their de facto
moratorium on GM (genetically-modified) crops and produce. Brussels had hoped
to raise the issue during the EU’s Barcelona round in March. But as Nature
Biotechnology magazine reported in February, jitters over the Mexican debacle
were causing both industry and pro-biotech governments to reconsider pressing
for a decision that might go against them. The joint statement issued by more
than 140 civil society organizations (CSOs) on February 19th reinforced their
concern. The moratorium issue will not come up until the EU’s October
meeting. See: http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=298 to view the joint
statement.

Meanwhile, the Genetic Resources Policy Committee of the CGIAR (Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research) met in Los Banos, Philippines
February 20-22nd. The CGIAR speaks for the 16 International Agricultural
Research Centres responsible for the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. One
of the 16 centres, CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement
Centre in Mexico) has been embroiled in the contamination debate largely because
it has the world’s most important maize gene bank. CIMMYT is not regarded as a
cause of GM contamination nor is its bank contaminated. But CIMMYT and CGIAR
not only develop new plant varieties and conserve genetic diversity, they
are purported to offer scientific leadership and an early warning system when
problems arise. „After listening to the Mexican Government’s alarm bells for
almost half a year, maybe our genetic guardians need an early listening
system,“ suggests the ETC group’s Pat Mooney.

Said and not said: Among others, farmersí organizations and governments
looked to the CGIAR meeting to bring clarity to the controversy surrounding GM
pollution in a center of diversity and to suggest steps that could be taken in
keeping with the precautionary principle adopted by governments as part of
the Biosafety Protocol. In the end, the CGIAR declined to act. The research
network was more concerned for its institutional safety than in biosafety. The
committee concluded that it did not have enough information to act; that
further studies were needed (but declined to suggest whose responsibility they
should be), on the implications of GM contamination for genetic diversity , gene
banks, and intellectual property.The committee only gently opined that FAO,
UNEP, or UNESCO, (anyone but CGIAR) might want to look into the matter.
Finally, they congratulated the Mexican government and CIMMYT for their
transparency in dealing with the issue.

Early warning denied: The committee was expected to cut through the
confusion surrounding methodologies for GM testing and provide an early warning for
the international community. Instead, they chose to use the manufactured furor
over methodologies as a reason not to act. Farmers and CSOs had expected the
committee to rise above the academic squabble and simply address the direct
statements of the Mexican Government confirming that the countryside was
contaminated. The meeting will be remembered for the CGIAR’s silence and
passivity.

- Field contamination ignored: The committee would not state that regardless
of the debate over test methodologies, Mesoamerican governments should enact
the precautionary principle and assume that there is maize contamination;

- Moratorium support sidestepped: The committee turned down a proposal to
commend the Mexican government’s current moratorium on genetically-modified
crops and, instead, „noted“ the policy;

- Precautionary principle discounted: While acknowledging the importance of
the situation, the committee refused to follow the recent U.S. precedent of
invoking the precautionary principle to restrict the planting of GM cotton in
some areas of the United States where wild or feral cotton is found. „The
U.S. is hardly a center of diversity for cotton and cotton is much less
vulnerable to GM pollution than maize,“ notes ETC’s Silvia Ribeiro in Mexico;

- Gene banks endangered: Despite a general consensus that field
contamination will lead to gene bank contamination, the committee and CIMMYT did not
advise bank directors to take any specific actions or propose any specific
policies or procedures;

- Intellectual property policies compromised: Although it vaguely noted that
there might be patent issues involved, the committee did not decide to
formally notify the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that GM
contamination involving in-trust material held in CGIAR gene banks could compromise
access to bank accessions;

- Biodiversity Convention dismissed: The committee rejected a proposal that
it ask the Convention on Biological Diversity to look into the issue of
transgenic contamination in a Centre of Genetic Diversity even though the UN
Convention has stressed the importance of such Centres and is meeting in April;

- Farmersí Rights ignored: The committee did not respond to the request that
the CGIAR gene banks guarantee the continued access of farmers to
uncontaminated gene bank accessions.

"For the world's farmers, the CGIAR’s attitude is very troubling“, says
Mexico’s Ernesto Ladron de Guevara, of the farmersí organization UNORCA, „because
the seeds they have in trust are the contribution of farmers of the whole
world with the understanding that the seeds remain the patrimony of humankind.
The CGIAR is obliged to ensure that farmers can obtain good quality,
patent-free and transgenic-free seeds from the gene bank collections." Ladron de
Guevara is also the representative of the Genetic Resources Commission of Via
Campesina.

Doctor Alejandro Nadal in Mexico City concludes, „CGIAR has failed to take
responsibility by ignoring that genetic contamination will eventually make it
very difficult or impossible to rejuvenate their seeds.By not calling for a
moratorium to stop the sources of contamination in Mexico, and by failing to
take steps to protect all centres of crop diversity, CGIAR is contradicting
the precautionary principle." Dr. Nadal is the director of the Science and
Technology Program at Colegio de Mexico.

The „protecting their bottoms“ line: With the CGIAR planted firmly on its
own hands, many organizations that have signed the Joint Statement will take
the matter to the Convention on Biological Diversity when environment ministers
meet in The Hague from April 8th to 26th.The issue is also bound to be
discussed at the UN/FAO Committee on Food Security and at the World Food Summit
that will take place in Rome in early June. „By that time,“ Pat Mooney admits,
„the obfuscations around methodologies will be long past, and governments and
CGIAR will have to discuss the real threat to food security. The world will
also want an explanation from the CGIAR as to why they failed to provide
farmers with an early warning.“

For further information:

Silvia Ribeiro:silvia@etcgroup.org (52) 5555-63-26-64 CST - Mexico City
Pat Roy Mooney: etc@etcgroup.org (204) 453-5259 CST - Winnipeg



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