GENTECH archive


Biosafety Protocol - a disastrous compromise in process

From: "Hambling, Joyce" <> 
To: "''" <> 
Subject: Urgent!Urgent! 
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 19:26:08 -0000 

Reports from NGO observers in Cartagena, Columbia on the Biosafety 
Protocol speak of a disastrous compromise being worked out and that the 
EU is about to give in on major points. 
the NGO's are writing a statement at the moment and are presently 
working extremely hard to lobbying delegates to strengthen their 
as far as we know - socio- economic considerations are relegated to the 
preamble - where it would have no legal significance 
The Precautionary Principle is possibly still in(being argued) but is 
extremely weak - one NGO reported that it was as good as written out, 
although this still has to be confirmed. 
liability -the wording is believed to be 'parties may consider' rather 
than shall have the right to - no timeline has been fixed to this 
GE Commodity crops for processing and animal feed is excluded -this in 
effect means 99% of all transported GE and is so loosely worded that it 
could apply to almost anything. 
Although the USA is not a signatory and therefore has no voting rights, 
they and the other members of the Miami group seem to have had undue 
influence on the drafting of the Protocol.
We hope to have more definite news shortly - but if anyone is doing an 
action or has reason to do media work this weekend - please flag up the 
importance and urgency of a strong positive position by the EU and 
especially Britain. Meacher should be left in no doubt that the public 
reaction to the UK not taking a stand and reflecting public concern will 
be outrage.
As soon as there is a statement by either a delegate or the NGO's and/or 
the official text, it will be posted.Press coverage from the states is 
available on several search engines - there is good coverage on the 
Greenpeace International site.

February 19, 1999

CARTAGENA - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : Representatives 
of the world's 
leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the environment gathered 
in this Colombian city 
today to call for a moratorium on the trade and release of genetically 
modified organisms (GMOs).
Thirty-six delegates of NGOs from Latin America, Africa, Asia, the United 
States and Europe 
protested the attempt by the industrialized North to monopolize control 
over food security, the 
production of medicines and agribusiness processes.
The NGOs are meeting this week in Cartagena parallel to the final stage of 
negotiations on the 
Biosafety Protocol.
The position of industrialized countries, backed by transnational 
biotechnology corporations, 
especially affects the countries of the developing South, the NGOs argued.
"The moratorium should remain in place until the risks posed to human 
health and biological and 
cultural diversity by the consumption and release of GMOs are assessed, and 
until it is clear how 
they affect the economies of developing countries," the NGO declaration
The environmentalists appealed to the sense of responsibility of the 
government delegations from 
more than 150 countries taking part in the talks on the protocol in the 
port city of Cartagena in 
northern Colombia.
By the fourth day of the meet, which began Feb. 14 and runs through Feb. 
19, the more than 500 
official delegates had made little headway in reconciling the opposing 
interests of the North and 
The objective of this week's talks is to agree on a series of international 
regulations on the transfer, 
handling and use of GMOs, which are mainly crops designed and modified by 
genetic engineering.
The NGOs urged that civil society -- "the principal potential victim of 
these products, and the big 
absentee from the meetings," in the words of German Velez, with the Seeds 
Program in Colombia -- 
must be informed of and involved in the debate on decisions regarding 
Velez said that more than 100 groups of environmentalists, small farmers 
and indigenous people in 
Latin America, meeting in Quito a few days before the start of this week's 
gathering in Cartagena, 
urged a moratorium on the trade and release of GMOs.
The declaration issued in Quito also rejected the growing trend toward the 
manipulation and 
privatization of life, said Velez, who spoke in representation of the NGOs 
from Latin America.
Marijane Lisboa of Greenpeace International, representing the European, 
U.S., Asian and African 
groups, warned that "citizens, consumers, farmers and doctors should be 
informed and consulted, 
besides actively participating in such decisions."
But "up to now their participation has been restricted to a minimal level, 
" she added.
Mae Wan Ho, a geneticist at Britain's Open University, said a group of 
colleagues around the world 
had issued a petition for an "immediate moratorium on the trade and release 
of GMOs." Among the 
scientists who signed the petition figured Vandana Shiva with India's 
Institute of Research for 
Science and Ecology.
Wan Ho, a pioneer in research on the risks posed by the manipulation of 
life, who is known for her 
book "Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare," said the declaration 
included "a vigorous rejection 
of patents and systems for the protection of property rights over living 
Researchers are concerned over "growing scientific evidence" on the harmful 
effects on health 
caused by consumption of and trials involving GMOs, she added.
Wan Ho said that in studies carried out at the University of Virginia in 
the United States, rats fed 
transgenic potatoes suffered serious damage to their immunological systems 
and developed viral 
infections. The use of "marker genes" was also found to increase resistance 
to antibiotics.
Meanwhile, transgenic seeds designed to resist herbicides could " 
genetically contaminate" other 
species and produce "superweeds" that are also highly resistant to 
Such technology intensifies the use and consumption of large doses of 
agrochemicals like 
Round-Up, whose toxic effects on health have been abundantly documented, 
even by researchers 
for the U.S. government.
Genetic engineer Ricarda Steinbrecher said a nationwide campaign for a 
minimal five-year 
moratorium on the trade and release of transgenic organisms was launched in 
the British parliament 
"We have the support of a group of parliamentarians from all of Britain's 
parties, who have taken up 
the growing citizen protests against the introduction of transgenics into 
their national territory," said 
The NGOS want the government delegations to take their views into account 
when it comes to 
drawing up the final text of the Protocol on Biosafety, which is to be 
approved on Feb. 19.
[Copyright 1999, Inter Press Service]
Summit under way on the dangers of genetic engineering 
Associated Press
Summit under way on the dangers of genetic engineering AP 
Science Writer
Prospecting, piracy, private eyes -- the buzzwords negotiators 
are using at an international summit this week suggest intrigue 
and danger.
Even the meeting's backdrop -- the exotic old Caribbean pirate port of 
Cartagena, Colombia -- 
adds to the atmosphere.
But instead of weapons or precious metals, experts from 174 nations are 
debating how to regulate 
trade in gene-engineered potatoes, cotton, grains and trees.
The U.N.-backed summit represents the first global attempt to reduce the 
risks that 
laboratory-designed species might pose to public health and the environment.
For 20 years, biotech companies have been genetically manipulating plants 
and animals to make 
them more attractive -- redder, juicer tomatoes, for example -- speed 
their growth or make them 
more resistant to disease.
These new combinations could increase the food supply and reduce the need 
for hazardous farm 
chemicals. But opponents fear the unintended consequences of messing with 
For example, scientists added commercially valuable traits from the brazil 
nut to a strain of 
soybeans but ended up making the soybeans risky for people with nut allergies.
Another fear is that genes inserted in crops to give them certain 
favorable traits -- resistance to 
herbicides, for example -- might jump to surrounding wild plants. Some 
weeds have already 
become impervious to weedkillers in this way.
These plants, animals and microbes are commercial products as much as they 
are life forms, and 
the rights are tightly held by a small and shrinking group of 
multinational companies. Policing 
these rights is also on the agenda at the conference, which was convened 
to negotiate what is 
being called the Biosafety Protocol.
"We're experiencing a big shift into a biotech century," said Jeremy 
Rifkin, who is president of 
the Washington-based Foundation on Economic Trends and wants a moratorium 
on the 
commercial use of genetically engineered organisms. "We need to be asking 
a whole different set 
of regulatory, environmental and liability questions. It's going to affect 
Biotech industry leaders contend their products are already subject to 
stringent safety standards.
Agribusiness giant [ Monsanto ] says its 60 genetically engineered crops 
have been the subject of 
25,000 field trials in 45 nations. More regulation would "massively 
disrupt all international trade 
in biological materials," said Val Giddings of the Biotechnology 
Industrial Organization.
The United States is taking part in the summit but cannot vote on the 
protocol because the Senate 
has not ratified the U.N.-sponsored biodiversity agreement negotiated in 
Rio de Janiero in 1992.
The biosafety debate has gotten little attention in the United States, 
even though it exports 80 
percent of the world's bioengineered materials.
Europe, however, has seen protests calling for a ban on the sale of 
"Frankenstein foods," at least 
until their risks can be determined.
"There is a huge domain of scientific uncertainty about the impact of 
these things," said Ian 
Taylor, scientific adviser for the environmental group Greenpeace in England.
A 68-year-old toxicologist in Scotland, Arpad Pusztai, has become a cause 
celebre in the 
biosafety debate.
He added insect-resistant genes and proteins to potatoes and fed them to 
rats. The animals 
suffered damaged immune systems, growth problems and shrunken brains, he 
said. It was 
thought to be the first time that trials of genetically modified food 
showed harmful effects.
However, his employer, the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, 
described the findings as 
"muddled" and "misleading" and refused in August to renew his contract. 
Other scientists have 
come to his defense.
Even supporters of genetic engineering say more testing is necessary, 
especially when food is 
"Genetically manipulated organisms are part of the solution of raising 
food production in the 
world," said Maarten Chrispeels of the University of California at San 
Diego. "It is a good idea if 
there are uniform practices and all countries subscribe to minimum 
standards for testing and 
Reaching a consensus before Tuesday, the last scheduled day of the summit, 
may prove difficult.
As of Friday, negotiators from the developed world led by the United 
States had succeeded in 
watering-down a draft text to exclude food crops and most other 
commodities -- such as jeans 
made from genetically engineered cotton -- from the list of regulated 
Other issues in the debate include:
-- Labeling: Consumer and environmental groups want genetically altered 
foods and other 
products to carry labels explaining their scientific histories. Many 
biotech companies and grocers 
are opposed.
-- Permits: Some nations want to establish export permits for each 
biologically altered product. 
The Clinton administration wants to require permits only for those 
products that might cause 
environmental harm.
-- Prospecting and Piracy: Corporations employ researchers to "hunt" down 
genes in biologically 
rich countries and commercialize them. The host nations want to earn 
royalties on the genes.
-- Private eyes: Monsanto has been sending private investigators to make 
sure farmers are not 
violating agreements that bar them from saving gene-engineered seeds and 
using them in a later 
growing season.

Publication Date: February 19, 1999