GENTECH archive


US SABOTAGES biosafety protocol (with help from a few friends)

                        By Jeremy Lennard in Bogota
 Guardian (London)                        Tuesday February 23, 1999

A treaty among 170 countries to ensure safe trade in genetically modified
organisms has been sabotaged by the United States, which believes its
business interests are threatened.

The US has refused to allow commodities like soya bean and corn, which
account for 90 per cent of the world trade in GMOs, to be included in the
negotiations. If they were included they would need to be clearly labelled
when being traded between countries, something the Americans are anxious
to avoid because it could lead to their products being boycotted.

The US action came only 24 hours before a deadline for the biosafety
negotiations in Cartagena to be completed. The US refused to bow to
pressure from the vast majority of the 170 countries present, who called
for a cautious approach to the international trade.

It is likely that a protocol will still be signed, but after working
groups failed last week to produce a consensus on a paper for the final
debates, the treaty is likely to favour free trade concerns over
environmental prudence, and play into the hands of biotech companies such
as the US giants Monsanto and Dow.

'The US is willing to threaten biodiversity in the name of short-term
profits. It wants a biotrade, not a biosafety, protocol,' said
Greenpeace's political adviser, Louise Gale. 'Over the past two years the
US has flooded the world market with unregulated and unlabelled
gentically-engineered [GE] grain. It is clear it wants to continue this
practice and will sabotage any efforts to set international rules for GE

Although the US has no formal delegation in Cartagena, it sent a powerful
lobby group of biotech company representatives. They have worked with a
handful of other countries to ride roughshod over the concerns of the
European Union and the developing world, which fears it will become a
unwitting testing ground for biotechnology.

Last week the British delegation broke ranks with its EU colleagues when
it helped to write a set of proposals strongly in favour of the US
position, and which will form the watered-down basis of any treaty signed

The proposals essentially reduce any potential agreement to govern the
trade in genetically engineered seed, and offer few or no restrictions on
the trade in genetically engineered grain to be used in food, and other
commodities containing GMOs. If adopted, the paper will also sideline
liability concerns for another four years while freeing up trade.

Unless the majority of the countries can force their agenda at the
eleventh-hour, the right of countries to say no to the import of
genetically modified organisms will not be subject to global agreement,
except for seeds. Instead it will be reduced to a decision by individual
states, which can be contested before the World Trade Organisation.

At the same time, the rights of individual countries to insist that
genetically engineered grain, for example, be segregated from conventional
grain, and that commodities containing genetically modified organisms be
labelled, has been fudged.

The implications of a weak protocol for importer countries and the vast
majority of the developing world were demonstrated at the weekend with the
arrival of a US grain-carrier at the nearby Caribbean port of Santa Marta.
Its cargo would be unaffected by the current proposed wording of the

The cargo ship Abydos docked on Saturday to unload 17,000 tons of maize,
which even by the biotechnology industry's estimates could contain up to
3,500 tons of genetically engineered grain. Colombian law makes no
provision for the presence of GE grain in the shipment, and the country
becomes a passive recipient without the right of prior consultation.

Countries fail to agree on global biodiversity agreement

CARTAGENA, Colombia, Feb 22 (AFP) - Hours after declaring themselves at an
impasse, delegates trying to hammer out global rules to protect the
planet's biodiversity relaunched their negotiations to seek a

UN sponsored biosafety negotiations among 170 countries failed earlier
Monday to produce an agreement on a draft protocol text due to be handed
over to the UN Biodiversity Convention which opened here Monday.

The main sticking point, delegates said, was proposed regulations on the
cross-border transport of genetically altered fruits, vegetables and other
organic products, known as "modified living organisms."

Of the 65 nations who attended Monday afternoon's session 63 voted against
the draft text. Only Russia and Japan voted to adopt the protocol,
although their delegates suggested it could be improved.

But late Monday host Colombia -- led by Environment Minister Juan Mayr --
managed to relaunch the negotiations.

Mayr, who is presiding the conference, was able to form a reduced working
group drawn from 10 delegates from different groups to continue the
negotiations, using the rejected text as a starting point.

The group, which began meeting late Monday, was to focus on articles four
and five, the most controversial of the 45-article protocol, the minister

"One of the great unresolved themes is contained in these two articles,"
Mayr said.

The talks, which began February 15, followed two and a half years of
preliminary discussions. They were originally to have concluded on Friday.

The signed protocol was then to be submitted for final approval at the UN
Convention on Biological Diversity meeting here Monday and Tuesday.

But environmentalists and Third World groups could not come to terms with
countries with strong biotechnology industries, who opposed strong

A group representing Third World non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had
predicted the failure of the talks, blasting agriculture-exporting nations
belonging to the "Miami Group" for sabotaging the negotiations by their

The so-called Miami group rejects the proposal to require that all
modified living organisms exported to other countries be labeled as such,
while the European Union, China and most Latin American nations have
insisted identification be a minimal requirement.

Environmental group Greenpeace accused the Miami group members -- the
United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay and
Chile -- of sacrificing food safety, crop diversity and human health in
exchange for increased profits for their biotech industries.

"A group of six countries managed to block the effort of the rest of the
world to reach an agreement" on genetically altered products destined for
human or animal consumption, Louise Gale of Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace went as far as asking member countries to exclude the United
States from talks, saying that US negotiators are more interested in
maintaining free trade over biosafety.

"It seems that the US is willing in cold blood to threaten biodiversity in
the name of short-term profit," Gale said.

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