GENTECH archive


RE: Biosafety conference - reposted

[Resent this one with SUBJECT included]

Even though these 2 items repeat fairly well-known news, what's important
is that they are AP stories, circulated to the mainstream (U$) news media,
--- which increase the chance of having more biosafety issues publicly

Wednesday February 24 6:11 AM ET


CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) - Negotiations collapsed early today on a treaty
regulating international shipments of genetically modified organisms over
objections by a U.S.-led bloc, which critics said had stressed trade over
environmental protection.

The European Union and more than 110 other nations at the U.N.-initiated
talks reached consensus late Tuesday in an 11th-hour attempt to forge a
so-called Biosafety Protocol, an outgrowth of the 1992 Earth Summit in

But the United States and its allies - Australia, Canada, Uruguay,
Argentina and Chile - refused to accept the proposed compromise after 10
days of talks, insisting on a more narrowly focused treaty that would
minimally impact a multibillion-dollar industry that is growing.

"No deal was better than a bad deal and that was the outcome,'' said Rafe
Pomerance, deputy chief of the U.S. delegation.

"History will not pardon what happened,'' said Cuba's deputy
environmental minister, Mario Fajardo Moros, lamenting that such a small
group had torpedoed a global treaty.

It was the first time in more than 20 years that an international
environmental negotiation had concluded in such disarray, said Michael
Williams, spokesman for the U.N. Environmental Program.

The negotiations will resume within 16 months at an as yet undetermined
time and place.

Many nations were angered at what they considered bullying tactics by
Washington and its allies - major exporters of biotech products such as
insect-resistant crops and vaccines produced by splicing genes.

"We are being held at ransom so we can come closer to the position of the
United States,'' said Joseph Gopo, director of Zimbabwe's biotech research

Proponents say biotech crops will ensure future global food security,
producing higher yields with fewer chemical insecticides and herbicides.
They insist the products are rigorously tested and have so far presented
no health or environmental risks.

But critics say the technology is too new, predicting a biological time
bomb if just one transgenetic product goes awry.

Developing countries charged that the U.S.-led group was doing the bidding
of businesses whose chief interest is unfettered trade in biotech crops.

Although genetic engineering experimentation began two decades ago,
development of biotech foods, vaccines and byproducts has only recently
taken off. Worldwide, more than 66 million acres of genetically altered
crops were sown in 1998, up from about 2 million in 1996.


Friday February 19 3:39 PM ET


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

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 nature.

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

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 involved.

"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 organisms.

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.

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