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Biosafety Protocol Talks Collapse
``It is my intention as soon as possible to try to relaunch these negotiations and bring them to a conclusion -- with or without the United States,''
European Union Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard - February 1999
Letter to Ritt Bjerregaard from EU Environment Committee - December 1998
Food Production, Choice, and Security: The Role of the Biosafety Protocol & The Implications of Genetic Engineering: BioSafety Protocol Negotiation Options. Written for the UKabc by Richard Tapper, Environment Business & Development Group
For CBD Updates and Summary Report from ENB, Click Here
PRESS RELEASE FROM UNEP
Governments postpone adoption of biosafety treaty
Cartagena, Colombia, 23 February 1999 - Officials from 138 governments suspended talks here today when they were unable to finalize the text of a legally binding protocol on reducing risks related to the transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs). "Biotechnology can contribute enormously to human well-being, but it poses potential risks," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. "For this reason, the global community will continue to work on establishing a legally binding biosafety regime."
"A great deal of progress on this regime has been made here in Cartagena, including on capacity-building in developing countries and on the exchange of information through a Biosafety Clearing House," he continued. "But governments still need more time to discuss their remaining differences. I am hopeful that they will be able to adopt the protocol when the meeting is resumed at a later date." In Cartagena, governments discussed the risks that biotechnology may pose for biological diversity and human health, its socio-economic implications for developing countries, and the relevance to biosafety of the precautionary approach. The international community is pursuing a biosafety protocol to ensure that living modified organisms are only transported into countries with their "advanced informed agreement". Exporters would have to make sure that recipient countries had the opportunity and capacity to assess risks involving the creations of modern biotechnology. The talks have stalled over a number of issues. In particular, governments disagree over the proposed scope of the treaty´s regulatory powers. Some want to restrict the definition of LMO to organisms intended for introduction into the environment. Others argue for a broader definition that would include agricultural commodities and products of LMOs.
Another contentious issue is liability: if LMOs enter the environment and cause damage, who pays? Also unresolved is how to minimize the potential socio-economic impacts, such as the competitive decline of traditional crops faced with LMO imports. Yet another unresolved question relates to the protocol's relationship to the World Trade Organization and its various subsidiary agreements. When eventually adopted, the biosafety agreement is to form a protocol under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. The protocol has been negotiated by the Open-ended Ad hoc Working Group on Biosafety, which held its first meeting in 1996 and its sixth and final one from 14-22 February here in Cartagena. The Working Group concluded its work yesterday and passed the unfinished text to the Extraordinary Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), which is the Convention's ultimate authority. The Session, chaired by Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr, will resume later and be responsible for finalizing and adopting the protocol text. LMOs include various food crops that have been genetically modified for greater productivity or nutritional value, or for resistance to pests or diseases. Common examples include tomatoes, grains, cassava, corn, and soybeans. Seeds for growing crops are particularly important because they are used intentionally to propogate or reproduce LMOs in the environment. Together, these agricultural LMOs form the basis of a multi-billion-dollar global industry. Pharmaceuticals derived using LMOs form the basis of an even larger industry. The biosafety talks reflect growing public concerns about the potential risks of biotechnology. Many countries with modern biotechnology industries do have domestic legislation. However, there are no binding international agreements covering LMOs that cross national borders because of trade or accidental releases. Another concern is that many developing countries lack the technical, financial, and institutional means to address biosafety. They need greater capacity for assessing and managing risks, establishing adequate information systems, and developing expert human resources in biotechnology.
Assorted reports from the NewsWires
Wednesday February 24, 9:24 pm Eastern Time
Biogenetic Treaty Plan Scuttled
By FRANK BAJAK Associated Press Writer CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) --
Opposing an accord approved by more than 125 nations, the United States and five other countries scuttled efforts Wednesday to forge an environmental protection treaty on trade in genetically modified plants and animals. Washington said it was protecting the world's food trade from potentially crippling regulatory burdens. But critics said it was doing the bidding of multinational businesses, whose laboratory-produced crops could one day sow ecological catastrophe. The breakdown after 10 days of talks marked the first time in more than 20 years that a major international environmental negotiation has concluded in disarray, said Michael Williams, spokesman for the U.N. Environmental Program. The negotiations are to resume within 16 months at an undetermined time and place. The European Union and more than 110 other nations at the U.N.-initiated talks agreed late Tuesday to forge a so-called Biosafety Protocol, an outgrowth of the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil. But the United States, Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile blocked the proposed compromise, which would have permitted nations to restrict imports not only of experimental organisms but also of genetically altered crops such as soy, corn, cotton and potatoes. ``The United States has dominated these negotiations and they've now sabotaged them. They're obviously trying to force genetically modified food down the throats of consumers,'' charged Louise Gale, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Greenpeace. The United States, the world's main biotech exporter, wanted a narrowly focused treaty that ``protected the environment and yet avoided unduly restraining international trade'' in a rapidly growing mutibillion-dollar industry, said U.S. delegation chief Melinda Kimble. Biotech products such as insect-resistant crops and vaccines born of gene-splicing are touted by proponents as guarantors of future global food security and improved human health. They produce higher yields than traditionally crossbred hybrids with fewer chemical insecticides and herbicides. Their patents are mostly owned by a handful of companies -- from Monsanto of St. Louis to Novartis of Basel, Switzerland, who insist the products are rigorously tested and safe. Critics, however, worry about the possibility of still unfathomable and possibly catastrophic consequences if the products goes awry. Developing countries want international safeguards to protect themselves against potential biogenetic disaster. They want biotech companies legally liable for any damage to biodiversity or human health -- another provision opposed by the United States. Many Europeans also distrust genetically engineered products. Governments such as Austria and Luxembourg have banned certain biotech crops and regulations are widespread mandating the labeling of biogenetic food products for consumers. Although genetic engineering experimentation began two decades ago, development of biotech foods, vaccines and byproducts has only recently taken off. Worldwide, more than 67 million acres of genetically altered crops were sown in 1998, up from about 2 million in 1996. In the United States, between 25 percent and 45 percent of some major crops are already genetically modified. Industry officials expect some 90 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to be biogenetic within a decade.
EU blames U.S. for collapse of gene-food talks
09:29 a.m. Feb 25, 1999 Eastern
BRUSSELS, Feb 25 (Reuters) -
The European Union's environment chief on Thursday blamed the United States for the collapse of global talks on genetically altered foods and crops and said negotiators should proceed without Washington if necessary. ``It is my intention as soon as possible to try to relaunch these negotiations and bring them to a conclusion -- with or without the United States,'' Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard said in a statement. A U.N. conference in Cartagena, Colombia, broke up on Wednesday without an agreement on international rules to regulate the multibillion-dollar trade in genetically modified products. Debate was split between a group of developing nations and the so-called Miami Group of the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia and Chile. The Miami Group insisted the proposed Biosafety Protocol should apply only to seeds and not commodities, and opposed requirements to label genetically modified products. ``They (the United States and its allies) came to the negotiations without any clear will to move forward, but only wanted to dictate the terms of an agreement,'' Bjerregaard said. ``That would have been an agreement without any genuine environmental credibility.'' ``The negotiations underline once more that without leadership and pressure from the European Union nothing will be done to protect the global environment,'' she added. At the end of the 10-day conference bringing together officials from 150 nations, the United Nations said another meeting would be scheduled within 18 months to resume efforts to craft a pact to regulate foods and crops that are genetically altered, for example to resist disease or produce higher yields. ((Brussels Newsroom, +322 287 6830, fax +322 230 5573, e-mail brussels.newsroom+reuters.com)) Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication and redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
Friday 26 February 1999
Seeds of dissension
The Ottawa Citizen
For the first time in 20 years, international negotiations on a key environmental issue have failed to meet their deadline. The collapse of the "Biosafety Protocol" talks in Colombia this week is a serious blow to environmental security, leaving the world with no agreement on how to regulate the international transportation of plants and animals produced by the relatively new science of genetic modification. Who is responsible? Canada's own Jean Chretien, among others. Canada joined five other nations to thwart an agreement that had been reached among the other 125 nations represented in Colombia. The thread binding Canada and her allied nay-sayers (the United States, Argentina, Australia, Chile, and Uruguay) is our reliance on exports of crops created by genetic modification --Ein which scientists snip out bits of genes from other plants or animals and implant them in crops, creating new plants that may, for example, be resistant to certain insects or likelier to survive drought. In the U.S., somewhere between 25 and 45 per cent of all crops are the result of genetic modification. More than 40 per cent of Canada's canola crop is genetically modified, as are about a quarter of our soy beans and corn. Currently, these crops are treated like any other. If a nation restricts their import, it risks sanctions under international trade agreements. Only if it has hard scientific proof that a genetically modified organism (GMO) is dangerous to human health or the environment can it stop its entry. Clear evidence of human health effects is hard enough to get, and the environment is notoriously difficult to predict. What happens if genetically modified crops brought into a country, either for planting or consumption, escape into the local environment? Will they out-compete local species and drive them into extinction? Will they swallow habitats and defy efforts to stop them? Until the GMO is actually introduced, it is difficult to answer these questions with scientific clarity. And once it is introduced, it's too late. This is not mere speculation. From rabbits in Australia to purple loosestrife suffocating Ontario wetlands, we have ample experience of how the introduction of species alien to an ecosystem can go horribly wrong. That's why most governments strictly regulate importation of foreign species. GMOs contain novel genes and trade law should allow governments to treat them accordingly. Such safeguards could be twisted into protectionism, but are not inherently so. There are sound grounds for letting nations apply the "precautionary principle" and forbid the entry of GMOs until there is evidence they are safe. In this way, the benefits of biotechnology can be balanced with the safety of ecosystems. There is a cost to be paid with this approach: slower growth of the biotech industry and more expensive food. This is why Canada and its five allies did all they could to hamstring the biosafety negotiations, including thwarting attempts to get the "precautionary principle" enshrined in the agreement, and even more modest proposals like allowing nations to require the separation of genetically modified and unmodified crops. The failure in Colombia has no doubt delighted biotech giants like Monsanto, but it was only one in a string of wins. When the European Union considered requiring products made with genetically modified crops to be labelled accordingly, the U.S. government bullied the Europeans into backing down with threats of trade war. New Zealand capitulated even faster. Oh, and did we mention that Monsanto's CEO is a major financial backer, and chum, of William Jefferson Clinton? The success of American stonewalling in Colombia is particularly galling given that the U.S. isn't even a signatory to the 1992 Biodiversity Convention, which is the basis of the biosafety talks. The U.S. even opposed opening the negotiations in the first place. Canada's opposition goes beyond galling to disgusting, since it was Canadian leadership that helped create the Convention that we are now obstructing. But of course that leadership was provided by Brian Mulroney. Jean Chretien can hardly be expected to follow the policies of such a notorious deep ecologist
Australia helps sink genetic food treaty
Date: 26/02/99 By FRANK BAJAK of Associated Press Cartagena, Colombia:
Australia joined the United States and four other countries on Wednesday to scuttle efforts to forge an environmental treaty on trade in genetically modified plants and animals. More than 150 nations - including the European Union - attending the United Nations-initiated talks in Colombia, agreed to a so-called Biosafety Protocol, an outgrowth of the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil. External Links Biodiversity Conference Site ------------------------------------------------------------ ------------ But Australia, the US, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile blocked the proposed compromise, which would have permitted nations to restrict imports not only of experimental organisms but also of genetically altered crops such as soy, corn, cotton and potatoes. Washington said it was protecting the world's food trade from potentially crippling regulatory burdens. Critics said it was doing the bidding of multinational businesses, whose laboratory-produced crops could one day sow ecological catastrophe. Genetic engineering experimentation began two decades ago, but the development of biotech foods, vaccines and by-products has only recently taken off. Worldwide, more than 27.1 million hectares of genetically altered crops were sown in 1998, up from about 800,000ha in 1996. In the US between 25 per cent and 45 per cent of some major crops are already genetically modified. Biotech products such as insect-resistant crops and vaccines born of gene-splicing are touted by proponents as guarantors of future global food security. They produce higher yields than traditionally crossbred hybrids with fewer chemical insecticides and herbicides. Their patents are mostly owned by a handful of companies - from Monsanto of St Louis to Novartis of Basel, Switzerland, who insist the products are rigorously tested and safe. Critics, however, worry about the possibility of still unfathomable and possibly catastrophic consequences if the products go awry. Stephanie Peatling reports from Canberra: The Australian Food Council accused those countries calling for more restrictive regulations of pushing a protective trade agenda. "This is merely a ruse to engineer trade barriers," the council's executive director, Mr Mitch Hooke, said. "They are prostituting public health for the sake of trying to usurp the authority of the World Trade Organisation, which has already put in place strong grounds for trade restrictions on environmental or public health safety grounds." This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.
PRESS RELEASE US SEEKS TO TERMINATE NEGOTIATIONS ON SAFEGUARDS FOR TRADE IN GENETIC FOODS
February 22nd, 1999 Cartagena, Colombia --
Greenpeace today condemned the destructive efforts by the United States to terminate international negotiations on safeguards for the trade of genetically modified organisms (GMO's), in particular grains such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya beans. Greenpeace called on other countries to continue the negotiations at the Cartagena Biosafety meeting without the US, which only has observer status as the US Senate have failed to ratify the Biodiversity Convention. The US, early Monday, refused every compromise put forward by other countries and the meeting dissolved without agreeing on a negotiation text for the Ministerial meeting due to start later today. The US has refused to include commodities, such as soya beans and corn, which are declared for consumption or processing and not planting, in the negotiations. This accounts for more than 90 per cent of world trade in GMO's. "The US has attempted to terminate the Biosafety Protocol," said Greenpeace political advisor Louise Gale. "It seems that the US, driven by the commercial interests of companies such as Monsanto, is willing to threaten the world's biodiversity and foregoing any international safeguards on the trade in GMO's." "Millions more consumers would be denied a choice about what they eat and now a majority of the world's national governments would now be powerless to enforce this basic individual right," said Benedikt Haerlin Greenpeace International GMO campaign coordinator. "Many of these countries depend on food imports from major exporters such as the United States, Canada and Argentina". "A group of six countries - US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Chile and Uruguay - is about to block the effort of the rest of the world's 170 nations to reach an agreement," said Gale. "The vast majority of the countries here want the Protocol and EU and the G77 countries must continue and make sure that the last two and half years have not been wasted. The US, which is not even a party of these negotiations since it has not ratified the Rio convention, came here only with one task - to torpedo the negotiations." More information: - Louise Gale, Greenpeace International political advisor in Cartagena +57 3 752 85 53 - Benedikt Haerlin +49 30 30 889912 - Mika Railo, Greenpeace International press officer in Cartagena +57 3 752 77 00 Jon Walter, Greenpeace International press desk in Amsterdam +31 20 5249 545
*** 130 TO 5 ON BIOSAFETY TREATY: GUESS WHICH SIDE U.S. IS ON ***
"It's five against the world," said Joseph M. Goto, the delegate from Zimbabwe to the recently concluded conference on the Biosafety Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The U.S. delegation led the opposition to the protocol, which would have required exporters of genetically altered plants, seeds, or other organisms to obtain advance approval by importing nations. "The United States is holding the world at ransom," Goto told the New York Times (U.S. and Allies Block Treaty on Genetically Altered Goods, Feb. 25). Joining the U.S. were Canada, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Some 25 percent to 45 percent of major crops grown in the United States are genetically modified, and U.S. negotiators feared that the proposal would create obstacles for U.S. agricultural exports, one of the few economic sectors that enjoys a trade surplus. The U.S. was also determined to stop dead in its tracks any measure that would undermine the authority of the World Trade Organization to set the rules for global commerce. Kristin Dawkins of the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, author of an FPIF policy brief on Intellectual Property Rights and the Privatization of Life, notes that the Convention on Biological Diversity provides a framework for the development of credible multilateral regimes that regulate the operations of transnational corporations while enabling local and regional resource management to evolve. The convention, which the U.S. has not ratified, mandated negotiations for a protocol on biosafety. "The U.S. is acting as a brake on progress, insisting there is no need to regulate trade in genetically engineered organisms," writes Dawkins. Toward a New Foreign Policy The U.S. should cease its campaign to outlaw the a priori rights of communities to the resources that sustain them. The U.S. should also cease utilizing Super 301 and other bullying tactics and instead join the world community of nations in finding multilateral solutions to the struggle over valuable natural resources. U.S. negotiators have lobbied for the weakest possible terms of a biosafety protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Simultaneously, the USTR and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture have announced (as loudly as possible) that they consider European regulations on genetically engineered foods to be barriers to trade that the U.S. will fight in every forum available at the WTO. The tactics include ongoing dispute settlement processes, the current review of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, and reconsideration of the Agriculture Agreement in 2000. The U.S. should cease this irresponsible behavior and, consistent with the precautionary principle established at the 1992 Earth Summit, support a careful regulatory regime--including ecosystem-specific testing and extensive adult human trials, subject to their prior informed consent--before unleashing transgenic foods and seeds into open markets. (USENET DISCUSSION ON US_)
BBC Wednesday, February 24, 1999
Published at 11:31 GMT
GM food talks fail
"No genetic contamination" read the protesters' posters The 170 nations at the UN Biodiversity Convention in Colombia have failed to agree on international rules for the safe trade in genetically-modified (GM) food. The final round of talks began at 0900 GMT on Wednesday with delegates deciding to "postpone" the adoption of an agreement to protect biodiversity. The talks could not resolve disagreements between countries which produce genetically altered foods and the rest of the world. Their aim had been a legally-binding protocol on reducing the risks of cross-border movement of GM organisms. The meeting, in the city of Cartagena, involved delegates from the countries which have signed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. US accused The United States had been accused of trying to wreck the talks. It has not ratified the convention but was in Cartagena as an observer. But it has used that restricted status to orchestrate a refusal to allow the meeting to include commodities like soya beans and corn in the negotiations. The two crops make up 90% of the world trade in GM organisms. [ image: Soya beans for Downing Street: GM food protests are international] If the commodities were included, it would mean labelling them in international trade. That could mean they were boycotted. The failure to reach agreement means there is no global agreement that a country has the right to refuse to allow the import of GM organisms. If individual states do refuse, they will be liable to challenge at the World Trade Organisation. Greenpeace accuses the Americans of threatening biodiversity in the name of profit. Greenpeace's political adviser, Louise Gale, said: "The US has attempted to terminate the Biosafety Protocol". "It seems that the US, driven by the commercial interests of companies such as Monsanto, is willing to threaten the world's biodiversity and forego any international safeguards on the trade in GMOs." Britain criticised The US observers did have the support of five delegations, most of them from major grain exporting countries - Canada, Argentina, Australia, Chile and Uruguay. The British delegation is also accused of giving support to the Americans after it helped to draw up a set of proposals which favour their position. Dr Doug Parr, of Greenpeace UK, said that failed talks would mean that millions more consumers would be denied a choice about what they eat and a majority of the world's national governments would be powerless to enforce this basic individual right. He also criticised the UK Government's policy on GMOs. "Whilst they make promises to the UK public about labelling, no UK minister is present at international negotiations"
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