The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Biosafety Protocol - the outlook for renewed negotiations: 20 Jan 2000By: Dr. Richard Tapper
Director - Environment Business & Development Group 16 Glenville Road Kingston upon Thames KT2 6DD UK Tel: +44 20 8549 1988 E-mail: email@example.com
The battle for biosafety resumes again on 24 January. Government delegations from around the world gather in Montreal for a second attempt to agree a Biosafety Protocol - an international treaty to provide a framework for international regulation of GMOs.
Lined up on one side are more than 120 countries that want to see a strong and effective Biosafety Protocol providing a good level of protection in the face of the risks to the environment and biodiversity that GMOs pose. They want an agreement based on the Precautionary Principle. This states that a lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse to postpone action when there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage. The Precautionary Principle is standard basis for all international environmental agreements, and is a key principle of the Rio Declaration approved at the 1992 Earth Summit.
On the other side, is the Miami Group - Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, the USA, and Uruguay - the six countries that blocked agreement of the Biosafety Protocol in February last year. The Miami Group want any controls to be based on "sound scientific knowledge," a code that is embodied in the rules of the World Trade Organisation. In practice, this is used to outlaw application of the Precautionary Principle and only accepts evidence of risks after they have happened. Its rather like only be allowed to brake after youve crashed your car.
The resumed Biosafety negotiations focus on minute technical detail in an effort to overcome the Miami Groups block on progress. Under the rules of the Biodiversity Convention, the parent for the Biosafety negotiations, the protocol has to be agreed by consensus. So the Miami Group tries to keep progress to a snail pace, in the hope that delay will lead to time running out before agreement can be reached.
The Miami Groups other tactic is to try and portray those who want an effective Protocol as unreasonable negotiators whose crazy demands make any agreement impossible. This could not be further from the truth, but shows how desperate the Miami Group are. At a recent meeting in Vienna, the Miami Group went through their objections point-by-point. Each challenge to their objections revealed a case built on assertions without substance.
And in Seattle, the US attempted to sideline the Biosafety negotiations by setting up a Working Group on Biotechnology under the WTO. They failed - and the American tactic backfired when Environment Ministers from five EU countries issued strong statements condemning the US move, along with the acquiescence of EU trade negotiators to it. They called instead for agreement of a strong and effective Biosafety Protocol at the forthcoming Montreal meeting, as a matter of urgency. They went on to stress that a protocol under the Biodiversity Convention, not the WTO, is the right place to deal with biosafety.
At the same time, developing countries have given notice that they will no longer put up with bullying by dominant countries in the WTO. Their stand has won backing from European countries, including the UK.
It looks like the US is entering the Biosafety negotiations in a weak position. There is also a chance that the other members of the Miami Group will cease toeing the US line, and even that countries may split from the group.
Meanwhile, the past year has seen an enormous increase in public concern over GMOs around the world. Consumers in free markets are saying NO! More information has reached the public about the environmental and health risks associated with genetic engineering technologies - from the implication of GM maize in the decline of Monarch butterflies in the US, to reports on uncertainties associated with genetic engineering of trees, and the potential impacts of GM fish on natural fish populations. In the US, a patient died horribly and inexplicably while undergoing gene therapy - and a follow up enquiry by the Federal authorities revealed a number of deviations from approved procedures in groups across the US authorised to undertake gene therapy.
Furthermore, the market has shown that it can and is responding to consumer demand for GM-free food. In North America, grain shippers and growers are gearing up to supply this market. In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande del Sul has gone GM free, concerned about the environmental effects of GMOs and keen to gain from opportunities in markets for GM-free produce. The Miami Groups claims that supplying markets with non-GM commodities would be a costly and unworkable exercise, are looking threadbare as more growers and companies go GM-free. Suppliers have not gone bankrupt in serving this market - they have done good business showing that going GM-free is the sound commercial option.
The only ones who are losing out are the proponents of GMOs - particularly Monsanto and other giant corporations which have ill-advisedly sunk billions of dollars into genetic engineering of commodity products. The past year has witnessed huge falls in the share price of biotechnology corporations, and leading investment banks - Credit Suisse First Boston and Deutsche Bank - have advised investors of their concerns regarding the performance of biotechnology companies.
It looks like the strategy of the US Government and its Miami Group allies to prevent, or terminally weaken, the Biosafety Protocol has been driven by a desire to keep exports of GMO commodities flowing by stealth - without information, documentation, or any chance for importing countries to make their own informed decisions about whether or not to accept imports of GMOs for food, feed or processing.
While the Miami Group negotiators made conciliatory noises on this and other issues at a recent meeting in Vienna, they had little to offer of substance here. The issues for biosafety remain the same. The key tests of progress at the Montreal meeting will be:
A great deal hangs on the Montreal meeting if a strong and effective Protocol - which would also be the first international agreement of the new millennium - is to be agreed. An overwhelming majority of countries have already reached agreement, while the six Miami Group countries blocked progress, last year. In the intervening months, the urgency of agreeing a Biosafety Protocol has been underlined by growing evidence of the risks and uncertainties associated with GMOs.
The response of some producers and shippers has shown that GM-free exports are perfectly feasible and commercially sensible, while shares in GM giants have tumbled on stock markets around the world, and been shunned by investment advisers. The need for a Biosafety Protcol is clear - so too is the evidence that it wont harm trade but will help consumers to get food that is GM-free, as well as giving countries a framework for protecting their environments and biodiversity where GMO imports are concerned.Also see:
The Biosafety Protocol was finally adopted at 5:00 am Montreal time on Saturday 29th January 2000 by 50 environment ministers and approximately 130 government delegations after a series of difficult negotiations complicated by the obstruction of a small minority of GMO-exporting countries, namely the USA, Canada, Argentina and their associates Australia, Chile and Uruguay - the so-called Miami group.
In a last minute effort to scupper the adoption of the entire Protocol, the Miami Group succeeded in erasing mandatory labelling and information about the use of GMOs in food. Loose wording "This product may contain GM ingredients" will be used in the interim.
Both NGOs and Industry have hailed this historic agreement that for the first time puts environment and trade on an equal footing. The strength of the compromise wording will need to be assessed in practice.
50 countries need to ratify the Protocol before it will come into force - this may happen sooner than expected and, it is hoped, at least by Rio + 10, the tenth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit which launched the CBD and subsequently these biosafety negotiations.
But it will be consumers who will be the final arbiters: According to Greenpeace the future of GMOs will depend not only on international and national legislation, but upon consumers. "The market is falling for genetically engineered food. People are avoiding this food like they would mushrooms from Chernobyl, Benny Haerlin explained, "We are confident that consumers will win this battle in the end."
Further commentary to be posted soon.
The full text is now available from the BELGIAN BIOSAFETY SERVER in HTML format or in PDF format. This text is available for information purpose only. The official version will be available soon from the CBD Web Site.
Below is a sample of the press coverage
BIOSAFETY PROTOCOL: HISTORIC STEP IN FIGHT AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE FROM GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS
29 January 2000
Montreal -- Greenpeace today congratulated the 50 environment ministers and approximately 130 government delegations for adopting an international Biosafety Protocol to control the trade of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). "This is a historic step towards protecting the environment and consumers from the dangers of genetic engineering", said Benedikt Haerlin of Greenpeace. "The protocol adopted here today lays the foundation for a stronger future agreement which will eventually protect the environment from GMOs."
Greenpeace welcomes the fact that common sense is starting to prevail. "These minimum safety standards must be implemented immediately. We urge all countries to ratify this agreement so that it can enter into force at the latest by the tenth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit in 2002," Haerlin said. "And until the protocol has come into force all exports of GMOs should be prohibited."
The Biosafety Protocol was finally adopted after a series of difficult negotiations complicated by the obstruction of a small minority of GMO-exporting countries, namely the USA, Canada, Argentina and their associates Australia, Chile and Uruguay. "We are happy that the US and Canadian-led Miami Group failed in its efforts to force upon the world this untested and risky technology." said Haerlin.
In a last minute effort to hold hostage the adoption of the entire Protocol, the Miami Group succeeded in erasing mandatory labelling and information about the use of GMOs in food. "This is a cowardly attempt to deceive consumers and importing countries," Haerlin said. "We are confident that this smoke-screen strategy will fail." According to Greenpeace the future of GMOs will depend not only on international and national legislation, but upon consumers. "The market is falling for genetically engineered food. People are avoiding this food like they would mushrooms from Chernobyl, Haerlin explained, "We are confident that consumers will win this battle in the end."
America backs down on GM
The breakthrough came after the United States unexpectedly climbed down at the end of heated all-night negotiations at a United Nations summit in Montreal.
The US and half a dozen other GM-exporting countries had steadfastly blocked a consensus pact to regulate the trade in genetically modified food. The deadline for a deal passed on Friday night but the talks continued and, close to dawn yesterday, the US delegation agreed to a Biosafety Protocol.
After the agreement, the US Assistant Secretary of State, David Sandlow, said: 'On balance, we think this is an agreement that protects the environment without disrupting world trade.'
The European Union and many developing nations had argued that countries should be allowed to refuse imports of any genetically modified product. But the US had objected that restricting GM foods would be in violation of World Trade Organisation treaties and that free trade should take precedence.
The pact will allow countries to apply a 'precautionary principle' and reject imports of GM foodstuffs if they think there is a safety risk. It will oblige all shipments and trading in genetically modified foods to bear labels stating that the products 'may contain' GM organisms.
British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said: 'For the first time countries will have the right to decide whether they want to import GM products or not when there is less than full scientific evidence. It is official that the environment rules aren't subordinate to the trade rules. It's been one hell of a battle.'
Trade in GM food was discussed at the WTO summit in Seattle in November but the talks collapsed.
Saturday, 29 January, 2000, 22:24 GMT
The conference in Montreal agreed that countries will have the right to restrict imports of such foods because of health and environmental concerns.
The Biodiversity Protocol agreed that shipments of GM commodities should bear labels saying they "may contain" genetically-modified organisms and are not intended for intentional introduction into the environment.
The deal also requires countries to begin negotiations on more specific labelling requirements to take effect no later than two years after the protocol enters into force.
Major exporters of GM foods, such as the United States and Canada, had argued that such restrictions contravened World Trade Organisation rules on free trade.
It puts the environment and trade on the same footing. Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson
"They were tough negotiations up to the very end. That's typical of negotiations like this," senior US negotiator David Sandalow said as all-night talks ended.
Fighting back tears at dawn on Saturday, the conference's president, Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr, congratulated his colleagues on reaching a compromise.
"We have all had to give something in in order to get this protocol," Mr Mayr said.
"We have a very workable and successful protocol. We can move ahead with this," said Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson.
"It puts the environment and trade on the same footing."
"The agreement that we achieved is a very substantial improvement over the agreement we started with," US Undersecretary of State Frank Loy said.
The European Union, which had pushed for more labelling on GM foods, was also pleased with the agreement.
"This will help ease the concerns of consumers," said EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom. "The most important thing is that there is a system for information and for importation."
"This is about the right to choose for consumers, for importers. I think it's a victory for the environment and for international trade," she said.
Environmental groups gave a favourable reaction.
"This is a historic step towards protecting the environment and consumers from the dangers of genetic engineering," said Benedikt Haerlin of the environmental pressure group Greenpeace.
Friends of the Earth also hailed the agreement.
"For the past week the United States and its cronies have been holding the rest of the world to ransom to protect the vested interests of a few companies," it said.
"They have not succeeded and now we have a protocol to regulate genetically modified crops and foods."
And industry groups were also pleased.
"I think that it will do what it was supposed to: protecting biodiversity without restricting trade," said Joyce Groote, chairwoman of the Global Industry Coalition, saying that the deal recognises that biotechnology is an opportunity and not just a risk.
"I think it bodes well," she said.
Deal Reached on Biotech Foods
Copyright 2000 "The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of the Associated Press."
By MATT CRENSON
Associated Press Writer
MONTREAL (AP) -- U.N. talks here finally produced rules governing trade in genetically engineered products Saturday, nearly a year after previous talks collapsed in the face of international discord.
The new rules are complex, and many may be subject to legal challenges or interpretations. But for now they contain language letting a country ban imports of a genetically modified product if it feels there is not enough scientific evidence showing the product is safe.
It requires exporters to label shipments that contain genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton. It also tries to dictate how those safety rules will coexist with free trade rules governed by the World Trade Organization.
The United States, a major producer of genetically engineered products, had opposed labeling and had fought import bans except in cases where the product is shown to be risky. It was forced to make concessions on those and several other points.
Fighting back tears, the conference's president, Juan Mayr, congratulated his colleagues on reaching a compromise.
"The adoption of this protocol represents a victory for the environment," Mayr said.
The protocol is intended to protect the environment from damage due to genetically modified organisms. Environmentalists and some scientists worry that bioengineered plants, animals and bacteria could wipe out native strains or spread their genetic advantages to weeds and other undesirable species.
"There's fish genes in fruit, poultry genes in fish, animal genes in plants, growth hormones in milk, insect genes in vegetables, tree genes in grain and in the case of pork, human genes in meat," said Steve Gilman, an organic farmer in Stillwater, N.Y.
A first attempt to draw up a biosafety protocol ended last February in Cartagena, Colombia, when the United States and five partners blocked a pact that was acceptable to the other 125 countries.
Saturday's new agreement came after a week of intense negotiations that pitted the United States and its five allies in the talks -- Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay -- against the European Union and a coalition of developing nations. As protesters stood outside in single-digit temperatures chanting "Hey, ho, GMOs have got to go," negotiators worked until just before dawn to hammer out the final details.
The EU and developing nations had argued that countries should be allowed to refuse imports of a genetically modified product if little is known about its environmental effect. The United States and its partners had disagreed, saying many of the proposed rules would restrict trade.
But the political situation changed in the last year, with major U.S. food producers like Archer Daniels Midland and Gerber either demanding that genetically modified products be segregated from other products or refusing to use them altogether. Scientific studies have suggested that monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects may be harmed by genetically engineered crops.
And protests at the WTO talks in Seattle last month also suggested that the American public has concerns about genetically altered food.
EU negotiators, whose constituency strongly opposes genetic modifications in food, used the changed climate to exact a number of concessions from the U.S. delegation. Nonetheless, U.S. negotiators said they were satisfied with the final agreement.
"The agreement that we achieved is a very substantial improvement over the agreement we started with," U.S. Undersecretary of State Frank Loy said.
In the end, the sides' most serious differences turned out to be over how the biosafety protocol would relate to WTO rules, and whether shipments of genetically modified commodities should be labeled.
Environmentalists have complained in recent years that the WTO's free trade pact has overridden regulations meant to protect human and ecological health. But Saturday's agreement calls for the biosafety protocol and the WTO rules to be "mutually supportive" with nothing "intended to subordinate this Protocol to other international agreements."
Under the protocol, exporters will be required to apply the label "may contain living modified organisms" to all shipments containing genetically altered commodities. The protocol allows for a revision of that labeling policy after two years.
In a legal question mark, the United States has neither signed nor ratified the biodiversity treaty that oversees the new protocol. So technically, the U.S. is not bound to honor it.
"Not being part of this treaty makes it more challenging for us here," U.S. negotiator David Sandalow said.
Genetically modified crops are already widespread. About 70 million acres of genetically engineered plants were cultivated worldwide in 1999. In the United States, genetically engineered varieties account for about 25 percent of corn and 40 percent of soybeans.
Biotechnology proponents point to the potential of the technology to increase yields and improve nutrition.
"The longer I use it the more I believe in it," said Robert M. Boeding, an Iowa farmer who has grown genetically modified corn for the last five years. He says the modified strain keeps him from having to use dangerous pesticides to protect his crop from insects.
Countries Reach Landmark GMO Food Agreement
Copyright 2000 "Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The following news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Reuters Ltd."
By Doug Palmer
MONTREAL (Reuters) - More than 130 countries reached a landmark agreement early on Saturday to regulate trade in genetically modified organisms, a major part of the world's food supply that has raised environmental and health concerns and strained international trade relations.
The U.N.-sponsored agreement strikes a delicate balance between the interests of major exporters of genetically modified crops, such as the United States and Canada, and importers in the European Union and developing countries, which have expressed concerns about the health and environmental impact of the new food varieties.
The agreement, which still must be ratified by 50 countries before it goes into effect, establishes an international framework for countries to use when making decisions about genetically modified crops.
It also requires, for the first time under an international agreement, labeling of commodity shipments that "may contain" genetically modified foods. But there is no specific requirement that farmers or the grain industry segregate conventional and modified crops, which the U.S. government said could cost billions of dollars.
"On balance, we think this is an agreement that protects the environment without disrupting world food trade," David Sandalow, assistant U.S. secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, told reporters.
European Commission Environmental Minister Margot Wallstrom said the protocol, signed by more than 130 countries, was a victory for consumers and importers and an agreement of which all countries could be proud.
The pact also won praise from both industry groups and environmentalists, who each feared the other would have more influence over the final outcome of a pact on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
GMOs SPARK CONCERN
The term "genetically modified organisms" refers to plants and animals containing genes transferred from other species to produce certain characteristics, such as resistance to certain pests and herbicides.
Although any genetically modified organism planted in the United States is subjected to U.S. government testing and approval, some groups feared the new varieties could have adverse environmental and health effects. Many EU consumers, suspicious of genetically engineered crops, favored blocking their importation.
To reach an agreement, the United States and Canada had to accept stronger language than they wanted recognizing the right of countries to use precautions in making import decisions.
With its language on the "precautionary principle," the proposed Biosafety Protocol agreement could set the stage for countries to close their markets to genetically modified crops without conclusive scientific evidence of harm.
At the same time, the agreement also contains a "savings clause," which emphasizes the new pact does not override rights and obligations under other international agreements, including the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The United States, which negotiated along with Canada as part of the Miami Group bloc and therefore does not need congressional approval of the pact, insisted on that language to ensure science-based WTO rules would still apply to import decisions.
If a dispute arises over a country's decision to close its market to a food product, the WTO will review the protocol before making a ruling, Wallstrom said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Frank Loy acknowledged the pact had some shortcomings from the U.S. point of view. "Make no mistake. The agreement is not perfect," Loy said.
LABELING WOULD BE NEGOTIATED
Once the protocol goes into effect, which could take two or three years, commodity shipments that may contain GMOs will have to be labeled "may contain" genetically modified organisms.
At that point, a new round of negotiations on more specific labeling requirements will also have to begin, with the requirement of finishing in two years.
Willy De Greef, director of regulatory and government affairs for Novartis, a Swiss-based company that produces genetically modified corn varieties, said the grain industry is already moving toward segregation.
"What we needed was a framework" and the protocol provides that, De Greef said.
Steven Daugherty, director of government and industry relations for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a U.S. producer of genetically modified seed, also said the protocol's commodity provisions appeared to be workable.
Greenpeace, which had staged protests against genetically modified crops throughout the week of negotiations, also gave its blessings to the pact. "This is a historic step toward protecting the environment and consumers from the dangers of genetic engineering," the group said.
A previous attempt to craft the Biosafety Protocol failed last year in Cartagena, Colombia, mainly because the Miami Group feared it would block trade.
In contrast to the bitterness that pervaded that effort, participants praised the positive atmosphere of this week's negotiations in Montreal.
They also credited Colombian Environmental Minister Juan Myar, who chaired the talks, for forcing negotiators to resolve their many issues to reach an agreement.
(All posted without permission)