GENETIC ENGINEERING & NANOTECHNOLOGY
Regulating Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Biosafety - Combatting GM Food Aid
Far from staving off world starvation, genetic engineering is set to threaten crop yields; to force farmers to pay for their rights to fertile seed; to undercut foreign demand for some Third World produce: and to undermine poorer farmers' access to land on which to grow food. Its cruelly deceptive promise of a technical fix for many people's lack of food not only conceals the unjust distribution of land and of economic and political power which underpin world hunger today: if adopted widely, genetic engineering technologies in agriculture would also entrench and extend these forces. (Corner House, 1998)
Basic guide to the science from the Genetic Engineering Organization
What is Genetic Engineering...
...and how is it done?
UK Food Groups Position Paper on
Implementation of The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (November 2000)
1. The UK Food Group
The UK Food Group (UKFG) is the main non-government forum in the UK for global food, agriculture and development issues founded in 1986 and now with more than 25 member organisations specialising in overseas development, farming, environment and consumer affairs. The UKFG works globally and has strong international links especially with partners in the South. Members of the UKFG include ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid, ITDG, The Gaia Foundation and Oxfam.
The UK Food Group is centrally concerned with food security, and the factors that promote food security including:
2. Genetic Engineering
Genetic engineering has profound implications for food production, choice, and security. In particular, the introduction of genetically engineered crops and livestock raises the following issues:
3. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
The UK Food Group welcomes the agreement of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety by consensus and urges Governments and the Intergovernmental Committee on the Cartagena Protocol (ICCP) to take immediate measures to put the Protocols provisions into practice.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an important international instrument that recognises that GMOs (termed Living Modified Organisms - LMOs - in the Protocol) are inherently different from non-GMOs and sets up a regulatory regime for transboundary movements of GMOs. This regime covers all GMOs that are intended for releases into the environment; GMOs being exported with intention that they are going to directly used for food, feed or for processing, are also covered under the Protocols provisions for information exchange and identification of GMOs.
The Protocol establishes the rights of countries to require risk assessments of each GMO in the specific national context of any country before allowing it to be imported, to refuse entry to GMOs, or to set conditions on their import, on the basis of risk assessments; to take social and economic considerations into account in reaching their decisions; and to apply the precautionary principle in their decisions on GMOs. The Protocol places responsibilities on exporters and countries of export, for example, to ensure that exports of GMOs do not proceed unless they are fully in compliance with the provisions of the protocol, and have the advance informed agreement of the country to which they are being exported.
However, while the text of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety contains many useful features, the UKFG is disappointed that the Protocol failed to require segregation of GMO commodities for food, feed or processing, or to establish a regime for liability and redress, instead setting up a process with a view to developing such a regime within four years of the Protocols entry into force.
4. Implementation of the Cartagena Protocol
Implementation of the Protocol is now the key issue and there is an enormous amount of work to be done to ensure that developing countries can properly benefit from the rules that the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety establishes for transboundary movements of GMOs. In particular, the UKFG urges States to sign, if they have not already done so, and ratify the Cartagena Protocol, to strengthen or adopt national measures on biosafety, and to adopt interim measures for implementation of the Protocols provisions in advance of its entry into force.
To ensure that the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is implemented effectively as an international instrument for biosafety, the UK Food Group believes that the ICCP should undertake the following as matters of priority:
1.set up a working group to make recommendations of international rules and procedures in the field of Liability and Redress for damage resulting from transboundary movements of GMOs for adoption by the first Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol. The UKFG advocates that in the event of harm arising as a consequence of GMOs including GMOs intended for food, feed or processing (GMO-FFPs), the exporter, or the Party of origin of those GMOs or products should the exporter be unable to discharge its obligations, should be strictly liable for that harm and for providing compensation.
2.ensure that the procedures and mechanisms developed by the ICCP to facilitate decision-making by Parties of import concerning imports of GMOs and GMO-FFPs:
· fully operationalise and apply the Precautionary Principle;
· take into account risks to human health, socio-economic and cultural factors, as well as scientific information;
· provide for imposition of limitations and ceilings on imports of GMOs and GMO-FFPs, and conditions on their use, for example, on where and how they are to be grown and used;
· make it clear to States that it is legitimate for them to base their decisions on these factors.
7.set out detailed requirements on Handling, Transport, Packaging and Identification (Article 18 of the Cartagena Protocol) of GMOs. These should include provisions for traceability of all GMOs, including GMO-FFPs. Furthermore, the UKFG calls for clear labelling of all GMOs, GMO-FFPs and their products, and for segregation of GMOs, including GMO-FFPs, from non-GMOs in their handling, storage and transport.
8.set up a working group to make recommendations on effective procedures and mechanisms for monitoring, compliance and dispute resolution in the context of the Cartagena Protocol for adoption by the first Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol. The UKFG advocates that such procedures should ensure that disputes regarding the Protocol and its implementation are resolved within the framework of the Protocol rather than being transferred to other international fora.
1.establish a Biosafety Clearing House and bring it into operation as quickly as possible as an interim measure in advance of the Protocols entry into force. The Biosafety Clearing House should also incorporate adverse impact reporting mechanisms for reporting and sharing of information on any adverse effects of GMOs including GMO-FFPs.
2.set guidelines for biosafety capacity building to ensure that all relevant technical, ecological and socio-economic aspects are covered as well as development and strengthening of the overall regulatory frameworks for biosafety implemented by States. The UKFG proposes that in order to ensure the credibility of capacity building, these guidelines should exclude the involvement in capacity building for biosafety of private sector organisations, including parent companies and their subsidiaries, that may potentially engage in supply or distribution GMOs including GMO-FFPs on a commercial basis.
In addition, States should also:
· establish national focal points and competent authorities for dealing with GMOs and biosafety
· establish and strengthen domestic regulatory frameworks to ensure that these fully cover GMOs and GMO-FFPs. The UKFG recommends that States should, inter alia, take the following further steps:
· implement seed testing and approval requirements for all imported seed as well as domestically produced seed, including GMO seeds;
· develop and strengthen appropriate domestic regimes for liability and compensation so that these include coverage of any failures of GMOs to perform in accordance with claims made by the seed originator; adverse effects of GMOs arising from intentional or unintentional releases; or sale or distribution by seed companies of contaminated seed.
· require companies to provide adequate and intelligible information at point-of-sale to farmers, especially poor farmers, concerning GMOs, including specific genetically engineered traits, husbandry requirements, risk assessment and risk management measures, names and addresses of patent owner(s), seed originator, exporter, and importer.
· put in place measures, including national legislation, to implement exporter-based responsibilities for compliance with all relevant provisions of the Biosafety Protocol in relation to GMOs and GMO-FFPs that may be exported from their territories.
· develop public consultation under the decision making procedures on AIA for all GMOs, including GMO-FFPs, in accordance with their national laws and regulations.
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:
ALSO SEE: Biotech Links PageUpdated (January 2000). Links to key Public Sector, Corporate and NGO sites and relevant papers