KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, February 27, 2004 (ENS):
All international bulk shipments of genetically modified
crops such as corn and soybeans intended for food, feed
or processing must be identified as transgenic under
a new system agreed by the 87 member governments of
the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Parties to the
protocol wound up their first meeting here today.
The measure was adopted over the objections of the
United States, which is not a signatory to the protocol,
but which produces the majority of the world's genetically
U.S. officials in Kuala Lumpur argued that identification
papers accompanying shipments of new transgenic varieties
of corn or soybeans meant for cultivation, should not
have to specify details of how they have been engineered.
Other countries except Canada and Argentina, also producers
of transgenic crops, disagreed.
Deborah Malac, biotech division chief at the U.S. State
Department, defended the benefits of genetic engineering.
She told a news conference, "By simply closing
the door on this technology and saying we can't use
it, you shut off the possibilities of great potential
benefit because there is demonstrated improvement in
crop yields which can lead to improved farmers' income,
better food security and productivity."
Environmentalists who believe genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) contaminate traditional crops and cause health
problems accused the producer countries of trying to
subvert the protocol, and praised the other governments,
including the European Union, for maintaining the strength
of the agreement.
Friends of the Earth International spokesman Juan Lopez
Villar said, “Governments committed to biosafety
have risen above the attempts of the USA coalition to
undermine the right of consumers, farmers and citizens
to choose non-genetically modified crops and food."
"GMOs pose a real present danger to the environment,
and the health and livelihoods of people around the
world," Villar said. "Now we are up and running
towards making biotechnology corporations liable for
any GMO damage they cause."
The meeting's president, Malaysian Environment Minister
Dato Seri Law, said the Parties successfully set a path
for an operational and practical instrument on biosafety,
ensuring protection against the potential adverse effects
of engineered organisms without unduly impeding trade.
Representing the view of countries that are not Parties
to the protocol, Thomas Roth and Peter Heyward of Australia
expressed disappointment that the views of non-Parties
were not taken into account in decision making and asked
that the record establish that decisions of the meeting
are not binding on other governments. Malac stressed
that provisions for documentation requirements are voluntary
The Biosafety Protocol was agreed in January 2000 to
ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of genetically
modified organisms, known under the protocol as living
modified organisms (LMOs), that may adversely effect
the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity
and human health.
The protocol entered into force in September 2003.
It forms a part of the Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD), and this week's first meeting of Parties followed
the Conference of Parties to the Convention which took
place in Kuala Lumpur from February 9 through the 20.
Under the new system, all bulk shipments of genetically
modified crop are to be identified as "may contain
LMOs." The accompanying documentation should also
indicate the contact details of the importer, exporter
or other appropriate authority. Countries can refuse
shipments if this information is not provided.
"Now that a system for identifying and labeling
GMO exports has become operational, countries can enjoy
the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence
while avoiding the potential risks," said Hamdallah
Zedan, the protocol's executive secretary.
"This rigorous system for handling, transporting,
packaging and identifying GMOs is in the best interests
of everyone - developed and developing countries, consumers
and industry, and all those who care deeply about our
natural environment," Zedan said.
Over the next year an expert group will further elaborate
the documentation and handling requirements for these
bulk agricultural shipments. Key issues still to be
resolved include the percentage of modified material
that these shipments may contain and still be considered
GMO free and the inclusion of any additional detailed
information. A decision on these matters will be considered
at the next meeting of the treaty's Parties, to be held
In other decisions, a Working Group on liability for
GMO damage has been created with a strong and clear
mandate to complete the international rules and procedures
for liability and redress by 2007. The United States
objected to the text, but because the country is not
a party to the protocol this objection was not taken
into consideration by the chair.
To enforce compliance with the protocol, a 15 person
committee has been created and will be effective immediately.
Cases of noncompliance can be reported by other parties
and will not depend solely on self reporting. The committee
can issue warnings and publish cases of noncompliance.
For persistent offenders stronger measures could be
agreed on the basis of consensus in future meetings.
Other decisions adopted this week focus on making the
Biosafety Clearing House fully functional. The Clearing
House will enable governments to share information on
GMOs, national legislation, and other critical matters.
Parties to the protocol agreed on implementing a comprehensive
action plan to promote capacity building for developing
countries, providing guidance to the protocol's financial
mechanism on priorities, and establishing a work program
for the protocol in the medium term.
This week's work is a good beginning, environmentalists
said. "Those requirements are not sufficient to
protect the environment and the food chain from contamination
but they are an important first step that governments
should implement immediately," said Doreen Stabinsky,
head of the Greenpeace delegation in Kuala Lumpur.
Elsewhere, the Chinese government this week approved
final safety certificates for the importation of biotech
crops produced by Monsanto that are engineered to be
tolerant of Monsanto herbicides. "American growers
who plant biotech crops should know that yet another
significant importing nation has recognized the safety
of these products," said Jerry Hjelle, Ph.D., Monsanto's
vice president of regulatory affairs.
Hjelle said that Monsanto received safety certificates
for import of five commercial products in soybeans,
corn, and cotton, thereby allowing farmers greater choice
in how they produce their crops, control insects and
The UK government is expected to approve within days
the country's first genetically modified crop, a corn
variety, for commercial growing, but many local councils
do not share its enthusiasm for the technology.
The Hampshire County Council Wednesday voted to go
GM free, bringing the total UK population living in
areas with a GM free policy to 14 million, according
to Friends of the Earth UK which is lobbying to block
More than 40 local authorities have voted to remain
free of engineered crops and foods - opposing the growing
of engineered crops on council land and banning modified
ingredients in their catering, such as school meals.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights