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 modified crops.
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
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
"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
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 for non-Parties.
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
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 2005.
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
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 decrease weeds.
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 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 transgenic crops.
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
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