MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada,
May 31, 2005 (ENS): Representatives of 119 governments
are expected to adopt binding rules on the documentation that has
to accompany genetically modified agricultural commodities, such
as wheat, corn and soybeans, when they are transported across borders.
These rules will ensure that only approved genetically modified
organisms enter the territory of the respective Parties.
The documentation requirements are the most important point on
the agenda of the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety, taking place all the week of May 31 in Montreal.
In addition to the documentation requirements, the meeting will
take decisions on other issues such as guidance on risk assessment
for genetically modified organisms.
Delegates will work towards cooperation in research and information
exchange on the socio-economic consequences of genetically modified
organisms, and create avenues for public awareness and participation.
The rules of procedure for the protocol’s compliance mechanism
will be defined, and the operation of the Internet information exchange
portal established by the protocol, the so-called Biosafety Clearing
House, will be clarified.
The effectiveness of capacity-building activities in developing
countries will be assessed.
Tougher measures are needed to prevent contamination of conventional
food by genetically modified organisms, a new report from Friends
of the Earth International concludes. The report was distributed
Monday by campaigners in decontamination suits in Montreal at the
start of the international negotiations.
In its report, Friends of the Earth advocates clear labeling of
all shipments that contain genetically modified products, the right
of countries to stop imports of illegal genetically modified organisms,
and the need to make the biotech industry liable for pollution caused
by genetically modified organisms.
Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada said, "Canada,
as one of the few countries that grow genetically modified crops
must be forced to put in place effective segregation measures so
that the rest of the world’s food supply, and our environment,
is not contaminated.”
While it has not ratified the Biosafety Protocol, Canada does grow
genetically modified crops, but globally 84 percent of the area
cultivated with biotech crops is in two countries – the United
States and Argentina.
Juan Lopez, coordinator of Friends of the Earth’s International
Program on Genetic Engineering said, “These talks are key
to protecting the environment and the world’s food supply
from GM contamination. Most countries growing GM crops on a large
scale have not even signed up to the Biosafety protocol, yet they
will be at the talks lobbying for weak controls on their products.”
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the only international treaty
governing the cross-border transport of genetically modified organisms
and a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological
The rules set out in the protocol are intended to promote the conservation
and sustainable use of biological diversity and protect the public
from the potentially harmful effects of genetically modified organisms.
The meetings began with a flurry of controversy as Canada refused
visas to several negotiators from developing countries who are known
to be critical of genetic engineering.
The Canadian authorities refused visas to the GM critic Agbenyo
Dgzobedo of Friends of the Earth Togo and also to the Iranian government's
biosafety expert Jafar Barmaki. Both have attended UN talks on biosafety
in the past.
Barmaki is a senior expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
is responsible for biodiversity related international agreements.
He is a member of the National Coordinating Committee for the National
Biosafety Framework of Iran.
Canada also originally refused a visa to Africa's chief negotiator
for the talks, Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher of Ethiopia, but granted
him a visa at the last minute after international protests.
Referring to visa difficulties experienced by some delegations,
Barry Stemshorn of Canada Monday assured delegates that the government
would continue working with the Secretariat to ensure delegates
may enter the country.
The meeting of Parties that opened Monday was preceded May 25-27
by another meeting in the framework of the protocol that was devoted
to the development of rules and procedures on liability for damage
caused by genetically modified organisms. This is the first step
in a negotiation process due to finish by 2008.
The Biosafety Clearing-House is an information exchange mechanism
established by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to assist Parties
to implement its provisions and to facilitate sharing of information
on, and experience with, living modified organisms. Find it online
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