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Biosafety Pact Threatens Biotech Bullies

Global GMO deal struck

Countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and most of
Latin America agreed tighter rules governing trade in gene-modified seeds on Friday, prompting dismay among major producers such as the United States.

Negotiators from nearly 90 countries struck a deal
requiring detailed information on shipments of GM
crops such as maize, cotton and soy, to help importers
decide whether to accept them, going way beyond what
exporters wanted.

They also set terms for talks to thrash out a
framework to fix blame for problems due to trade in
the controversial technology, along with systems of
redress and enforcement.

Ethiopian negotiator Tewolde Egziabher, who led in
talks for many developing nations represented at the
week-long Malaysian meeting, highlighted the liability
deal as key.

"It's badly needed. Not as much for the redress side
of it but for the caution that we will force on those
who export," he told Reuters as formal talks drew to a

He said genetic engineering was a technology developed
by the private rather than the public sector, meaning
risk assessment and research by the authorities were
all the more important.

"The temptation is to say: We have sunk so much money
into it, even if it's not entirely safe, we will commercialise."

The United States and Australia were among major farm
nations regretting what was agreed under the United
Nations Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, saying it would
be hard to put into practice.

Talks under the protocol are intended to curb
potential risks arising from the cross-border trade in
GM species.

But neither Washington nor Canberra is a party to the
law, having chosen not to sign.

U.S. negotiator Deborah Malac, whose delegation faced accusations all week of championing the case of biotech companies such as Monsanto over wider concerns, told reporters the deal was skewed towards importing nations.

"A lot of the decisions here have been made by the
importers without a real understanding of the
implications. We just have to live with the
consequences," she said.

Opponents of genetic modification say its effects on
the environment and the safety of foods remain
unproven, while supporters say the technology has been adequately tested. The European Union, at loggerheads with the United States for years over biotech safety issues, welcomed Friday's outcome.

"This meeting could have gone wrong but it proved that
the protocol is sound, it's on the map," Christoph
Bail, a lead EU negotiator, told Reuters.

"Maybe it will also provoke industry to realise that
this now the framework and it will be difficult to shy
away from it."

Global sowing of GM crops rose to 67.7 million
hectares (167.3 million acres) last year, according to
ISAAA, an industry-backed group promoting biotech as a
way to halt hunger.

The vast bulk was in the United States and Argentina,
with Canada, Brazil, China and South Africa as
secondary growers.