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U.N. Treaty Regulating Biotech Crops To Become Law

Friends of the Earth International
June 13, 2003

WASHINGTON - June 13 - An international treaty that seeks to protect the environment from the potential risks of Genetically Modified (GM) organisms will officially become law in 90 days from today.

The United Nations treaty, known as 'Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety', or Biosafety Protocol, had to be ratified by fifty countries before entering into force. [1]

The 50th ratification, by the Pacific Island State of Palau, was announced today. The Protocol will enter into force in 90 days, on September 11, 2003. First discussed in 1992, it took more than ten years for the Protocol to become law.

Friends of the Earth International welcomed the start of the countdown to the entry into force of the Protocol. It is the first treaty that officially seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms.

It constitutes the first global environmental agreement of the new millenium. It is also the first international agreement which clearly says that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) "are different and therefore require a different treatment".

The Protocol will require all exporters of GMOs to be released into the environment to take measures to prevent contamination of GM seed products by implementing an identity preservation system.

But many issues are still pending. One key issue is liability. Friends of the Earth International today repeated its call for the immediate establishment of an effective environment, for instance through contamination by GM crops, pay for the pollution they create.

At the same time the international notification system under the Protocol does not replace national biosafety legislation, so Friends of the Earth warned that enacting stricter national legislation on biosafety is still needed.

The Biosafety Protocol backs the approach of the European Union, asserting that GMOs need different treatment from non-GMOs. Therefore the Protocol stands in contradiction to policies held by some countries, such as the U.S., which affirm that GMOs are not different from the conventional plants and animals they derive from.

"The times of uncontrolled trade of GMOs are over. The Biosafety Protocol sets a new era for global regulation of GMOs. Exporters from all over the world should take adequate measures to prevent contamination of GM seed products," said Ricardo Navarro, Salvadorean Chairman of Friends of the Earth International.

traditional rice terraces


Agriculture Event To Draw Protests

By Bobby Caina Calvan
Boston Globe Correspondent
June 16, 2003

Conference to probe food biotechnology

SACRAMENTO - An upcoming world agricultural symposium organized by the US Department of Agriculture has police girding for riots, although no one's sure how many protesters will converge on California's capital later this month to demonstrate against biotechnology, genetically modified food, and corporate farming.

A thousand invited guests from around the world, including agricultural ministers from at least 100 countries, will gather in Sacramento June 23-25 for the first US-sponsored Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, the largest international conference ever to be held in Sacramento.

Unwelcomed guests could arrive, too, and law enforcement officials have been preparing for months to avert a repeat of the riots that disrupted the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

The tens of thousands who demonstrated caught Seattle off guard and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

""We're planning for the worst-case scenario," said Sergeant Justin Risley, spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department. "We are well prepared. ... This is not going to be Seattle."

Last Tuesday, 200 police officers trained with nonlethal ammunition and rehearsed procedures for crowd control. In all, two dozen local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies will monitor the event.

Language on websites and other published material have caused police to be wary, Risley said. The Organic Consumers Association's website calls for a "massive protest" and conjures the "resistant spirit of Seattle." "We invite people to come out to share their viewpoints, but we want to send a clear message that we're not going to tolerate illegal behavior," Risley said.

Demonstrators plan a rally at the steps of the state Capitol, a few blocks from the Sacramento Convention Center, where the conference will take place. They have scheduled teach-ins, fairs, forums, and street demonstrations. They are inviting agriculture ministers to go on eco-tours. Alice Waters, the maven of California gourmet cuisine, will host a dinner at a nearby hotel.

"We want this to be a nonviolent, peaceful five days in Sacramento - but it doesn't mean it will exclude civil disobedience," said Heidi McLean, spokesperson for Sacramento Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture, one of at least a dozen groups taking part in scheduled rallies that begin this weekend.

Demonstrators representing groups from as far away as Vermont are expected to join activists from the Northwest and California for the rallies.

The USDA said the Sacramento event is not intended as a place for global politicking but as a venue to showcase this country's agricultural technologies and their potential for boosting food production and alleviating world hunger.

Activists, however, see the conference as an opportunity for the United States to press WTO members, most of whom will have a representative attending the gathering, to reconsider trade barriers for agricultural products, and to soften resistance to genetically engineered food.


FDA Opts Against Further Biotech Review

Emily Gersema
Associated Press
June 17, 2003

WASHINGTON - Genetically engineered foods from crops that have already been reviewed and approved by two government agencies shouldn't have to jump through a third regulatory hoop at the Food and Drug Administration, an FDA official told Congress Tuesday.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said the agency is inclined to reject a proposal made by the former Clinton administration that would require biotechnology companies to notify the FDA before putting products on the market.

Biotech crops are already regulated by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The current system is working," Crawford told the House Agriculture Committee's subcommittee on research. "Since there is no public health reason to impose mandatory requirements, FDA is not making this rule a priority."

Crawford said he knows of no instance where a company has not voluntarily shared field tests and other information on its biotech products with the FDA. But Greg Jaffe, biotechnology director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that without a regulation requiring it, companies could withhold data.

"Under the current system, they could market something without us even knowing it," Jaffe said. "That is not the best way to ensure the safety or instill consumer confidence in these crops."

Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said companies share their data with the FDA because after a review, the agency gives them a letter approving the products.

Without the letter, a company would never be able to get its biotech crops to market, she said, explaining that food processors require the letter in order to do business. "They treat it as though it were mandatory because if they don't, they won't get a letter of review so that they can sell their product."

The EPA also has a role in checking food safety if a company is seeking approval to grow a crop genetically designed to contain a pesticide to fight insects. The EPA approves those crops only if they are safe for people to eat and if they won't harm the environment.

The Agriculture Department is charged with monitoring the safety of biotech crops from the time they are planted until harvest in small field tests. The department approves the crop to go to market if the test results show it will not harm animals and plants, but it does not determine whether it is safe for humans.

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he's "confident that these three agencies have established a regulatory framework that ensures biotech products are safely developed and field-tested."


Thousands of Field Tests of Genetically Engineered Crops Across the U.S. Threaten Public Health, Environment, and Farmers

US PIRG, June 18, 2003
Contact: Richard Caplan, Jen Mueller - (202) 546-9707

Nearly 40,000 field tests of genetically engineered crops were authorized by the Department of Agriculture between 1987 and 2002 - more than 10,000 in the past two years alone - despite serious environmental threats and inadequate regulations in place to monitor their impacts, according to a new report released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

While agricultural ministers from around the world prepare to discuss genetically engineered crops at a meeting in Sacramento next week, this new report seriously criticizes the Department of Agriculture's oversight of field experiments in the U.S..

The report, Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., highlights potential health and environmental risks associated with the release of genetically engineered plants. For example, when a field test of a genetically engineered crop designed to produce a pig vaccine contaminated commercial crops last fall, 500,000 bushels of soybeans had to be quarantined and eventually destroyed. In addition, a report last year from the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that the government permitted commercial growth of a variety of genetically engineered corn found toxic to monarch butterflies under field conditions. The report concludes that, if field experiments are not properly monitored, the resulting genetic pollution can put farmers' livelihoods and the environment at risk.

"Our environment is being used as a laboratory for widespread experimentation on genetically engineered crops with profound risks that, once released, can never be recalled," said U.S. PIRG Environmental Advocate Richard Caplan. "Until proper safeguards are in place, this unchecked experiment should stop."

Findings of the new U.S. PIRG report include the following

  • As of January 2003, the ten states and territories that have hosted the greatest number of field test sites are Hawaii (4,566), Illinois (4,014), Iowa (3,831), Puerto Rico (2,957), California (1,709), Nebraska (1,699), Pennsylvania (1,672), Minnesota (1,414), Indiana (1,256), and Idaho (1,170).

  • Since 1995, seven of the top 10 companies seeking to conduct field tests have merged into two companies: Monsanto and DuPont.

  • Between 1987-2002, Monsanto (or a now wholly-owned subsidiary) applied to conduct the greatest number of field tests, with more than 3,000 applications.

  • Nearly 70% of all field tests conducted in the last year now contain secret genes classified as "Confidential Business Information," allowing the public no access to information about experiments being conducted in their communities.

U.S. PIRG charged that field testing genetically engineered crops in such a widespread way poses serious threats to the environment, public health, and neighboring farmers. One risk to farmers of improperly monitored field tests is loss of export markets for their crops. Wheat, which has been authorized for more than 330 field tests of genetically engineered varieties, is of particular concern. Many international trading partners have told U.S. wheat exporters that they will stop buying U.S. wheat altogether if any contamination is detected.

Biotechnology is expected to be a major theme of the meeting of world agricultural ministers in Sacramento next week. "U.S. field testing of genetically engineered crops, wheat in particular, have our trading partners abroad very concerned," said Caplan. "The U.S. should stop trying to force other countries to change their rules for genetically engineered crops and work on improving our own inadequate system," he continued.

U.S. PIRG also charged that USDA-approved field tests ask all the wrong questions. These experimental genetically engineered crops are grown in the open environment primarily to determine whether or not an engineered seed successfully grows and expresses the desired trait. Despite the large number of field experiments that have occurred, fundamental questions about their impact remain unanswered, including long-term impacts on the soil and non-target species.

U.S. PIRG calls for a moratorium on genetically engineered foods unless

  • independent testing demonstrates safety,

  • labeling for any products commercialized honors consumers' the right to know, and

  • biotechnology corporations are held accountable for any harm done.

"Genetically engineered foods have no place on supermarket shelves or in our environment until proper safeguards are in place," added Caplan. "This rush to market without regard for human health and the environment could be disastrous."


One Battle Bush Won't Win

Daily Nation (Kenya) web site
June 25, 2003

President Bush "Smooth-Tongued Salesman For American Biotech"

As he prepares to make his trip to Africa next month, - a trip pushed back form the beginning of the year after the invasion of Iraq took priority - US President George Bush is expected to come bearing an armful of goodies.

Americans say that one does not examine a gift horse too closely in the mouth. But whatever financial and food aid pledges and trade packages President Bush brings, he should expect a few queries as to motive. In the last few months, for instance, President Bush has turned to vigorous criticism of European countries he accuses of erecting road blocks to the war against hunger in Africa.

His beef is that European Union restrictions against the use of genetically modified foodstuffs directly affects the provision of food to hungry Africa.

Mr Bush does not sound at all like a philanthropist keen to deliver starving Africans from their misery; he sounds like a smooth-tongued salesman for American biotech.

It is no secret that having invested billions of dollars in research, giant US food and biotechnology companies are increasingly frustrated that their products are not bringing in the projected financial returns.

The rest of the world markets - including Africa and Asia - have generally adopted the position that what is not deemed unsafe for the Europeans palate cannot be safe for them. So, even when in urgent need of food aid, they have politely rejected what the US offers.

The US administration has already provided budgetary provision for a multi-million dollar famine fund targeting African countries. The food would, of course, be purchased exclusively from US corporations that do need to recoup their investments.

The assumption seems to be that if those who can afford it, the Europeans and Asians, and Americans too, are rejecting bio-engineered food, hungry Africans would welcome it with open mouths.

President Bush might be surprised to find that when it comes to such food, Africans do look a gift horse in the mouth!

Daily Nation web site, Nairobi, in English 25 Jun 03

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