UN Biosafety Protocol puts US-led GMO lobby on the defensive

Press release - 14 June, 2003
The aggressive US-led campaign to force worldwide acceptance of genetically engineered food and seeds suffered a setback on Friday when Palau became the 50th country to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Greenpeace welcomes the entry into force of the Biosafety Protocol, which is the first legally binding global agreement that reaffirms the sovereign right of countries to reject genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) on the basis of the precautionary principle.

A key feature of the Protocol is that it embodies the recognition by the international community that genetically engineered crops are fundamentally different to conventional crops since they pose risks to the environment, biodiversity and human health. Due to these and any other unintended consequences, the Protocol requires that they be treated with precaution. All countries that are party to the Protocol have the right to prohibit or restrict GMOs when there is scientific uncertainty about the short to long-term safety of GMOs. The Protocol also explicitly upholds the right of Parties to ban imports of GMOs and to impose higher safety standards.

"The attack by the US on European Union restrictions on GMOs through the WTO is designed to intimidate developing countries, especially, into accepting GMOs. The Biosafety Protocol is a most welcome tool for countries that have, or plan to, impose restrictions on GMOs to protect their environment and the rights of consumers and farmers, but who fear US retaliation through the WTO,"said Dan Hindsgaul of the Genetic Engineering Campaign. Over two third of all the countries that have ratified the Protocol are developing countries, demonstrating that these countries have recognised the need to impose biosafety measures and that the Protocol can be used as a defence against US pressure.

The Cartagena Protocol was adopted in January 2000 in Montreal, Canada, after several years of difficult negotiations, which were constantly hampered and undermined by the US, Canada, Argentina and Australia. The US have not even taken the first step to ratify the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and as such cannot be a Party to the Cartagena Protocol and will therefore not be in a position to jeopardize labelling and liability regimes which will be negotiated under the protocol for GMOs.

"The entry into force of the Biosafety Protocol indicates that with strong political will, the international community can move forward in the face of such intransigence. The US is now a rogue state in the area of agriculture, actively campaigning against whatever form of regulation that would restrict market access to US genetic engineering and agri-business companies,"said Hindsgaul, calling on Parties to the Cartagena Protocol to strengthen the Protocol and adopt biosafety rules to protect the environment and their agriculture.

"Now that the Protocol will come into force, it's necessary to turn these principles into action by ensuring effective implementation on the ground. It's also necessary for more countries to ratify the Protocol and ensure that this common sense approach to biosafety is a truly global effort,"concluded Hindsgaul.

Notes: The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified the agreement. Text and Annexes of the Protocol can be found at: www.biodiv.org/biosafety/Protocol/asp; For the list of countries which have signed the Protocol, please go to www biodiv.org/biosafety/signinglist.asp?sts=sign. The list of countries which have ratified the agreement can be seen at www biodiv.org/biosafety/signinglist.asp?sts=rtf&ord=dt.