China announces imminent ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

Bush Administration continues to threaten biodiversity.

Feature story - February 23, 2004
China, the world's largest importer of genetically modified organisms, has announced it will soon ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (1). As the international community meet in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the implementation of the Protocol, Greenpeace is calling on the U.S., Canada and Argentina to stop undermining the implementation process and follow suit. So far, 87 other countries have ratified the Protocol.

The Protocol is the first legally binding international agreement governing the transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and Greenpeace believes offers the first step towards biosafety and protecting biodiversity.

China's ratification of the Protocol is expected to cause long-term impact on the global trade of GMOs. China imported a record high of more than 20 million tons of soya in 2003. Chinese experts speculate that more than 70% of the imported soya is genetically modified, as most of the soya came from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. Greenpeace has warned that huge imports of GM soya poses a huge threat to China's biodiversity of soya.

"We have witnessed Mexican maize contaminated by imported GM maize from the U.S., and we need to make sure the same does not happen to the soya in China, which is the centre of origin and biodiversity of soya," said Sze Pang Cheung Greenpeace delegate attending the meeting.

China signed the Biosafety Protocol on 2000 and it introduced a set of domestic biosafety regulations in March 2002. The U.S. complained that the Chinese biosafety regulations were distorting trade and violated WTO rules. China's decision to join the protocol shows that China wants to take a cautious approach to GMOs, despite pressure from the U.S.

"China is sending a message to the world that it takes biosafety seriously. China's ratification will add considerable weight to the protocol as it is one of the largest importers of GMOs, in particular from the U.S., Argentina and Canada who have not ratified," said Doreen Stabinsky from the Greenpeace delegation.'

Xue Dayuan, the Deputy Director of Biosafety Office in State Environmental Protection Administration said: "China believes the environmental and health risks of GMOs should be tackled by multilateral efforts. Ratification of the Biosafety Protocol will further harmonize China's regulation with international standards." Meanwhile Greenpeace criticized the U.S. and Canada for effectively pressurising Mexico to sign a trilateral agreement last October, which will undermine the Biosafety Protocol. The agreement allows maize shipments with as much as five per cent of GMOs into the country without any indication that a shipment actually contains GMOs.The U.S. has neither signed nor ratified the Biosafety Protocol.

Greenpeace is surprised that Mexico signed such a trilateral agreement as it has already been confirmed that maize in Mexico has likely been contaminated by GE crop imports (2)."There is nothing under the trilateral agreement that would have prevented the contamination that affected Mexican maize" said Lisa Covantes a Greenpeace delegate from Mexico.

"The signing of this new trilateral agreement opens the floodgates to continuing contamination of Mexico's valuable maize diversity," concluded Doreen Stabinsky. "This clearly goes against the Biosafety Protocol's objectives. To show real commitment to biosafety, the U.S., Canada and Argentina should follow China's example and ratify the Protocol."

Notes to editors

(1) http://www.biodiv.org/

(2) On Dec 19, 2002, the National Institute of Ecology (INE) of Mexico released a study that confirmed the presence of genetically engineered organisms in native corn of Oaxaca (Sierra Juarez) and Puebla. Of a total of 2,128 plants analyzed in 21 towns, 7.6 percent gave positive results. The frequency of genetic modification in these towns is variable, with a range that oscillates between 1 and 18%. These results seem to confirm the investigation published in the magazine 'Nature' in November of 2001 by the Mexican molecular biologist, Ignacio Chapela, of the University of California at Berkley.