Biotech foods: international safety laws agreed
by Redaktion (comments: 0)
United Nations talks on the global trade in genetically modified (GM) foods and crops ended on March 17th in Curitiba/Brazil with an agreement on the labelling of GM grains traded worldwide. Friends of the Earth welcomed the agreement as a "small step forward" but attacked the biotech industry and the trade interests of a few countries for blocking progress towards better protection for developing countries and the environment.
The biotech industry consistently opposed clear identification and labelling requirements for GM crops. Without clear labelling many countries, especially developing countries with their limited resources, are unable to protect their food supply and environment from GM contamination.
Nnimmo Bassey, International Coordinator of the Friends of the Earth GMO
Campaign said: "Protection of the environment and the public from genetically modified crops has taken a small step forward today. However it is clear that trade interests and the biotech industry stopped a better agreement from being made. Countries have the right to know what is being imported into their country and the right to say no to GM crops."
The UN Biosafety Protocol, which was originally agreed in January 2000, provides basic international rules that allow mainly developing countries to regulate the safety of GM foods, crops and seeds. It has been ratified by 132 countries but the three main countries that grow GM crops – the United States, Argentina and Canada - have refused to support it. Ten years after the first significant planting of GM crops, no plants with benefits to consumers or the environment have materialized and GM crops have failed to deliver the promises of the biotech industry. More than 80% of the area cultivated with biotech crops is still concentrated in only three countries: the US, Argentina and Canada.
Friends of the Earth International recently published a report that concluded: GM crops are not green. Monsanto's GM soybeans, the most extensively grown GM crop today, has led to an increase in herbicide use. The intensive cultivation of soybeans in South America is fostering deforestation, and has been associated with a decline in soil fertility and soil erosion.
GM crops do not tackle hunger or poverty. Most GM crops commercialized so far are destined for animal feed, not for food, and none have been introduced to address hunger and poverty issues. In Argentina, the second biggest producer of GM crops in the world, only 2 % of the soya stays in the country. Other developing countries, such as Indonesia and India, have experienced substantial problems with Monsanto's GM crops, often leaving farmers heavily indebted.
Greenpeace also sees only weak GMO identification improvements, which will be insufficient to protect developing countries. Greenpeace welcomed, with reservations, a last minute compromise at the Biosafety Protocol negotiations which improves standards of
identification of genetically engineered organisms in international shipments of food and feed. However, the new regulations fall short of fully protecting vulnerable developing countries from unidentified and potentially illegal GMO imports.
"The vast majority of the 132 member states party to the Biosafety Protocol came to the meeting intending to propose clear language requiring the clear identification of shipments which contain GMOs," said Greenpeace International's Benedikt Haerlin from the meeting in Curitiba. "What they've come away with is 'may contain GMOs'. While this weak agreement is an improvement on the current regulations, it doesn't go far enough. "Responsibility for this compromise decision falls squarely at the feet of a minority group of vested interests led by transnational Agro-Biotech firms, commodity traders, the US, Canada and Argentina (not members of the Protocol), who used countries like Mexico and Paraguay as stalking horses to hijack proceedings from the very start, turning crucial international negotiations on the issues of biodiversity, biosafety and human health into hard-nosed trade deals.