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U.N. GMO Trade Pact Enters
Into Force September 11

By Alister Doyle
September 10, 2003

OSLO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - A U.N. treaty giving importers greater powers to reject genetically modified products such as maize comes into force on Thursday and the United Nations wants non-signatories like the United States to abide by it.

The so-called Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, agreed in 2000, regulates trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the international community to work together to implement its provisions.

The treaty obliges exporters to provide greater information about GMO products such as maize, tomatoes or soyabeans.

It also allows a nation to reject GMO imports or donations -- even without scientific proof -- if it fears they pose a danger to traditional crops, undermine local cultures or cut the value of biodiversity to indigenous communities.

It also sets up an Internet-based biosafety clearing house to help countries exchange information about GMOs.

Annan said the treaty would let the planet benefit from biotechnology to curb hunger and poverty while "at the same time protecting biodiversity and human health from potential risks posed by living modified organisms."

"The entry into force of the Cartagena a landmark for sustainable development and another milestone in the global effort to reconcile environmental conservation and development," he said in a statement.

The pact will have legal force from September 11 because the tiny Pacific state of Palau became the 50th to ratify in June, triggering a three-month countdown.

Fifty-seven states have now ratified but outsiders include the United States, the leading GMO exporter which is locked in a trade row with the European Union where many consumers fear GMOs could disrupt the environment.

U.S. Says Its GMOs Safe

The United States, along with major GMO exporters including Canada, Australia and Argentina, says GMOs crops are safe, can raise yields and resist pests. It has long argued against too many precautions for GMOs.

But environmentalists fault Washington for failing to take account of public resistance in some parts of the world -- Greenpeace brands GMOs "Frankenfoods."

In Africa, where many nations are prone to food shortages, countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi have expressed concerns about accepting donations of genetically modified maize.

"This is another example where the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world in dealing with global environmental concerns," said Tony La Vina of the U.S.-based World Resources Institute, an independent think-tank.

"The United States, and especially its private sector, is the leading proponent of this technology and should take the lead on making sure that it is handled and released safely."

The United States is not a signatory of the 1992 U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, of which the protocol is a part.

The EU's executive Commission has said it may ask member states to drop a five-year de facto ban on most GMO crops and food products by 2004 because of tighter new rules. Washington is challenging the EU ban at the World Trade Organisation.


Statement from Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher

Director General of the Environmental Protection Authority, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
September 4, 2003

The United States¹ challenge to the European Union in the WTO courts over Genetically Modified Organisms primarily presents a threat to African and developing countries¹ food sovereignty and the Biosafety Protocol.

We in African countries, who have fought long and hard for the agreement and ratification of the Biosafety Protocol, feel that US actions are intended to send a strong and aggressive message to us: that should we choose to implement the Protocol and reject the import of GM foods, we may also face the possibility of a WTO challenge. We cannot help but perceive that US actions are a pre-emptive strike on the Biosafety Protocol and developing country interests.

The Protocol is due to come into effect on the 11th of September, coinciding with the WTO¹s 5th Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico. At Cancun, the US/ EU GM debate is expected to be high on the agenda. Part of the US argument for forcing the EU to accept GM without any kind of labelling restrictions, is that the EU rejection creates hunger in the developing world. Supposedly, we would willingly grow GM crops if we weren¹t afraid of losing our lucrative European markets.

But this premise is untrue. The only African country to support the WTO challenge was Egypt, who soon retracted support on the grounds of consumer and environmental concerns. Developing countries, and African countries in particular, do not want to grow GM crops uncritically and without the due process of their regulatory systems approving them. They will not have their crops contaminated by GM crops, for many reasons other than market access to Europe. The one important consideration is safety to human health, domestic animals and the environment. This can only be assured, as provided by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, only through informed risk assessments and decisions based on the Precautionary Principle.

Secondly, we reject the patenting of living things, as has been made clear by our negotiations in the WTO. Otherwise, Article 34 of TRIPs would, in combination with the natural processes of cross pollination, not only contaminate our crops, but also turn our farmers into patent infringers. This would remove control of food production into the hands of multinational corporations, thereby wresting away food sovereignty into the hands of these companies. Besides paying royalties, we would lose food sovereignty.

Developing world agriculture systems are adapted to their geography, economy and culture, and GM farming systems that require capital and chemicals threaten our agriculture and food security. Ethiopia is strongly against the hasty introduction of GM crops, for, as a centre of origin and diversity of crops, we recognise the assets that come from a biologically diverse, locally adapted, small-scale agriculture.

This is why African nations have fought so hard for the Biosafety Protocol, which can provide us with a legal basis on which to protect our own food sovereignty. We suspect that Africa is high on the agenda for the US¹ next push for GM acceptance. And we resent the way that the stereotyped image of the hungry in developing countries has been used to force a style of agriculture that will only exacerbate problems of hunger and poverty.

The arguments that the EU must give up its right to label, or even reject GM, because of the developing countries must stop. We have the right to implement the Biosafety Protocol, and we must do so without delay.

Dr Tewolde was one of the architects of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.


The Genetically Modified Bomb

By Thom Hartmann
Published September 10, 2003 by

"Advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool."

from "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century" by The Project for a New American Century

Imagine a bomb that only kills Caucasians with red hair. Or short people. Or Arabs. Or Chinese.

Now imagine that this new bomb could be set off anywhere in the world, and that within a matter of days, weeks, or months it would kill every person on the planet who fits the bomb's profile, although the rest of us would be left standing. And the bomb could go off silently, without anybody realizing it had been released - or even where it was released - until its victims started dying in mass numbers.

Who would imagine such a thing?

Paul Wolfowitz, for one. William Kristol for another.

And, history shows, when the men who define U.S. military policy from the shadows set their sights on something, it's worthy of our attention.

I have brown hair and eyes, both determined by specific genes, and there are probably other markers deep within my DNA that would show a geneticist that most of my ancestors are Norwegian, Welsh, and English. While there's no one gene for race, there are numerous genes for the various components of what we call race - hair color and texture, skin and eye color, eye and nose shape, predispositions or immunities to disease like Sickle Cell Anemia or Tay-Sachs, and the like.

When creating a genetic bomb to target specific groups, such genetic profiles are actually far subtler and more accurate than the coarse pseudo-category we call race. Among men named Cohen all over the world, for example, researchers have found a specific genetic profile tying them all back to a common ancestor. Another group with a common genetic profile are people with ADHD ("The Edison Gene"), who uniquely share common inherited variations in their dopamine-regulating genes regardless of their ostensible race, geography, or ethnicity.

Thus, anybody who's part of a group with a shared genetic profile may be at risk in the future, suggest the authors of The Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) report titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century."

The report notes that, "Much has been written in recent years about the need to transform the conventional armed forces of the United States to take advantage of the 'revolution in military affairs....'" They point out that our military requires a dramatic transformation, lest we lose our ability to fight future, unconventional wars. Some may be fought in cyberspace, others underwater or in outer space. And some even within our own bodies.

Consider what would happen if there was a virus or bacteria that only infected a particular type of person, killing, disabling, or sterilizing only those of a particular genetic profile. Consider the political leverage a nation would have if they could credibly threaten the extinction of all people worldwide with almond-shaped eyes, or the sterilization of everybody with a gene that tracks them back to a common ancestor or region.

Three years ago, Wolfowitz, Kristol, and their colleagues suggested this is something the Pentagon should be thinking about. Not just germ warfare, but gene warfare.

And it's not limited just to warfare: Imagine how genetic terraforming could replace diplomacy, could even render the United Nations irrelevant if entire ethnic groups were wiped out or could be controlled by the threat of extinction. Or how it could change the face of politics if an organism got loose that killed off all the people of a particular minority who tend to vote for a particular political party.

Genetically targeted weapons could change world politics forever, according to PNAC.

"And," their report notes, "advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool."

Given that Kristol, Wolfowitz, and their conservative PNAC associates like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Eliot Abrams, Jeb Bush, and John Bolton have already brought us two of their early 1998 recommendations - the seizure of Iraq and a huge increase in defense spending - it's tempting to wonder if this is another of their other politically useful ideas being explored by the Pentagon.

Or maybe we'd rather not know. At least not those of us with politically problematic relatives.

Thom Hartmann ( is the award-winning, best-selling author of over a dozen books, and the host of a syndicated daily talk show that runs opposite Rush Limbaugh in cities from coast to coast. His most recent book (September 2003) is "The Edison Gene." This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached and the title is unchanged.


USDA Survey Shows Biotech Rules Breaches

By Emily Gersema
The Associated Press
September 10, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Agriculture Department found that almost 20 percent of the Midwestern farms growing a pest-resistant biotech crop have failed to comply with federal planting requirements.

Mark Harris, chief of the department's crop statistics branch, said Wednesday that "probably there are some individuals who may not have understood the rules and didn't follow their contracts precisely."

The survey looked at 289,640 farms in 10 Midwestern states - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin - to see how many were growing the biotech corn variety, Bt. It found that 93,530 farms, or 32 percent, were growing 4.2 million acres of Bt corn.

Of those, only about four-fifths were complying with an Environmental Protection Agency requirement that farmers grow Bt corn in fields surrounded with conventional corn. This perimeter is meant to be a refuge to prevent pests from developing resistance to the Bt variety.

EPA spokesman Dave Deegan said the agency was still reviewing the survey. "We've not made any conclusions at this point," he said.

The Agriculture Department estimates that 17 million acres of Bt corn were planted nationwide this year.

Bt corn is genetically engineered to contain a gene from a bacterium, bacillus thuringiensis, that can kill corn borers, a common field pest. Because the gene behaves like a pesticide, EPA is charged with regulating the plants.

However, agency officials do not visit Bt crops to check and see if farmers are complying. Instead, EPA relies on seed companies to ensure that the farmers know they must plant the refuge.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, said EPA needs to implement a system that would give companies an incentive to ensure farmers to follow the rules.

"They don't have an incentive to penalize and fine noncompliant farmers because those farmers are their customers," said Gregory Jaffe, the center's director for biotechnology.

He suggested that EPA restrict companies from selling Bt seeds in counties where many farmers have failed to comply with the planting requirements.

Jaffe added that farmers also need an incentive to plant conventional corn around Bt crops.

Now, farmers who don't comply are supposed to get a letter from the biotech seed company. If they still fail to comply, the company can stop selling them seed.

Sharon Troughton, a spokeswoman for Monsanto Co., a biotech firm, said companies are intensifying their efforts to educate farmers about how to grow Bt corn. The firms that sell Bt seed - Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, and Syngenta - also are conducting annual surveys to check on farmers.

Troughton said it's a good sign that the majority of farmers are aware of the government regulations, but "obviously we want 100 percent compliance, and we're working towards that."


When Northern Elephants Fight Over GMOs . . .

By Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher

As the world's attention was focussed firmly on the Cancun World Trade Organisation summit in September, an important international agreement quietly made its entry on the world stage, holding out immense implications for developing countries.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which aims to regulate trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs), came into force on 11 September after five-year-long negotiations over trade advantages and disadvantages - intractable North-South issues that are set to continue to bedevil the Protocol's implementation.

This is highlighted most forcefully by the US move to take the European Union to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism over the EU's insistence that US exporters clearly label all GM food sold to Europe.

One of its main complaints is that Europe's stand makes Africa reject GM. The elephants that are Europe and US thus fight, and the grass that is Africa gets trampled. The WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, which would have had direct or indirect implications on the case, collapsed on 14 September 2003, largely because the South, and especially Africa, refused to accommodate the elephants.

Is this a foretaste of the future of the implementation of the Biosafety Protocol as well? Why do I foresee future difficulties?

The reasons are many, flowing chiefly from the substantive differences between the developing countries and the US over GMO regulation.

The US, which is unlikely to be a party to the Protocol, and the 60 parties to the Protocol start from opposing premises.

The US starts from the premise of 'Substantial Equivalence', which says GM crops are as safe as non-GM ones unless proved otherwise. The EU and the developing world support the 'Precautionary Principle' embodied in the Protocol which states that a GM crop is to be considered possibly risky unless proved to be safe.

From these perceived differences flow implications for implementation.

The Cartagena Protocol requires a country to allow the importation of a GMO only after it has obtained all the necessary information about it and carried out a risk assessment to evaluate the likelihood of harm to human health, to agricultural systems, to its environment and to its socio-economic conditions.

The country of import is first informed by the exporter or by the country of export of the intention to export the GMO.

The country of import, after a risk assessment, then informs the exporter or the country of export in writing whether or not it will allow the import.

In the case of GM commodities intended for food, feed or for processing, the intention to export is notified to all countries in one go through a computerised database system called the clearing-house.

In this procedure, failure to communicate a decision to the country of export or to the clearing-house cannot be taken as an agreement to import. The failure might happen through lack of capacity and the Precautionary Principle would then imply that no exportation takes place.

There are some exceptions to the procedure.

A GMO that is merely transiting through a country is not subjected to the procedure. However, if a country considers any GMO as too dangerous to be allowed even transit, it has the right to register this fact at the clearing-house and prohibit its transiting.

A GMO that is destined for contained use - under conditions from which it cannot escape into the open environment and cannot come into contact with humans or other forms of life - need not go through the procedure before importation.

A GMO for use as a pharmaceutical for humans is subjected to the procedure unless there is another international law or a specified international organisation to govern its import and export authorisation. At the moment, there is no international law other than the Cartagena Protocol to govern the environmental impacts of GMOs. The World Health Organisation is responsible only for the safety to human health of pharmaceuticals - GMOs or otherwise - and not for their environmental impact.

When it comes to implementing and regulating the Protocol, however, developing nations are faced with all kinds of handicaps - for a variety of reasons.

For instance, the Protocol depends on full information for its effective implementation - it requires a labelling and traceability regime to be negotiated once it comes into force. But the US, the biggest producer of GMOs in the world, refuses to label them, so countries will not necessarily know when an unlabelled US GMO is imported into their territories. In the meantime, safety will be compromised.

The poverty of developing countries, especially the least developed among them, mostly in Africa, remains a crucial handicap: they are simply too poor to allocate adequate resources for biosafety. Even more worrying is the fact that, should a risk occur, these countries will find it hard to muster the financial and technical capacity needed to combat it.

One would have thought that, given this situation, socio-economic considerations would constitute a very important component in decisions over whether to import a GMO. But the relevant provision of the Protocol is very weak. However, neither this weakness nor any other international law prevents a poor country from adhering to the Precautionary Principle and making a rigorous socio-economic assessment before importing a GMO.

Risk assessment in the South also becomes complicated because of the complex tropical and subtropical environments. A micro-organism under contained use functions optimally at high temperatures. If it escapes into the open environment in the North, it is unlikely to survive the winter cold. But in the hot tropical and subtropical environments of the South, it may survive and flourish indefinitely.

The South should, therefore, put in place biosafety systems that restrict contained use only to laboratory conditions from which escape of GMOs is impossible.

A major problem is related to the rich biodiversity of the South.

It is a well recognised fact that biodiversity increases Equatorwards and decreases Polewards. The environmental risk GMOs pose is one of passing their genes to wild species. The larger the biodiversity, the more complex and uncertain becomes the evaluation of risks posed by GMOs. And yet, owing to low technical capacity, specific knowledge on the South's biodiversity is very poor. Additionally, most centres of origin of crops are in the South, which makes any mistaken release of a GM crop more devastating in the South.

The Protocol's information and risk assessment requirements recognise this fact and include the centres of origin or genetic diversity.

It should thus be, but is not necessarily seen as, in the interests of the North not to push GM crops into the South, and for the South to resort to caution. After all, virtually all crops of importance in the North have their centres of origin or genetic diversity in the South, which means that the North depends on the South for its future breeding programmes and its future food security.

A more intractable issue, of course, is trade and environment.

Trade rules favour the North. And the international agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights - or TRIPs - makes GMOs especially problematic for the South.

TRIPs makes the patenting of micro-organisms and microbiological processes compulsory. The North is allowing the patenting of GMOs and their sub-cellular components based on this provision. The cellular parts essential for genetic engineering are already patented. This means that any domestic development and use of GMOs will become internationally bureaucratic (negotiating for the tens of subcellular parts) and expensive (paying royalties on each patent).

It also means that GMOs, even when developed in the South, will be controlled by the foreign patent owners of sub-cellular parts.

TRIPs puts the burden of proof of innocence on the person accused of the infringement of a process patent. This could spell trouble when a GMO cross-pollinates with the unmodified crop of a small holder farmer and his crop becomes contaminated by patented genes.

Absurdly, the farmer is assumed to be a process patent infringer. The culprits - the wind and the insects - cannot be summoned to court as witnesses. A South that wants food sovereignty and its farmers to remain innocent of crime can refuse the planting of genetically modified crops in its territories.

Happily, however, at the insistence of the South, there is now a commitment to negotiate a liability and redress regime under the Protocol in case of damages caused by GMOs.

Given these handicaps, is the South going to benefit from genetic engineering? I wonder.

Generally, genetic engineering appeals to the South, which wants to develop fast - the technology promises to put beneficial traits found in living organisms to human use. Conversely, not using this capacity threatens being left even more behind in development.

It has no choice but to stay safe. The South has to put in place biosafety systems firmly based on the Precautionary Principle and develop the capacity - no matter how expensive - to protect itself.

Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Director General of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, was chief African negotiator at the Cartagena Protocol.

This feature is published by Panos Features and can be reproduced free of charge. Please credit the author and Panos Features and send a copy to MAC, Panos Institute, 9 White Lion St, London N1 9PD, UK. Email:


NGOs Seek Standing in Monsanto v. Schmeiser

Press Release
September 30, 2003

OTTAWA, ONTARIO - Today, a coalition of NGOs, led by the Council of Canadians, applied to intervene in the patent infringement case involving Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and biotechnology giant Monsanto that will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Federal Court of Appeal found that Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto's patent rights to genetically engineered canola. The Supreme Court has granted Schmeiser the right to appeal that ruling. Intervener status would allow the Council of Canadians and its coalition partners to make submissions to the Supreme Court countering Monsanto's arguments.

"This will be the first time that an appellate court anywhere in the world will consider what infringement means on a patent to a genetically modified life form" says Steven Shrybman, the lawyer representing the coalition. "The Court's decision is likely to have a considerable impact on both the domestic and international debate about patents to life."

The coalition also involves Canadian organisations such as the Sierra Club of Canada and the National Farmers Union.

"This case is far greater than just Percy Schmeiser," says Terry Boehm of the National Farmers Union. "Given the level at which Monsanto's GE canola has contaminated Western Canada, the implied liability for all Canadian farmers is enormous. We simply cannot allow the current verdict against Schmeiser to stand."

The precedence associated with this ground-breaking case has also attracted key international groups to the coalition. These include the Action group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, the Washington-based International Center for Technology Assessment, and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, led by renown Indian environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva.

"If other jurisdictions were to follow the approach adopted by the Federal Court of Appeal in this case, the result would undermine the seed-saving practices of hundreds of million of farmers whose livelihoods depend on this practice. Moreover, because seed saving fosters biodiversity and increases productivity, any new constraint on the practice of saving seeds is likely to harm both goals," says Dr. Shiva.

"Unfortunately, a policy and regulatory vacuum continues to exist in Canada when it comes to biotechnology and genetically engineered foods," adds Nadège Adam of the Council of Canadians. "This is yet another example of how our government has dropped the ball on these issues."

The case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court on January 20, 2004.

For more information, please contact :
Laura Sewell, Media Officer, Council of Canadians:
(613) 233-4487 ext. 234 or (613) 795-8685
Nadège Adam, biotech campaigner
Council of Canadians 502-151 Slater,
Ottawa, ON K1P 5H3
p 613.233.4487, ext. 245 | f 613.233.6776

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