Biosafety Talks Center on Trade in Genetically Modified Foods

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, May 31, 2005 (ENS) - Representatives of 119 governments are expected to adopt binding rules on the documentation that has to accompany genetically modified agricultural commodities, such as wheat, corn and soybeans, when they are transported across borders. These rules will ensure that only approved genetically modified organisms enter the territory of the respective Parties.

The documentation requirements are the most important point on the agenda of the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, taking place all this week in Montreal.

In addition to the documentation requirements, the meeting will take decisions on other issues such as guidance on risk assessment for genetically modified organisms.


(From left)Ahmed Djoglaf of the UN Environment Programme, Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary Convention on Biological Diversity Monday at the Biosafety meeting in Montreal. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Delegates will work towards cooperation in research and information exchange on the socio-economic consequences of genetically modified organisms, and create avenues for public awareness and participation.

The rules of procedure for the protocol’s compliance mechanism will be defined, and the operation of the Internet information exchange portal established by the protocol, the so-called Biosafety Clearing House, will be clarified.

The effectiveness of capacity-building activities in developing countries will be assessed.

Tougher measures are needed to prevent contamination of conventional food by genetically modified organisms, a new report from Friends of the Earth International concludes. The report was distributed Monday by campaigners in decontamination suits in Montreal at the start of the international negotiations.

In its report, Friends of the Earth advocates clear labeling of all shipments that contain genetically modified products, the right of countries to stop imports of illegal genetically modified organisms, and the need to make the biotech industry liable for pollution caused by genetically modified organisms.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada said, "Canada, as one of the few countries that grow genetically modified crops must be forced to put in place effective segregation measures so that the rest of the world’s food supply, and our environment, is not contaminated.”


A demonstrator in a decontamination suit hands out copies of the Friends of the Earth report in Montreal. (Photo courtesy FOEI)
While it has not ratified the Biosafety Protocol, Canada does grow genetically modified crops, but globally 84 percent of the area cultivated with biotech crops is in two countries – the United States and Argentina.

Juan Lopez, coordinator of Friends of the Earth’s International Program on Genetic Engineering said, “These talks are key to protecting the environment and the world’s food supply from GM contamination. Most countries growing GM crops on a large scale have not even signed up to the Biosafety protocol, yet they will be at the talks lobbying for weak controls on their products.”

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the only international treaty governing the cross-border transport of genetically modified organisms and a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Biodiversity.

The rules set out in the protocol are intended to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and protect the public from the potentially harmful effects of genetically modified organisms.

The meetings began with a flurry of controversy as Canada refused visas to several negotiators from developing countries who are known to be critical of genetic engineering.

The Canadian authorities refused visas to the GM critic Agbenyo Dgzobedo of Friends of the Earth Togo and also to the Iranian government's biosafety expert Jafar Barmaki. Both have attended UN talks on biosafety in the past.

Barmaki is a senior expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is responsible for biodiversity related international agreements. He is a member of the National Coordinating Committee for the National Biosafety Framework of Iran.


Tewolde Egzhiaber of Ethiopia at the biosafety meeting Monday in Montreal. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Canada also originally refused a visa to Africa's chief negotiator for the talks, Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher of Ethiopia, but granted him a visa at the last minute after international protests.

Referring to visa difficulties experienced by some delegations, Barry Stemshorn of Canada Monday assured delegates that the government would continue working with the Secretariat to ensure delegates may enter the country.

The meeting of Parties that opened Monday was preceded May 25-27 by another meeting in the framework of the protocol that was devoted to the development of rules and procedures on liability for damage caused by genetically modified organisms. This is the first step in a negotiation process due to finish by 2008.

The Biosafety Clearing-House is an information exchange mechanism established by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to assist Parties to implement its provisions and to facilitate sharing of information on, and experience with, living modified organisms. Find it online at: