> Subject: U.S. and Allies Block Treaty on Genetically Altered Goods
> Date: Friday, February 26, 1999 6:31 AM
> Thanks to Britt Yamamoto for forwarding this expose'
> February 25, 1999
> U.S. and Allies Block Treaty on Genetically
> Altered Goods
> By ANDREW POLLACK
> ARTAGENA, Colombia -- Attempts to forge the world's first
> global treaty to regulate trade in genetically modified
> Wednesday morning when the United States and five other big
> exporters rejected a proposal that had the support of the rest
> roughly 130 nations.
> The treaty would have required that exporters of genetically
> seeds or other organisms obtain approval in advance from the
> nation. The talks broke down over the question of whether this
> requirement would also apply to agricultural commodities like
> Proponents of the treaty, especially European nations, have
> genetically modified products, worried that not enough is known
> about the
> possible effects on human health and the environment. But
> and its allies have argued that such regulations would entangle
> food trade in red tape.
> Some 25 percent to 45 percent of major crops grown in the
> are genetically modified, and American negotiators feared the
> could block or stall more than $50 billion in annual farm
> Bleary-eyed delegates from many nations, who have been
> negotiating day
> and night for more than a week, expressed fury at the United
> accusing it of intransigence and of putting the interests of
> farming and biotechnology industries above the environment.
> "It's five nations against the world," said Joseph M. Goto, the
> from Zimbabwe, although Washington and its allies actually
> Those in agreement with the United States are Canada,
> Argentina and Uruguay. "There could be no greater injustice
> that," he
> said. The United States, he added, "is holding the world at
> The delegates agreed to suspend the talks and resume them no
> later than
> May 2000. The United States had urged this, saying there were
> many unresolved issues to allow a consensus to be achieved by
> deadline, which was Tuesday. In the meantime, individual
> particularly in Europe, will continue to limit the introduction
> engineered agricultural products, including food.
> "It would be much better to get a sound instrument a year hence
> than to
> get a flawed instrument today," said Rafe Pomerance, deputy
> secretary of state for environment and development. But
> some other nations feared the process would now lose momentum.
> Even without a treaty, countries can limit the import of
> engineered seeds or foods under their own law, subject to
> challenge under
> world trading rules. Some countries, particularly in Europe,
> doing this.
> The treaty was mainly meant to help developing countries, which
> now lack
> the expertise and the legislation to regulate biotechnology.
> The United States has often taken a stance different from much
> the rest
> of the world on trade and environmental matters. It has not
> Convention on Biological Diversity reached at the Earth Summit
> Rio de
> Janeiro in 1992 because some senators fear that American
> interests would
> be jeopardized. The current talks on the so-called Biosafety
> Protocol are
> an outgrowth of the biodiversity treaty.
> The Biosafety Protocol would require exporters of genetically
> organisms, such as seeds into which new traits had been added
> gene-splicing, to obtain prior approval from the importing
> regulations are intended to allow countries to reduce the
> from introducing genetically altered plants, animals and
> into the environment.
> Some scientists worry, for instance, that a gene conferring
> or drought tolerance on a crop could spread to weedy relatives
> crop through cross-pollination, creating superweeds.
> The main sticking point in the biosafety negotiations was
> requirement for advance approval by the importing nation should
> apply to
> genetically altered agricultural commodities meant for eating
> as opposed to planting.
> Washington and its allies argued that such a requirement would
> biodiversity because commodities like corn and soy beans do not
> enter the
> environment. Developing nations and the European Union argued
> commodities should be included because they have seeds that can
> Some developing nations even wanted the treaty to cover
> from genetic engineering, such as cornflakes made from modified
> corn, or
> blue jeans made from altered cotton, but this was dropped from
> Another unresolved point of dispute was Washington's position
> that World
> Trade Organization rules should take precedence over the
> Protocol, to prevent other nations from using biosafety as an
> excuse to
> erect trade barriers. The developing nations and Europe wanted
> biosafety protocol to be equal to WTO rules or take precedence
> Michael Williams, a spokesman for the United Nations
> Program, said this was the first environmental treaty he could
> remember in
> at least 20 years in which an agreement was not reached by the
> self-imposed deadline.
> But officials here said the big stakes involved for industry
> particularly difficult. "It's the first time that you have
> possibly a
> binding instrument dealing with trade and the environment at
> time," said Veit Koester, a Danish environmental official who
> chaired the
> working group that drew up the draft of the treaty.
> It perhaps complicated things that the industry involved was
> biotechnology, in which the United States holds a firm lead.
> been a rising number of disputes in recent years between
> developing and
> developed nations over the control of genetic resources, the
> for biotechnology, which some analysts predict will be to the
> what oil and metal were to this one.
> The United States in one sense was in a strong negotiating
> because it did not want a treaty as badly as the developing
> therefore had less reason to compromise. Indeed, three years
> Washington opposed starting the biosafety negotiations, and
> at this meeting thought its real intention was to torpedo the
> "The last two years of negotiation have been a constant attempt
> not negotiate, block," said Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World
> a Malaysia-based group working on environmental and
> issues. "They've always said, 'No, No, No,' and they delayed
> diluted," she said.
> Still, the United States could have been isolated. But it
> hand by aligning with Canada, Australia and three agricultural
> from the developing world: Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
> support of such major exporters, any protocol would have been
> "We were just too important, too big and maybe too thoughtful
> ignored," Pomerance, the American negotiator, said.
> He said Washington did make compromises. But he added: "There
> two compromises we were not prepared to make. One is to tie up
> trade in
> the world's food supply. The second is to allow this regime,
> a lot
> of deliberation, to undermine the WTO trading regime."
> Both the U.S. government and the biotechnology industry would
> something to gain from a treaty, were it not too onerous. A
> have helped assuage public fears about biotechnology, which are
> greater elsewhere in the world than in the United States. And
> having a
> unified global regulatory scheme would be easier for companies
> having each nation adopt its own rules.
> The European Union has extensive regulations restricting the
> planting of
> seeds as well as the importing of food that has been
> Individual countries have enacted their own patchwork of rules.
> "We would like to see a little more international harmonization
> regulatory framework," said Willy De Greef, head of regulatory
> government affairs for Novartis Seeds AG, a division of the big
> pharmaceutical company. "It creates a level playing field and
> But the food and biotechnology industries and the U.S.
> argued that genetic engineering has not been shown to be a big
> threat to
> biodiversity, especially compared with the destruction of
> forests to
> create farmland. They also said that environmental groups and
> nations were trying to expand the treaty to deal with human
> and the
> social and economic effects of biotechnology.
> "They are trying to get this protocol to develop issues that
> important but not part of the protocol," said Joyce Groote, a
> spokeswoman for Canada's biotechnology industry.
> Environmental groups have complained in the last few days that
> protocol had been watered down to the point of near
> insignificance. But in
> the end, some said that even the weakened treaty would have
> been better
> than none.
> "The environment's the loser, always," said Beth Burrows,
> president of the
> Edmonds Institute, a nonprofit organization in Edmonds, Wash.,
> deals with biosafety issues. "There was no moral high ground
> here," she
> added. "There was no scientific high ground here. It was just
> cheap power
> Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
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