Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999
Third World rejects GM
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent
The world's hungriest nations have resolved to oppose genetically modified
foods. A senior Ethiopian government official last night told the
Independent on Sunday they were "absolutely united" in resisting US plans
to "decide what we eat".
Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher was speaking after last week's talks collapsed
in Cartagena, Colombia, following the United States' accusation that the
developing countries were endangering free trade. An international treaty
to regulate trade in GM produce had been discussed by 132 nations.
The revolt will strike a chord in the West, with many associating the 1980
Ethiopia famines - which sparked Live Aid - with severe food shortages.
Some biotechnology firms have consistently argued that GM crops' increased
resistance to parasites and disease makes them suitable for the Third World.
Dr Egziabher, the senior Third World negotiator at the talks, said Third
World resistance to the imposition of GM crops was increasing. Last week
the government of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, the country's second
largest soya-producing region, said it would ban the planting of GM beans
produced by the US giant, Monsanto. And India's Supreme Court stopped
trials of GM cotton.
The Third World's tough stance undermines the biotech companies'
justification for GM crops - that they will help end world hunger; Dr
Egziabher said that instead they could worsen the plight of the hungry.
The developing countries insisted the US and other food exporters ship GM
foods separately from normal ones, and seek their "prior informed consent"
before exporting. But the US and five other exporting countries - including
Canada, Australia and Argentina - fear Third World countries would boycott
Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999
GM Foods - Cunningham faces Commons quiz on fiasco over new crops
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent
One of Parliament's most powerful committees is to scrutinise the
Government's policies on genetically modified (GM) foods.
Its members plan to call the cabinet "enforcer" Jack Cunningham to account
for this month's fiasco, when panic-stricken ministers were overwhelmed by
the strength of public outrage, and were forced to go on the defensive,
backing the products.
The urgent inquiry, by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee,
will alarm the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, who had hoped to draw
a line under the issue after the embarrassment of recent weeks.
Mr Blair, who is deeply committed to the development of GM crops and foods,
has been privately telling MPs that the recent outcry is a "flash in the
pan" and predicting that it would disappear. But the inquiry will ensure
that it will remain a political issue until the committee completes its
report in the spring. The committee, established by the Government last
year to scrutinise environmental policies throughout Whitehall, starts its
inquiry on Tuesday.
Members will finally decide who to call as witnesses on Tuesday, but they
have already discussed calling Dr Cunningham, who chairs a cabinet
committee on biotechnology. He acted as spokesman for the Government during
the recent outcry, and noticeably failed in his attempts to reassure the
Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999
GM Foods - Watchdog's silence on the
guilty broke law
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment
The official watchdog on genetically modified crops has broken the law by
refusing to name companies that have flouted safety rules in growing them,
or even to give full details of how often such breaches have taken place,
writes Geoffrey Lean.
The Health and Safety Executive, which inspects trial plantings of the
crops to make sure the rules are being observed, said that it would not
identify the companies because doing so might "unreasonably disadvantage
them". It has now admitted that it acted illegally in trying to keep the
The revelation is likely to cause an outcry following the recent conviction
of the controversial US giant Monsanto and Perry Fields Ltd for breaking
the rules at a trial site near Caister, Lincolnshire. Monsanto was fined
#17,000 and Perry Fields #14,000 in the first case of its kind.
The HSE's secrecy undermines constant assurances from ministers about the
strictness and openness of the regulatory authorities on GM crops in
Sunday Independent (London)
Feb 28, 1999
GM Foods - The price of disaster will not be paid by those responsible
There is a gaping hole in the law, says Justine Thornton. Farmers, not
seed companies, may be held to blame for any damage Who takes
responsibility if the worst does happen and huge "superweeds" darken our
skyline and our wildlife disappears as a result of GM crops? The law
governing genetically modified organisms avoids this question, with the
result that nothing can be done about the loss of any wildlife and
farmers, rather than the seed companies, may find themselves in the firing
The UK was one of the first countries in the European Community to develop
a legal framework for genetic engineering and laws governing the
deliberate release of genetically modified organisms have been in place
since 1990. Anyone wishing to release GM organisms into the environment,
or market them, must apply to the Government for consent. The application
must be advertised in local newspapers and must include an assessment of
the risks to human health and the environment.
The laws do not, however, go on to consider who will take responsibility
for the consequences of growing the crops. In the absence of any specific
legislation, it is the farmers who plant the crops who may well be liable
for any damage caused to the environment. A farmer could be sued by
neighbouring farmers whose organic crops have been killed by powerful
herbicides sprayed on the genetically modified crops, or by residents
whose gardens have become overrun by "superweeds".
If a farmer is sued, it will not matter how careful he has been in
spraying the herbicide or how many precautions he has taken to contain his
crops. The very fact that the damage has happened will be enough to make
him liable, providing the damage is reasonably foreseeable.
* Justine Thornton is a barrister specialising in environmental law at
Simmons & Simmons Solicitors. She is co-author of 'Environmental Law'.
GLOBE AND MAIL (Canada)
Fri Feb 26, 1999
By: ANNE MCILROY
Ottawa accused of scuttling biotech deal
Canada helped broker agreement regulating imports of genetically altered
foods in 1992
Environmentalists say Canada helped torpedo an international agreement that
would have regulated shipments of genetically altered food and crops such
as potatoes that produce their own pesticide.
The talks in Cartagena, Colombia, ended Wednesday without an agreement on
the multibillion-dollar trade in genetically modified products. These
foods are grown and eaten in Canada and the United States, but are far more
controversial in the United Kingdom, Europe and the developing world.
"Canada played the heavy," said Benny Haerlin, spokesman for Greenpeace
Canada was part of a group of grain-exporting countries, including the
United States, Australia, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, that rejected a
compromise and insisted on a narrowly focused treaty that would have little
impact on the industry. The group insisted the treaty should apply only to
seeds and not to commodities, and opposed requirements to label genetically
Labels are required in many European countries, although in Canada and the
United States consumers have no way of knowing whether the bread or
potatoes they are consuming contain genes for herbicides or pesticides.
The agreement on biosafety was the first protocol the nations of the world
attempted to negotiate under the international treaty on protecting plant
and animal species that was signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil.
Then-prime-minister Brian Mulroney has been credited with helping broker a
compromise on the convention, and as a result, Canada was the first country
to sign it.
The United States did not sign the treaty, so could not even have signed
the protocol being negotiated in Colombia had an agreement been reached.
Canada acted as a mouthpiece for the Americans, said Mr. Haerlin, as well
as pushing its own hard-line views.
Canadian environmentalists were appalled.
"Canada played the lead in trying to sink this thing, event though we
brokered the convention at Rio. That is why it is so embarrassing," said
Mark Winfield, research director at the Canadian Institute for
Environmental Law and Policy.
But Paul Haddow, a member of the Canadian delegation, said the proposed
agreement was too broad, too complicated and had too many important trade
"It would have been an environmental mistake for us to have signed that
agreement," he said. But negotiations, which were supposed to end this
week, will continue. Canada is anxious to help developing countries
implement a regulatory approach to genetically modified crops that is
similar to the one in place here, Mr. Haddow said.
The issue of genetically engineered crops is related to protecting plant
species, because there is fear they will breed with, and replace, native
varieties in some countries.
There has been conflict between the Environment Department and trade
officials over Canada's position. In an interview before the negotiations
began, a Canadian official explained that as a major exporter of
genetically altered canola, Canada couldn't agree to sign something that
would make it far more difficult to sell the product. Officials also say
there is little connection between labelling genetically modified food
products and protecting plant species.
Earlier this month, the first evidence of health problems connected with
genetically modified foods emerged in the United Kingdom, where there is a
growing scandal over products that have not been properly labelled so that
consumers can make an informed choice.
Canada blocks move to regulate trade of "Frankenfood"
by Christopher Shulgan
Ottawa Citizen, February 26, 1999
Canada has taken another step away from its status as a "green" country,
environmentalists say, after it acted to end an international convention
aimed at regulating the trade of genetically engineered "Frankenfood" on
More than 110 nations were ready to agree to the Biosafety Protocol on
Wednesday at an international conference in Cartagena, Columbia.
But Canada, supported by the United States and four other major
agricultural exporters, moved to suspend negotiations because the agreement
failed to make special accommodations for exports destined to be eaten or
processed instead of planted.
The latter poses a much greater risk of being released into the environment
than the first two sorts of exports.
Calling Canada's part in the first international environmental negotiation
in 20 years not reach a consensus a "fiasco," Steve Shallhorn, campaign
director for Greenpeace Canada, said the country is acting in the interests
of the biotechnology industry rather than for public health and safety.
The national has lost its status in the world forum as an environmentally
friendly nation, he said. "Canada is a brown country, not a green one."
The countries agreed to resume talks no later than May 2000.
At the Cartagena meeting, governments discussed the risks that
biotechnology may pose to biological diversity and human health. The issue
is of key importance in Europe, which is weathering concerns about public
health following the mad cow disease scare.
Canada and the rest of the "Miami group" of big agricultural exporters
-Australia, Argentina, Chile, the United States, and Uruguay- will agree to
some regulations, principally for agricultural products such as seeds that
will be released into the environment
But the Miami group differed from the rest of the international community
in calling for different treatment of agricultural products such as canola,
corn and soy, which are exported for food and pose only a small risk of
escaping into an importer's ecosystem.
Other contentious regulation included requiring exporters to inform the
importing country what portion of an exported commodity has been
Countries also disagreed over who would be held liable for damages if
genetically engineered crops do enter the ecosystem and subsequently harm
A big reason Canada and the Miami group were against the proposal is
because they felt it would restrict international trade too severely.
Canada argued that specifying what proportion of a crop is biologically
engineered on a shipment-by-shipment basis is virtually impossible, because
of the way the crop distribution system works. Shippers do not
differentiate between engineered and "natural" canola, for example, so the
mix can vary drastically shipment to shipment.
The main genetically engineered crops in Canada are potatoes, corn, soy and
canola. About 30 to 50 percent of Canada's $3-billion canola crop is
genetically engineered, principally for resistance to herbicides and
pesticides. About 25 percent of the nation's soy and corn crop is
The United States has a particular interest in the matter. The country
holds a clear international lead in biotechnology, and some countries have
voiced suspicions about the link between the Clinton administration and
biotechnology giant Monsanto Co., which is owned by a key supporter of the
The Biosafety Protocol also would have made it easier for countries to ban
shipments of genetically engineered crops out of concerns that they might
harm ecological diversity.
Environmentalists fear such super-crops could cause eco-disasters. They say
cross-pollination of such crops with wild plants could lead to
``super-weeds'' that are near impossible to control.
Current World Trade Organization rules allow a country to bar agricultural
shipments only if they stand to harm people or wildlife. Possible harm to
an ecological system is not grounds to ban a crop, said Mark Winfield,
director of research at the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and
Since the U.S. has not ratified the convention that led to the Cartagena
meeting, the superpower was not a voting member in the talks. Canada's
action to end the conference has led to some observers alleging that it
was a puppet of the Americans. "We carried the ball for them," Mr.
Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org (jim mcnulty) for posting this:
Firm is rapped for GM adverts
Publication Date: March 01, 1999
A MILLION pound media campaign by the GM foods company [ Monsanto ] has
been criticised by the advertising watchdog as "wrong" and "misleading",
it was revealed yesterday.
The Advertising Standards Authority upheld six out of 13 complaints in a
draft report into claims made last year by the US- owned biotechnology
company about the safety of genetically modified crops.
A leaked copy of the document criticises Monsanto for passing off its
opinion "as accepted fact" and suggesting that GM potatoes and tomatoes
have been approved for sale in Britain.
Campaigners against the so-called Frankenstein foods welcomed the ruling,
which has yet to be approved by the ASA's governing council, as proof of
their claims that Monsanto was trying to distort debate on the issue.
The Ottawa Citizen
February 26, 1999 - Seeds of dissension
For the first time in 20 years, international negotiations on a key
environmental issue have failed to meet their deadline. The collapse of
the ``Biosafety Protocol'' talks in Colombia this week is a serious blow
to environmental security, leaving the world with no agreement on how to
regulate the international transportation of plants and animals produced by
the relatively new science of genetic modification. Who is responsible?
Canada's own Jean Chretien, among others.
Canada joined five other nations to thwart an agreement that had been
reached among the other 125 nations represented in Colombia. The thread
binding Canada and her allied nay-sayers (the United States, Argentina,
Australia, Chile, and Uruguay) is our reliance on exports of crops created
by genetic modification -- in which scientists snip out bits of genes from
other plants or animals and implant them in crops, creating new plants that
may, for example, be resistant to certain insects or likelier to survive
In the U.S., somewhere between 25 and 45 per cent of all crops are the
result of genetic modification. More than 40 per cent of Canada's canola
crop is genetically modified, as are about a quarter of our soy beans and
Currently, these crops are treated like any other. If a nation restricts
their import, it risks sanctions under international trade agreements. Only
if it has hard scientific proof that a genetically modified organism (GMO)
is dangerous to human health or the environment can it stop its entry.
Clear evidence of human health effects is hard enough to get, and the
environment is notoriously difficult to predict. What happens if
genetically modified crops brought into a country, either for planting or
consumption, escape into the local environment? Will they out-compete local
species and drive them into extinction? Will they swallow habitats and defy
efforts to stop them? Until the GMO is actually introduced, it is difficult
to answer these questions with scientific clarity. And once it is
introduced, it's too late. This is not mere speculation.
>From rabbits in Australia to purple loosestrife suffocating Ontario
wetlands, we have ample experience of how the introduction of species alien
to an ecosystem can go horribly wrong. That's why most governments strictly
regulate importation of foreign species. GMOs contain novel genes and trade
law should allow governments to treat them accordingly.
Such safeguards could be twisted into protectionism, but are not inherently
so. There are sound grounds for letting nations apply the ``precautionary
principle'' and forbid the entry of GMOs until there is evidence they are
safe. In this way, the benefits of biotechnology can be balanced with the
safety of ecosystems.
There is a cost to be paid with this approach: slower growth of the biotech
industry and more expensive food. This is why Canada and its five allies
did all they could to hamstring the biosafety negotiations, including
thwarting attempts to get the ``precautionary principle'' enshrined in the
agreement, and even more modest proposals like allowing nations to require
the separation of genetically modified and unmodified crops.
The failure in Colombia has no doubt delighted biotech giants like
Monsanto, but it was only one in a string of wins. When the European Union
considered requiring products made with genetically modified crops to be
labelled accordingly, the U.S. government bullied the Europeans into
backing down with threats of trade war. New Zealand capitulated even
faster. Oh, and did we mention that Monsanto's CEO is a major financial
backer, and chum, of William Jefferson Clinton?
The success of American stonewalling in Colombia is particularly galling
given that the U.S. isn't even a signatory to the 1992 Biodiversity
Convention, which is the basis of the biosafety talks. The U.S. even
opposed opening the negotiations in the first place.
Canada's opposition goes beyond galling to disgusting, since it was
Canadian leadership that helped create the Convention that we are now
obstructing. But of course that leadership was provided by Brian Mulroney.
Jean Chretien can hardly be expected to follow the policies of such a
notorious deep ecologist.
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
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