PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK NORTH AMERICA UPDATES SERVICE
International Call for Biosafety Protocol
September 1, 1994
In July 1994, activists and scientists from 18 countries
around the world met in Penang, Malaysia to discuss
biodiversity, biotechnology and the need for a
internationally-binding biosafety protocol. Those attending
the conference, sponsored by the Third World Network, issued
a statement calling for a halt to the release of genetically-
engineered organisms and for a ban on the patenting of life
The Penang conferences came less than a month after a meeting
in Nairobi of the Intergovernmental Committee of the
Convention on Biological Diversity where all developing
country delegations and some delegates from the Nordic
countries spoke in favor of an internationally-binding
biosafety protocol to deal with the risks associated with the
transfer of genetically engineered organisms. In both
Nairobi and Penang, activists advocated that the biosafety
protocol encompass ecological risks and socio-economic
impacts, as well as risks to human health.
The need for a biosafety protocol is heightened, according to
the Penang statement, by the sale of genetically engineered
foods (such as the FlavrSavr tomato and milk from cows
injected with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) which point
the way to widespread commercialization and rapid expansion
of genetic engineering in agriculture. While proponents
frequently claim that biotechnology holds the answers to many
of the world's problems including hunger, in reality, most
research is carried out in the North by the private sector
(mostly large transnational corporations) and often is
focused on developing herbicide-resistant crops.
Other arguments in the statement supporting the need for a
biosafety protocol include:
--Recent studies showing that the ecological risks associated
with genetic engineering in agriculture include possibilities
that transgenic crops may become weeds and unwanted plants;
that these crops may become a conduit through which new genes
move to wild plants; and that plants engineered to contain
virus particles may facilitate the creation of new viruses
that cause new plant diseases.
--Genetic engineering can erode agricultural biodiversity.
Transgenic crops can pose a threat to both wild plants and
traditional varieties due to competition from the transgenic
crops and also due to the transfer of the crops' new genes
into the primitive varieties.
--New biotechnologies have already resulted in negative
social and economic impacts in developing countries. For
example, production of substitutes for export crops have led
to loss of livelihoods and export earnings in many developing
--Genetic engineering is based on the idea that
characteristics of organisms are determined uniquely by
stable genes, such that the transfer of genes automatically
results in the transfer of the desired characteristics. This
genetic determinism fails to take into account the complex
interactions among genes that are involved in the development
of all characteristics of an organism; therefore, it is
impossible to predict the consequences of transferring a gene
from one type of organism to another.
Delegates at the conference called for governments around the
world to take the following actions:
-- Immediately ban the release of genetically-engineered
organisms into the environment.
-- Also ban the contained use and small-scale releases of
genetically-engineered organisms for research purposes.
-- Develop an international legally-binding protocol or
convention to impose a ban on the export or transfer of
genetically-engineered organisms from Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries
to non-OECD countries.
--Ban the patenting of life or living organisms or their
parts, products and processes.
Source: Beth Burrows, Washington Biotechnology Action
Council, Press Release August 15, 1994.
Contact: Beth Burrows, Washington Biotechnology Action
Council, 20319 92nd Avenue West, Edmonds, WA 98020; phone
(206) 775-5383; fax (206) 670-8410; Richard Schweiger,
Community Nutrition Institute, 2001 S Street NW, #530,
Washington DC 20009; phone (202) 462-4700; fax (202) 462-
5241; Martin Khor, Third World Network, 87 Cantonment Road,
10250 Penang, Malaysia; phone (60-4) 229 3511; fax (60-4) 364
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