Canada Rapped for 'Censoring' Biotech Critics / NZ tries to weaken biosafety protocol (30/5/2005)

1.Canada Rapped for 'Censoring' Biotech Critics
2.NZ could weaken biosafety protocol on liability
3.Need to set up a global liability regime for GMOs


Yet again New Zealand like Canada, just as with Terminator, seems keen to pay proxy for the biotech industry.

1.Canada Rapped for 'Censoring' Biotech Critics
Stephen Leahy

BROOKLIN, Canada, May 30 (IPS) - A top African scientist and advocate of strong regulation of genetically engineered seeds and crops is demanding punitive action against Canada if authorities continue to try to block delegates like him from taking part in U.N.-sponsored talks.

Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Ethiopian government's chief scientist, had been denied a visa to attend talks in Montreal on the international movement of genetically engineered organisms until pressure from international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) forced a last-minute reversal by the Canadian government. The talks opened Monday.

His call for punitive steps -- possibly including shutting down U.N. offices in Montreal -- came amid revelations that other delegates from developing countries had been denied access to the U.N. talks in Montreal.

Tewolde, in an open letter to Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, asked for a motion to censure Canada for the difficulty Tewolde had in getting a visa and for the continued difficulties he said are being experienced by other delegates to the Montreal conference on liability and labeling of genetically engineered organisms.

While Tewolde missed some meetings and arrived in Montreal May 27, a member of the Iranian delegation, Jafar Barmaki, was denied a visa.

Barmaki is a senior expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for biodiversity-related international agreements. According to the Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment, an NGO in Tehran, Barmaki has played an important role in promoting biosafety in Iran.

An agricultural economist and a farmer from India also were denied visas to appear as speakers at a side event organised by NGOs at the Montreal biosafety meetings. Kavulakunpla Ramanna Chowdry, a professor and adviser to the Andhra Pradesh state government, and Kaka Ramakrishna, a cotton farmer said to have suffered huge losses, were scheduled to speak about their experiences with the genetically engineered cotton.

Several thousands farmers and the government of Andhra Pradesh have demanded compensation from biotechnology major Monsanto Co. and its Indian seed partner, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (Mahyco), over the failure of Bt cotton, a genetically modified variety, according to Afsar H. Jafri of New Delhi's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), a co-sponsor of the NGO event in Montreal.

''Professor Chowdry was prepared to tell the negotiators in Montreal (about) the extremely irresponsible and reckless behavior of Monsanto with the victim farmers and the government,'' Jafri said in a statement.

Beth Burrows, director of the U.S.-based NGO Edmonds Institute, also a co-sponsor of the NGO event, added ''I never imagined this could happen in Canada. I have brought many people to lecture at side events before and never had a problem like this.''

Burrows said she also learned that an NGO from Togo was unable to obtain visas.

''People are impacted by this (genetic engineering) technology and their voices need to be heard,'' she added.

Headquartered in Montreal, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted the biosafety protocol in 2000 to address the safe transfer, handling, and use of living genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that could harm the diversity of species living on the planet.

Burrows and others said they suspect Tewolde's and the other visa rejections amounted to an attempt to censor voices opposed to Canada, the United States and other countries that grow GMO crops and that oppose labeling and liability for contamination by genetically engineered pollen and seed.

Canada's department of foreign affairs has yet to officially comment and, despite several requests, declined to be interviewed by IPS.

Tewolde is firmly in support of bulk labeling of genetically engineered products and also liability and redress in the case of any damage to human health or the environment, said Julia Crosfield, a spokesperson for Consumers International, a coalition of 250 organisations in 115 countries.

''This is important to consumers who have rights to information, safety, and to a healthy and sustainable environment,'' Crosfield said.

Canada has experienced extensive contamination by genetically engineered canola (oilseed rape), where the GMO plants have spread far and wide in the country's western regions. Among the concerns with these crops is that they will mix with indigenous plants, change the genetic composition of valued species, and produce so-called superweeds, or wild plants that have been accidentally pollinated by a genetically modified plant and now contain that plant's abilities to resist herbicides and kill insects.

Presently there is no legal liability in Canada for farmers, nor the producers of the seed, to prevent or clean up any contamination. However, lawsuits have been filed.

And there have been news reports that Canadian genetically engineered canola has been found growing around eight Japanese ports despite rules on handling that are supposed to prevent such contamination.

''The talk in the corridors here by delegates and NGOs is whether or not this was done on purpose,'' said Lucy Sharatt of ETC Group, a Canadian-based NGO attending the Montreal meeting.

At the opening of the first meetings May 26, a delegate from Egypt expressed his regret at Tewolde's absence and stressed that ''host countries are required to facilitate, not hinder, participation,'' according to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin news service.

Such participation includes not only delegates but also members of civil society who are full participants in the open forums, said Sharatt.

''Some delegates are asking if Canada can be relied on for future meetings,'' she said.

''If it was an error, why not apologise?'' Sharatt asked. (END/2005)

2.NZ could weaken biosafety protocol on liability
31 May 2005
By KENT ATKINSON,2106,3297589a7693,00.html

New Zealand's stance at an international conference on "biosafety" in moving living genetically engineered (GE) organisms between countries could undercut a significant part of the process, says a Malaysian critic.

"New Zealand's position is that there should be no instrument (of liability) at all," said Gurdial Singh Nijar, a law lecturer at the University of Malaya.

He is a member of the Malaysian delegation which is arguing at the Montreal working group on legal and technical issues of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety that it should contain binding rules on liability.

"New Zealand is arguing we should spend our time developing rules and procedures for liability which would end up with no rules," said Mr Nijar.

He told NZPA that it was "a bit late in the day" for New Zealand to be questioning the need for specific provisions on liability over the movement between countries of living GE organisms.

"The Cartagena Protocol provides for rules and procedures to be developed in respect of living modified organisms - the world has already accepted that there is a need to develop rules and procedures".

New Zealand's delegation is led by diplomats Jane Coombs and Sarah Wynn-Williams of the environment division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Mr Nidar said the diplomats' efforts would undermine not just the provision in the protocol, but the entire work that had been done to date in relation to that particular article.

Other countries which were exporting GE organisms could build on the NZ stance, he said.

The Wellington-based Sustainability Council, said in a statement that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was "out of step", said New Zealanders should expect their negotiators to promote rules protecting food producers and the environment.

New Zealand food producers should be able to obtain compensation if imported GE organisms hurt their businesses, said council executive director Simon Terry.

About 800 international representatives are taking part in the second round of negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol until June 3, including representatives of food processors, shippers and farmers.

In preparatory talks last week for the conference, at an ad hoc group on liability and redress, New Zealand suggested developing a set of criteria for assessing the effectiveness of possible liability rules.

Colombia, Iran, India, Egypt, Malaysia and Algeria questioned the necessity of such a process.

Greenpeace drew attention to a legal paper focusing on liability for GE organisms in New Zealand, which concluded that there were significant difficulties relating to liability for damage.

When Senegal and many other nations called for a legally-binding instrument on liability, New Zealand suggested that not having an instrument would be an option, according to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The main decision-making meeting began overnight (NZ time) in a process expected to take until 2007 to canvass not only liability issues but international trade relations, protecting biological diversity, and the extent to which consumers can have confidence in imports of GE foods, plants and livestock.

It will have implication for costs and logistics in handling, transport, packaging and identification of GE food and agricultural exports, including the issue of segregating GE from non-GE products during storage and transport.

Animal identification systems can tag and trace the movement of GE animals, but tracing the genetic origins of a plant is more difficult.

The United States refuses to sign the protocol - a part of the Convention on Biological Diversity that became effective in September 2003 and has been ratified by 120 countries - but is able to speak in the working group conferences.

China, one of the largest importers of GE crops, signed the protocol earlier this month, and Environment Minister Marian Hobbs announced last September that New Zealand would ratify the protocol. The protocol requires exporters to give detailed information to recipient nations about GE products, and gives a right to reject GE imports or donations - even without scientific proof - if they might pose a danger to traditional crops and indigenous societies.

The Sustainability Council said New Zealand had already had three incidents involving imports of GE-contaminated seed, and each had cost over $500,000.

"One wiped out an entire year's profit for a Gisborne company, and another took the affected company out of a key market for a year," said Mr Terry.

But Ms Hobbs specifically denied New Zealand was calling for no provision for liability under the Cartagena Protocol.

She told NZPA that New Zealand had "reserved its position" on the need for a separate liability regime for GE organisms under the Cartagena Protocol.

"There should first be a clear understanding of what value a separate liability regime would add," she said. "There are rules now for liability, which genetically modified organisms fit under.

"Are living modified organisms any more dangerous than nuclear energy: are they any more dangerous than certain chemicals?"

The only separate liabilities provided for in terms of international biodiversity were for incidents such as an oil spill in the Antarctic, Ms Hobbs said.

"New Zealand is asking: why a separate regime for this new technology?"

Most of the nations represented in Montreal were importers, unlike New Zealand, Brazil and Nicaragua - and New Zealand representatives were being very cautious about rule-setting that could potentially later be used by trade rivals as non-tariff trade barriers.

"We're not saying no - we're saying please can we have an analysis before we jump straight into a liability regime," Ms Hobbs said.

3.Need to set up a global liability regime for GMOs
Financial Express, Monday, May 30, 2005

Discussions are on for evolving a global liability regime to address the damages likely to be caused on account of transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs). This mechanism is slated to be incorporated in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The protocol came into effect from September 11, 2003 and it was also decided to put in place an appropriate liability regime within four years.

The protocol and the proposed liability regime bring to fore issues related to global trade. Here the main issue is whether the proposed liability regime based on the spirit of the Cartagena Protocol can have the ultimate competent authority to resolves disputes relating to transboundary movements of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) otherwise called LMOs. Already the dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is now empowered to resolve such disputes and in fact, it is presently adjudicating a dispute between the European Union and US on this issue.

The Article 10.6 of the protocol advocating the need for implementation of the precautionary principle says, “Lack of full scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living modified organism on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the party of import, taking also into account risks to human health, shall not prevent a party from taking a order to minimise such potential adverse effects.” Thus the protocol give full authority to restrict imports of GMOs even in case of lack of full scientific certainty of the damage.

Comparatively, Article 5.7 of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement of WTO is quite mild on the implementation of the precautionary principle. It says: “In cases where relevant scientific evidence is insufficient, a member may provisionally adopt sanitary or phytosanitary measures on the basis of available pertinent information, including that from the relevant international organisations as well as from sanitary and pyhtosanitary measures applied by other members. In such circumstances, members shall seek to obtain the additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risks and review the sanitary and phytosanitary measures accordingly within a reasonable period of time.”

The WTO SPS Agreement, therefore, calls for a review of a decision by a member country not to allow imports of GMOs “within a reasonable period of time,” while the Article 10.6 of the Cartagena Protocol does not prescribe any time limit for the review of the proposal banning imports of GMOs.

The protocol is right in not prescribing any time limit as such for a review as current level of scientific knowledge is not sufficient the ascertain and assess the possible damages to be caused on account of the release of GMOs in the environment. It is, therefore, logical that a review of the decision should be done when full scientific knowledge is available to assure complete safety of GMOs.

The protocol also requires genetically modified (GM) food, feed, products containing traces of GMOs and processed GMOs to be subjected to international standards regarding transport, packaging and labeling. There are, therefore, two differing principles relating to transboundary trade in GMOs. Here the main issue is that after a liability regime is put in place as per the Cartagena Protocol, whose authority on the issue will prevail - WTO’s dispute settlement body or the mechanism under the new liability regime?

The Cartagena Protocol is also not clear on this issue. In its preamble it says two contradictory things. It says, “Emphasising that this Protocol shall not be interpreted as implying a change in the rights and obligations of a party under any existing international agreements” - here the indication is for continuation of rights.

In another clause in the preamble it says: “Understanding that the above recital is not intended to subordinate this protocol to other international agreements.” Here the clause says that the protocol will not be subordinate to any international agreements including the WTO.

This ambiguity in the protocol needs to be removed. The protocol should be independent in its own way. Decks should be cleared for enforcement of an appropriate liability regime to redress the likely damages on account of release of GMOs in the environment.

Apart from a liability regime, there should be an appropriate dispute settlement mechanism under the protocol and this mechanism should be the sole arbitrator in settling disputes relating to transboundary movements of GMOs, GM food and feed and processed food and feed containing traces of GMOs.

The Article 26 of the protocol points out to the need for countries to consider the socio-economic factors in making decision. However, the protocol has missed to redress the patent liability of GMOs. There is a need to include this aspect also.

The Second Meeting of Parties (MOP/2) to the Cartagena Protocol which begins in Montreal from May 30 need to consider all these aspects while formulating an appropriate liability regime.

There are some liability regime at regional levels. The African Model Law on Safety on Biotechnology in its Article 14 specifically addresses the issues of liability and redress.

Lugano Convention in Europe also addresses the the issues of liability and redress. However, the Swiss Gene Technology Law addresses the issues of liability and redress in milder tones.

This is related to the fact that legislation is in part the result of a compromise whereby Switzerland would not enforce a moratorium on GMOs but would provide a legal framework for a liability regime. A global liability regime which is being proposed can draw substances from these existing regional liability regimes. The proposed global liability regime should set up appropriate mechanism for arbitration.

Canada NewsWire, May 28, 2005

QUEBEC CITY, May 27 /CNW Telbec/ - The Government of Québec decided supports Canada's ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

On the eve of the 2nd Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol, to be held from May 30 to June 3, 2005 in Montréal, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, Minister of International Relations and Minister responsible for the Francophonie, highlighted out that, "Québec grants a great deal of importance to the integrity of biodiversity, which supports many of its economic activities. That is why the government supports the Cartagena Protocol within its fields of constitutional jurisdiction". Such declaration will come into effect after Canada has ratified the Cartagena Protocol.

"Today, we would like to reaffirm, as indicated in our document: 'Shine among the best' and in the 'Sustainable Development Plan for Québec', that the issue of GMOs is an important one for Québec. Indeed, the Cartagena Protocol constitutes one of the major tools to promote the secure control of the circulation and use of these products," commented Thomas J. Mulcair, Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, and Deputy Government House Leader.

The Québec government thereby answers the concerns of interest groups in Québec by encouraging the federal government to ratify and implement the Cartagena Protocol.

The Protocol's objective is to help govern the transborder movements, transfer, handling and use of any living modified organism (LMO), also known as GMO, that could have unfavourable effects on the conservation and sustainable use of our biological resources, as well as taking into account the risks for human health.

Québec's commitments have been expressed from day one when the international community adopted, on January 29, 2000, in Montréal, the text of the Protocol which is a result of the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity.

It should also be noted that Québec was the first province in Canada to officially support the signing of the Protocol by the federal government. The National Assembly unanimously adopted the text of the Cartagena Protocol by special motion on May 10, 2005.


Lilly Nguyen Chantale Turgeon
Press Attaché Press Attaché
Cabinet de la ministre des Relations Cabinet du ministre du Développement
internationales et ministre durable, de l'Environnement et
responsable de la Francophonie des Parcs
Phone: (418) 649-2319 Phone: (418) 521-3911

Amélie Blondeau Louise Barrette
Direction des Communications Direction des communications
Ministère des Relations Ministère du Développement durable,
internationales de l'Environnement et des Parcs
Phone: (418) 649-2400, Ext. 5513 Phone: (418) 521-3823, Ext. 4163
-%RE: 01

Lilly Nguyen, Press Attaché, Cabinet de la ministre des Relations internationales et ministre responsable de la Francophonie, (418) 649-2319; Amélie Blondeau, Direction des Communications, Ministère des Relations internationales, (418) 649-2400, Ext. 5513; Chantale Turgeon, Press Attaché, Cabinet du ministre du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs, (418) 521-3911; Louise Barrette, Direction des communications, Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs, (418) 521-3823, Ext. 4163


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