US argues biotech rules too costly for exporters

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified food, Genetically modified organism, Maize

Demands for both the US and Canada to take responsibility for
genetically modified (GM) food contamination and sign up to the
Cartagena Biosafety Protocol are likely to be frustrated, writes
Anthony Fletcher.

North American food and bitoech lobbyists appear to have successfully convinced both governments yet again that mandatory labeling for GM crops would be too costly, and would adversely affect exports.

As a result, both the US and Canada have still not signed the protocol, which is being discussed this week at a summit in Montreal.

But the tide of global opinion appears to be against them. Representatives of 119 governments are expected to adopt binding rules this week on papers required to accompany GM commodities such as wheat, maize and soy when they are transported across borders.

These rules will ensure that only approved GMOs enter the territory of respective parties signed up to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The European Commission said it would push for documentation requirements that are "clear, meaningful, practical for both exporters and importers of agricultural products, and consistent with EU law."

However, both the US and Canada, along with other major grain exporting countries such as Argentina, Australia, Chile and Uruguay (collectively known as the Miami Group), argue that compulsory labeling would create serious paperwork requirements and fear that the protocol would extend to food products containing GMOs as well.

In addition, the US has consistently demanded the inclusion of a provision in the Protocol that would, in effect, elevate World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules above those of the Biosafety Protocol. The US, along with food and ingredient exporters, was motivated by concerns that the Biosafety Protocol could be used as a protectionist device to favour domestic GMOs over foreign ones.

Pro-Cartagena campaigners have not given up hope. A letter to the Canadian environment minister Stéphane Dion from a group including Greenpeace and the Canadian National Farmers Union invited the minister to see for himself Canadian GM canola found to be growing wild in Japan.

"If the government does not act now to hold manufacturers and exporters liable for contamination then the dangers associated with GM contamination will only increase,"​ said Greenpeace Canada GM campaigner Eric Darier. "The case of Canadian GM canola contamination in Japan is further proof that the Canadian government is complicit with agri-biotech companies such as Monsanto."

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 GMOs.

The protocol entered into force on 11 September 2003 and currently has 119 parties.

The US, the driving force behind the Miami Group, is the world's largest producer of GM crops. It exports over $60 billion of agricultural products a year.

Monsanto GM rat study controversy update

Legal action has been launched to make public research on the effects of feeding Monsanto GM corn to rats.

Details of the report, which were published by the Independent on Sunday in the UK, and reported by FoodNavigator-USA.com​ allegedly showed that rats fed the genetically modified (GM) corn MON 863 developed internal abnormalities, while these health problems were absent from another batch of rodents fed non-GM food as part of the research project.

"Monsanto's refusal to hand over animal feeding studies concerning its biotech corn is outrageous,"​Bill Freese, research analyst for Friends of the Earth US told FoodNavigator-USA.com.

However Monsanto defended its right not to disclose the full study as it "could be of commercial use to our competitors and exploited by others for commercial advantage, if made available,"​ and that in any case the information leaked by the Independent on Sunday many weeks ago, was already available to the public​.

But this week, in separate moves, a British pressure group is set to approach the European ombudsman, and a former French environment minister is to write tothe European Court to ask it to publish the Monsanto report in its entirety.

Related topics: North America, Safety, Regulation, Grains

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