From: MichaelP <email@example.com>
Subject: Int'l Biosafety conference menu - catchup
Date: 15 Feb 1999 18:48:21 GMT
Conference gets going this very day. Please excuse earlier catchup info.
Spread this far-and-wide,
Saturday February 6 2:35 PM ET
Biosafety Pact Could Hit US Trade
By Janelle Carter AP Farm Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - An international agreement over genetically engineered products being negotiated in Colombia this week could have far-reaching implications for U.S. trade.
Exports could be hit in a range of products including blue jeans, soda pop, disease-fighting vaccines, potato chips and many more.
Negotiating teams are heading to Cartagena, Colombia, to draft the Biosafety Protocol, a United Nations-initiated agreement that aims to reduce risks from shipment and international movement of living modified organisms, or genetically engineered plants.
The deal has been in the making since 1992 but has run into trouble because of a push by some countries for broad regulations that bring under its umbrella not just plants but commodities and products derived from genetically engineered plants.
The United States is the largest producer of bioengineered crops and biogenetic pharmaceuticals.
Crops often genetically altered and used in products that include corn for chips and cereals; tomatoes for spaghetti sauce; cotton for jeans; timber for napkins and paper plates; corn syrup for sodas. Even soaps and detergents often are made with enzymes derived from the manipulation of genes.
The United States has used biotechnology for years to develop better strains of crops like soybeans, corn, squash and potatoes. By breeding genes in crops, scientists say they have managed to improve taste and make plants more resistant to disease and insects. Advocates argue that insect-resistant crops reduce the need for heavy doses of pesticides and other chemicals.
In the coming negotiations, things are complicated even more for the Americans because the Senate has not acted on the treaty that includes the Biosafety Protocol, which leaves the United States without a vote on the deal. So far, 174 countries have joined the treaty.
"We have tried to be constructive partners in this negotiation, but our ability to influence the outcome is limited by that," said Rafe Pomerance, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment. "We don't have any voting rights at the end."
Among proposals being discussed: labeling products that contain genetically modified organisms, and requiring exporters to get permits for each exportation of a genetically modified product.
The United States wants permits only for products suspected to have a possible adverse affect on the environment.
"There is a lot of concern out there about genetically modified organisms because it's new technology," Pomerance said. "We don't believe those kinds of concerns rise to the level that there should be a permit prior to import. However, we think there ought to be lot of information-sharing."
Val Giddings, vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said if countries pushing for stricter regulation succeed, it would "massively disrupt all international trade in biological materials."
Giddings said the use of biotechnology in the United States is so vast, food and medical aid to other countries could be cut back by restraints.
Food industry leaders also have weighed in.
"The protocol was intended to ensure the safe transport and use of modern biotechnology, ... a goal our organizations support," a group of food industry leaders wrote to President Clinton. But, their letter said, "negotiators have lost sight of this laudible goal."
The United States exports $60 billion a year in agricultural products.
"The proposed protocol would impose significant burdens on the trade of products that present no proven threat to biological diversity," said Manly Molpus, president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group representing the food and consumer product industry.
Company Press Release
The Biosafety Protocol Reaches into the Future of the Trading System
NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 9, 1999--The U.N. Biosafety Protocol (BSP) to the Biodiversity Convention will be completed in Cartagena, Colombia in the next two weeks from February 14-23rd.
The current negotiating text contains provisions that could restrict trade and investment, impose new documentation burdens, and create dangerous precedents for regulation and scientific assessment. The U.S. is not a Party to the BSP and therefore cannot vote on the final document.
To address these threats to the international trading system, the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) has sought to raise the profile of these issues. It has alerted the U.S. and foreign governments to the significant trade impacts of the BSP, which affects numbers of industry sectors.
The outcome of the BSP negotiations will bear directly on the 1999 WTO Ministerial agenda and on any forthcoming WTO negotiations. The issues it addresses are also central to the growing conflict between the U.S. and E.U. on agricultural trade.
When completed, the BSP has the potential to affect not only genetically modified products (pharmaceuticals, commodities, timber, etc.) but also products that contain genetically modified materials (such as tires, paper, and mayonnaise, etc.) The BSP could:
- Burden global trade with import and export controls: Including onerous documentation, information and labeling requirements, as well as shipping delays on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and products containing GMOs.
- Undermine sound science basis for risk assessment: Including undercutting the WTO's basis of sound scientific assessment as currently set out in the WTO, in favor of the precautionary principle as the foundation of the BSP, resulting in trade restrictions justified even in the absence of scientific evidence.
The USCIB-led letter to Ambassadors Eizenstat, Barshefsky and Loy dated 12/2/98 is available upon request. The USCIB will send a delegation to the negotiations. For more information, please contact Suzanne Foti at (212) 354-4480.
Accord Would Be First to Target Genetically Engineered Products
By Rick Weiss and Justin Gillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 13, 1999; Page A04
The U.S. government and scores of corporations are scrambling to prevent a proposed international accord from sharply restricting the global flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of genetically engineered products, ranging from cotton seeds to soft drinks.
The intense lobbying effort will climax next week as negotiators from more than 170 countries convene in Colombia to draw up final language on the pact, which would be the world's first accord to regulate the spread of genetically manipulated organisms. Depending on how the agreement is worded, it could promote or restrict the burgeoning biotechnology industry worldwide.
Despite years of preparatory negotiations, however, philosophical rifts loom between the handful of countries ready and eager to ship genetically engineered products around the world and the many other countries that remain wary of the biotechnology revolution.
Environmental groups see the proposed agreement as their first opportunity to set ecological standards for trade in gene-altered crops, livestock and other products. Yet many American companies -- along with the governments of the United States, Canada, Australia and others -- are alarmed about draft language they say could undermine the global economy and severely disrupt world trade.
Former president Jimmy Carter and others have warned that if a badly worded agreement goes through, grain could rot on docks, regulators could freeze shipments of vaccines and other vital drugs, and trade in products as mundane as corn oil and paper could slow to a snail's pace.
"If applied broadly, this could affect an enormous amount of trade," said Rafe Pomerance, a deputy assistant secretary of state and one of several U.S. observers attending the talks in the coastal city of Cartegena.
But diplomats from several other countries contend the greater risk is that unregulated trade in gene-altered seeds, microbes, plants or animals will seriously harm the environment and human health. They say scenarios of stymied world trade amount to scaremongering by governments and commercial interests that are opposed to tighter control over the growing global marketplace in genes.
"Genetic pollution is considerably more dangerous than oil spills. You can't just go out there and put a boom around it and put it back in," said Kristin Dawkins of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis.
American hopes that the accord will ultimately favor less stringent trade rules were weakened Thursday as the European Parliament passed new restrictions on the importation and use of genetically engineered seeds and organisms. Several of the new provisions, including a demand that exporters take on legal liability for environment-damaging genetic accidents, run directly counter to U.S. positions. And although the legislation must be passed by the European Council of Ministers before it becomes law, passage by the parliament was seen by some as a strong signal of support for countries pushing for more regulation at Cartegena.
No country has more to lose from overly strict regulation than the United States. It is the world leader in biotechnology, making and exporting a wide variety of products whose manufacture depends in some way on organisms that have been genetically altered, including the glue in many cardboards, the corn sweetener in soft drinks, much of the insulin that keeps diabetics healthy, many of the vaccines that protect children from deadly ailments and thousands of other products.
Lately, however, concerns have grown about the potential ecological, social and economic effects of world commerce in engineered seeds, organisms and biotech products. Although there has been little public controversy in the United States, genetic engineering has become highly controversial in many European and developing countries.
Some fear that engineered microbes or plants will disrupt local ecologies and undermine traditional farming practices. Others have focused on perceived, albeit unproven, health threats from eating genetically engineered grains or cereals. A third concern is that important economic sectors in some developing countries could be undermined by scientists' ability to grow rare food ingredients or flavorings in the laboratory.
The "biosafety protocol" being negotiated in Cartegena is an outgrowth of a treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity, which emerged from the June 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. The diversity agreement, now ratified by 174 nations, calls for protecting the variety of plants and animals found in the wild. Ecologists have recognized that diversity, which is under grave threat from development and other human pressures, is one of Earth's most valuable treasures.
The 1992 pact called for "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources."
At the time the treaty was approved, nations agreed to hold further discussion on the potential threat that genetic manipulation might pose to biological diversity. They agreed to work toward a biosafety protocol that would set out procedures for the safe transfer, handling and international trade of biotechnology products that might have an impact on biodiversity. This week's meeting is the sixth and last scheduled negotiating session held during the past four years. And with high-ranking officials from scores of countries due to arrive in Cartegena a week from now to sign a finished agreement, there is tremendous pressure to achieve consensus.
That will take a lot of work. Several veteran negotiators of international treaties said they could not recall an instance when so many widely divergent views were still under discussion so close to deadline.
At the core of the various disagreements is the lack of a simple definition of "biodiversity." The term clearly refers to the ecological balance of microbes, plants and animals in nature. But are human beings and their health part of a country's biological diversity? What about a country's economy and culture?
A broader definition, promoted in particular by a bloc of African countries and some Asian and European nations, could lead to a protocol that regulates not only trade in living, engineered organisms but also food and other commodities for human or animal consumption -- such as corn meal made from gene-altered corn -- or even genetically engineered cotton fibers destined to be made into clothing.
By contrast, the United States and some other nations want the protocol to apply narrowly to living, genetically engineered seeds and organisms that could multiply and spread in the environment.
"This agreement is supposed to be about the protection of biodiversity," observer Pomerance said. "If you start to expand the mandates of the protocol, you can end up with something that is completely out of hand."
Pharmaceutical companies and public health officials express concern, for instance, that an overly broad accord could interfere with the international transport of medicines and vaccines, many of which are now made from genetically engineered organisms. Such products are designed to kill disease-causing microbes, which, strictly speaking, amounts to an alteration of a nation's biodiversity.
"I don't think most people think of polio virus as an endangered species," said Gillian Woollett, associate vice president for biologics and biotechnology at the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group. Yet the protocol could actually promote polio worldwide, she said, unless medicines and vaccines are explicitly excluded from the accord.
Unfortunately for the United States, the many U.S. government and industry representatives traveling to Cartegena have no official standing in the weeklong talks because the U.S. Senate never ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. President Clinton signed the treaty in 1993. But lingering U.S. concerns have held up Senate approval.
That means that although the United States would have to follow any trade rules that participating countries impose, U.S. representatives can only "observe" the negotiations and try to influence them informally. Recently, for example, several companies including Monsanto Corp., a major U.S. agricultural biotechnology company, enlisted former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young to help soften the views of negotiators from African countries who have been seeking restrictive rules.
Environmental groups in developed countries, meanwhile, have allied themselves with diplomats from developing nations suspicious of biotechnology.
"The U.S. has in the past been able to throw its weight around on biotechnology issues, but they seem to realize now they can't stop this completely," said Michael Hansen, a research associate at the Consumer Policy Institute in Yonkers, N.Y. "So a lot will turn on how strong the African nations decide to stay on these issues."
Among the most contentious outstanding issues:
- Paperwork requirements. The United States says it's willing to have companies secure permission in advance from recipient countries before releasing any living, genetically engineered seeds or organisms into those countries' environments. But it says such paperwork should not be required for subsequent shipments, as many countries have demanded. And it opposes notification requirements for nonliving biotechnology products, such as gene-altered cotton fibers or corn sweetener, many of which are already pervasive in the global marketplace. "You'd have to have a huge bureaucracy to sign off on these shipments," Pomerance said.
- Liability. Many developing countries support a provision to compensate a country if its biodiversity were harmed by another country's reckless exportation of genetically engineered organisms. The United States says existing liability laws are adequate.
- Socioeconomic considerations. In question is whether a country may restrict importation of engineered products not on strict scientific grounds, but because of potential harm to that country's culture or economy. U.S. delegates say no. Others, including the European Parliament, say yes.
- Trade with nonparties. Some countries have proposed that signers of the final accord should agree not to trade with countries that don't sign. That would deal a devastating blow to the U.S. economy, but it would be such an unprecedented hurdle to international trade that few people expect it to pass.
As pre-conference deliberations got underway Thursday in Colombia, representatives from the United States and several biotechnology companies began a final push to convince opposing forces that trade restrictions would ultimately harm everyone.
"Biotechnology offers many of these countries the best possible technical solutions to many of their problems," said Val Giddings, vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. "A lot of these countries don't realize that they're playing a game that doesn't work to their benefit."** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **