Apr 20, 2007
BRAZIL 2006: International Meeting on GMOs is expected to take a decision on the right to know the presence of GMOs in the global agriculture trade system
After more than a decade of planting GM crops in the environment, over 130 Parties of the United Nations Agreement on Genetically Modified Organisms , called the Biosafety Protocol, will meet in Curitiba, Brazil, to take a crucial decision that may significantly affect the current model of development and trade of GM foods around the world. At stake is the right of countries to know about the presence of GMOs destined for food, feed and processing (which constitute the bulk of GMOs traded in the world today) in the global trade market.
The biotech industry has consistently opposed clear identification and labelling for any of the GM crops on the market today. Without information about the content of GMOs traded around the world the right to know of importing countries and its citizens is violated. This situation may also contribute to further contamination of the global food and feed supply, which may lead to contamination of seeds and crops.
Briefing : Global Standard on identification of GMOs to be decided by International Treaty
The context of the meeting
The meeting takes places amid a controversial debate about the benefits of GM crops and food after a decade of experience, and a polemic ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) between the US and the European Union (EU). The current briefing sets in context the key issues that will be discussed at the Third Meeting of the Parties of the Biosafety Protocol (called MOP 3) which will be held between the 13 th and 17 th of March in Brazil.
Report: Who Benefits from GM Crops
WTO Briefing : "Looking behind the US spin" WTO ruling does not prevent countries from restricting or banning GMOs.
what is the biosafety protocol
The Biosafety Protocol aims to protect citizens worldwide from the potential risks derived from GMOs by:
- regulating transboundary movements of GMOs
- implementing liability rules in the event of damage caused by GMOs.
The Protocol is the first international agreement that clearly shows that GMOs are different from conventional organisms and therefore require different treatment.
The Biosafety Protocol is a United Nations agreement adopted in 2000 in Montreal, Canada that seeks to protect the environment from the potential risks of GMOs. It became law on September 11th 2003, and by March 2005 over 130 countries around the world became party to this treaty.
Meeting of the Parties
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2004
After the Biosafety Protocol entered into foce, the Parties meet to take crucial decisions to reinforce the controls over the trade global system on GMOs. The first Meeting took place in February, 2004, negotiations over further measures took place at the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Friends of the Earth campaigned in Malaysia to prevent the US Coalition to undermine the Biosafety Protocol, and for comprehensive rules on identification, labelling and liability on GMOs.
Despite the pressure from the biotech industry, the results were very positive. Friends of the Earth welcomed the conclusion of the first meeting of the parties to the Biosafety Protocol as an important step forward for protecting consumers, farmers and the environment from the dangers of GMOs.
Montreal, Canada 2005
Montreal hosted the second Meeting of the Parties (MOP) of the Biosafety Protocol, between the 30th of May and the 3rd of June 2005. The Parties to the Protocol negotiated a decision about how to identify Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for food, feed and processing. GMO contam ina tion today is one of the major threats to biosafety worldwide. The issue of identifying GMO shipments for food, feed and processing would give a signal to whether we are moving towards a world where GMO contam ina tion becomes the exception or the rule.
Read more about Friends of the Earth International activities during the meeting.
Find out more at the Convention on Biological Diversity website
gmo talks end in acrimonyKey United Nations negotiations on the safe trade of genetically modified crops and foods ended in early June in acrimony. Despite over 100 countries demanding comprehensive controls to limit GM contamination, the move was blocked by just two countries that sided with the GM industry – New Zealand and Brazil. These UN Biosafety Protocol negotiations were aimed at bringing in international rules to reduce contamination from imports of GM crops and to introduce full labeling. However, despite support from virtually all countries, especially in the developing world, little progress was made in making the laws stronger due to shameless blocking by New Zealand and Brazil
Between the 30th of May and the 3rd of
June, Montreall hosted the second Meeting of
the Parties (MOP) of the Biosafety Protocol.
The Parties to the Protocol negotiated a
decision about how to identify Genetically
Modified Organisms (GMOs) for food, feed and
processing. GMO contamination today is one of
the major threats to biosafety worldwide. The
issue of identifying GMO shipments for food,
feed and processing would give a signal to
whether we are moving towards a world where
GMO contamination becomes the exception or
To tackle GMO contamination effectively, segregation and identity preserved systems are necessary so that GM crops can be separated from non-GM crops, and GM events can be traced through the whole chain
The meeting is already steeped in controversy with Canada refusing visas for several delegates from the developing world.
A new report from Friends of the Earth "tackling GMO contamination: making segregation and identity preservation a reality" calls tighter measures to prevent accidental contamination of conventional food. The report, published by Friends of the Earth International, the world's largest grassroots environmental network, concludes that the threat of GMO contaminaton would be greatly reduced if the few countries producing GM crops were forced to segregate effectively conventionally grown crops from GM ones.
Just days before the start of negotiations on controversial new measures, Canada has denied a visa to chief African negotiators.
|FoE Togo delegate Agbenyo Dgzobedo also had his visa request denied, by the Canadian Embassy in Accra. The Canadian agent was not convinced Agbenyo would quit Canada after his trip, for reasons related to "his past trips". This is an unconvincing reason because Agbenyo was at the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (ICCP) in Europe in 2002, the MoP on Biosafety in Malasia last year, as well as several other trips to Europe. He has already been part of the international negotiations for three years, so there was no reason to block him.|
Along with Argentina and the United States, Canada is responsible for up to 90 percent of the genetically engineered crops in the world - yet these countries refuse to ratify the global agreement to protect biodiversity.
Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of negotiators who stand up to biotech bullies. This is no way to host international negotiations.”
The Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety Friends of the Earth Canada spoke out against the visa refusal .“In effect, Canada is screening out is the first international agreement to regulate trade in genetically engineered organisms. It was agreed in Montreal in January 2000 and has now been ratified by 119 countries.
Read more: open letter from Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher
7th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-7)
Joint Statement on Protected Areas to the 7th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity
Friends of the Earth International - World Rainforest Movement - Oilwatch
The World Rainforest Movement, Oilwatch and Friends of the Earth International (a federation of 68 non-governmental environmental organizations from 65 countries) believe that sustainable management of protected areas is a key pillar to biodiversity conservation. However, we have noticed with regret the alarming rate at which protected areas are being lost and decimated, due to the process of planning, establishment and management, and more importantly, due to large-scale mining, oil extraction and commercial logging activities. Most government designated protected areas world-wide have been established at the exclusion of the rightful owners - local communities and Indigenous Peoples - in the planning, establishment and management of these areas. This is a clear violation of their ownership and rights.
Where then lies the protection and encouragement of customary use of biological resources (article 10(c) of the Convention on Biodiversity) when local communities and Indigenous Peoples are denied the right of access, under the flag of protection, to the very resources that belong to them, while these resources are given out eventually to large foreign conservation organizations, or to multinational corporations for large-scale mining, oil exploration and logging activities.
To achieve sustainable management of protected areas and for that matter biodiversity conservation, we urge parties to the CBD to adopt a program of work on protected areas that clearly includes and explicitly safeguards the rights and interests of local communities and Indigenous Peoples throughout the process of planning, establishment and management of protected areas. We do not and will not believe in parks without people, and we do not believe in a protected area program without explicit safeguards for Indigenous Peoples' rights and other aspects of social governance.
We also emphasize the need to include a clear reference to the rights, interests and role of women regarding protected area planning, establishment and management.
Moreover, a work program on protected areas can only be considered credible if it includes an explicit rejection of mining, oil exploration, and large-scale commercial logging activities in and around protected areas.
Also in this light, it should be ensured that sufficient funds are allocated to national conservation programmes, so that we don't need to sell out conservation to private actors like foreign conservation organizations, and oil, mining and logging corporations. We also support the call for Action of our Indonesian colleague organizations in this regard "Conservation is not for Concession".
Kuala Lumpur, 11 February 2004
The US government is engaged in a legal dispute aimed at forcing the EU and the rest of the world to lift restrictions on GM food and farming.
gmo trade war
To force GMO products into global markets, George Bush has filed a legal dispute at the WTO, accusing the European Union of blocking trade by restricting GMOs. If successful, not only will the EU have to accept genetically modified food and farming but so will the rest of the world.
read more about gmo in our publications:
- bite back! hands of our food: the GMO trade war between the european union and the united states
foe europe briefing (nov 2003)
- pushing gmos down our throats: us government, agribusiness and wto launch food fight with Europe excerpt from business rules: who pays the price (sep 2003)
- bite back!: wto hands off our food
gmos and free trade
- fertile resistance in agrobiodiversity: local communities defending agrobiodiversity against gmos and agrobusiness (august 2002)
- contaminated corn in mexico: excerpt from business rules: who pays the price (sep 2003)
- biosafety protocol: foei gmo campaign page
- contaminated food aid: foei gmo campaign page
Evidence of the negative effects of GM crops from around the world.
|argentina||gm does not feed the world|
|bolivia||no gm potatoes|
|canada||corporate control of seeds|
|georgia||gm potatoes mashed|
|indonesia||bt cotton out of sulawesi|
|mexico||contamination in corn's birthplace|
|nicaragua||gmo food aid|
|spain||secrecy linked to gm corn|
|united states||uncontrolled contamination|
|tomato goes rotten|
|gmo food aid|
|united kingdom||uk field trials show mixed results|
Contamination of corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, highlights the real threat that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) pose to the environment.
“This is the world’s worst case of contamination by genetically modified material because it happened in the place of origin of a major crop. It is confirmed. There is no doubt about it.”
Jorge Soberón, Secretary of Mexico’s National Biodiversity Commission, April 2002.
Contamination of corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, highlights the real threat that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) pose to the environment. Government legislation to prevent GMO contamination of the natural environment is likely to be challenged by the US in the World Trade Organization.
The contamination of native corn at its source of origin in Oaxaca, Mexico by transgenic corn was confirmed in September 2001. According to a Food First report, written by the ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), “The location of the contamination is one of the world’s most valuable reservoirs of genetic material for plant breeding and a foundation for global food security.”
Mexico has had a moratorium on the planting of GMO corn since 1998. However, GMO corn was still being imported from the US, and farmers were probably unaware that they were planting genetically modified seeds. As Olga Toro Maaldonado, a Oaxacan farmer stated, “No one told us that we should not plant the corn.”
According to the Food First report, “this genetic pollution poses ‘significant potential risks’ that have not been fully and independently studied, such as genetic effects on local corn varieties as a result of cross-pollination by genetically modified plants, the largely unexplored health risks of eating GM foods, and potential ecological and crop management problems which may arise as modified traits pass from the GM crops to wild relatives. The contamination could also potentially expose Mexican farmers to the risk of lawsuits for infringement of monopoly patents, and could threaten future opportunities to export untainted corn to GM-free markets in Europe and elsewhere.”
more information: Food First: www.foodfirst.org/media/press/2002/geneticpollution.html
Numerous cases of contamination of non-GM crops by unauthorised, illegal or undesired GM crops have occurred following the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.
Rice is the most consumed
cereal grain in the world, constituting the
dietary staple food for more than half of
the planet’s human population. About 80% of
the world's rice is grown by small-scale
farmers in developing countries. Now our
rice is under threat of being contaminated
with genetic engineered varieties developed
by the biotech industry and some
Unapproved gm rice found: ban on Chinese rice imports urgently needed
Unapproved gm rice found in the US
See FoEI briefing paper: GM Rice: a new threat to our food supply , September 2006
Numerous cases of contamination of non-GM
crops by unauthorised, illegal or undesired
GM crops have occurred following the
introduction of genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) into the environment. From
Europe to North America, Asia to Latin
America, once a GMO is released contamination
has no boundaries. The contamination cases we
see today are of huge concern, particularly
because the contamination we know about is
probably just the tip of the iceberg in
comparison to that which we do not yet know.
around the world.
Friends of the Earth has monitored the seed and food supply all over the world for the presence of illegal or inauthorized GMOs in every continent since 2000.
StarLink and other unauthorized GMOs found in the food chain around the world
In 2000 FoE US leaded the discovery of StarLink, a GM maize variety no t authorised for human consumption as food because of the potential allergenicity of the protein Cry9C that was genetically engineered into the maize. Nevertheless, in 2000 StarLink was discovered in ‘Taco Bell’ taco shells, a maize-derived food product eaten in the US purchased by FoE US Larry Bohlen. The magnitude and gravity of the StarLink contamination was breathtaking. More than 300 corn products were recalled across the United States. Despite the fact that StarLink was only planted on 0.4 per cent of total US corn acreage, the number of acres contaminated was much greater. More surprisingly, the contamination was not confined to just StarLink-branded seeds.
At the June 2002 United Nations World Food
Summit in Rome, Latin American NGOs announced
that StarLink had been found in US food aid
in Bolivia. See
Playing with Hunger
StarLink was found five years later again in Central America.
The US experience provides another example of a major concern for the environment: “biopharmaceuticals”. “Biopharming” is an experimental application of biotechnology in which plants are genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical proteins and chemicals that they do not produce naturally. A few known examples include a contraceptive, potent growth hormones, a blood clotting agent, blood thinners, industrial enzymes, and vaccines.
Despite repeated scandals involving the contamination of rice seed stocks with GM variants, the US government has given preliminary approval for the large-scale planting of GM rice strains containing human genes.
Having apparently abandoned plans to use their GM rice as an additive to animal feedstuffs, Ventria Bioscience is initially aiming to market their human protein-producing rice as a cure for diarrhoea in developing countries. Since diarrhoea can be highly effectively and inexpensively treated with simple rehydration salts, producing a GM alternative is clearly an absurdity. This has led to speculation that sick children in developing countries are being used in a cynical campaign of pretence suggesting that Ventria Bioscience is motivated by altruism. Their longer-term plans are to include the GM human proteins in yoghurt, granola bars and sport re-hydration drinks.
Do we really need a GM cure for diarrhoea? Is it acceptable to release GM rice into the environment where it will inevitably contaminate other rice strains? Do we really find it acceptable to consume human proteins? Even Ventria’s own scientific publications have raised questions about safety.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently taken the first steps towards allowing the large-scale cultivation of three varieties of genetically manipulated (GM) rice containing human genes.1 These rice strains, created by the California-based company Ventria Bioscience, have been genetically engineered to carry the human genes encoding lactoferrin, lysozyme, or serum albumin. After a public comment period, which ended on 30 March 2007, a decision will be taken on whether to allow these GM strains to be cultivated on 3,200 acres of land in Kansas, USA. Earlier plans by Ventria Bioscience to grow the rice in Southern Missouri were blocked resulting from the safety concerns of brewing company Anheuser-Busch which threatened to boycott rice grown in the state if the plan went ahead.
Almost simultaneously with this announcement, the USDA revealed the discovery that rice seed stocks in Arkansas had become contaminated with a different GM strain, LL62, which had never been approved for commercial production. This embarrassing discovery was made during an investigation into the widespread contamination of US rice by yet another GM strain, LL601, raising serious concerns about the safety measures in place to contain GM crops.
Rice with a human touch?
Each GM strain created by Ventria Bioscience contains a human gene encoding one of three proteins: lactoferrin, lysozyme, or serum albumin. Lactoferrin and lysozyme are antimicrobial proteins found, in human breast milk, and in tears and saliva. Serum albumin is one of the protein constituents of human blood.
But what’s it for?
Initially, Ventria Bioscience tested its GM lactoferrin and lysozyme as a possible addition to animal feedstuffs, as an alternative to antibiotics.2 The widespread use of antibiotics in animal feedstuffs is well documented to have led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, potentially endangering human health.3,4 After feeding the recombinant human proteins to chicks, in Delhi, California, Ventria concluded that they had found a potential alternative to adding subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics to animal feedstuffs. They did, however, point out that“..there is no indication that bacteria have become resistant to these proteins in nature. However, the development of bacterial resistance after prolonged feeding of these proteins has yet to be examined.”2
Having apparently abandoned plans to market the GM rice for animal feedstuffs, Ventria have now tested it on children in Peru as a possible treatment for paediatric diarrhoea.5 Elsewhere, they have talked about plans to include it in yoghurt, sports drinks, and granola bars.6
Do we really need a GM treatment for Diarrhea?
Although diarrhoea causes more than 2 million deaths per year, mostly in developing countries, its causes are well understood and its treatment simple and reliable. Most cases of diarrhoea last only a day or two, and the patient fully recovers without any treatment at all. Only in more prolonged cases is treatment required to prevent the patient becoming from dehydrated. In such cases, the administration of simple oral rehydration salts is highly effective.
The GM human proteins were tested on Peruvian children as an addition to oral rehydration therapy. One third of the patients received conventional oral rehydration salts, one third received a rice-based oral rehydration salts, and the others received the rice-based therapy with the addition of the GM human proteins.5 Ventria did not claim that this led to a higher recovery rate, since all the children recovered, but that the addition of the GM proteins increased the speed with which the patients recovered. Simply put, the children treated with the oral rehydration salts plus the GM human proteins recovered in about 4 days, rather than about 5 days.5 Hardly the miracle cure that Ventria would like us to believe.
Since diarrhoea can be very effectively treated with simple and inexpensive oral rehydration salts, which are easily transported and can be stored without refrigeration, do developing countries really need to buy a more expensive, genetically manipulated alternative from Ventria Biosciences? Clearly not.
But is it safe?
Following the trial in Peru, questions have been raised whether the parents of the children were adequately informed that the experimental treatment involved GM human proteins. This has led to an inquiry in Peru.7 Safety issues were also raised when the parents of some of the children in the trial claimed that their children had subsequently suffered allergic reactions.8
The GM proteins have biological activity in human beings, but have never been tested as a drug and have never received FDA approval for use as a drug. So nobody can claim with complete certainty that they pose no danger to human health.
As stated earlier, following their own testing of the GM rice on chicks, Ventria themselves concluded that, “..there is no indication that bacteria have become resistant to these proteins in nature. However, the development of bacterial resistance after prolonged feeding of these proteins has yet to be examined.”2 Surely their own concerns apply equally to human beings? This of course, raises profound safety concerns regarding their plans to include GM proteins in yoghurt, sports drinks, and granola bars.
What about containment?
Since there are clearly safety questions concerning the consumption of these GM human proteins, how can we be sure when we buy a bag of rice that it has not been contaminated with a GM strain? We can’t. As mentioned above, there are already well documented – and very recent – examples of GM rice contaminating rice destined for human consumption. No matter what safety measures are put in place, mistakes will always happen.
Also, when a GM organism is released into the environment, it is probably going to be out there, in some form or other, forever. Cross pollination can transfer GM traits into regular strains. Do we have the right to take such decisions on behalf of future generations?
And another ethical issue...
The recent contamination scandals in the USA have indicated that it is very likely that Ventria’s GM rice would eventually find its way onto our plates, if their plans were allowed to proceed. Even aside from any safety issues, we all have to ask ourselves if we find it acceptable to eat human proteins in any form at all. If Ventria were to go ahead with plans to include their GM human proteins in yoghurt, would we really find it ethically acceptable to eat that yoghurt? In countries such as India, where a significant proportion of the population is vegetarian, is it ethically acceptable to introduce an ‘animal’ protein into one of the staples of their diet, let alone a human protein?
Any one of the issues raised would be sufficient to convince almost anybody that permission should not be granted for the large-scale planting of Ventria’s GM rice. But taken together, the environmental, health and safety, and ethical issues, surely add up to an overpowering argument that the plans of Ventria Bioscience to cultivate GM rice containing human genes must be stopped.
Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. Ventria Bioscience; Availability of an environmental assessment for field tests of rice genetically engineered to express lactoferrin, lysozyme, or serum albumin. Docket No. APHIS-2007-006, Federal Register Vol. 72, No. 30, Wednesday, February 28, 2007. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPACT/2007?February/Day-28/i3484.htm
Humphrey, BD, Huang, N, Klasing, KC. Rice expressing lactoferrin and lysozyme has antibiotic-like properties when fed to chicks. J Nutrition. 2002;132:1214-1218.
World Health Organisation. Overcoming antimicrobial resistance: WHO report on infectious diseases (2000) WHO, Geneva, Switzerland.
World Health Organisation Fact Sheet No 194, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland.
Zavaleta, N, Figueroa, D, Rivera, J, Sanchez, J, Alfaro, S, Lonnerdal, B. Efficacy of rice-based oral rehydration solution containing recombinant human lactoferrin and lysozyme in Peruvian children with acute diarrhea. J Pediatr Gastroenterol. 2007;44:258-264.
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/04_30901r_ea.pdf. See corresponding citation for lactoferrin at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/04_30201r_ea.pdf
Leighton, P. Study on infants in Peru sparks ethics inquiry. Science and Development Network, July 18, 2006.http://www.scidev.net/content/news/eng/study-on-infants-in-peru-sparks-ethics-inquiry.cfm
Diaz, D. Transgénicos: Niños ya sufren sus efectos. La Republica, Peru, July 14, 2006.