UN talks on the safety of GM crops reaches crucial stage

Friends of the Earth International
Press Release
Thursday 2 June 2005

Montreal, Canada, 2 June 2005 – Unapproved genetically modified (GM) corn originating from the United States has been reportedly found in shipments arriving in Japan. The contamination incident comes as key United Nations negotiations in Montreal , Canada , on the safe trade in GM foods and crops reach a crucial stage.

According to Reuters News Service, Japanese officials have admitted that a shipment of corn from the US was found to be contaminated by an illegal experimental GM maize, called Bt10. The Swiss-based company, Syngenta, admitted in March that they had mistakenly sold the wrong maize to farmers in the US for the last 4 years. In April the EU introduced emergency measures to stop shipments of contaminated corn-based animal feeds. In the news report, Japan , the biggest importer of US maize, said that they will now test every shipment. Trade sources claimed that the shipment would likely go back to the US , at the expense of the Syngenta.

In Montreal , the UN negotiations on the Biosafety Protocol, is dealing with exactly this issue – the export from countries such as the US of GM commodities that are not licensed in the importing country. The talks are at a key stage with a small number of countries – New Zealand , Brazil , Mexico and Peru – holding up progress that will reduce contamination from GM crops. An agreement is expected in the next 24 hours, despite the huge lobbying by the GMO industry.

Juan Lopez of Friends of the Earth International said:
“The biotech industry is clearly out of control and reminds us with every new incident that we need strong international laws. Unless we have strict controls then the contamination of our foods will continue and our environment will be put at risk. The Biosafety Protocol negotiations taking place in Montreal are key to solving these problems and the only blocks are the disruptive and unhelpful tactics of a small number of countries.”

Contact in Montreal Juan Lopez +1 514 803 6718 or Adrian Bebb +1 514 996 4090

Tougher measures are needed to prevent the illegal contamination of conventional food by genetically modified organisms (GMO), a new report from Friends of the Earth International concludes today. [1] The report was distributed by campaigners in decontamination suits in Montreal at the start of key international negotiations on the trade in genetically modified crops.
The EU impoundment last week of a shipment of illegal US GM maize highlights the urgency of these talks to address the issue of contamination. Key to the talks will be a decision to label shipments if they contain GM products, a move opposed by the main GMO-producing countries. [2]
The Friends of the Earth report, Tackling GMO Contamination makes a series of practical recommendations relevant to the Protocol discussions, including:
Clear labelling of all shipments that contain GM products
The right of countries to stop imports of illegal GMOs
The need to make the biotech industry liable for GM pollution
The report also highlights that:
84% of the area cultivated with GM crops is in just 2 countries – United States and Argentina.
The US already has systems to separate crops that could be expanded to aggressively keep GM away from non-GM products.
The world’s leading GMO company, Monsanto, spends millions of dollars on a monitoring and testing programme not for safety reasons – but to protect its own patents.
Juan Lopez, Coordinator of Friends of the Earth’s International Programme on Genetic Engineering said: “These talks are key to protecting the environment and the world’s food supply from GM contamination. Most countries growing GM crops on a large scale have not even signed up to the Biosafety protocol, yet they will be at the talks lobbying for weak controls on their products.”
Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada said: ” Canada , as one of the few countries that grow GM crops must be forced to put in place effective segregation measures so that the rest of the world’s food supply, and our environment, is not contaminated.”
More than 110 countries have signed the United Nations Biosafety Protocol, agreed in 2000 and will be participating in the talks [3].

To arrange interviews, photographs or the full report please contact Basia Pioro at 416 972 7401

For more information contact:
In Canada:
Photographs of the Friends of the Earth’s “Decontamination Team” greeting delegates at the opening of the Protocol talks are available.
To arrange interviews, photographs or the full report please contact Basia Pioro at 416 972 7401
Beatrice Olivastri, Friends of the Earth Canada 613 724-8690
Juan Lopez, Friends of the Earth International 514 803-6718 or 333-1498049
In Europe
Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
Tel: (0) 7712 843211

[1] The report will be available to download at the Friends of the Earth Canada website on 30th of May http://www.foecanada.org
[2] European Commission press release, 25 May 2005. http://europa.eu.int/comm/press_room/index.htm
[3] For more information on Biosafety Protocol and the “Second meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety” go to the official UN website: http://www.biodiv.org/default.shtml