The Biosafety Protocol Safeguards Against Genetically Modified Crops

The Biosafety Protocol allows countries to block importation of genetically modified crops, altered seeds, microbes and animals the countries consider as a threat to the environment.
April/May 2000
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The Biosafety Protocol for GM food.

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The Biosafety Protocol allows countries the choice to protect themselves against genetically modified crops.

On the international stage of GMO politics there are two sets of players: those who are convinced of the benefits of GM agriculture and want to liberalize trade of these goods and those who denounce it as unsafe and want more regulation of GM crops. The former group (known as the Miami Group) is made up of six countries — the U.S., Canada, Australia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina — and the latter group is everyone else, headed by the European Union. It is the Miami Group that has been blocking legislation to impose more strict tests and regulations on the import and export of GM foods.

In January, delegates from 130 countries met for a week in Montreal to set up a working model to regulate trade in GM products. What they came up with has been temporarily called the Biosafety Protocol and it allows for countries to block the import of genetically modified crops, genetically altered seeds, microbes and animals that they consider a threat to the environment. If a shipment is turned away by an importing country, then it goes on a list — an international clearinghouse so to speak — which others countries can reference. Conversely, countries exporting GM bulk goods are required to label shipments with signs saying they "may contain" genetically modified organisms. The protocol is set to be officially signed by participating countries in May.

While this is a boon for countries like Thailand, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and India that favor stricter testing laws governing GMOs, there are crucial steps left out. There is nothing in the protocol requiring the labeling of products made with GMOs, only of bulk commodities. Plus, the labeling term "may contain" means that countries like the U.S. do not have to separate natural corn from GM corn. The U.S. argued that this stipulation would have stalled trade altogether.

Nevertheless, the key ingredient of the protocol — the ability by importing countries to block GM crops if they suspect a health risk — is a major victory for the naturalists.

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