ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Biosafety Protocol: How Effective?

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Even as global opinion is mounting against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and products, at Montreal last week delegates from 130 nations agreed, after long and often tense deliberations, on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The treaty, an outgrowth of the Convention on Biological Diversity evolved in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, is the first international law to acknowledge that GMOs and their production and use need to be separately monitored. The Cartagena Protocol now needs to be ratified by 50 countries, but excluding the US which not having ratified the Biodiversity Convention cannot become party to the biosafety protocol. However, the main and the most contentious issue in the intense debate which preceded the adoption of the final document was the US stand on the provision which allows countries to bar import of genetically modified seeds, crops, animals and other organisms.

This stand-off has a long history. There has over the last decade been a growing dislike in Europe of American 'culinary imperialism' giving rise to several incidents, unrelated to biotechnology, over import of hormone 'enriched' beef, dioxin-rich chicken, etc. Moreover, there has been a growing public and civic concern over the rapid development of biotech products. A recent case in a British court against six environmentalists brought by Monsanto, which accused them of uprooting their GM crops, has been recommended for a full trial and is cause for optimism among those against GM. This means that Monsanto will have to make a full divulgence of the details of the crop, etc. Moreover, several leading plant breeders in the UK have dropped out of GMO trials following mass protests, there is much new literature on the effects on the environment and, most importantly, Monsanto's share prices have taken a sharp plunge. The US claims that it has been losing $200 million annually because of the European Union's resistance to genetically modified goods.

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