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Profile: Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity
Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity was a participant or observer in the following events:
Shortly after Monsanto announced (see October 4, 1999) that it would not commercialize sterile seed technologies, the Department of Agriculture’s Richard Parry tells the Wall
Street Journal, “I think Monsanto needs to carefully reconsider its position.”
[Wall Street Journal, 12/22/1999]
At the fifth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), member countries adopt a recommendation not to approve field testing or commercialization of GURTs, also known as terminator technology, until additional scientific research has been done. The recommendation, submitted by the Convention’s Scientific Advisory Body (SBSTTA) (see June 15, 1999-June 21, 1999), also say countries should have the option to ban the technologies at the national-level if they so choose. Delegates from several of the non-industrialized countries and a number of civil society organizations are disappointed with the COP 5 decision. They wanted a complete and immediate permanent international ban on the technology because of the potentially devastating effect the technology could have on the food security and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] For example, the African Group’s statement calls on all countries to “immediately ban the terminator technology from respective national territories and thus, from the whole of Africa, as intolerable politically, economically and ethically and in terms of safety of plant life, and in the future, be constantly on the look out for unacceptable products of biotechnology.” [Biodiversity Convention African Group, 5/2000] Other parties calling for a complete ban on terminator technology include Kenya, the Philippines, India, Tanzania, and Malawi. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] Many countries, including most of the G77 (with the exception of Argentina) and China, though not calling for an immediate ban, nonetheless agree that GURT is a very serious issue. Noting the heavy reliance on subsistence farming of farmers in their respective countries, they say in a statement, “[W]e feel very strongly on the GURTs issue, as they may impact negatively on our agricultural biodiversity.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] It is also noted at the meeting that portions of the SBSTTA decision are outdated. For example, the SBSTTA in making its recommendation the previous year assumed that GURTs were “not likely to be commercialized in the near future and that at this time no example of the technology has been released in either research or investigative field trial.” This can no longer be said, according to Rural Advancement Foundation International, whose monitoring of the industry has revealed that seven new terminator patents were issued to industry and public sector researchers in 1999 and that biotech company AstraZeneca has already conducted field trials on genetic trait control technology in Britain. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] The final text of the GURTs portion of the COP5 decision reads: “[I]n the current absence of reliable data on genetic use restriction technologies without which there is an inadequate basis on which to assess their potential risks, and in accordance with the precautionary approach, products incorporating such technologies should not be approved by Parties for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing, and for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments with regard to, inter alia, their ecological and socio-economic impacts and any adverse effects for biological diversity, food security and human health have been carried out in a transparent manner and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated. In order to enhance the capacity of all countries to address these issues, Parties should widely disseminate information on scientific assessments, including through the clearing-house mechanism, and share their expertise in this regard.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 5/2000]
At the eighth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), member countries must decide whether or not to uphold the 2000 moratorium on field testing and commercializing terminator technology. The technology, formally known as genetic use restriction technology (GURT), would be used to produce seeds that grow into sterile plants. Since 2000, four CBD-commissioned reports have been completed, every one of which has raised concerns that the technology would threaten the interests of poor farmers worldwide. Additionally, submissions to CBD bodies from various indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations have denounced the technology. Proponents of terminator technology—the seed industry and the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States—argue that the technology would protect biotech companies’ property rights, and thus encourage them to invest in more research. They also contend that the technology could be used to prevent the spread of other genetically modified crops. During the CBD’s working group meeting on March 23, delegates from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand attempt to weaken the Convention’s ban on terminator technology insisting that member countries agree to insert a provision that would allow a “case-by-case risk assessment” of the technology. The proposal is soundly rejected. Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China (together a group of 130 non-industrialized countries), argue that a case-by-case risk assessment is “clearly unacceptable” because it would allow the possibility for field tests. [Inter Press Service, 3/24/2006; ETC Group, 3/27/2006]
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