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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"A deal without America's signature would be largely ineffective"
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The BBC's Rupert Carey
"The treaty faces stiff opposition from the US, the largest producer of GM products"
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The BBC's Lucy Dennard
"More than 130 countries support a deal"
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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 12:35 GMT
GM food clash looms

montreal The US will oppose "extreme proposals" in Montreal

The United States is set for a new trade clash with the European Union over the regulation of genetically-modified food.

Food under the microscope
Talks open on Monday in Montreal about a new treaty which would make safety the priority when countries decide whether to allow the import of genetically-modified (GM) foods.

But the US is expected to oppose the deal. It has made clear it prefers to discuss the issue in the World Trade Organisation instead, where commercial considerations would loom larger in such trade decisions.

The US is the world's largest exporter of GM foods and crops.

Environmental campaigners want to ensure that countries have the right to block the import of GM products until they have been subjected to rigorous scientific tests.

Clash at Seattle

The two sides last clashed on the issue at the Seattle trade talks in December.

UK environment secretary Michael Meacher said on Saturday he remained "hopeful" a deal could be reached which would satisfy environmental campaigners.

But David Sandalow, who will head the US delegation at the meeting, said "extreme proposals" would be vigorously opposed.

The proposed international Biodiversity Protocol is aimed at ensuring the safe handling, transfer and use of GM organisms which may have an adverse effect on the environment.

It was blocked by six countries, including the US and Canada last February amid concerns that it constrained free trade.

But Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 5 Live there had since been "changes in the international climate".

He said: "The US is changing, the financial markets are changing and Deutsche Bank have advised Monsanto to get out of biotechnology and reduce their exposure.

tomatoes The agreement on GM products was rejected by six countries last year
"That will make a difference to the attitude of the Americans.

"The US agricultural secretary made what I think was a very brave speech in the middle of last year warning that the US cannot force consumers to buy products they don't want."

Mr Meacher said the impact on the environment or human health of GM organisms (GMOs) was not yet known.

He said: "It is precisely for this reason Europe and the UK believes it is critical that countries should have choice in this matter."

'Reasonably balanced'

But Mr Sandalow said that while the US supported "a reasonably balanced" protocol, it had serious concerns about some proposals.

He said: "We strongly oppose some of the extreme proposals put for us by some countries that would require billions of dollars of investment in new transportation and storage infrastructure for the shipping of bulk commodities.

meacher Michael Meacher: Wants treaty, but not at any price
"It would include extra proposals to require individual bio-engineered products to be traced all the way from the farm to the dock where they are offloaded.

"It would be possible, but it would mean completely changing the global infrastructure for commodities such as corn, wheat, barley and soy."

Mr Sandalow said any agreement should not centre on companies' rights to trade in GM material, but deal instead with the environmental consequences of such trade.

Mr Meacher said he was "encouraged" by Mr Sandalow's stance but said the UK government would not be willing to sign an agreement unless the US made significant concessions.

'Power politics'

Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace described the situation as "the crudest kind of power politics".

He said: "This is not about environmental protection - it is about world trade. The US does not want any trade restrictions on its products."

And Andrew Wood of the Genetix Snowball campaign against genetic modification said the US was "caving in to big business" in opposing the protocol.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - Europe's largest conservation organisation - said the scale of international trade in GMOs meant regulation was needed urgently.

RSPB Trade Policy Officer Peter Hardstaff said: "The US appears to be using its political and economic muscle simply to serve its own commercial interests rather than the wider public interest."

Tony Juniper, policy and campaigns director at Friends of the Earth said governments should remember that the US had "no right to block other nations' wishes to protect their environment or consumer choice".

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See also:
24 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Montreal: The arguments
19 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Plant losses threaten world's food supplies
06 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Charity warns against GM seeds
05 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
Brakes put on GM industry

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