Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 09:58 GMT
Protests at GM food talks

crops The US opposes tougher GM labelling laws

Environmental groups have been staging protests outside negotiations over a proposed treaty to regulate the international trade in genetically-modified (GM) food.

The United States is expected to lead opposition to the European Union's proposals that all GM foods are labelled to alert consumers.

corn A protestor abseils down the "Dracula" corncob
The talks involving delegates from more than 130 countries opened in Montreal, Canada, on Monday amid demonstrations by campaigners who believe that GM foods pose a health threat to humans and wildlife.

A giant model of an ear of corn with vampire fangs was unveiled outside the talks venue by Greenpeace activists. Inside the building, the chairman of the talks, the Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr, opened the first session by acknowledging the widespread public concern over GM produce.

"Citizens are questioning whether they can trust industry and their governments to ensure the safety of modern biotechnology," he said.

Seattle talks

The talks follow a stalemate over the proposed treaty, or Biosafety Protocol, at talks in Colombia last February.

On that occasion, the US joined by Canada, Australia, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile would not agree to a draft accepted by 125 other countries.

tomatoes The proposed agreement on GM products was rejected by six countries last year
The two sides clashed again on the issue at the Seattle trade talks in December.

Monday's negotiations centred on the perennial sticking point of how wide a range of products should be covered by the new rules. Some nations have argued that most GM products, from canned food to vaccines, should have to be labelled.

"It should cover everything," said Ethiopian delegate Tewolde Egziabher. "We cannot chip away at the contents one by one."

But the countries led by the US - known as the Miami group - favour a more limited agreement that would cover only seeds and other products intended for release into the environment.

Raw commodities such as unprocessed GM grains and soybeans were also a topic of discussion.

Barrier to free trade

Some countries would like the right to refuse shipments of GM produce altogether.

Food under the microscope
The Miami group opposes this proposal on free trade grounds.

"Our view is that such a proposal would rewrite the rules of world trade," said the US negotiator David Sandalow.

However, he has insisted that the US does not wish the negotiations to end without an agreement.

"We have come here ready to negotiate and hoping to make a deal," he said.

Louise Gale of Greenpeace noted that the same good will prevailed in the early days of last year's negotiations in Colombia.

"We'll have to see how long this smile can last," she said.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
24 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Montreal: The arguments
22 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
GM food clash looms
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

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories