THE LATEST ON GE FOODS AND THE WTO
We have had several requests from members and subscribers wanting to know more about the WTO activities and negotiations regarding genetically engineered foods. I will do my best to give you an update on the events taking place in Seattle.
First on the educational side, there have been numerous educational and organizational events regarding genetically engineered foods taking place since Saturday. Many of the world's top scientists on genetically engineered foods have given presentations. Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Mae Wan Ho, Dr.Vanadana Shiva, and many others have been involved in numerous panel discussions. Today Congressman Dennis Kucinich moderated a panel discussion on genetically engineered foods for the press. However, as you may have seen on television, the WTO protests have been major and significant. We were actually locked in the Bell Harbor Convention Center today during the panel discussion. Seattle police would not let anyone leave the building since protesters and police were having confrontations. Tear gas and pepper spray were being used. The police in riot gear look like something out of Star Wars. After Tuesday's near riot environment and the millions of dollars of vandalism and looting, the police really got aggressive on Wednesday. Over 400 people were arrested. Tear gas and pepper spray use are a common occurrence. As I write this, the 11:00 news just had live coverage showing police firing more tear gas at hundreds of protesters who are still in the streets. It is quite a scene in Seattle this week.
On Sunday afternoon, about 150 genetic engineering activists had a meeting with representatives from some 20 different countries. At this meeting we learned that we did not want a "working group" of GMOs to be created at the WTO. Instead we learned that the best approach would be to allow the Biosafety Protocol to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity deal with this issue. The goal was to not make genetically engineered foods a trade issue of the WTO, but instead deal with it as a health and safety issue of the United Nations. Unfortunately, pressure from the United States to create a "working group" appears to have won out. On Wednesday, the European Commission agreed to set up a working group. This concession was immediately criticized by environmental ministers from the European Union countries. I am including an article below that will report on the controversy regarding the creation of this working group.
On a more optimistic note, many activists and scientists from around the world feel we are beginning to win the battle over genetically engineered foods. They are extremely pleased that Congressman Kucinich has introduced labeling legislation into the U.S. Congress. They feel this action will strengthen their position in their countries. Up until now, they have been running into the argument that "American's all like genetically engineered foods." Now that is becoming apparent that American's citizens are also concerned about genetically engineered foods, it makes it much easier for them to argue against these controversial crops. Of particular significance, 144 scientists from 25 countries have signed on to a letter being presented at the WTO meeting calling for "the immediate suspension of all environmental releases of GM crops and products; for patents on life-forms and living processes to be revoked and banned; and for a comprehensive public enquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all." Here is a link to the web site of the Institute of Science in Society where you can find the complete letter and list of signers:www.i-sis.dircon.co.uk
Well, that the news from the WTO. The article on the working group is below.
Craig Winters, Executive Director The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered
Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."
EU ministers rap EC on WTO biotechnology concession
SEATTLE, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The 15 governments of the European Union rapped the European Commission on Wednesday for making a surprise concession to the United States on biotechnology in world trade negotiations, European diplomats said. The European Commission, the executive branch that negotiates for the 15-member trade bloc, agreed to set up a working group to discuss biotech issues within the World Trade Organisation meeting here.
Environmental groups promptly accused the EC of caving in to Washington by accepting to treat the controversial issue, which covers genetically modified crops, as a trade matter rather than an environmental or health problem in a new round of trade talks the WTO hopes to launch this week in Seattle. Environment ministers of France, Denmark, Belgium and Britain said they were opposed to the idea. At a later meeting on Wednesday, all 15 trade ministers of the European Union took European Commissioner Pascal Lamy to task for negotiating beyond his mandate.``There was quasi unanimous criticism of the concession made to the United States in the biotechnology field,'' a diplomat told Reuters. ``You didn't just shoot yourself in the foot. You machine gunned yourself in the foot,'' one trade minister said to Lamy, according to the diplomat who attended the meeting.It was the first major rift between the European Union and its Commission in the WTO talks and reflected the sensitivity of the European public to food safety issues and its aversion to hormone-treated beef imported from the United States. The split came as the 135-nation WTO meetings got down to horse-trading over the agenda for the so-called Millennium Round of trade liberalisation talks. The European ministers said they were satisfied with EC negotiating stance on all other issues. LAMY ASKS FOR TIME
Lamy told the EU Council of Ministers that negotiations at the four-day meeting were just getting off the ground and asked them to hold off judgment until the end of the week, the diplomat said. ``Lamy asked the ministers to judge the balance of the negotiations to see what had been achieved overall,'' he said. Environmental activists have vilified the U.S. and Canadian proposal to create a working group on biotechnology in the WTO, saying it would likely subordinate negotiations of a Biosafety Protocol to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity. ``The WTO has neither the mandate, the competence nor the public trust to work on this controversial issue,'' said Charles Arden-Clarke, World Wide Fund for Nature spokesman on trade. Friends of the Earth said bringing the issue under the WTO could allow the United States, the main exporter of genetically modified crops, or GMOs, to press countries to open their market to their biotech companies controversial products. Food experts say higher yield GMOs are needed to feed the world's increasing population. But critics contend genetically modified seeds could affect other crops species and pose unknown health hazards. European Commission officials said their priority was still to complete negotiation of a Biosafety Protocol, but they would not stand in the way of biotech discussions at the WTO.
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