Geographical , Vol. 72, No. 4
A global agreement has been reached to regulate trade in genetically modified (GM) organisms. The move will allow a country to ban imports of a genetically altered product if it feels there is not enough scientific evidence to show it is safe. The UN-sponsored Biosafety Protocol, approved by representatives of more than 130 countries in Montreal, comes in the wake of environmental and health concerns over GM organisms that have strained international trade relations.
By establishing an international framework for countries to use when making decisions about GM crops, the agreement's rules are intended to protect the environment from damage by genetically altered plants, animals and bacteria. It covers organisms containing genes transferred from other species to produce such characteristics as resistance to pests and herbicides.
The new protocol, part of the UN Convention on Biodiversity, must still be ratified by 50 countries before it goes into effect. It strikes a delicate balance between the interests of major GM crop exporters, such as the USA and Canada, and importers in the European Union and developing countries, where environmentalists and some scientific studies have raised fears about the health and environmental impacts of the new food varieties. Similar fears have recently led to an agreement in the USA, the largest grower of GM crops, between the government and farmers. As a result, farmers will now grow cordons of ordinary maize around the insect-proof GM variety in an attempt to protect the Monarch butterfly, and also as a way of curbing the spread of super-resistant insects.
For the first time under an international agreement, labelling of commodity shipments that `may contain' GM foods will be required. In one of the main compromises between negotiating parties, the USA and its supporters managed to soften rules that would have required labels giving specific details of what GM materials were in products shipped for export. The US argued that the segregation of conventional and modified crops that are now intermingled would cost the grain industry billions of dollars. …