CAGJ Advisory Board and AGRA Watch leader Phil Bereano attended the 6th Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol held in early October 2012 in Hyderabad, India; he has been an NGO participant in the negotiation and implementation of this treaty and a subsidiary agreement on liability for damages.
The Protocol covers guidelines for handling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) crossing transnational borders which may have an effect on biodiversity or human health. It recognizes that each country can require a full risk assessment before any importation, and sets up a clearing house containing a great deal of info on GMOs. Of course, each “receiving environment” can be different, so the impacts of the GMO may vary.
The two current issues Phil mainly worked on at the meeting concerned how to conduct such an assessment and how to take into account socio-economic impacts that the GMO may cause.
Risk Assessment: According to the Third World Network, “The decision on risk assessment [taken at the meeting] commends the progress made on the Guidance of Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms, which has been developed and improved following numerous rounds of peer review, over the last four years by an open-ended online forum on risk assessment and the AHTEG [Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group] on Risk Assessment and Risk Management. However, it stopped short of endorsing or commending the Guidance itself. Nonetheless, the decision also extends the existing online forum and establishes a new AHTEG that will serve until COP-MOP 7, to conduct further work related to risk assessment.” In other words, the US tried to completely jettison the guidance document developed over 4 years (Phil played a role in the on-line aspects of that process) and was not successful.
Socio-economics: After several months of on-line consultations (in which Phil also took part), a document was before the plenary to move forward to create official guidance on how to incorporate socio-economic considerations into the decision-process (whether a country will allow GM imports). The decision on socio-economic considerations established an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group to elaborate the subject matter–especially important to developing countries. The Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group will submit a report to COP-MOP 7 in 2014 (in South Korea), with a view to enabling Parties to deliberate and decide upon appropriate further steps to guide Parties on using and understanding socio-economic considerations in risk assessments.
This development was opposed by the industry, industry science-flaks, and the US (a non-Party) and its counterparts which are actually Parties. One of their arguments was that we don’t know how to do this!! To counter that, Phil researched and wrote a document introducing the many thousands of Economic Impact Statements and Congressional Office of Technology Assessment reports which include analyses of socio-economic considerations. There were links to archives of the actual studies. This piece was distributed to delegates and press and introduced at several lunchtime discussions.
Finally, upon hearing of the death of Barry Commoner, Phil was asked by the green NGOs to draft a tribute to this scientist who was among the first to sound the alarms about genetic enginnering. He did so, and was called upon by the MOP chair to read it into the record as part of the official proceedings.
After the week of meetings, Phil went up north and spent a number of days on Vandana Shiva’s seed-saving farm (they grow 600 varieties of rice!) where an organic agriculture course was in progress. He gave a talk on the international legal regimes relevant to GMOs and conducted a lively Q+A session. He reports that the food was wonderful!