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Biosafety the Clear Winner from Brazil Meetings

Biosafety the Clear Winner from Brazil Meetings

Three weeks ago, those concerned about the risks posed by GMOs had a good deal to be worried about. The future of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol was in doubt and proposals to clear a path for further development of "Terminator" seeds and other GM sterility applications were steadily advancing.

Heightening the sense of anxiety was the knowledge that in both cases it was a New Zealand Government delegation that would be central to these developments.

New Zealand was one of just two countries that last year vetoed key labeling provisions needed to operationalise the Cartagena Protocol - a treaty requiring informed consent prior to the international shipment of living GMOs. When the question came up again a fortnight ago, Government officials were indicating that little had changed in their stance.

And New Zealand was one of three countries pressing for a new international understanding that would open a path to the field for GM techniques that make plants sterile.

However, as the curtain comes down today on three weeks of meetings under the auspices of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), biosafety has been the winner all round.

As you know, early this month the Sustainability Council released a research report critiquing the advice provided by officials to the Government on Cartagena issues - and in particular, that used in support of New Zealand vetoing the critical new labelling provisions. (See

The Council followed through on this report by sending its Executive Director, Simon Terry, to Brazil to assist in building pressure for New Zealand to change its position. While the New Zealand delegation gave strong signs of resistance to altering its stance, and was the party other delegates often worried would be the hardest to bring into the required consensus, by the final day New Zealand had conceded to text that ultimately requires GM contamination to be labeled.

When it next came to the question of sterility technology, New Zealand (along with just Australia and Canada) was then supporting text that would change an understanding reached unanimously by the CBD parties in 2000. That understanding provides that sterility technology will only be field trialled at a point when there is adequate scientific data available to properly assess the risks of conducting field trials. New Zealand sought to clear the way for field trials, arguing that these were necessary to help evaluate risk - ducking the question of whether more could be first learnt in the safety of the lab. The Council explained the significance of this new proposal with the aid of a Cabinet paper it made public in Brazil (see release below and background paper at

While confusion about the purpose of the proposed new text had earlier led to support for a draft version of this, by the time the full CBD meeting came to consider the mater, only three of the 180 odd parties were identified as being in favour and more than 130 were adamant in their rejection of any weakening of the CBD's 2000 resolution with representatives speaking of their deep concerns about the technology's potential negative impacts. The proposed text was thus withdrawn and the 2000 resolution reaffirmed.

If you picked up a quite different version of both events from the Environment Minister's press releases, you may like to look for yourself at sections of the relevant Cabinet papers the Sustainability Council has obtained - see and,/a>


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