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Cablegate: Goe Passes Restrictive Biosafety Law, but Is

VZCZCXRO0316
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2065/01 2370813
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 250813Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5984
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 002065

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EEB/TPP/ABT JACK BOBO
PASS TO USAID FOR JOSETTE LEWIS, LARRY BEACH, SAHARAH MOON
CHAPOTIN
ALSO USTR FOR PATRICK COLEMAN
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA MARIA RIVERO
NAIROBI FOR FCS AND FAS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO SENV EAGR ETRD EAID ET
SUBJECT: GOE PASSES RESTRICTIVE BIOSAFETY LAW, BUT IS
INTERESTED IN BT COTTON

REF: ADDIS ABABA 1389

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Ethiopia recently enacted highly restrictive
biosafety legislation that could significantly impact the
importation of bioengineered seeds, food commodities, and
processed foods. Ethiopia's Environmental Protection
Authority (EPA) is admittedly unprepared to implement the new
legislation, owing to a lack of laboratory facilities,
technical expertise, and manpower. Although the EPA's
leadership is ideologically opposed to the use of
bioengineered crops, the EPA will likely be pressured to
approve trials of such crops where they could promote growth
in key export sectors, namely cotton. End summary.

BIOSAFETY LAW RESTRICTIVE, FAR-REACHING
---------------------------------------

2. (U) The Ethiopian parliament recently passed highly
restrictive biosafety legislation, establishing broader and
more stringent controls than are called for under the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The stated objective of the
Biosafety Proclamation of 2009 is to protect biodiversity, as
well as human and animal health, from "the adverse effects of
modified organisms." The law grants the EPA the power to
regulate the making or use of any "modified organism" in
"teaching, research, production, import, export, transit,
release, contained production, transport, placing on the
market, or use as pharmaceutical, as food, as feed, or for
processing." It makes no distinction between living
organisms and products that are not capable of reproducing
(e.g., processed foods), or between transgenic organisms and
bioengineered organisms that do not contain genetic material
from another species. The law also prohibits the use of the
phrase "may contain modified organisms," requiring instead a
declaration that a product either does or does not contain
modified organisms.

3. (SBU) In a public statement, EPA Director General Dr.
Tewolde Berhan Gebregziabhere described the Biosafety
Proclamation as "based on the international biosafety law
(i.e., the Cartagena Protocol), with local characteristics."
Wondwossen Sintayehu, EPA Director of Environmental Law and
Policy, told EconOff that Dr. Tewolde was the driving force
behind the new law, and that the bill he initially proposed
was even more restrictive than the resulting legislation.
(Note: Dr. Tewolde previously represented African nations
during negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol, where he
opposed the use of bioengineered crops in developing nations.
End note.) Gebremedhin Birega, Director of the Eco
Consumer Association, an environmental group that lobbied for
the bill, separately told EconOff that the Ethiopian
government's (GoE) Environmental Council (which drafted the
bill and is comprised mainly of GoE officials) is largely
opposed to the importation of bioengineered organisms, but
was wary of appearing "anti-science" when drafting the new
law.

EPA HAS LIMITED IMPLEMENTATION CAPACITY
---------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The legislation, which has already entered into
force, requires the EPA to approve or deny all applications
for the use of modified organisms in Ethiopia, and further
requires the EPA to establish a National Biosafety
Clearing-House to study bioengineering and assist the EPA in
making its decisions. According to the EPA's Wondwossen,
while the EPA "must now process applications, legally
speaking," it is not capable of doing so. Only two EPA
employees currently specialize in biosafety, and Wondwossen
stated that there are currently no facilities in Ethiopia
that meet the standards for studying or conducting trials of
modified organisms that are set forth in the draft
implementing regulations. Wondwossen described
implementation of these regulations as "very problematic,"
and explained that in order to be approved, an applicant
would be required "to prove to us (the EPA) that there is no
risk" to biodiversity or to human or animal health from the
bioengineered product. He further noted that while the law
does not distinguish between food products and non-edible

ADDIS ABAB 00002065 002 OF 002


goods, the EPA would scrutinize food products more closely.

5. (SBU) Gebremedhin, of the Eco Consumer Association, voiced
similar concerns over implementation to EconOff. He
predicted that the GoE would begin restricting the
importation of bioengineered foods, in particular, but
posited that without laboratories, biosafety expertise, and
sufficient manpower, the EPA would not likely be able to
review applications thoroughly. He further suggested that
where sufficient political will exists to import
bioengineered crops (such as those which could boost
Ethiopia's export sectors), applications would be approved
without proper study. Negusu Aklilu, Director of Forum for
the Environment (FfE), a civil society organization that sits
on the GoE's Environmental Council, told EconOff that
finished products were not a concern to the GoE, but
predicted the EPA would scrutinize living modified organisms
(LMOs) more closely.

STRONG INTEREST IN BT COTTON
----------------------------

6. (SBU) Both Gebremedhin and Negusu told EconOff that the
GoE was strongly interested in importing transgenic Bacillus
thuringiensis (BT) cotton seeds in an effort to boost
Ethiopia's nascent textile sector (reftel). They cited this
interest as a major factor in the passage of the Biosafety
Proclamation, and predicted that given the political will to
boost textile production, any application to import BT cotton
would be approved. According to Negusu, the Tendaho cotton
plantation in Afar will be the site of early trials. Earlier
this year, Dr. Tewolde publicly stated that Ethiopia would
start trials of BT cotton within the year, and Dr. Adane
Abraham, Coordinator of Biotechnology Research at the
Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), told
EconOff that EIAR was keenly interested in promoting trials
of BT cotton, and had been in contact with U.S. agribusiness
firm Monsanto in that regard.

IMPACT ON IMPORTED FOOD AID
---------------------------

7. (SBU) The majority of U.S. food aid to Ethiopia is wheat
and sorghum, which are not "modified organisms." Based on a
common understanding with the GoE, the U.S. and World Food
Program (WFP) provide only milled (non-viable) maize and soy
to Ethiopia, rather than (viable) maize and soy grains. It
has been understood that any request for duty free entry of
whole maize grain or soybeans as food aid would be rejected,
so the U.S. and WFP have conformed to this understanding and
not attempted to import whole grains. (Note: This practice
is endorsed by Dr. Tewolde, and the EPA's Wondwossen reported
that he unsuccessfully attempted to include a requirement
that any bioengineered relief food be milled or roasted prior
to entry into Ethiopia in the biosafety law. End note.)
Nevertheless, because the law does not distinguish between
living organisms and processed foods, the new requirement to
obtain informed consent and provide a risk assessment may
pose new obstacles to the provision of food aid containing
bioengineered material, even in trace amounts.
USAID/Ethiopia is developing a plan to provide capacity
building to the EPA, and believes a positive intervention can
be achieved through USAID's Program for Biosafety Systems
(PBS), which has successfully supported the implementation of
biosafety frameworks in other African countries (most notably
the drafting and approval of Kenya's biosafety law) and has
gained much respect in the region.

COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) This new biosafety law is far-reaching and highly
restrictive, and has clearly been influenced by GoE officials
opposed to biotechnology. It appears that sufficient
political will exists to begin trials of transgenic crops in
sectors where they could promote exports - a key GoE goal.
However, given the ideological bent of the current EPA
leadership, it is likely that the GoE will restrict imports
of bioengineered food and other crops that are not as closely
tied to the GoE's development agenda. End comment.
MEECE

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