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[SANET-MG] punative action against Canada urged by Africa
The article below tells the Canada story. Interestingly, Canadian Press
finally published a brief account of the Canadian shame but none of the
major news media in Canada picked up the story.
ENVIRONMENT:Inter Press Service News Agency
Canada Rapped for 'Censoring' Biotech Critics
BROOKLIN, Canada, May 30 (IPS) - A top African scientist and advocate of
strong regulation of genetically engineered seeds and crops is demanding
punitive action against Canada if authorities continue to try to block
delegates like him from taking part in U.N.-sponsored talks.
Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Africa's chief negotiator for the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Ethiopian government's chief
scientist, had been denied a visa to attend talks in Montreal on the
international movement of genetically engineered organisms until
pressure from international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) forced
a last-minute reversal by the Canadian government. The talks opened Monday.
His call for punitive steps -- possibly including shutting down U.N.
offices in Montreal -- came amid revelations that other delegates from
developing countries had been denied access to the U.N. talks in Montreal.
Tewolde, in an open letter to Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the
U.N. Environment Programme, asked for a motion to censure Canada for the
difficulty Tewolde had in getting a visa and for the continued
difficulties he said are being experienced by other delegates to the
Montreal conference on liability and labeling of genetically engineered
While Tewolde missed some meetings and arrived in Montreal May 27, a
member of the Iranian delegation, Jafar Barmaki, was denied a visa.
Barmaki is a senior expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
responsible for biodiversity-related international agreements. According
to the Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment, an NGO in
Tehran, Barmaki has played an important role in promoting biosafety in
An agricultural economist and a farmer from India also were denied visas
to appear as speakers at a side event organised by NGOs at the Montreal
biosafety meetings. Kavulakunpla Ramanna Chowdry, a professor and
adviser to the Andhra Pradesh state government, and Kaka Ramakrishna, a
cotton farmer said to have suffered huge losses, were scheduled to speak
about their experiences with the genetically engineered cotton.
Several thousands farmers and the government of Andhra Pradesh have
demanded compensation from biotechnology major Monsanto Co. and its
Indian seed partner, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited
(Mahyco), over the failure of Bt cotton, a genetically modified variety,
according to Afsar H. Jafri of New Delhi's Research Foundation for
Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), a co-sponsor of the NGO event
''Professor Chowdry was prepared to tell the negotiators in Montreal
(about) the extremely irresponsible and reckless behavior of Monsanto
with the victim farmers and the government,'' Jafri said in a statement.
Beth Burrows, director of the U.S.-based NGO Edmonds Institute, also a
co-sponsor of the NGO event, added ''I never imagined this could happen
in Canada. I have brought many people to lecture at side events before
and never had a problem like this.''
Burrows said she also learned that an NGO from Togo was unable to obtain
''People are impacted by this (genetic engineering) technology and their
voices need to be heard,'' she added.
Headquartered in Montreal, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD) adopted the biosafety protocol in 2000 to address the safe
transfer, handling, and use of living genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) that could harm the diversity of species living on the planet.
Burrows and others said they suspect Tewolde's and the other visa
rejections amounted to an attempt to censor voices opposed to Canada,
the United States and other countries that grow GMO crops and that
oppose labeling and liability for contamination by genetically
engineered pollen and seed.
Canada's department of foreign affairs has yet to officially comment
and, despite several requests, declined to be interviewed by IPS.
Tewolde is firmly in support of bulk labeling of genetically engineered
products and also liability and redress in the case of any damage to
human health or the environment, said Julia Crosfield, a spokesperson
for Consumers International, a coalition of 250 organisations in 115
''This is important to consumers who have rights to information, safety,
and to a healthy and sustainable environment,'' Crosfield said.
Canada has experienced extensive contamination by genetically engineered
canola (oilseed rape), where the GMO plants have spread far and wide in
the country's western regions. Among the concerns with these crops is
that they will mix with indigenous plants, change the genetic
composition of valued species, and produce so-called superweeds, or wild
plants that have been accidentally pollinated by a genetically modified
plant and now contain that plant's abilities to resist herbicides and
Presently there is no legal liability in Canada for farmers, nor the
producers of the seed, to prevent or clean up any contamination.
However, lawsuits have been filed.
And there have been news reports that Canadian genetically engineered
canola has been found growing around eight Japanese ports despite rules
on handling that are supposed to prevent such contamination.
''The talk in the corridors here by delegates and NGOs is whether or not
this was done on purpose,'' said Lucy Sharatt of ETC Group, a
Canadian-based NGO attending the Montreal meeting.
At the opening of the first meetings May 26, a delegate from Egypt
expressed his regret at Tewolde's absence and stressed that ''host
countries are required to facilitate, not hinder, participation,''
according to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin news service.
Such participation includes not only delegates but also members of civil
society who are full participants in the open forums, said Sharatt.
''Some delegates are asking if Canada can be relied on for future
meetings,'' she said.
''If it was an error, why not apologise?'' Sharatt asked. (END/2005)
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