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Sustainable Food Guide
Environmental Practice at Work © 2005 Link:EP@W Ltd Web Site


The book on Food Plants & Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and winner of Derek Cooper Award

The Future Control of Food
by Geoff Tansey & Tasmin Rajotte

 GM & Law...

International. The Precautionary Principle was agreed at the UN in 1992 as part of the Rio Declaration (Principle 15) states: "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation". This is not considered "hard" law.

The EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said the Precautionary Principle "is a legitimate regulatory tool to be used in particular circumstances such as where a risk is identified but the scientific consensus is uncertain as to either its nature or its extent." The EU used the principle in 1999 to halt the application for a genetically modified maize seed.

Cartegena Protocol
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety allows countries to demand proper notification and risk assessment of GM crop imports. Based on the precautionary principle, countries are also allowed to deny such imports. The USA have not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, but have been trying to stop these implementations.

International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)

"The first international treaty bringing intellectual property (IP) into agriculture was drawn up in Europe to harmonise and support existing national systems that give commercial plant breeders' rights over the plant varieties they breed, and to promote the system in other countries. This system of plant breeders' rights was an alternative to the US approach of allowing plant patents. Since the TRIPS agreement, all WTO members who have signed up to UPOV must provide some form of IP protection for plant varieties." from Chap 2 of Future Control of Food (see box). Cartegena & UPOV links (pdf)

If an organic farmer faced economic losses, or lost organic status/licence through GM contamination, they would not be able to claim compensation from anywhere - the loss is said to 'lie where it falls'. Equally the burden of harm and/or loss to the environment would have to be bourne by society. In contrast, a GM farmer can claim compensation for a crop that does not grow properly through their contract with the GM company. Insurance companies will currently NOT insure organic and convential farmers against GM cross-contamination.

The US plans to sue the European Union at the World Trade Organisation unless it allows the sale of GM foods and crops. On 13 May 2003 the United States said that it would be joined by Argentina, Canada and Egypt in filing a World Trade Organisation (WTO) case against Europe over "its illegal five-year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products". But the Egyptian Government says that it has decided "not to become a party" to the WTO complaint. More
graphic: maize

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