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Issue #1640      May 28, 2014

Call to stop spread of genetically engineered organisms

On May 16, a new international coalition of organisations called for the Parties to the Convention Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to take action.

The broad coalition called for the Parties to stop the spread of genetically engineered organisms into the environment.

The initiative says that binding regulations must be implemented to prevent the release of
 genetically engineered plants that can persist and invade the environment or lead to transgene
 flow into native populations or local varieties at centres of origin and of genetic diversity.

 organisations will be approaching the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
and encouraging them to become actively involved. The CBD, under its Cartagena Protocol 
on Biosafety, requests that effective measures are taken to protect biodiversity and prevent
 unintended transboundary movements of genetically engineered organisms.

The call is
supported by Econexus, Ecoropa, ETC Group, European Network of Scientists for Social and
 Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), Friends of the Earth, Europe (FOE), Gene-ethical
 Network (GeN), Greenpeace International, Red de Semillas (Spain), Testbiotech (Germany),
the Third World Network and the Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad, 
UCCS (Mexico) and others. Further supporters will be asked to join.

“There are already several well-documented examples of genetically engineered plants spreading
 uncontrolled into wild populations and ecosystems. There are also cases of repeated transgene
 presence in landraces or local varieties of crop plants such as maize in Mexico and rice in China”, says Elena Alvarez-Buylla from Mexico.

“There is a great risk that we will not be able to go back to the original biodiversity without the bio-active transgenes, which can profoundly alter the dynamics 
of wild and cultivated native varieties.”

Alvarez-Buylla is a leading Mexican biologist, currently 
travelling in Europe and a Member of the Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad,
 UCCS (Mexico). She has been involved in several research projects that showed that genetically
 engineered plants had contaminated native populations and regional varieties in Mexico.

The Third World Network (TWN) has followed the negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol on
 Biosafety very closely for many years. The international organisation is very concerned about the
 long-term impact of uncontrolled gene flow of transgenes into the environment: “Article 17 of the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety requires Parties to prevent or minimise the risks of unintentional
 transboundary movements of genetically engineered organisms, but the current trend of an
 increasing spread of these organisms into the environment enhances the potential for genetically 
engineered plants to move across borders”, says Lim Li Ching for TWN.

“The precautionary 
principle can only be implemented if genetically engineered organisms can be retrieved from the
 environment in case of emergency. This becomes impossible once transgenes move and accumulate
 in wild and landrace varieties.”

The international ETC Group warns that technical approaches as proposed by industry and some governments will not bring any solutions: “GURTs (genetic use restriction technologies, also 
known as “Terminator”), are a set of engineering technologies to make seeds sterile in the second
 generation and are proposed by the biotech industry as an answer to “biosafety”, but in reality they
 only serve to stop farmers from reproducing seeds.

There are scientific reports indicating that
 GURTS will not function as predicted and implicate new and additional risks. These technologies
 are under a moratorium at the CBD because of the risks they present to biodiversity, indigenous and
 local communities, but despite the moratorium some countries are discussing their release”, says
 Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group Latin America Director.

The organisations signing up to the call are aiming to mobilise further support from civil society 
and will bring the issue to the meetings of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the
 Convention on Biological Diversity, in September/October 2014 in South Korea.

Further Information:

Next article – Fixing US intervention capabilities in Cuba

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