Asian Communities Press for Biosafety and Corporate Accountability


Asian Communities Press for Biosafety and Corporate Accountability
Amid the Onslaught of GMOs
While new technologies are being rapidly deployed in food and farms all over Asia, the law and policy regimes to ensure that they do not endanger life and biodiversity are still far from fully in place.
This overwhelming concern over the rights of people and countries, especially developing countries in Asia, was addressed at a side event on Biosafety and Accountability organized by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP), Third World Network (TWN) and Econexus during the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Meeting of the Parties (MOP) 6 in Hyderabad on 2 October 2012.
In her introduction as Chair of the session, Lim Li Ching of TWN, said, “Asia is fast becoming the new centre for the biotechnology industry. This has implications for not only Asia’s farmers and local communities, but the world at large in terms of social, economic, environmental and other impacts. But as risks are being transported across borders, responsibilities are not. When things ‘go wrong’, who will be held accountable? Will promoters and regulators of modern biotechnology be able to undo or make good the damage?”
The side event linked the issue of accountability to the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol (SP) on liability and redress. This SP to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was signed in March 2012 by 51 countries and will enter into force once ratified by the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol.
Committing Violations with Impunity
Clare Westwood of PANAP shared on the verdict of the first-ever Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs) held in December 2011 in Bangalore, India, which had been brought by PAN International. The international jury of six found the Defendant TNCs, the six largest agrochemical companies in the world (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, and BASF), their home states (the US, Switzerland and Germany) and the IMF, WB and WTO guilty of gross, widespread and systematic violations of human rights. “The jury further found that institutions of global governance had failed to make agrochemical and biotech companies accountable for human rights violations. Among their major recommendations were to establish an appropriate international mechanism to investigate gross and flagrant violations of human rights by TNCs, host and home states, and to strictly adhere to the Precautionary Principle (which is also enshrined in the Cartagena Protocol) in national law,” said Westwood.
Jayakumar C. of Thanal, Kerala, who had been one of the witnesses at the PPT Session, shared on the serious health impacts of endosulfan poisoning in the village of Kasargod as a result of 20 years of aerial spraying of a cashew nut plantation. “Bayer, who created the poison, the Government of Germany, the Government of India, and the agricultural scientists who recommended the pesticide have not been held accountable,” he said.
The side event also highlighted Asian country experiences in terms of biosafety protocols and accountability. “There is a failure by the government to adequately control and monitor the introduction and impacts of the testing and cultivation of GM crops in our country,” said Dr. Charito Medina, National Coordinator of Masipag (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development), Philippines, who shared that a study of GM corn farmers had found adverse socio-economic impacts suffered by them. The Philippines is currently commercially growing GM corn and field-testing GM rice and GM brinjal/eggplant (as is Bangladesh) despite strong concerns and objections raised by civil society.
The cases of contamination by GM canola and GM papaya in Japan and the experience with Bt cotton and Bt brinjal in India were also shared. Asked Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty, writer and researcher based in the Netherlands, “There have been violations galore of biosafety protocols in India. Who will provide redress for the losses suffered by farmers due to contamination by GM crop varieties?” She highlighted the recent report of the Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture which called for a cessation of field trials of GM crops in all states and underscored the need for India to enact legislation for liability and redress for harm resulting from LMOs “as the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and Rules 1989 as also the proposed BRAI Bill do not address the concept of damage….and the response for measures including financial security to take preventive measures.”
The Nagoya-KL Supplementary Protocol and Corporate Accountability
“The laws and policies that encourage the entry and operations of corporations in the agricultural sector are not balanced in equal measure with laws and policies to regulate their conduct,” said Shalini Bhutani, a lawyer and researcher based in Delhi. “For instance, the SP does not cover all LMOs, but only those which find their origin in transboundary movements” citing from her PAN AP policy paper entitled The Supplementary Protocol and Corporate Accountability which was distributed at the event.
“TNCs influenced the negotiations and final text of the Supplementary Protocol. This has, among others, limited the definition of “damage to biodiversity” as “an adverse effect on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity,” taking into account risks to human health that are (i) measurable and (ii) significant, using scientific baselines that are recognised by public authority. Corporations are largely in control of the science that creates LMOs and the law-making processes,” she added.
The Global Industry Coalition, which represents biotech companies in the Cartagena Protocol, itself believes that biotech-specific liability rules are neither legally nor scientifically justified. Thus, in countries such as the U.S., GM products are treated the same as their non-GM counterparts as soon as they have been authorised by the government for release into the environment. Notably, the U.S. is a major GMO-exporting country (together with Argentina, Australia, and Canada) but it is not party to the Cartagena Protocol, and therefore also not party to the SP. Three of the largest biotech companies, namely, Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow, are U.S.-based.
As per the SP, domestic law shall also apply to damage resulting from transboundary movements of LMOs from non-parties to the Cartagena Protocol.  In general, the SP requires governments to revisit their existing legal regimes on environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, environmental liability and biotechnology products. “In several countries in Asia, the domestic regime on biosafety is yet to be either set up or updated to meet current challenges,” said Bhutani.
She pointed out that most biosafety laws or proposed biosafety laws in Asia, such as the Malaysian Biosafety Act and the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, only provide the legal framework for biotechnology companies to operate and in fact facilitate the entry and commercialisation of GMOs. These laws, however, do not provide for reparation of damage to health, life, and biodiversity.
Moreover, government negotiators that dare to push for a strong liability and redress regime face pressure. The Biotechnology Industry Organisation, for instance, has asked the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure that as a potential Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) partner, Malaysia does not advocate for positions which would result in burdensome requirements for GM products. The TPP is a major trade agreement being pushed by the U.S. government.
Biosafety Concerns
Bhutani concluded that even with the SP, more effort is needed to protect biodiversity and the people who depend on it for survival, namely rural communities. She warned, “The SP talks of the ‘restoration of biological diversity’, but monies collected from fines might not be able to make up for or reverse the genetic contamination of biological resources. Therefore, law and policy should realistically weigh the pros and cons of promoting biotechnology. In a climate-challenged world where biodiversity provides the only insurance for real adaptation, putting the biological system at risk can prove to be suicidal. Given the emphasis on domestic laws for implementing the SP, governments should use every opportunity to create more local spaces for people’s concerns on biosafety to be brought to the fore.”
 “The issue of accountability is an urgent one that demands immediate attention by governmental and inter-governmental bodies alongside with civil society. Agri-corporations have been committing human rights violations with impunity and there has been little or no redress or justice for the victims/survivors of such violations. It is time to make them accountable for their acts and omissions. Instruments such as the Cartagena and Supplementary Protocols can be useful means to do so if we are vigilant in their formulation and implementation,” ended Westwood.
For enquires, please contact:
Clare Westwood, Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP)
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