Biosafety Protocol treaty: ASA unhappy with trade restrictions

The American Soybean Association says it is “extremely disappointed” in the onerous record-keeping and reporting requirements agreed to by participants at recent Biosafety Protocol meetings.

At the meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, negotiators representing nearly 90 countries agreed to stringent rules governing future trade in agricultural products derived from crops enhanced through biotechnology.

“Although the treaty underlying the Biosafety Protocol has a noble goal of protecting the world's biodiversity, the European Union and anti-biotech activists hijacked the process to serve their own political ends of further restricting trade in biotech products,” says association president Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. “These rules will increase food cost and decrease the availability of healthy, high-quality food products for millions of people around the world.”

Following the Biosafety Protocol meetings held four years ago, the American Soybean Association cautioned that the rules being considered would require an additional amount of paperwork and needless expense associated with documentation of shipments, and that this would become an even greater burden on the whole commodity system if proposed rules that require identification of each different variety of biotech crop contained in every shipment were implemented.

“For decades, the modern world has made decisions based on sound scientific facts,” Heck says. “Now the European Union is leading the world down a dangerous path where decision-making will be based on what might happen rather than on what has been proven.”

He says, “Rather than focus on commodity shipments, countries should be focusing their scarce resources on real biodiversity threats from invasive species. Resources should be targeted at preventing biodiversity catastrophes such as the introduction of zebra mussels into the United States, rabbits and red fox into Australia, and the water hyacinth in African freshwater ecosystems, to name just a few examples.”

To minimize U.S. soybean trade disruption arising from implementation of the bio-safety protocol, the soybean group says it will encourage all soybean growers to make several photocopies of each of their seed receipts as they procure their 2004 soybean seed. As these seeds are planted, make notes in the margins of the seed receipts to specify in which field each soybean variety was used. Then at harvest-time, growers will need to do their best to match up a photocopy of each appropriate seed receipt with every truckload of soybeans delivered to the elevator.

“The American Soybean Association originally alerted its 25,000 members to the need for saving copies of seed receipts several months ago, right after the European Union published its new Traceability & Labeling Regulations.” Heck says. “Now, we are informing all U.S. growers about the need to copy seed receipts attesting to the origin of every variety contained in each load we deliver.”

On a worldwide basis, biotech crops were planted on more than 167 million acres last year, including 90 million acres of soybeans. More than 60 percent of soybeans in world trade have been improved through modern biotechnology. These soybeans are consumed directly by people in a variety of soy foods, or processed into vegetable oil for cooking and protein-rich meal for livestock feed, the group says.

Roundup Ready soybeans have been approved for food and feed use by government agencies in the United States, in the European Union, in China and in 23 other countries where formal approval is required for each new biotechnology-derived “genetic event” prior to importation in commodity shipments.

The Biosafety Protocol itself does not specifically require countries to label biotech crops or to place labels on products containing biotech ingredients, but requires shipping documentation to accompany bulk commodities that may include crops derived through biotechnology. This would serve to advise the importing country that the shipment “may contain” biotech varieties, and that the shipment is for processing into food and feed products, not for planting.

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