Greenpeace has called for a worldwide moratorium on the release ofgenetically engineered organisms into the environment, until aprotocol is developed covering their transfer, handling and use.

In its recently-released report, "Genetically engineered plants:releases and impacts on less developed countries," Greenpeace said ithas investigated how genetically engineered crops are regulatedacross the world to determine the implications for the environmentand economies of less-developed countries. The group submitted thereport to The First Conference of the Parties of The Convention onBiological Diversity in the Bahamas earlier this month, to makerecommendations "to ensure that the environment is properlyprotected."

The report accuses the industry of using less developed countries astesting grounds for crops designed to suit their home markets.Greenpeace said: " It is of very great concern that a situation ofdouble standards is evolving where developed countries are takingmeasures to protect their own environments but allowing theircorporations to threaten the more vulnerable environments of lessdeveloped countries."

Greenpeace found that field trials with genetically manipulatedplants have taken place in 18 developed countries and have takenplace or are expected to take place shortly in about 35 developingcountries. At least 90 releases of genetically engineered plants havetake place in non-Organization of Economic Cooperation andDevelopment (OECD) countries and Mexico, at least a third ofwhich were by multinational corporations, such as Monsanto Co., ofSt. Louis, Calgene Inc., of Davis, Calif., and Swiss-based Ciba-Geigy Ltd.

The group accused major northern-based biotech companies of"genetic colonialism" for seeking patent protection for geneticallyengineered plants from non-OECD countries. "Patent protectionoften covers crops which are particularly important in developingcountries such as cotton, sorghum, cassava, millet, banana and rye,"the report stated. "Such patents will ensure that northern countriescan control and profit from their use and secure import monopoliesby preventing local production."

The report further asserted that genetically engineered releases havetake place in less-developed countries which do not have anycontrols to ensure environmental safety, naming countries such asBelize, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Pakistan and South Africa,as examples. The study said that Monsanto has tested their herbicide-resistant cotton in Belize and Costa Rica, while Calgene has tested itsherbicide-resistant cotton in Argentina and Bolivia.

However, Monsanto disputes the findings of the report. "It isimportant to us [Monsanto] that regulatory procedures are in place inthe countries where we take our products," explained KarenMarshall, manager of public relations at Monsanto. "I don't think weare doing anything anywhere that would endanger the environmentor the people in those areas. I am not aware of any plans tocommercialize products in those places."

Calgene declined to comment on the report.

Greenpeace formally recommended to the Convention: "Thedevelopment and adoption of an international, legally bindingprotocol to control genetic engineering and the release of geneticallyengineered organisms to the environment. Such a protocol mustaddress the risks of genetically engineered organisms to theenvironment, human health and the economies of less developedcountries, as the philosophy of sustainable development demands."

In addition to the recommendations, a Greenpeace spokeswomantold BioWorld that the group plans to step up its research andinvestigative efforts in the area. "We will definitely produce morereports on releases of genetically engineered organisms, particularlyin less developed countries. We also plan to develop educationaltools to inform the public about what is going on and increase ourlobby efforts for a worldwide moratorium until appropriate measuresare in place."

Marshall, however, said these recommendations are unrealistic. "Itwould be unfortunate to penalize producers, farmers and consumersin countries where there are regulations in place until something likethis _ if it ever could be established _ is in place," she said. n

-- Miriam Hughesman Special To BioWorld Today

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.