Note not only that "EGYPT regretted the absence of negotiator Tewolde Egziabher (Ethiopia) due to Canada's denial of a visa and stressed that host countries are required to facilitate, not hinder, participation" but that widespread unease is reported to have been "caused by the absence of several key participants who had not received their visas on time". and "some wondered whether the concerns over participation, and its impact on the negotiations' fairness and transparency, might... affect next week's COP/MOP deliberations. Noting that damage done to the process might be considerable, they called on the Secretariat to improve its cooperation with the Canadian authorities.
Disturbingly, the report also notes that an important presentation on the scientific analysis and assessment of risks resulting from transboundary movements of GM seeds etc. (LMOs), was given to the delegates by Muffy Koch of AgBios, Canada, and Piet van der Meer of Horizons, Belgium.
Given Koch and van der Meer's conflicts of interest, as well as their long history of partisan behaviour, their involvement as impartial experts in guiding delegates through these critical issues is less than reassuring.
Muffy Koch, in addition to her involvement with Agbios in Canada, has been one of the key pro-GM lobbyists who've operated in South Africa, a country where the uptake of GM crops has been amongst the most rapid anywhere in the world thanks to a highly lax biosafety system that Koch has contributed to and championed.
Koch is, in fact, part of the industry lobby group Africabio, which has Monsanto among its sponsors. Delta and Pine, Novartis and Pioneer Hi Bred are also known to have been among its members.
Koch has run AfricaBio's "education" programmes.
And an article in the science journal Nature confirms that AfricaBio is very far from being a source of "balanced" or "impartial" information.
The article notes, "AfricaBio, along with agribiotech companies and other pro-biotech campaigners, is now fighting tooth and nail, often by somewhat controversial methods, to spread the word about GM crops." It adds, "the group's methods would be considered in some countries to be blatant media manipulation."
AfricaBio's declared purpose is particularly relevant to what delgates in Montreal were discussing yesterday. It is to "provide one strong voice for lobbying the government on biotechnology and ensuring that unjustified trade barriers are not established which restrict its members"! (Africabio 2000).
Piet van der Meer, aside from being one of the prime movers behind the controversial new lobby group the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI), is married to a lobbyist for the Global Industry Coalition. The Coalition has represented the biotechnology industry throughout the Biosafety Protocol negotiations, and as Laura Reifschneider, Laura van der Meer won notoriety during the negotiations for the fervour of her lobbying on behalf of the industry.
Despite his wife's industry role, Piet van der Meer presents as a non-partisan expert in relation to the Protocol. However, according to Dr Tewolde Egziabher, Chair of the Africa Group at the Protocol negotiations, 'Piet was the most unfair of the chairs in the negotiations. Many of our delegates were, understandably, not very fluent in English. He used to make them sound as ridiculous as he could by finding fault with how they said what they said, instead of focusing on the content. He often blatantly disregarded them when they wanted to make interventions. Sometimes he championed ideas, disregarding the fact that he was chairing. For example, he made the issue of protoplastic fusion almost useless by championing that it be considered as a biosafety issue only when the fusion happend accross a taxonomic level above the family.' (personal communication)
Piet van der Meer is also said to have shown a similar bias in the post he subsequently took up in December 2002 as Programme Manager of the United Nations Environmental Program-GEF Projects. Juan Lopez of Friends of the Earth International has accused him of using his UNEP role to implicitely promote "a fast-track process of creating minimalist biosafety frameworks". (personal communication)
Some of van der Meer's critics in developing countries also accuse him of "letting industry in to biosafety development" via the UNEP-GEF initiative. Amidst considerable criticism, he eventually quit UNEP for private consultancy (Horizons).
For more on van der Meer:
For more on Muffy Koch:http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=271
For anyone wanting to follow what's been going on in Montreal, there's a very useful report on what happened yesterday here: http://www.iisd.ca/vol09/enb09313e.html