Agreement in principle on liability
UN biosafety conference agrees in principle on liability deal
Deutsche Presse Agentur, 16 May 2008
(DPA) Bonn - A UN conference on biosafety reached a preliminary agreement Friday on liability for environmental damage arising from the use of genetically modified organisms in farming. The accord initially provides for countries to claim compensation from those directly responsible for environmental damage or from the manufacturers of the genetic products that caused the damage.
But the conference was unable to finalize an internationally legally binding agreement that identifies those who should be held liable and who should pay compensation.
Further negotiations were needed to work out the details, said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, at the end of the five-day meeting in Bonn.
He said the negotiations would take place over the next two years and the result presented to the next biosafety conference to be held in Japan in 2010.
Ursula Heinen, the agriculture ministry secretary of state who represented Germany at the Bonn conference, called the outcome "a genuine success."
It was the first time in four years that the around 150 nations linked by the convention were able to agree in principle on rules for government liability and compensation, she said.
Environmental groups claimed the agreement did not go far enough.
Greenpeace's Doreen Stabinsky said the conference "has failed" because it did not agree on clear rules that would hold gene technology concerns accountable for damage.
The organization's biosafety expert, Jan van Aken, blamed Japan and Brazil for blocking a legally binding agreement.
The negotiations centred on who is liable for compensation caused by possible damage to the environment resulting from the use of genetically modified crops or plants.
The signatories to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety had set 2008 as the goal for reaching a binding agreement.
The world's leading gene technology companies wanted a voluntary agreement instead of binding rules but dropped this demand in Bonn, Heinen said.
There are no legally defined redress and liability elements in the Cartagena Protocol, making it difficult to determine who can claim and who has to pay for economic, health or environmental damage.
Less well-off developing countries are particularly keen on binding rules, otherwise they see little chance of success in damage claims involving biotechnology concerns.