Cooperating internationally on biotechnology safety


This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

Counter Claim:

Say hello to the bio-cops. Backed by bloated and inefficient bureaucracies, and undeterred by their own meager scientific expertise, UN officials are now jostling to become international environmental super-regulators. Biotechnology holds great promise for raising productivity, but the UN's regulatory and policing proposals will nip this promise in the bud. The result will be UN-facilitated death and disruption – this time from disease and famine.

The UN's Trojan horse here is the Convention on Biological Diversity. At its conception, the convention was advertised as an unprecedented opportunity to reconcile issues of conservation and access to biological resources. However, any good intentions it once contained have been overshadowed by something called the international biosafety protocol – another name for biotechnology regulations, many of which do little to address threats to biodiversity.

Among those threatened most by this regulatory impulse are the Asian countries that have made substantial investments in agricultural biotechnology. The list includes the Philippines, Thailand, India, Singapore and China, whose programme is among the largest and most vigorous in the world.

A burdensome international bureaucracy enforcing ill-conceived regulation will stall, and even block, many of these benefits. Agricultural biotechnology is particularly vulnerable. It's an area where innovation is high, but market incentives are often small and fragile. Vastly increased paperwork and costs for field testing will be potent disincentives for R&D in many countries. Take field trials of improved varieties of potatoes, corn, rice or cassava. No one anywhere would be allowed to grow and test a biotechnology-derived crop or garden plant – even on a tiny plot – without prior approval from the bio-cops, on a case-by-case basis. Paperwork and red tape would dog the process from beginning to end, from the first seed to the store shelves.

Ironically, many proposed UN biotechnology regulations will actually harm the environment. They will stifle the development of environmentally friendly innovations that can help clean up toxic wastes, purify water and replace agricultural chemicals. Think of the chemical pesticides already made obsolete by pest- and disease-resistant varieties of wheat, rice, soybeans and other staple crops – all derived from biotechnology.

The UN's own experts constantly warn that the greatest single threat to the planet's environment comes from the world's burgeoning population and its demand that ever more land be brought into food production. Yet the answer – developing more productive plant varieties – will be blocked by the disincentive of unnecessary regulations.

Rational policies will not appear unless nations summon the political will to demand that scientifically knowledgeable representatives replace the "enviro-crats" who even now are crafting the regulations and enforcement powers for the coming era of bio-force.

Using biotechnology
Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities