Unease over biotech industry’s ‘Compact’ report

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

A report on biosafety issues by major players in the biotechnology industry – Compact report – released in May 2008 ahead of COP-MOP 4 in Bonn, Germany, was greeted with skepticism by civil society organisations that said the report was cleverly timed in an attempt to undermine the 2008 discussions on liability and redress.

The COP-MOP 5 meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010 adopted a supplementary protocol on liability and redress. But the biotech industry went ahead with its Compact report, which describes itself as “a clearly defined, efficient, and fair process for a United Nations Member State to file and process claims in the event of damage to biological diversity caused by living modified organisms (LMOs)”. The Compact report became operational in 2010.

While the Cartagena protocol meetings have not bought into the Compact report – yet – a national consultation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) held in Delhi in early September expressed concern about industry attempts to revive the report at the Hyderabad meeting.

An amended version of the Compact report was released on 18 September, just ahead of COP-MOP 6. But not much has changed and the basic issues remain the same, says CBD Alliance, a network of NGOs engaged with biodiversity.

For one, the report does not address damage to life, livelihoods or contamination, and sets ‘unacceptably’ high standards for proof of damage, CBD Alliance says.

I checked out the amended report and found a pretty tough list of evidences to be submitted to claim damage: evidence establishing when, where and how the LMO was released; who released the LMO; identify the species, the ecosystem and the natural resource services affected.; identify any effects on public health; provide the evidence and the method of establishing the baseline.

Next identify all of the alleged changes from the baseline, and provide the evidence of those changes; identify whether each of the changes is beneficial, neutral, or adverse, and provide the evidence supporting each determination; describe which of the changes are alleged to constitute damage under the Compact; evidence establishing that each change is measurable; provide the evidences establishing that each change is significant and adverse; and describe the balancing of beneficial and adverse changes.

Whew.  In practical terms, it means there is small chance to prove that damage has occurred.

Meanwhile, Compact has have very kindly offered to help countries draft ‘exemplary’ national laws.

As Christine von Weizsacker, president of European Network on Ecological Reflections (ECOROPA), remarked, asking the biotech industry to oversee liability and redress is akin to “asking the fox to guard the chicken coop”.

Any takers?

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP-MOP 6 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — which takes place 1–5 October 2012. 


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