Christine von Weizsäcker visits Japan: Genetic modification of living organisms is a threat to biodiversity
In October 2010, an important international conference will be held in Nagoya, Japan, to discuss the integrity of biodiversity, as genetic engineering threatens to influence and disturb the ecosystems around the world. The topic of genetically modified organisms is on the agenda in Nagoya, because there is concern that the shipping and handling of imported GMO crops can contaminate local varieties of similar crops.
In October 2009 Consumers Union of Japan and other NGOs in the Japan Citizens’ Network for Planet Diversity (JCNPD) invited Christine von Weizsäcker, biologist, author and activist from Germany who has been closely following all the negotiations about the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). She gave several lectures and met with activists and politicians in Japan.
JCNPD held citizen meetings in Nagoya and Tokyo to learn more about her views about the negotiation process and the issues that are currently being discussed at the United Nations level. These include access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their utilization (ABS), and international rules and procedures on liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movements of living modified organisms in the context of the Cartagena Protocol.
At the meeting in Nagoya on October 24, citizens’ groups also made detailed reports about the nation-wide investigation in Japan, showing how imported GMO canola seeds have fallen from trucks, taken root and crossed with other related species in many locations, especially near ports.
This has clearly shown the environmental pollution involved when importing GMO crops, a risk that has caused anxiety among many people.
Parliament symposium with elected politicians
Talking directly to elected politicians in Japan, many who may never before have heard about the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Cartagena Protocol in such detail, Christine emphasized that parliamentary initiatives and decisions can help to promote new topics and tasks. She also expressed hope that the international association called GLOBE should participate in Nagoya: “Representatives of cities come to Nagoya, civil society comes, business comes, why not members of Japan’s parliament?”
Christine von Weizsäcker spoke to about 100 participants at the Diet Members Building in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo on October 27. Among the audience, some 25 were elected members of parliament and some 40 were secretaries of Upper and Lower Houses members. She noted that nature and people worldwide are hoping for Japan to act as an “excellent” host of the meeting, having prepared a coherent national position, consolidated between the different government ministries, and led by the Environment Minister: the position should not be led by other ministries, such as the Trade and Agriculture Ministries.
“Developing countries in particular are waiting for a legally binding agreement on equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of their genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. Their motivation to conserve and to sustainably use biodiversity is being destroyed if justice is not established,” Christine said.
She pointed out that the negotiations should finalize legally binding international liability rules for potential harm caused by GMO (called living modified organisms in the CBD context for historical reasons). The harm can be both to biodiversity and to human health, in addition to human socio-economic and cultural well-being. Even “spiritual” harm is identified in the text that is currently under negotiation. “Nagoya must succeed in taking a major step in international environmental governance, making the polluter pay and ensuring that no victim shall go without compensation,” said Christine.
The visit of Christine von Weizsäcker was all the more successful because she was invited by Mr. Sakihito Ozawa, Japan’s Minister of Environment, who will be the chair person at the Nagoya meeting in 2010, to give him a special briefing on what Japan needs to do as the host country in order not to repeat the failures of the past meetings.