Jan 20/00


By Robert Melnbardis

MONTREAL, - Groups opposed to the growing use of genetically modified organisms in crops and food products hope, according to this story, that their message will be heard at U.N. talks in Montreal next week, even though

they will not be taking part. The story says that environmental organizations and public interest groups

such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Council of Canadians are gathering in Montreal ahead of the Monday start of talks among 134 countries on a proposed Biosafety Protocol. An agreement, if reached, would establish rules for the international movement of genetically modified organisms.

Public interest groups said on Thursday they will closely monitor the five days of negotiations being held under the auspices of the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity. The outside groups will not have access to the negotiations, but will be allowed to monitor the delegates' working group discussions.

Louise Gale, political advisor for Greenpeace International, was quoted as saying, "One of the main reasons we're here is to make sure that governments know we're here and we are watching them. If we do hear that governments are perhaps doing dirty deals, then we will make sure that those dirty deals are exposed."

The story adds that on Thursday, Greenpeace produced a research report arguing that genetically modified fish not be used in fish farms because they could wipe out the populations of wild species. The story goes on to say that in contrast to the rioting that marred the WTO meeting in Seattle, the groups in Montreal will not stage sit-ins or stop the delegates from reaching the headquarters of the U.N.-affiliated International Civil Aviation Organization, where the biosafety protocol talks will be held. Tamara Herman, of Biotech Action Montreal, a citizens' group affiliated with two Montreal universities, was quoted as saying, "We don't want to block the delegates because we want them to negotiate." Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, a nonpartisan citizens' interest group based in Ottawa, was cited as saying that an opinion poll it plans to unveil on Friday shows strong public support for the regulation of genetically modified food. Calling Canada's public support for a biosafety protocol "hypocritical,"

Barlow noted that Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson will not be attending the talks, adding, "What Canada really wants is a set of rules so that countries cannot ban, or control or discriminate in any way against our genetically modified foods." A spokesman for Anderson said that when the meeting was originally arranged, no ministers had been expected to attend. Greenpeace officials said they expect more than 30 ministers from various governments to show up for the talks.

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