Montreal Protocol on Biosafety
January 5, 2001
The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien
House of Commons
Dear Prime Minister:
The purpose of this letter is to urge the Government of Canada to sign the Montreal Protocol on Biosafety, finalized January 29, 2000. An important element of the Protocol is the Precautionary Principle. The National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) is concerned that Canada has not yet signed the Protocol as the members of the NCWC voted at their 200 Annual General Meeting to support the use of the Precautionary Principle; this support relates particularly to health, safety and the environment.
Under the Precautionary Principle, nations are enabled to control and to respect the importation and exportation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Precautionary Principle forms part of a structured approach to the analysis of risk and risk management. It covers cases where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain; and where preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen by the country concerned.
The guidelines within the Protocol guard against unwarranted recourse to the Precautionary Principle as a disguised form of protectionism. The Protocol will therefore function as protection for consumers and economic operators alike.
Final negotiations of the Protocol took place in Montreal last January. At that time, Canada’s Environmental Minister David Anderson agreed to the wording that we must establish controls over GMO products to protect biological diversity and human health. Since then, the Canadian government has failed to take the next step of adding Canada’s name to the list of countries signing this important Agreement.
Up to now, seventy-five countries have signed the Protocol, including two grain-exporting nations with similar trade interests to Canada (Chile and Argentina). Canada’s failure to sign the Protocol reinforces the view that Canada is prepared to place the protection of the environment, biological safety and diversity, and human health at risk in the pursuit of its trade objectives. In addition, Canada’s unwillingness to sign jeopardizes Canadian access to markets as many countries exercise their right to reject genetically modified grain imports.
The National Council of Women of Canada is a non-sectarian, non-partisan federation of voluntary organizations of twenty Local Councils of women in major Canadian cities, five Provincial Councils and twenty-seven affiliated Nationally Organized Societies. Representing many thousands of people across Canada, for over a hundred years, the National Council of Women of Canada has worked to improve the condition of women and families. Because the Local and Provincial Councils are themselves federations of local women’s organizations, the network of affiliated organizations represented by NCWC is a significant cross-section of grass-roots opinion.
In conclusion M. Chrétien, the National Council of Women of Canada urges you to sign the Protocol on Biosafety to benefit the health and environment of both consumers and producers in Canada and elsewhere.
National Council of Women of Canada
cc: Maria Neil, NCWC Convener Economics, President O-C Council of Women