ST. LOUIS – The American Soybean Association says it is “extremely disappointed” in the onerous record keeping and reporting requirements agreed to by participants at recent Biosafety Protocol meetings.

At the meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, negotiators representing nearly 90 countries agreed to stringent rules governing future trade in agricultural products derived from crops enhanced through biotechnology.

"Although the treaty underlying the Biosafety Protocol has a noble goal of protecting the world’s biodiversity, the European Union and anti-biotech activists hijacked the process to serve their own political ends of further restricting trade in biotech products," says ASA President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa.

"These rules will increase food cost and decrease the availability of healthy, high quality food products for millions of people around the world."

Following the Biosafety Protocol meetings held four years ago, ASA said rules being considered would require an additional amount of paperwork and needless expense associated with documentation of shipments, and that this would become an even greater burden on the whole commodity system if proposed rules are implemented that require identification of each different variety of biotech crop contained in every shipment.

"For decades, the modern world has made decisions based on sound scientific facts," Heck says. "Now the European Union is leading the world down a dangerous path where decision-making will be based on what might happen rather than on what has been proven.

“Under pressure from anti-biotech forces, the European Union is misleading poor developing countries to focus scarce resources on biotech crops proven to be safe and that will be processed into food and feed.”

Rather than focus on commodity shipments, he said, “Countries should be focusing their scarce resources on real biodiversity threats from invasive species. Resources should be targeted at preventing biodiversity catastrophes such as the introduction of zebra mussels into the United States, rabbits and red fox into Australia, and the water hyacinth in African freshwater ecosystems, to name just a few examples."

To minimize U.S. soybean trade disruption arising from implementation of the bio-safety protocol, the soybean group says it will encourage all soybean growers to make several photocopies of each of their seed receipts as they procure their 2004 soybean seed.

As these seeds are planted, growers should make notes in the margins of the seed receipts to specify in which field each soybean variety was used. Then at harvest time, growers will need to do their best to match up a photocopy of each appropriate seed receipt with every truckload of soybeans delivered to the elevator.

"The American Soybean Association originally alerted its 25,000 members to the need for saving copies of seed receipts several months ago, right after the European Union published its new Traceability and Labeling Regulations." Heck says.

"Now, we are informing all U.S. growers about the need to copy seed receipts attesting to the origin of every variety contained in each load we deliver."

On a worldwide basis, biotech crops were planted on more than 167 million acres last year, including 90 million acres of soybeans. More than 60 percent of soybeans in world trade have been improved through modern biotechnology. These soybeans are consumed directly by people in a variety of soy foods, or processed into vegetable oil for cooking and protein-rich meal for livestock feed, the group says.

Roundup Ready Soybeans have been approved for food and feed use by government agencies in the United States, in the European Union, in China and in 23 other countries where formal approval is required for each new biotechnology-derived "genetic event" prior to importation in commodity shipments.

The Biosafety Protocol itself does not specifically require countries to label biotech crops or to place labels on products containing biotech ingredients, but requires shipping documentation to accompany bulk commodities that may include crops derived through biotechnology. This would serve to advise the importing country that the shipment "may contain" biotech varieties, and that the shipment is for processing into food and feed products, not for planting.

As a result of the decisions reached at the recent Malaysia meetings, bulk commodity exports will now have to go beyond the "may contain" language and identify each and every unique genetic biotech event in a shipment. Processed commodity products, such as soybean meal and oil, are exempt from any and all requirements under the Biosafety Protocol.

"The EU is deciding the rules not only for its own citizens but for hungry people in other nations around the world who do not have the wherewithal to resist," Heck says. "Unfortunately, countries of the world missed an opportunity this week to focus on real issues that threaten biodiversity."

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com