Biotechnology and Other Aspects
of Food Safety
OECD Consultation with Civil Society
The Concern of Workers and Trade Unions
What follows is an initial summary of the issues that trade
unions believe should be considered by the OECD in its current work on
Biotechnology and other Aspects of Food Safety.
Following this meeting, the TUAC will disseminate the document to affiliates,
and through the ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions),
to trade unions in developing countries. It will be revised to accommodate
responses, and forwarded to the OECD and other parties.
PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND A SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM
OF FOOD & LAND USE: The evolution of policy by OECD on Biotechnology
and Food Safety must be clearly defined within a sustainable development
framework of Agenda 21. Environmental, social and economic impacts of proposals
must be properly understood and implementation of programs in one area
must not be allowed to undermine or ignore progress in others. In particular,
the concerns of developing countries must be taken into account. The decision
by OECD Environment Ministers (April 1998) to incorporate social aspects
of development into decision-making must prevail. The long term aim must
be to create a sustainable, world-wide food system, in which the disparity
between regions of plenty and regions of deprivation are narrowed and eliminated.
PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: The precautionary principle must
prevail in all matters related to science, within a well-developed regulatory
framework. It must also be the basis of preventive measures against contamination
of the genetic stock in the biosphere, chemical contamination of ecosystems,
and threats to the integrity of living species, and the basis for promoting
biodiversity. Well balanced advisory bodies should be extended to cover
long term effects on biodiversity and be capable of assessing risks relative
to broad ecological principles, beyond narrow, specialised technical functions.
REGULATORY FRAMEWORK: Too little attention has been paid
by governments to development of adequate national and international regulatory
frameworks governing biosafety, biotechnology and food safety. A strong
regulatory framework must underlay standards and controls, with reliable
monitoring, reporting and enforcement of policy for the safe production,
distribution and consumption of food. A significant number of trade unions
oppose the patenting of living organisms and genetic materials. The issue
should be the subject of broad public discussions, within a context of
ethical and social considerations. Advertising and public information must
be included in such a framework.
STAKEHOLDER INVOLVEMENT: All legitimate stakeholders must
be involved in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes
for biotechnology and food safety. Stakeholder groups must be empowered
to complement the role of technical advisory committees, and should include
social and ethical considerations. Active participation and leadership
by rural communities is fundamental to success in achieving a sustainable
food and land use system.
RESEARCH & INFORMATION: Regulation and public information
depend on adequate funding for independent research, which includes monitoring
effects of GMOs over the long-term. In line with "polluter pays", biotechnology
companies should be required to pay a premium or levy to fund independent
research. Given the growing concentration of the corporate biotechnology sector, the application of intellectual property rights provisions must
be reviewed in order to safeguard against the growing dependence of consumers
and farmers on a small number of multinational companies.
SCIENCE & DECISION-MAKING: Effective co-ordination
of science policy and consultation must be at the heart of government decision
making. The involvement of scientists, independent of biotech and the food
industry, must be strengthened and monitored to ensure quality scientific
input into all aspects of policy-making. Processes which weaken such input
(e.g. commercialisation & privatisation), must be avoided. Clear and
transparent procedures must be in place to resolve conflicts of interest
within the scientific community. A regulatory framework is a must to ensure
that scientists are allowed to pursue their work without pressure or harassment.
WORKPLACES AND COLLABORATIVE APPROACHES: Employers and
trade unions should be encouraged to work together in promoting objectives
implied in all aspects of sustainable food and land use. In particular,
joint actions to monitor and report on workplace related food safety activities
should be encouraged. The development of joint employer-trade union training
and education and information programs for workers should be supported
by governments and inter-governmental bodies.
WORKPLACE HEALTH & SAFETY: The health and safety of
workers involved in all aspects of food production and distribution may
be considered as a barometer of public health and safety, and should form
part of any public health monitoring and research program. Specific research
is needed to assess occupational hazards related to all aspects of development,
production and processing of new foods and GMOs. Workers' rights to information
about products or processes that may affect their well-being must be guaranteed
and the right to refuse work which poses a threat to the public's well-being
must be enshrined in legislation. Workers must also be allowed to pursue
their work without threat or harassment resulting conflict and public controversy.
Equal protection must be ensured for research scientists working on biotechnology.
SOCIAL & EMPLOYMENT IMPLICATIONS: Understanding the
social implications of chemical applications, biotechnology and GMOs -
especially as these are associated with intensive agriculture - is a prerequisite
to garnering public support for developments. It will be necessary to develop
elements of a just transition process with necessary, provisions for employment,
and as a way of ensuring that no sector or country unduly benefits or suffers
from biotechnology or GMOs. Financial and economic measures must be identified
to support social transition programs where income protection, redundancy
procedures, re-employment, education and retraining will be needed. This
is especially true in developing countries and elsewhere as a means to
alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development.
CONSUMER PROTECTION & INFORMATION: Full transparency
must be the guiding principle for all work on biotechnology and GMOs, which
requires a commitment to full access to information by all society. Rules
for public labelling of products and advertising must be backed by sound
monitoring and reporting with provision for reviews and appeals of decisions
related to permits and licensing. All of this must take place in a well-developed
regulatory framework. Activities and products which endanger human health
or the environment should be banned. The marketing of antibiotic-resistant
products should be banned or severely restricted, and mechanisms (e.g.
declaring of moratoria) instituted to ensure that questionable practices
are reviewed prior to implementation.