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. 

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