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US Threatens WTO Sanctions Over
Sri Lanka Gene-Foods Ban

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U.S. criticises Sri Lankan ban on GM foods

COLOMBO, May 10 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday criticised Sri
Lanka's decision to ban all genetically modified (GM) foods and said the
move would trigger an inquiry by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Sri Lanka became one of the first countries to impose a total ban on GM
foods, from May, 1 to avert suspected health risks.

"We know of no credible scientific evidence justifying Sri Lanka's ban.
We believe it is totally unwarranted," Weyland Beeghly, agricultural
counsellor of the U.S. Embassy in neighbouring India, told a news
conference in Colombo.

Beeghly said the WTO had already called on Sri Lanka to provide
scientific evidence to support its decision and added he saw little
evidence other countries in the region would follow suit.

"India is already pursuing its own bio-technology programme and there is
very little chance that this will become a precedent for the region," he
said.

He said Washington had no plans to take bilateral action over the ban,
adding it affected about only four percent of U.S. agricultural exports
to Sri Lanka.

The United States accounts for about half the 900,000 tonnes of wheat
Sri Lanka imports each year, but U.S. wheat is not genetically modified.

GM foods contain a gene from another organism, generally to make them
resistant to herbicides or to produce their own toxins to kill pests.

Proponents of the new technology say it contributes to higher crop
yields and lower production costs, while critics fear long-term health
and environmental consequences.

Sri Lanka, which said last year that it would impose the ban, has yet to
announce a mechanism or system to test food imports for genetic
modifications.

Sri Lankan officials said they wanted the ban in place to give them more
time to find out if GM foods were dangerous.

06:50 05-10-01

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Agence France Presse

May 10, 2001
US official slams Sri Lanka ban on GM food

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's ban on genetically modified (GM) food was
Thursday attacked by a US agricultural official who said there was no
credible scientific evidence to justify the Colombo government's action.

Weyland Beeghly, the agricultural counsellor for India, Sri Lanka and
Bangladesh, told reporters here Thursday that Sri Lanka was the only
country to have imposed a total ban on GM food.

"Even though it will affect only four percent of US agricultural exports
to Sri Lanka, we believe it is totally unwarranted," Beeghly said.

"There is a view in some circles that this is a very risky technology
and that the US is testing it on the poor populations of developing
countries. This is both false and offensive."

Beeghly, who is resident in New Delhi, said GM foods occupied more than
one-third of the shelf space of US supermarkets.

Sri Lanka's ban on GM food went into effect from the beginning of this
month, but importers have asked for more time to implement it, trade
officials here said.

The new law introduced by the health ministry bans all imports of raw
and processed food in 21 categories if they have been genetically
modified.

But importers are worried about the practicalities of enforcing the new
rules.

"We have asked the ministry to give us a transition period so we can
gather the necessary certificates" from exporting countries, said S. R.
Balachandra, spokesman for the National Chamber of Commerce.

He said other nations simply put labels on products that contain GM
ingredients so consumers still have a choice.

To comply with the legislation, importers must obtain official proof
from exporting countries' health authorities confirming their products
are non-GM.

Beeghly said genetic modification held great promise for protecting the
environment as well as improving harvests of food.

"In the US, the use of insecticide has declined significantly with the
adoption of GM cotton varieties," he said. "The same is true of maize."

"Scientists are now working to develop a maize variety which will take
free nitrogen out of the atmosphere and fix it in the soil where it can
be taken up by the plant.

"This would eventually reduce or eliminate the need for large
applications of chemical fertiliser, some of which ends up polluting our
waterways."

Sri Lanka's two main business chambers, the National Chamber of
Commerce and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce are studying how
the GM ban will affect importers.

Many complained they were not given enough time to gather the necessary
proof from foreign health authorities and called for at least another
two months.

Some 60 percent of imported food contains GM organisms, importers said.

"Most of the food is genetically manipulated in one way or the other and
it would cost more to demand genetically unspoiled products," a
spokesman for the importers said.

"If the importer cannot get the certificate because the food is GM, then
he has to change the source of his product," Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
spokesman Stanley Jayawardena said.

"The products themselves have not been banned, only the method of
production. There will be some level of protest initially, but
eventually the importers will change."

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Sri Lanka Daily News
Thursday, 12 April 2001

All GM Foods including soya beans to be banned from May 1
by Manjula Fernando

Soya beans and all products that contain its derivatives including soya
milk, soy sauce and soya flour will be banned from May 1 under the
Health Ministry's decision to ban all Genetically Modified Foods (GMF)
in the country, Health and Indigenous Minister John Seneviratne told the
Daily News yesterday.

The Minister said several other imported food items produced using this
technology will also be banned. This includes imported tomatoes and
tomato based food products (ketchup, sauce, puree), corn (maize), corn
flour (maize flour), cheese, potatoes and products containing potatoes,
bakers and brewers yeast, beet sugar, microbiological starter cultures
used in foods (like yoghurt cultures).

Minister Seneviratne said that most developed countries are using this
technology (DNA recombinant technology) in the Agriculture sector to
derive benefits such as high yields, drought resistance and resistance
to weeds, pesticides, weedicides, etc. USA, Argentina and Canada are
among the countries promoting this technology.

However, a number of countries including the European Union have adopted
a cautious approach in accepting GM foods, imposing several restrictive
measures. The Japanese Government has also appointed a special committee
to report on the safety and labelling issues, he said.

Besides, opposition to these foods is growing among consumers and it is
also predicted that irreparable harm could be caused to the environment
and the traditional agriculture due to the introduction of terminator
genes, he said.

According to the Health Ministry regulation, the import of these foods
is banned without a certificate from an accredited laboratory or
competent Government authority certifying that the food product does not
contain any material or ingredient that has been subjected to genetic
modification.

The action to ban GM foods has been taken by the Minister on the advice
of the Food Advisory Committee. He said the ban will be revised once the
controversy on the safety of these foods is resolved.

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