Negotiators from 130 countries last week agreed on a Biosafety Protocol, designed to control the trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It covers food, animal feed and seeds, but not pharmaceuticals.
The treaty - to be called the Cartagena Protocol - allows countries to halt imports of GMOs they fear 'may have an adverse effect' on biological diversity or human health. It also requires exporters to label any shipments that 'may contain' GM foods.
Until now, the World Trade Organisation has required safety bans to be backed up by sufficient scientific evidence. But the new agreement allows countries to ban imports of GMOs on the basis of any scientific uncertainty about their risk.
Meanwhile, Pharmacia and Upjohn, the company that now owns beleaguered US firm Monsanto, has offered to scrap a $600m budget earmarked for research into GM foods. The offer was made by Fred Hassn, P&U's chief executive, in an attempt to pacify shareholders unhappy with the takeover.