By Boyd Champness

A GLOBAL treaty reached in Canada last month giving countries power to ban shipments of gene-altered foods has been met with widespread approval from activists and consumer groups – but criticised by farm leaders.

During a United Nations-sponsored conference in Montreal recently, the European Union and other countries successfully bullied the United States into signing the global treaty.

In all, 130 countries signed the treaty, which allows governments to ban maize, soya bean and other genetically modified crops even without scientific proof they are harmful to humans or the environment.

The United States – where an estimated 60% of grocery products are believed to contain ingredients derived from genetically modified crops – has the most to fear from the agreement, although Australian farm leaders seem equally concerned.

While conventional crops are still the norm in Australia National Farmers Federation trade director Lyall Howard told The Weekly Times the agreement was further proof protectionism was on the rise.

“I guess it struck me that the international community were able to get together and agree on an instrument that is inherently trade restrictive,” he said.

“Yet, two months ago in Seattle, the same people got together and found it difficult to agree on an instrument that was trade liberalising, so what thats telling us is that theres a drift towards protectionist tendencies.”

But Australias gene watchdog welcomed the news and immediately called on the Federal Government to freeze trade in genetically modified organisms in support of the agreement.

Australian GeneEthics Network director Bob Phelps said the minimum safety rules laid down in the protocol “should be enforced now”.

“We are now looking forward to the 130 countries involved actually putting it into effect,” Mr Phelps told ABC radio.

But the details of the new agreement remain murky.

On the one hand countries will be able to ban gene-altered food without scientific proof but on the other hand the US and other countries will be able to take their complaints to the World Trade Organisation if countries follow through with their bans without scientific proof.