MONTREAL, Canada, June 13, 2003, (ENS): The small Pacific
island nation of Palau today became the 50th country
to ratify an international treaty that seeks to safeguard
the Earth's biological diversity, triggering the treaty's
entry into force. It is the first treaty that formally
protects biological diversity from the potential risks
posed by genetically modified organisms.
The United Nations treaty, known as the Cartagena Protocol
on Biosafety, or the Biosafety Protocol, will enter
into force in 90 days, on September 11.
The protocol is a supplementary agreement to the Convention
on Biological Diversity (CBD), a wider international
treaty that protects the variety of life on Earth, including
the genetic differences between species and within each
Governments that are Parties to the CBD adopted the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on January 29, 2000
in Cartegena, Colombia.
The Biosafety Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity
from potential risks that may be posed by living modified
organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology.
LMOs are also known as genetically modified organisms
The protocol establishes an advance informed agreement
procedure for ensuring that countries accepting shipments
of LMOs are provided with prior written notification
and information necessary to make informed decisions
before agreeing to the first import of LMOs that are
to be intentionally introduced into the environment.
Those shipments will have to be identified in accompanying
documentation as LMOs with specification of the organisms'
identity and characteristics and with a declaration
that “the movement is in conformity with the requirements
of the Protocol.”
“The Cartagena Protocol recognizes that biotechnology
has an immense potential for improving human welfare,
but that it could also pose potential risks to biodiversity
and human health,” said Klaus Toepfer, executive
director of the United Nations Environment Programme,
under whose auspices the Biodiversity Convention was
adopted in 1992.
"This new regime promises to make the international
trade in GMOs more transparent while introducing important
safety measures that will meet the needs of consumers,
industry and the environment for many decades to come,”
The Biosafety Protocol deals primarily with GMOs that
are to be intentionally introduced into the environment,
such as seeds, trees or fish, and with genetically modified
farm commodities, such as corn and grain used for food,
animal feed or processing.
“With the science of biotechnology advancing
at such a rapid pace, it is vital that developing countries
and countries with economies in transition have the
human resources and institutions they need for promoting
biosafety,” said Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary
of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Friends of the Earth International welcomed the start
of the countdown to the entry into force of the Biosafety
Protocol. It constitutes the first global environmental
agreement of the new millenium, and the first international
agreement which clearly says that genetically modified
organisms "are different and therefore require
a different treatment."
The Biosafety Protocol backs the approach of the European
Union, which asserts that genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) need different treatment from other organisms.
The protocol stands in contradiction to policies held
by some countries, such as the United States, which
hold that GMOs are not different from the conventional
plants and animals from which they are derived.
"The times of uncontrolled trade of GMOs are over,"
said Ricardo Navarro of El Salvador, chairman of Friends
of the Earth International. "The Biosafety Protocol
sets a new era for global regulation of GMOs. Exporters
from all over the world should take adequate measures
to prevent contamination of GM seed products,"
The international notification system under the Protocol
does not replace national biosafety legislation, so
Friends of the Earth warned that enacting stricter national
legislation on biosafety is still needed.