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
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 species.
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 (GMOs).
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,” Toepfer said.
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
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.