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Ensuring Genetically Modified Technology Safety

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The anniversary was a milestone in the global effort to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs), commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), resulting from modern biotechnology. At present nearly 150 countries are parties to the Protocol.

In a congratulatory message on the occasion of the anniversary, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, stated that the Protocol is “among the world’s key international environmental instruments” and “seeks to ensure that modern biotechnology is developed and applied in an environmentally sound manner, thus enabling humankind to derive maximum benefits while minimizing the potential risks to the environment and human health.”

Among other things, Parties to the Protocol have to take measures to ensure that LMOs being moved from one country to another are handled, packaged and transported in a safe manner. Shipments of LMOs must be accompanied by documentation that clearly identifies them, depending on the intended use of the LMOs. There are different requirements for LMOs intended for direct use as food, feed or processing (LMOs-FFP) such as cotton or soy, for LMOs destined for contained use and LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment such as live fish or seeds.

Information about LMOs, including identification details of specific LMOs, can be accessed through the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH), an information-sharing mechanism established by the Protocol. The BCH is essential for the successful implementation of the Protocol.

Over the past five years, remarkable progress has been made towards the implementation of the Protocol. For example, the governing body of the Protocol has adopted more than 60 decisions elaborating tools and mechanisms to facilitate the effective implementation of the Protocol. These include operationalization of the BCH, establishment of a compliance committee, development of a capacity-building action plan, establishment of a roster of biosafety experts and a decision to work towards an international regime on liability and redress for damage resulting from the transboundary movements of LMOs. In a press release for the fifth Anniversary, Ahmed Djouglaf, the Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity, stated that “the achievements made under the Protocol in such a short period clearly demonstrate the commitment and determination of the world community to realize the objective of the Protocol.”

In a statement during the anniversary, Wolfgang Koeler, the current president of the governing body of the Protocol, urged Parties, other governments and all stakeholders to re-double their efforts to ensure that the Protocol is implemented fully. He urged them to uphold the spirit of cooperation that has underpinned the Protocol process to date and to continue collaborating actively to build the necessary capacities and to mobilize adequate financial, technical and other resources for the effective implementation of the Protocol.

- Ulrika Nilsson

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