Governments sign Cartagena biosafety protocol

First international agreement explicitly based on precaution now set for ratifications

Over 60 world governments, including virtually all EU member countries, yesterday signed the Cartagena protocol as the fifth conference of parties (COP-5) to the UN biodiversity convention came to an end in Nairobi. The protocol is the first international environmental instrument to be strongly based on the precautionary principle. Its final agreement during negotiations in January followed five years of difficult negotiations, particularly between the EU and the Miami group of grain exporting nations (ENDS Daily 31 January).

When it enters into force, the new protocol will regulate trade in and use of live genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with the aim of protecting biodiversity. Under the protocol's advance informed agreement, exporters of GMOs to be used in the environment, such as seeds for sowing, will have to gain consent from importing countries before shipment. A less stringent, "alternative" procedure, will govern GMO commodities such as grains for human or animal food.

Agricultural commodities containing genetically modified material will have to be labelled "may contain" GMOs. No threshold has been established yet for levels of contamination that would not require labelling. The agreement also gives the protocol equal status with other agreements, and particularly any made through the World Trade Organisation.

Follow Up:
UN biodiversity convention, official information on COP-5 and daily reports from the meeting in Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

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