PROTOCOL TAKES BOLD MOVES
by Martin Khor and Lim Li Lin, Third World Network
International regulation of the trade in genetically engineered organisms
took a vital step forward last week when governments adopted several measures
at the first ever Meeting of the Parties (MOP 1) to the Cartagena Protocol
on Biosafety held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
MOP 1 ended last Friday (27 February) with the adoption of ten decisions
on issues ranging from information-sharing and finance to the handling
of living modified organisms (LMOs). (LMOs is the term used in the Protocol
for what is commonly known as genetically modified organisms or genetically
When Malaysian Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, Datuk
Law Hieng Ding, who chaired the meeting, used the gavel for the last time
after three weeks of negotiations on biodiversity and biosafety, there
was some satisfaction that progress, however modest, had been made to
implement the Protocol.
gains were largely due to the fact that none of the Miami Group (a negotiating
group of some of the major exporters and producers of GE organisms) are
currently Parties to the Protocol. During the MOP, although the views
of the non-Parties were considered, priority was given to Parties to the
Protocol in drafting proposals and in the negotiations on the text of
decisions for adoption.
For many years now there has been growing concern about the potential
health, environmental and socio-economic risks posed by genetically engineered
crops and food.
Whilst the biotech industry claims that the process and products from
genetic engineering are safe, many governments and environmental and consumer
groups have asked for more information about genetically engineered products
and for action to regulate them.
After years of hard negotiations, the Biosafety Protocol came into force
last September, and Malaysia hosted the first formal meeting of the 87
countries that have joined it.
Three of the
most important decisions adopted by MOP 1 were on:
· Measures for handling, transporting, packaging and identifying LMOs,
in line with
Article 18 of the Protocol;
· Establishing compliance procedures and mechanisms for the Protocol;
· Establishing an expert working group on liability and redress in the
18 of the Protocol, countries shall take measures to require that LMOs
that move across borders are handled, packaged and transported safely. The
aim is to avoid adverse effects on biodiversity and risks to human health.
For the first time, the MOP has decided on the documentation that should
accompany three categories of LMOs: first, those that are used as
food or feed or for processing; secondly, those that are
for “contained use” (mainly in laboratories); and thirdly, those
for introduction into the environment (such as genetically-modified seeds
For the first category, documents should clearly identify that the shipment
may contain LMOs for direct use as food, feed or for processing and not
intended for introduction into the environment.
The documents should include the common, scientific and commercial names
of the LMOs, the transformation event code or its unique identifier code
to establish clearly the identity of the LMO and any unique identification.
An expert group was set up to elaborate detailed requirements of identification
of the LMOs under the first category, and report to the next Meeting of
the Parties in 2005. The above measures are thus interim, and countries
are requested or urged to take them now.
step forward was that the decision recognised that national legislation
can require that the documentation accompanying LMOs for food, feed or
for processing are identified as such with no ambiguity, when they are
shipped from one country to another under the procedures of the Protocol.
For the second category of LMOs, documents accompanying them should clearly
identify the LMOs by specifying their common and scientific names, and
that they are destined for contained use. Additionally their commercial
names and new and modified traits and characteristics may be included.
Significantly, this information includes the transformation event(s),
risk class, how they are to be used, and their unique identification.
For the third category, the documents should clearly identify them as
LMOs by describing their names and traits (including transgenic traits
such as transformation events or unique identification). Additionally
their commercial name, risk class and the required approval permit for
import under the Protocol may be included.
The documentation of LMOs under categories two and three must also specify
any requirements for safe handling, storage, transport and use under existing
international instruments, as well as domestic regulations and any agreement
between the exporter and importer.
The names and addresses of the exporters and importers and the contact
point for more information (including in case of emergencies) should also
be provided in the documents in all three categories.
the compliance issue, MOP 1 had a week-long intense debate on how to deal
with countries that do not comply with their obligations under the Protocol.
The European countries were especially keen to get a strong compliance
regime so that countries would take their obligations seriously.
The MOP eventually established some compliance procedures and mechanisms.
A Compliance Committee was set up, comprising 15 persons, three from each
of five regional groupings. Committee members shall serve objectively
and in a personal capacity. MOP 1 confirmed the members from Iran, Malaysia,
Tonga, Mexico, Colombia, Barbados, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Mali, Hungary,
Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, among the 15 countries.
The Committee, which will meet twice a year, will receive cases submitted
to it of non-compliance. It will identify circumstances and causes
of these cases, provide advice to the concerned Party to assist it to
comply, review general compliance issues, take measures or make recommendations
to the MOP.
A Party complained against has three to six months to respond, and the
Committee will consider the views of both the Parties making and receiving
the submission. The Committee can then take measures including giving
advice or assistance to the Party and to develop a compliance action plan
with a timeframe, ask the Party to submit progress reports, and make reports
on efforts made by the Party to the MOP.
In turn, the MOP can decide on taking the following measures: provide
assistance, technology transfer, training and capacity building measures; issue
a caution; have the cases on non-compliance published; or take other measures
(to be decided at the Protocol Parties’ third meeting) in the case of
The issue of liability and redress was perhaps the most important for
developing countries, with developing countries (especially from Africa)
pressing that MOP 1 adopt a strong and clear mandate to begin negotiations
on an international regime.
argued, in general, that in the event of accidents or incidents where
LMOs cause damage to farmers’ crops, the environment or human health,
there should be a legally binding regime to determine who is responsible
and how redress or compensation can be made to the victims and for the
the negotiations of the Biosafety Protocol itself, the issues was so divisive
that in the end, the compromise was to insert a provision in the Protocol
that requires MOP 1 to take a decision on a process to elaborate international
rules and procedure on liability and redress.
MOP eventually decided to set up a working group of experts on liability
and redress which will meet before next year’s Meeting of the Parties.
It will analyse potential and actual damage scenarios of concern in order
to identify situations for which international rules may be needed, and
analyse how international rules and procedures on liability and redress
can be applied to the damage scenarios.
It will also elaborate options for rules and procedures, including definition,
nature and scope of damage, valuation of damage to biodiversity and human
health, threshold of damage, causation, channelling of liability, roles
of Parties of import and export, standard of liability, mechanisms of
financial security and standing or right to bring claims.
The working group will meet five times and propose international rules
and procedures on liability and redress in a final report in 2007. The
MOP will then make a decision.
Besides the measures taken on these three issues, MOP 1 also took decisions
on seven other issues, including capacity building, a medium-term work
programme, information sharing and the biosafety clearing house, budget
and other financial issues.
Delegates to the meeting appeared to be rather satisfied with the progress
made at MOP 1.
Dr Tewolde Egziabher, a leading African scientists who is also head of
the Ethiopia delegation and coordinator of the Africa Group, said he was
especially pleased with the progress on liability and redress, an issue
which for years the developing countries had been pushing for but which
the developed countries had been opposing.
”Even at the start of the Kuala Lumpur meeting, the developed countries
were stalling on this issue, but in the end we were able to prevail on
them. Besides the Africa Group, I must credit Malaysia for being
very active among the developing countries for this.”
He added that the liability issue was critical as it was important that
developing countries be able to be compensated if their farms, environment
or human health were to be adversely affected by the imported LMOs.
An international liability regime would also cause the private sector
to be more careful and cautious in their activities relating to LMOs.
Tewolde was also happy that the Protocol would have a relatively strong
compliance mechanism, unlike many other multilateral environment agreements.
“With such a mechanism, it would be more difficult for Parties to shirk
Regarding the “Article 18 measures”, Tewolde said the MOP 1 decision makes
it easier for countries to insist that imported products containing LMOs
He noted, however, that most of the leading exporters of genetically engineered
products are not members of the Protocol and thus are not obliged to follow
Nevertheless, the decision at MOP 1 would make it easier for importing
countries to insist that the imports containing LMOs be accompanied by
proper documentation, even from the countries that are non-Parties.
Tewolde added that the MOP 1 decision on LMOs for food, feed or processing
only covers interim measures but it was the basis for a more detailed
process to develop a lasting system for the handling and transport of
”Biosafety is important for African and other developing countries in
order to protect agricultural and animal biodiversity,” he said.
If there is unintended contamination by genetically-modified substances,
it can affect crop diversity, agricultural productivity as well as human
”I am happy the Biosafety Protocol is moving from rules to measures and
action, but although we made good progress in Kuala Lumpur, the challenges
are very big and there’s much more to be done.”
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