UN announces new measures to boost safety in trade of genetically modified

Under the new system adopted by the 87 member States of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at a weeklong meeting in Malaysia attended by more than 1,000 delegates and observers, all bulk shipments of living or genetically modified organisms (known as LMOs, or GMOs) intended for food, feed or processing (such as soybeans and maize) are to be identified as “may contain LMOs.” The accompanying documentation should also indicate the contact details of the importer, exporter or other appropriate authority.Although the new system is binding on countries that are party to the Protocol, many key agricultural producers, such as the United States, have not endorsed that pact. “Now that a system for identifying and labelling GMO exports has become operational, countries can enjoy the benefits of biotechnology with greater confidence while avoiding the potential risks,” the Protocol’s Executive Secretary, Hamdallah Zedan, said. “This rigorous system for handling, transporting, packaging and identifying GMOs is in the best interests of everyone – developed and developing countries, consumers and industry, and all those who care deeply about our natural environment,” he added. The Cartagena Protocol, which entered into force last September, is designed to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs that may adversely effect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It forms part of the Convention on Biological Diversity negotiated under the auspices of the UNEP and signed by over 150 Governments at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Over the next year an expert group will further elaborate the documentation and handling requirements for bulk agricultural shipments. Key issues still to be resolved include the percentage of modified material that these shipments may contain and still be considered GMO-free and the inclusion of any additional detailed information. A decision on these matters will be considered at the next meeting of the treaty’s Parties, to be held in 2005.

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