World adopts new treaty on living modified organisms

The international community has adopted a new treaty on rules and procedures on liability and redress for damage to biodiversity resulting from the use of living modified organisms (LMOs).

In 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) identified biosafety as one of the critical issues the Convention should address. The importance placed on biosafety related issues resulted in the adoption of the Biosafety Protocol to the CBD. The Biosafety Protocol provides a regulatory framework for biotechnology products, making it possible to generate the maximum benefit from the potential that biotechnology has to offer, while minimizing the possible risks to human and environmental health. According to CBD, risk assessment involves identification and evaluation of potential adverse effects.

At present, the Philippines, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) are in the process of developing or implementing their biosafety
frameworks, policies and laws.

The adoption of the new treaty, after six years of negotiations, came at the conclusion of the five-day meeting of the governing body of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Nagoya, Japan. The new treaty will be called the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is a supplementary treaty to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Biosafety refers to the need to protect biodiversity as well as human and environmental health from the potential adverse effects of the products of modern biotechnology.

The Cartagena Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. To date, more than 120 countries, including the Philippines, have developed legal and administrative frameworks necessary to implement the Protocol.

Article 27 of the Protocol states that “the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol shall, at its first meeting, adopt a process with respect to the appropriate elaboration of international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movements of living modified organisms, analyzing and taking due account of the ongoing processes in international law on these matters, and shall endeavor to complete this process within four years.”

At its first meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 2003, the Parties to the Protocol established an Ad Hoc Open Ended Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Liability and Redress to elaborate options for elements of international rules and procedures on liability and redress under the Protocol. At its fourth meeting in Bonn Germany in 2008, the Parties, on the basis of the final report of the Working Group, further negotiated and produced proposed operational texts for the international rules and procedures on liability and redress as the basis for further negotiations. To continue the process, the Parties established a Group of the Friends of the Co-Chairs Concerning Liability and Redress in the Context of the Protocol.

The Group of the Friends of the Co-Chairs further negotiated the proposed operational texts and produced draft text for a supplementary protocol on liability and redress to the Biosafety Protocol. The draft text was further negotiated at the second and fourth meetings of the group. The fourth meeting of the group was held in Nagoya from October 6 to 11, 2010, prior to the Fifth Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol.

Mr. Rene Lefeber of the Netherlands, one of the Co-Chairs of the Group of the Friends of the Co-Chairs that negotiated the text of the new treaty said:  “It has been many years since the last global environmental agreement was agreed.  The adoption of a new supplementary Protocol during the International Year Biodiversity will give new impetus to multilateral environmental negotiations. This agreement will also make important contribution to the on-going work under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect life on earth.”

Signing of the new treaty by member countries will begin on March 7, 2011 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Countries will have until March 6, 2012 to sign the treaty, which will enter into force 90 days after being ratified by at least 40 parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The meeting in Nagoya also adopted a ten-year strategic plan for the implementation of the Protocol; a program of work on public awareness, education and participation concerning LMOs; and further guidance on risk assessment and risk management. Rolando Inciong


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