Managing LMOs How the UN Is Helping Developing Countries

Article excerpt

Living modified organisms or LMOs, which have been developed as a result of modern biotechnology, have the potential to make a substantial contribution to sustainable development, as was stated in Chapter 18 of Agenda 21--the comprehensive global plan of action for the environment, adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit. However, Agenda 21 also stresses that biotechnology should be seen as a tool to be used judiciously to help tackle development problems facing the poor, such as food security, rather than as a panacea. Moreover, it stresses the need to ensure biosafety in the development and application of biotechnology in order to manage the potential risks to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into force in 1993, called on its parties to "establish or maintain means to regulate, manage or control the risks associated with the use and release of LMOs resulting from biotechnology". The result was the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which was adopted in January 2000. In accordance with the Precautionary Approach contained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Protocol calls on all parties to cooperate in capacity-building in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to manage and control the potential risks associated with the use of modern biotechnology. The parties also requested the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to provide financial resources to developing countries for capacity-building in biosafety.

In November 2000, the GEF adopted an "initial strategy" for assisting countries to prepare for entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol, which outlined various activities to be undertaken. In June 2001, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) began a $39-million project to help 100 developing countries develop their national biosafety frameworks (NBFs). This global project, which includes a GEF contribution of $26 million, builds on the experience gained and the lessons learned from an initial group of pilot projects carried out in 18 countries between 1997 and 1999. The 100 national projects will help strengthen the ability of participating countries to assess their current technological capacity to manage biosafety issues and enable them to identify any additional training and resources they may need. The projects will also help each country develop the regulatory framework needed to manage and control biotechnology. In addition, they will strengthen competent decision-making processes so that these countries can make informed decisions on requests for the importation, export and release of LMOs.

Thus, when a country receives a request from an importer to bring in LMOs, it will be able to screen the request for completeness of information and decide on what action should be taken, based on an informed and scientific assessment of the risks involved. …