Controlling release of genetically modified organisms

Regulating release of genetically modified organisms

A programme of managed development of genetically modified crops whereby the first commercial plantings are strictly limited and monitored for ecological effects along with comparable plantings of conventional crops.

A proactive and precautionary approach should be taken with regard to the transfer, handling, use and release of genetically modified organisms. This approach will take into consideration the need to balance the risks associated with genetically modified organisms with the potential social, economic and environmental benefits derived therefrom.

Review, streamline, and if necessary strengthen existing and proposed legislation to establish effective management and control measures to regulate the transfer, handling, use and release of genetically modified organisms in order to minimise the potential risks to biodiversity and human health.


The aim must be to strike the right balance between protecting the environment and human health on the one hand, and on the other, maintaining the proper degree of certainty needed by business for the development of new products. It is right to be cautious at this relatively early stage of the large scale use of the technology in the environment and to make sure that for every product we have practical evidence on safety before a decision can be taken to move to commercialisation.

Genetic engineering and GMOs raise many important concerns for society. Governments should manage them in light of their serious social, environmental, health and ethical implications. Choices about the direction of biotechnology and its use should be made with the full participation of civil society, taking into account all these concerns. All such decisions must be taken on the basis of the precautionary principle.

Societies should have the power to decide how to regulate genetic engineering and its products according to their own choices about the social, environmental and other concerns, including the power to prohibit them. The trading system, specifically WTO rules, must not be used to interfere with societies' rights to choose whether and how to introduce this technology. For example, societies must have the power to require clear segregation, traceability, and labeling of all genetically engineered organisms, commodities, foods and ingredients.

There is a need for a strong global framework that guarantees societies' power to regulate or prohibit, as appropriate, genetic engineering and genetically engineered commodities. This framework must also provide for minimum regulatory standards for protecting enviromnent and health against GMOs. Governments are urged to support the speedy negotiation of an effective biosafety protocol within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Trade considerations and rules must not impede adoption and ratification of such an agreement or interfere with its implementation.

The Convention on Civil Liability for Damage Resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment (Lugano 1993), includes as a dangerous activity: "the production, culturing, handling, storage, use, destruction, disposal, release or any other operation dealing with genetically modified organisms which as a result of the properties of the organism, the genetic modification and the conditions under which the operation is exercised, pose a significant risk for man, the environment or property.


In January 2000, delegates from more than 130 countries adopted the first global treaty regulating trade in genetically modified products in Montreal, setting up an international framework for the increasingly heated and divisive debate about foods made with biotechnology. The biosafety treaty allowed countries to bar imports of genetically altered seeds, microbes, animals and crops that they deem a threat to their environment. The new treaty will be known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, for the city in Colombia where talks began. Several years in the making, the protocol was an outgrowth of the Convention on Biological Diversity forged in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Leading non-governmental organizations meeting in 1999 called for a moratorium on GMOs until the risks posed to human health and biological and cultural diversity by the consumption and release of GMOs are assessed, and until it is clear how they affect the economies of developing countries.

In January 2000, 50 environment ministers and approximately 130 government delegations meeting in Canada adopted an international Biosafety Protocol to control the trade of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). The Biosafety Protocol was finally adopted after a series of difficult negotiations complicated by the obstruction of a small minority of GMO-exporting countries, namely the USA, Canada, Argentina and their associates Australia, Chile and Uruguay. In a last minute effort to hold hostage the adoption of the entire Protocol, the Miami Group succeeded in erasing mandatory labelling and information about the use of GMOs in food.


The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety has a lot of holes. But it is historic in the sense that international law is recognizing that GMOs are distinct and have to be regulated separately.

Counter Claim:

Because the United States never ratified the Biodiversity Convention, it could not become a party to the Cartagena biosafety protocol. But American industry will still have to comply with the rules when exporting to countries that are parties.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions