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.
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.
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.
2. The [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety] could actually help the biotechnology industry by countering a perception that biotechnology is not adequately regulated. It will give some members of the public a stronger feeling that there are appropriate amounts of oversight.
2. Governments are making trade-related interests the priority in how they develop policy for regulating and managing genetic engineering and GMOs.