Biosafety: Implementing the Cartagena Protocol
Agricultural applications of genetic engineering have raised considerable hopes about the prospects of feeding the world's population and developing new medicines. At the same time, the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can have far-reaching ecological, socio-economic and socio-cultural consequences. To avoid such adverse effects, the potential risks need to be assessed before GMOs are put into circulation.
In 2000, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was agreed under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); it came into force in September 2003. The Protocol regulates international trade in genetically modified organisms. It marks the first time that protecting health and the environment has been put above economic considerations. This means that countries can prohibit the import of genetically modified organisms if they fear a threat to biological diversity or human health.
The uncontrolled release and proliferation of alien genes in a natural gene pool risks displacing traditional crops, diminishing species diversity, and even threatening the security of the food supply in the long term. What is more, it is impossible to be certain that genetically modified organisms will not be toxic to insects or wild animals. Such impacts have the potential to cause lasting disruption to the natural balance of a habitat, resulting in the loss of entire biotopes.
For small farmers, the use of genetically modified seed is also risky for other reasons: the seed is expensive to buy, and growing it requires special knowledge. In addition, the patenting of seed can create new dependencies: farmers who use it are prohibited from the traditional practice of propagating it themselves. Instead, they have to buy a new batch each year from the seed producer.
Another problem is that products produced on an industrial scale using GMOs could displace traditionally produced agricultural products from developing countries. This would deprive agricultural producers in poor countries of important sources of income.
Biosafety is an important area of Germany's development policy engagement in the field of environmental protection and resource conservation.
Many of Germany's partner countries in development cooperation lack both the necessary expertise and the institutions to ensure biological safety. Under the German Biosafety Capacity Building Initiative, Germany is supporting these countries in building additional capacities in this area. Partners are assisted in implementing the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at the national level and in carrying out independent assessments of the risks of genetic engineering.
The measures include, for example, projects which foster public participation in the biosafety process and training programmes on the implementation of the Protocol. So far, country-specific measures have been carried out in Algeria, Peru, Colombia, Burkina Faso and China. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is also cooperating with the African Union (AU) at the regional level to build capacity for biosafety.
However, the bulk of support for the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol is currently provided through multilateral projects financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
For the future, the aim is that developing countries should be able to assess for themselves the risks posed by transboundary trade in genetically modified organisms. The Cartagena Protocol gives its parties the right to impose import bans, even in the absence of definitive proof that material poses threats, thereby enshrining the precautionary principle. In order to monitor international trade in genetically modified material, a special information and communication system has been developed – the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH).
- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity
(PDF 315 KB)
- Information about the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on the website of the Convention on Biological Diversity
- Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity
- Website of the Biosafety Clearing House Mechanism
- The German Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) information platform
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