Socioeconomic Considerations and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a multilateral treaty, which addresses issues involving the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from the use of genetic resources. It entered into force in 1993. Included in its text is provision 19-3, which states that the parties of the convention shall consider the need for a protocol setting out procedures for transferring, handling and using any GMOs, which may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. In 1995, two years after the CBD entered into force, the parties concluded that such a protocol was necessary, and after 7 years of negotiation, The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), an effort to satisfy this need, entered into force in 2003. The CPB attempts to protect biological diversity and human health from the risks associated with the transboundary movement, including importation, of genetically modified organisms. It embodies the precautionary principle in its governance of the transboundary movements of GE organisms and in establishing a procedure that allows countries to make informed decisions on whether or not to import GMOs.

As discussed in a recent Third World Network briefing, among the highly debated issues during the negotiation of the CPB was whether or not to include socioeconomic considerations in the assessments of the importing country. It was decided that socioeconomic considerations could be included, but whether it is mandatory to consider socioeconomic effects is still debated. A press release from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which outlines recent decisions to advance the implementation of the CPB, briefly discusses the lack of accord on this subject, and mentions the United Nations’ decision to “re-convene a group of experts to further develop clarity on this issue and to develop an outline for guidance on this subject.”

Although the CPB, and its parent treaty, the CBD both indicate the importance of considering socioeconomic consequences regarding GMOs, in the US, the USDA, FDA, and EPA do not consider any socioeconomic impacts, except for some health considerations under very limited circumstances. AGRA Watch feels strongly that all potential socioeconomic impacts should be considered in the production, import and export of all GMOs.

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