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6-Regulation: IUCN releases Explanatory Guide to the CartagenaProtocol on Biosafety

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SOURCE: IUCN, News Release
DATE:   May 22, 2003

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International Biodiversity Day Focus on Biosafety

Bonn, Germany and Kyiv, Ukraine, 22 May 2003 (IUCN) - Virus-resistant
rice, sterile mosquitoes, fast-growing trees and fish, and other living
modified organisms (LMOs) are in the spotlight of the new publication
Explanatory Guide to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, released today
by IUCN - The World Conservation Union on the occasion of the
International Day for Biological Diversity.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety - a landmark treaty committing the
international community to ensure the safe transfer, handling, and use of
LMOs - will soon enter into force, and this Guide will help make the
Protocol more user-friendly for those involved in its implementation. "We
have drawn upon our international expertise to distil the meaning of the
Protocol and thus facilitate its understanding and the ongoing
development of national biosafety frameworks," says Dr Françoise
Burhenne-Guilmin, who co-authored the publication on behalf of the IUCN
Environmental Law Centre.

Over the last decade, biosafety has become the subject of a heated debate
between the proponents and opponents of the use of biotechnology. One
common understanding has emerged though: biosafety cannot be achieved
without a coordinated approach between countries. As the debate has
evolved, the role of law as a 'provider' of biosafety has increasingly
come to the fore.

"The Guide addresses the much-awaited legal response to one of the most
challenging issues not only for the future of the conservation of
biological diversity, but also for the development of virtually every
sector, from agriculture to health care," commented Achim Steiner, IUCN
Director General, who launched the publication during the conference of
European Environment Ministers, currently taking place in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The Guide has been produced by IUCN and the Foundation for International
Environmental Law and Development (FIELD), in collaboration with the
World Resources Institute (WRI). It is the most recent publication in a
series of IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Papers that are based on the
expertise of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre and some 800 members of
the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law from over 130 countries worldwide.

The publication digests the complex Protocol provisions. Genetic
modification, also called 'genetic engineering', dates from the 1950s,
when James Watson and other scientists discovered the structure of DNA; a
finding that opened road to the modification of genetic coding to create
new characteristics that natural evolution or selective breeding could
not produce. Prior to this finding, farmers could only use selective
breeding to improve crops and stock by selecting the plants and animals
that had qualities they wanted to strengthen.

One of the most prominent developments of genetic modification technology
has been the creation of transgenic agricultural crop varieties. In 2001
alone, some 35.7 million hectares of genetically modified (GM) crops were
grown in the United States, 3.2 million hectares in Canada, 11.8 million
hectares in Argentina, and at least 1.5 million hectares in China. The
first GM animal was a mouse, patented in 1988 as the Harvard Oncomouse.
Since then, the technology has been applied to some mammals, including
cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry. In Great Britain, in 2000, there were
581,740 procedures in which GM animals were used or bred.

Against this backdrop, specific concerns about genetic modification have
emerged in relation to biological diversity conservation. At a general
level, it has been suggested that LMOs - defined by the Protocol as those
living organisms that "possess a novel combination of genetic material"
and are "obtained through the use of biotechnology" - released into the
environment may pose similar risks to those presented by invasive alien
species, in terms of them having a competitive advantage over native
species. In addition, the lifestyles, livelihoods and cultures of
traditional and indigenous communities, rural communities, and others may
be directly or indirectly affected.

Preventing environmental harm, and subsequently the regulation of
transboundary movements of genetically modified organisms, is at the
heart of the Cartagena Protocol that was drafted further to the
provisions on LMOs of the Convention on Biological Diversity and signed
by 68 Parties in 2000. The new Explanatory Guide to the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety elaborates on the role of the precautionary
principle in the Protocol, as well as its relationship with a number of
Agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Aimed at facilitating the development of national biosafety frameworks,
the Guide also points out the capacity building needs in this field and
current international efforts to assist in this regard. "The Global
Environment Facility is currently engaged in supporting the preparation
of a large number of frameworks. The new Guide stresses the need to
ensure that biosafety regulations are backed by national legislation as
soon as possible," concludes John Scanlon, Head of the IUCN Environmental
Law Programme.

For more information contact:

In Bonn: IUCN Environmental Law Centre
Dr Françoise Burhenne-Guilmin
Tel: + 49 (228) 269 2233
[the Guide can be downloaded at this web page]

In Kyiv: IUCN Communications
Xenya Cherny
Tel: +41 79 729 0924

Created in 1948, IUCN - The World Conservation Union brings together 75
States, 108 government agencies, 750 plus NGOs, and some 10,000
scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide
partnership. IUCN's mission is to influence, encourage and assist
societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of
nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and
ecologically sustainable. IUCN is the world's largest environmental
knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and
implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. IUCN is a
multicultural, multilingual organization with 1000 staff located in 62
countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.