05 Mar 2018 Story Environmental rights and governance

Making modern biotechnology safe

Living modified organisms are defined as any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology. Since 12,000 BC humans have genetically modified organisms. Historically, this has been done by promoting characteristics in crops and livestock that we desire - through selective and cross-breeding.

In fact, many of the fruits and vegetables that we now eat, such as cabbages, strawberries and corn, would not be able to survive in the wild without human interference. Today, scientific advances mean that it is possible to manipulate genetic material directly. Undoubtedly, genetically modified organisms have provided massive benefits to society. Nevertheless, these organisms present potential risks to biodiversity.

New organisms interact with the ecosystem around them and may impugn native species’ systems. Following the precautionary principle critical to protecting the environment, these living modified organisms need to be introduced with care. Realizing this need, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Cartagena Protocol is an international treaty governing the movements of Living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology from one country to another. The Convention established the Biosafety Clearing House which facilitates the uptake, sharing and exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information needed for countries to make informed decisions on importing these organisms to their territories.

During the end of 2017, UN Environment held several worldwide webinars on the Cartagena Protocol in English, French and Arabic. Biosafety experts, Biosafety Clearing House regional advisors, Biosafety Clearing House national focal points, Parties to the Cartagena Protocol and related Conventions, those in industry and academia related to this topic, and interested public from around the world all participated. They learnt the importance of the Cartagena Protocol and how they can join in its implementation. The recording is available here.

As a steward and implementer of the Cartagena Protocol, UN Environment continues to promote the understanding of and involvement with the Cartagena Protocol to member states, civil society groups and the private sector.

For more information please contact Rami Abdel Malik, Project Manager at: [email protected]