The Cartagena Protocol
On September 11 the Cartagena Protocol entered into force, the first international treaty on the transfer, management and use of organisms modified using biotechnology techniques. It is hoped that the treaty will foment the safe use of transgenics, an issue that has awakened a heated global debate, pitting the United States against Europe.
Adopted in 2000 by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the treaty seeks to make international trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) more transparent through security measures that meet the needs of consumers, industry and, most of all, the environment.
The Protocol is intended to prevent potential conflicts between trade rules and the international biosecurity regimen, says a guide to the treaty provided by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The process of reconciling the legitimate interests of trade, biosafety and others has not been easy. There is a bitter dispute between those who see biotechnology as the road to food security and those who point to ethical, environmental, health and social reasons to establish tight controls for GMOs.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), issued a Statement on Biotechnology in March 2000, maintaining that this branch of science offers powerful tools for sustainable development of agriculture, fishing and forestry, as well as for the food industry.
Meanwhile, environmental groups like Greenpeace believe that the biological wealth inherent in traditional crops is a global natural heritage threatened by genetic contamination. They blame biotech transnationals like Monsanto, the world's leading seed producer, of pressuring governments to discard mechanisms for controlling transgenic products.
And the United States and the European Union are at the forefront of the dispute. Last July, the European Parliament adopted a law requiring all foods containing GMOs to be labeled so that consumers are aware of what they are buying and eating.
The United States and other producers of transgenic crops, including Argentina, are demanding that the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend the ban on sales of genetically modified foods in the EU, imposed in 1999.
In June of 2003, the republic of Palau became the 50th country to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety, allowing the treaty to enter into force. The first meeting of the parties to the Protocol will take place in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004.