A UN agreement to protect biodiversity and human health moved one step further on Friday when Environment Ministers in the EU formally adopted the regulation on the trans-boundary movements of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The move follows an agreement between Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) last week that on the movement of GMOs, paving the way for the ratification throughout EU Member States of the United Nations agreement, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
"I take this opportunity to welcome the upcoming entry into force of this international agreement, most probably in September 2003, and congratulate the Republic of Ghana and the Republic of Palau for their recent ratification, which have triggered the entry into force of the Protocol, " said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. Adding that thanks to the agreement reached, the European Union will be in the position to honour its commitments "in a timely manner".
The European Union ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on 27 August 2002. The overall purpose of this agreement is to establish common rules to be followed in transboundary movements of GMOs in order to ensure, on a global scale, the protection of biodiversity and of human health.
In order to fulfil its international obligations, the EU must transpose the provisions of the Biosafety Protocol into its own legal order. This new regulation, to enter into force twenty days after its publication in the EU Official Journal, complements the existing regulatory framework, in particular for exports of GMOs, in order to align it with the provisions of the Biosafety Protocol.
Commissioner Wallström added: "This is a global issue which needs global action. The Biosafety Protocol establishes one set of basic international rules for dealing with GMOs.
The Protocol will ensure that countries exporting or importing GMOs can rely on a sound regulatory framework, so that they can make informed choices." Highlighting a key factor of the agreement, the Commissioner added that the protocol "will be particularly helpful for developing countries, which may lack the resources to properly assess the risks and the benefits of biotechnology".
For European Member States, key elements of the agreement include the obligation to notify exports of GMOs intended for deliberate release into the environment and secure express consent prior to a first transboundary movement and the obligation to provide information to the public and to international partners on EU practices, legislation and decisions on GMOs, as well as on accidental releases of GMOs.
In addition, a set of rules for the export of GMOs intended to be used as food, feed or for processing and provisions for identifying GMOs for export.
The current Regulation does not foresee new specific EU provisions for imports or for movements of GMOs between Member States. These operations will continue to be covered by existing EU legislation.
Seven EU countries, including France and Spain, have already ratified the Cartagena Protocol, the remaining eight states will now be obliged to adapt their national laws accordingly.