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[CURITIBA] Most developing countries will struggle to enact a key UN agreement on genetically modified (GM) organisms because they lack the necessary technology and personnel, a conference has heard.

Hartmut Meyer, biosafety advisor to the German aid agency GTZ, was speaking on Friday (17 March) at the meeting of parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, in Curitiba, Brazil.

The protocol — part of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity — is intended to allow countries to protect their biodiversity from the potential risks posed by GM organisms, by banning GM imports for instance.

African nations in particular lack the capacity to implement the protocol, and this will not change unless wealthier countries provide technical assistance, said Meyer.

He said that South Africa is the only African nation with a laboratory that can test for GM traits according to international standards.

Such laboratories are needed to allow nations to inspect and certify that food and other products are GM or non-GM.

"Even if you were to provide the technology, who would use it?" asked Meyer. He said donors should also provide relevant training to produce the skilled workforce needed to use it.

Jarle Harstad, senior evaluation officer with the Global Environmental Facility, which helps developing countries fund biodiversity-related projects, agrees that few African nations have made real progress in implementing the protocol.

"The developed world ought to be willing to share technical advances … to enable African and other developing nations to implement the biosafety protocol," he says.

However, he points out that sharing technology with developing nations can be complex, especially when technologies are patented.