Meeting puts socioeconomic impact on biosafety agenda

Living modified organisms may affect biodiversity and people's health Copyright: Shutterstock

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[HYDERABAD] An international treaty meeting on biosafety has recommended to include the socioeconomic aspects of living modified organisms (LMOs) along with scientific research on their impact on health and biodiversity.

The sixth meeting of parties on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, held last week (1–5 October), further agreed to establish a technical group, comprising 40 regional experts, on the socioeconomic considerations of LMOs, defined as "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology".

The expert group will include scientists, economists and social scientists, said M. F. Farooqui, special secretary at India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, who chaired the meeting in Hyderabad, India.

The Cartagena Protocol is an international treaty of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for ensuring the safe handling, transport and use of LMOs that may have adverse effects on biological diversity and pose risks to human health.

The meeting encouraged countries to conduct research on socioeconomic impact to fill knowledge gaps, share information on research methods and experiences of LMOs, and engage higher education institutions to build their capacity.

The decision to include the issue of socioeconomic analysis was one of the two key outcomes among a set of 18 decisions to emerge from the five-day meeting. The second was a decision to issue guidance on risk assessment and risk management of LMOs.

But the guidance "is not prescriptive" and will be refined further at national and regional levels, the delegates agreed.

"The guidance document is a ‘work in progress’, which countries are free to review in their specific national contexts and offer feedback," S. R. Rao, adviser in India’s department of biotechnology, ministry of science and technology, told SciDev.Net.

The meeting also marked progress on the more efficient use of the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH), a mechanism under the Cartagena Protocol to help the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental, legal and capacity building information on LMOs. ‘Quick links’ barcode tool will be added to speed up access to online information about LMOs.

Delegates also adopted a new action plan for national capacity building, containing methods and targets with measurable indicators.   

Plans will include risk assessment and management, such as establishing scientific capacity to regulate, manage and control risks of LMOs; handling, transport, packaging and identification of LMOs; and establishing rules and procedures on liability and redress for damage resulting from international movements of LMOs.

The executive secretary of the CBD, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, expressed satisfaction with the meeting’s outcomes.

But some delegates were disappointed with what they perceived as no real progress on liability and redress for damage to biodiversity, and handling and transport of LMOs, including labelling and information for LMO products.

"There has been much beating about the bush. The meeting has focused on issues such as public awareness and education, and the Biosafety Clearing-House, without addressing hardcore issues such as the international transport of LMOs," S. Faizi, member of the CBD group on poverty and biodiversity, told SciDev.Net.

Read SciDev.Net‘s blog from the meeting

See below for a video on Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: