Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.06.2002

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

THE CARTAGENA Protocol on Biosafety is being negotiated in the United Nations Environment Division and is aimed at regulating the export of living (genetically) modified organisms (LMOs), of which a genetically modified grain variety would be classified. Whether you are a supporter or an opponent of this new technology, this Protocol has the potential to hit you.

This is because it represents the introduction of the precautionary principle into trade and because it is so vaguely written it could end up affecting all grain shipments. Even if Australia dec ides never to grow GM grain, due to the realities of the grain trade we could be drawn into this Protocol anyway.

This is because three of the world's major grain exporters, the US, Canada and Argentina, produce and export millions or tonnes of GM grain. The reality is Australian grain passes through the same international supply chain as this foreign GM grain. Consequently, the potential for low-level admixture to occur of GM grains in non-GM shipments is a reality.

Under the Protocol there is no tolerance of foreign material, and a non-GM wheat shipment from Australia could be classified as an LMO export under the Protocol because it contains only minute traces - less than 1 per cent of, say, GM Canadian canola or Argentinean soybeans in it.

STOP PRESS

IN WHAT wi ll probably be its final round of negotiations, the third meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Cartagena Protocol (ICCP3) took place in the Netherlands in April. After a long and so metimes tortuous week of negotiations, the final recommendations from the ICCP3 do little to provide grain exporters with greater certainty as to how they will operate once the Protocol comes into force. It is clear that the many importing countries are prepared to use the Protocol as a way.of placing new and potentially onerous demands on agricultural exporters, especially the European Union which is looking for a vehicle that will allow it to bypass the WTO. The next important date is the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol whieh will take place after the 50 required ratifications are achieved (at present 18 countries have ratified) and the Protocol is in place. Australia, at present, has no timetahle ror ratifying the Protocol. Nevertheless exporters from Australia could still be rorced to operate under it when the importer's government is a signatory. For rurther inrormation on the Protocol , see http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety