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UNEP Welcomes European Union Ratification of Biosafety Protocol

Nairobi, June 2002 - Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said he hoped that the EU's move would inspire more countries to ratify the Protocol so that it can come into force.

"Industry is convinced that genetically modified crops and other organisms are the key to boosting harvests and increasing food security in a more environmentally-friendly way. Others have their doubts and are concerned that these products pose a risk to the environment and human health," he said.

"The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an attempt to reconcile these trade and environmental protection issues. It is not only the first legal, environment treaty, to institutionalize the precautionary approach, but establishes the advanced informed consent procedure. This requires those nations exporting genetically modified organisms, or Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) as they are known under the Protocol, to inform countries who import them. This allows the receiving country to decide whether or not to accept the shipment," said Mr. Toepfer.

He said critical to the success of this system is that developing countries should have the scientific and legal skills in place for evaluating and dealing with such imports before the Protocol comes into force.

UNEP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has embarked on a $38.4 million, three-year, project to assist developing countries in this area.

The Cartagena Protocol was adopted in January 2000. Fifty ratifications are needed for it to come into force. There are indications that sufficient numbers of countries could have ratified by the end of the year meaning that the Protocol would come into force in 2003.

"Global issues, such as the trade in genetically modified organisms, require global, multi-lateral deals. The ratification by the EU and the indications from countries gives us the hope that the Cartagena Protocol will indeed come into force in the not too distant future. But there are many others, such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, aimed at dealing with a range of pressing, global, environmental issues. Let countries now find the political will, especially in the run up to WSSD, to ratify these other legally binding instruments so that they too can come into force to help deliver a safer, healthier, world for this and future generations," said Mr. Toepfer.

He said the $38.4 million project to build developing countries' capacity in the field of biosfatey also underlined the importance of the GEF. It is due for replenishment this year.

"Another concrete outcome of the WSSD would be firm pledges by nations to replenish the GEF at a high level. This multi-billion dollar fund has proven itself an efficient and potent weapon in the war against environmental degradation and the fight for a more sustainable world. Let us not miss the opportunity to give it the support it so richly deserves," said Mr. Toepfer.

For more information please contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084 or E-mail:

UNEP Information Note 2002/19