GMO exports must be identified
By Julia Crosfield

Shipments for export must now identify the type of any genetically modified organisms known to be present so that importing countries can block the entrance of unapproved GMOs. The decision was reached after lengthy debates at the third international meeting of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 13-17 March in Brazil.

One hundred and thirty-two countries are party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) excluding the United States. However, US exporters will have to comply with the CPB requirements where importing countries refer to the CPB. At the same time, by not being party to the protocol, US import procedures will remain unaffected.

Shipments must contain information about GMOs
The new rules enable countries all over the world to block shipments of unapproved GMOs. Previously, shipments did not identify the type of organism, making it difficult for governments, particularly in developing countries, to stop the entrance of unwanted GMOs. Developing countries were particularly vulnerable, as they did not have the regulatory capacity or the testing facilities to control the arrival of unapproved organisms. Now, intentional shipments of GMOs must state the scientific name of the organism, a unique identifier, and contact point for more information.

Language for the identification of GMO shipments will remain as ‘may contain’ living modified organisms (LMOs) until 2012 when language will be reviewed so shipments will clearly state ‘contains’ LMOs. Most countries were in agreement that the ‘may contain’ language is too weak as it creates legal uncertainty, lack of traceability, problems with recall, and ascertaining liability.

Brazil requested the transition period to allow time for countries to implement identity preservation systems. They argued they cannot regulate non-segregated GM soy exports (although they are able to identify GM-free soy).

Aims to protect from potential risks
The CPB came into force in 2000. The purpose of this international protocol is to manage products of biotechnology and to protect biodiversity and human health from potential risks posed by the living modified organisms. The handling, transport, packaging, and identification of LMOs are essential to prevent the spread of unwanted organisms in the environment.

The new identification requirements may impact American GM farmers as several GM products grown in the US are not approved in other countries, and these countries will now have increased ability to stop imports of unwanted organisms. Also, according to Benedikt Haerlin, director of the Foundation on Future Farming, the new requirements for identification could affect hidden farmer subsidies obtained through the World Food Program. Currently, when farm commodity prices fall the US food aid program intervenes by buying at high prices. However, if the World Food Program is the importer they must now identify GMOs and are obliged to prove the GMO can be legally used according to the regulations of the country of import. In the past many recipient of food aid, most notably Zambia, have insisted on GM-free food.

Generally, the CPB decisions moved in favor of those cautious of GMOs. However, the protocol on handling, transport, packaging, and identification needs strengthening, particularly with regard to the unintentional GM contamination of shipments. The next meeting of the CPB about identification will be in 2008.

Copyright 2006. The Organic & Non-GMO Report
(May 2006)