Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

56 D The use of genetic and species diversity

industry in the area of biotechnology, or prevent a

business drain. Box D 3.2-1 gives an overview of

existing international regulations affecting biosafety.

A binding protocol under international law on

biosafety is therefore necessary for the following reasons:

• A protocol would have the advantage of harmonizing

existing national legislation and thus particularly

in terms of the assessment procedures, creating

an easily understood minimum standard that

would rule out site advantages at the cost of biological

diversity or human health.

• Developing countries could be protected against

the risk of becoming the testing and experimental

ground, without sufficient safety precautions, for

genetically manipulated varieties from industrialized

countries (Graziano, 1996; Hunter et al,


• The impact of release often cannot be limited to

one national territory; an international agreement

with a common protection standard would provide

the neighbouring states with greater security.

• The codification by means of a binding document

under international law would send a strong political

signal with regard to the importance of the

topic in hand (cf Montreal Protocol on Protection

of the Ozone Layer).

Box D 3.2-1

Biological safety in existing international law

Soft-law regulations

There are currently no comprehensive arrangements under

international law addressing the issues surrounding

biosafety; there are however various ‘guidelines’ initiated

by international organizations that regulate aspects of

biosafety on a voluntary basis.

• Codex Alimentarius: the Codex Alimentarius Commission

(CAC) was established in 1962 by the FAO and

WHO to create a programme to establish food standards.

The Commission now comprises 162 states. The

aim of the programme is to guarantee consumer protection

in the area of food and creation of fair standards in

the trade in food (Art. 1 a CAC).To fulfil these tasks, the

CAC drafts standard or has these drawn up by suitable

organizations (Art. 1 c). These food standards form a

collection, the Codex Alimentarius, which is published

and adapted to developments (Art. 1 d, e).They have no

binding power on member states, but are considered

internationally recognized recommendations (Decision

of the General Assembly 39/248). Under that aspect,

genetically treated foods also fall under the general protective

regimen of the Codex, but the latter does not

contain specific regulations governing genetic modification.

For many governments, the Codex Alimentarius is

primarily an interesting instrument for breaking down

non-tariff trade barriers; therefore, the reduction of

trade barriers has moved more and more to the forefront

of the Commission’s work over the last few years

(Merkle, 1994).

• UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development

Organisation) Voluntary Code of Conduct: The UNIDO

secretariat developed a Code of Conduct for the release

of organisms into the environment. The Code contains

recommendations to national legislators to create laws

according to which when geneticall modified organisms

are released the responsible national authorities should

be involved. Simple notification is sufficient, however,

no approval is required (Shiva et al, 1996).

• Code of Conduct for biotechnology:The Commission for

Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that was

formed in 1983 at the FAO conference and now has 158

members developed a Code of Conduct governing the

use of biotechnology. A preliminary draft was divided

into four Chapters, Chapter 3 focussing amongst other

things on the concerns surrounding biosafety issues. In

1993 the Commission stopped its work on this area of

the Code since biosafety issues fall more under the auspices

of the CBD. The recommendation was made that

the drafts drawn up so far should be seen as suggestions

for future regulations (Shiva et al, 1996; FAO CL


• UNEP International Technical Guidelines for Safety in

Biotechnology: Under Decision II/5, in which the Second

Conference of the Parties to the CBD in 1995 commissioned

a working group to draw up a biosafety protocol,

the urgency of creating binding rules for the safe use of

biotechnology was underlined. These guidelines were to

serve as orientation until the protocol was adopted.They

contain the parameters of existing protective provisions

and, above all, regulations in the area of risk management,

information exchange and capacity building.

• Chapter 16 of AGENDA 21 is dedicated to the environmentally

sound use of biotechnology and calls above all

for the development of risk assessment and management

rules for all areas of biotechnology.

Binding regulations under international law

• Art. 19 Paragraph 4 CBD: This provision in the Convention

on Biological Diversity, that prescribes that the

exporting states have a duty to provide information with

regard to the possible adverse impact of the use of living

modified organisms, is binding under international law.

• The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC):

This Convention entered into force in 1952, currently

has 106 members and was revised in 1979, 1983 and 1997.

The aim of the Convention is to prevent and contain epidemic

plant diseases. In this connection the member

states may, pursuant to Art. 4, impose import restrictions

and bans with regard to certain plant varieties.Within its

protective scope, the Convention is also applicable to

genetically modified plants, ie also to seeds. Since, however,

the purpose of the IPPC is to prevent the spread of

plant epidemics, the measures mentioned above could

only be used if this danger were impending and

emanated from a genetically modified plant (Shiva et al,

1996; FAO, 1998a).

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