Contributor, Science and Education
Will Russia Join the UN’s Protocol on Biosafety?
Our planet is the treasury of various living beings. Scientists have invented the special term to cover all existing living organisms – “biological diversity”, which is a variation of life forms at all levels of biological organization, including terrestrial, marine and other water ecosystems. This term includes diversity within a species and among species, and comparative diversity among ecosystems. Homo sapiens species is also a part of planetary ecosystem..
The progress allowed uniting living organisms with technology, and the result was named “biological technology” or “biotechnology” – any technological process, in which products are generated or processed using for instance living organisms or their elements, enzymes. Biotechnology has been used for hundreds of years to for instance bake bread, brew beer and make cheese. Agriculture and traditional selection means of creating new kinds of animals and plants also belong to the field of biotechnology.
Modern biotechnology is a powerful tool, by means of which scientists can isolate a desired gene from a microorganism, plant or animal and insert it in a cell of another organism, to give it a desired characteristic such as resistance to parasites or diseases. Organisms with inserted alien genes are called genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Modern biotechology has two groups of methods – first group deals with nucleic acids “in vitro” (recombinant DNA and introduction of nucleic acids to cells or intracellular structures), and second group is based on cell fusion of organisms, which belong to different systematic groups such as higher plants and microorganisms. These methods differ from traditional selection techniques, as they overcome natural physiological barriers, which usually prevent character transfer between species, and creating organisms with new, sometimes even fantastic properties.
Genetic engineering may be of great use for medicine, agriculture and other fields of life. Biotechnology offered mankind new pharmaceuticals and vaccines, advanced fibers, new fuels and other industrial materials. Supporters of this field claim that biotechnology can provide food for starving nations, increase productivity of poor soils, eliminate loads on land resources and cut agricultural consumption of water and chemicals.
Biotechnology is a young science and we still do not know all possible consequences of bringing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to various natural ecosystems. Methods of biotechnology may unintentionally do harm to Earth’s biosphere and human health. GMOs may appear to have properties, never expected by their developers such as previously harmless microbes that may turn infectious. GMOs may have negative effects on biodiversity by replacing ordinary species or breeding with organisms of same or related species.
Biosafety aims at reducing the potential risks resulting from biotechnology and its products. According to the precautionary approach, contained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration developed during a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse to postpone action when there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage. Today, many developed countries have already introduced their own regulations on biosafety, and many developing countries are on the way to creating national biosafety systems.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which marked its fifth anniversary last month, is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity to ensure the safe use of living modified organisms (LMOs) through modern biotechnology, commonly referred to as GMOs. The Protocol is an international agreement which establishes measures and procedures to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biodiversity and human health.
Parties to the Protocol have to take measures to ensure that LMOs being moved from one country to another are handled, packaged and transported in a safe manner. Shipments of LMOs must be accompanied by documentation that clearly identifies them, depending on the intended use of the LMOs. There are different requirements for LMOs intended for direct use as food, feed or processing (LMOs-FFP) such as cotton or soy, for LMOs destined for contained use and LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment such as live fish or seeds. Through the Biosafety Clearing-House, a mechanism established by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) to facilitate the exchange of information on LMOs, Parties must provide information required under the Protocol to make informed decisions. Parties must also carry out risk assessments to identify and evaluate the potential adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.
Being a Party to the Protocol offers many advantages to countries. Parties can take appropriate measures to manage the risks identified during risk assessment and to prevent unintentional movements of LMOs from one country to another. Parties can also be part of the negotiations and decisions during meeting of the governing body of the Protocol. Parties can contribute to improving national standards and procedures including improving their national regulations on biosafety. Parties also cooperate with other governments and civil society in the development and/or strengthening of human resources and institutional capacities as well as promote public awareness about biosafety. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition have an opportunity to receive financial support to better implement the Protocol. To date, 149 countries are Parties to the Protocol. Russia has not yet ratified the Protocol, but will hopefully join the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
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October 3, 2008 17:41
Dates & Events
31 March 2023
31 March 2023