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On September 17, the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity held an expert panel at the Faculty of Law to mark the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on September 11.
The Biosafety Protocol was approved by nearly 60 countries — the first time international regulations are being applied to the movement of living modified organisms (LMOs), which includes genetically modified organisms (GMOs), across borders.
LMOs, such as seeds, fish and other GMOs, are products of biotechnological advances. The Protocol was enacted to regulate the movement and manipulation of LMOs for food, feed and processing, since these organisms can affect human health and the conservation of biological diversity.
While the Canadian government supports the Protocol's environmental clauses it does not support the policies on agriculture and trade. Canada and the U.S. have yet to ratify to the Protocol, although both countries have signed the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Canada has much at stake when it comes to GMOs, according to Janet Lambert. The BIOTECanada president said Canada ranks third in revenues, second in number of companies and first in research and development expenditures from biotechnology related products.
The Government of Canada has invested $11 billion for biotech research in the past seven years. "The 2003 budget is $1.7 billion for research and innovation and $3 billion for sustainable development" Lambert said. "Unfortunately, we export research and import the final product.
"This gap between research and production is expected to increase by 2005."
Some audience members were sceptical about how the Protocol would be enforced. "The Cartagena Protocol represents two major challenges," a Greenpeace representative said. "First, the Protocol documentation is not efficient. The specifics on what types of genetics are safe to use have to be stated clearly. This will be the next battle. Second, liability has to state who will be responsible for contamination." More pressure needs to be exerted on the federal government to ratify the Protocol.