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Contact Details

Scottish Government GM Policy Team
Saughton House
Broomhouse Drive
EH11 3XD
0300 244 9503
Scottish Government GM Inspectorate
Roddinglaw Road
EH12 9FJ
0131 244 8853

Genetic Modification - International Issues

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity

The European Community is a party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which is annexed to the United Nations Environment Programme Convention on Biological Diversity and which came into force on 11 September 2003.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an international agreement on the transboundary movement of GMOs which seeks to protect, on a global scale, biological diversity and human health from the potential risks posed by GMOs.

The European Union introduced a regulation on the transboundary movement of GMOs to implement the protocol in Europe. The European regulation is implemented in Scotland by The Genetically Modified Organisms (Transboundary Movements) (Scotland) Regulations 2005. England, Wales and Northern Ireland have similar implementing regulations.

Before a country can export a GMO, it must comply with a notification procedure and obtain the agreement of the importing country. There is a separate procedure for GMOs for food, feed or processing which allows an importing country to use an information exchange mechanism (the Biosafety Clearing House) before agreeing to accept an import.

Aarhus Convention

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus. It entered into force on 30 October 2001.

The Aarhus Convention is a new kind of environmental agreement. The Convention:

  • Links environmental rights and human rights
  • Acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations
  • Establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders
  • Links government accountability and environmental protection
  • Focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context

The Parties to the UNECE Aarhus Convention (including the UK) agreed at their second meeting in May 2005 to an amendment to the Convention aimed at extending the role of the public in decisions involving GMOs. EU countries already have arrangements in place which are in line with the requirements of this amendment.

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

The EU operated a de facto moratorium on GM products between June 1999 and August 2003. The WTO set up a dispute panel at the request of countries like the USA, Canada and Argentina which ruled that the EU's moratorium was illegal.

Current EU GM legislation takes account of international trade obligations, although countries such as USA, Canada and Argentina claim that the authorisation procedure is still too lengthy. The Commission disputes these claims and points to the many GMOs and derived products that have been approved for marketing in the EU. There are, however, only two GM crops that have been approved for cultivation so far; one is a GM maize resistant to the European corn borer and the other is a GM starch potato for use in industrial processing.