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Ministers to sign Biosafety Protocol in Nairobi

Nairobi, 23 May 2000 - Up to 50 environment ministers from around the world are expected to arrive today at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme to participate in talks on the Convention on Biological Diversity and to sign the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

"The participation of ministers at the biodiversity conference gives a strong political signal that governments are serious about the conservation and sustainable use of the Earth's species, ecosystems and genetic resources," said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer of UNEP, which administers the Convention's secretariat.

"By signing the Biosafety Protocol, the ministers will further demonstrate that an effective regime for minimizing the potential risks posed by the trade or accidental release of agricultural and food products that have been genetically modified should soon become a reality."

The Protocol's objective is to promote the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements.

The Protocol establishes strict Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) procedures that will apply to seeds, live fish, and other living modified organisms that are to be intentionally introduced into the environment.

In these cases, the exporter must provide detailed information to each importing country in advance of the first shipment, and the importer must then authorize the shipment. The aim is to ensure that recipient countries have both the opportunity and the capacity to assess risks involving the products of modern biotechnology.

Governments will also signal whether or not they are willing to accept imports of agricultural commodities that include LMOs by communicating their decision to the world community via an Internet-based Biosafety Clearing-House. In addition, shipments of these commodities are to be identified so that it is clear that they "may contain" LMOs and are not intended for intentional introduction into the environment.

"The Convention on Biological Diversity offers a range of tools for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of species and ecosystems," said Hamdallah Zedan, the Convention's Executive Secretary. "The Biosafety Protocol is one such tool and will help ensure that our natural environment and the modern biotechnology industry are able to co-exist harmoniously."

The Protocol was signed by President Moi of Kenya on 15 May, the opening day. After the high- level segment starts on Wednesday at 10 a.m., the next official to sign will be Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr, who chaired the Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties that finalized and adopted the Protocol on 29 January 2000 in Montreal. Other ministers and duly empowered heads of delegation will sign during the morning while high-level statements continue in the main plenary room.

After the end of the current meeting - the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Covnention (COP 5) - governments can sign the Protocol at UN Headquarters in New York from 5 June 2000 to 4 June 2001. Governments will follow-up their signature by also ratifying the agreement. The Protocol will enter into force 90 days after it has received 50 ratifications.

The Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Convention will adopt its final decisions and results on Friday, 26 May. The meeting is being attended by some 1,500 delegates from 150 governments and 250 non- governmental and intergovernmental organizations.

The Nairobi biodiversity conference will be immediately followed by the first-ever Global Ministerial Environment Forum, to be held in Malmo, Sweden, from 29 - 31 May. The Forum, which also serves as a Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council, will be attended by over 100 environment ministers who will, among other things, identify the major environmental challenges of the 21st century.

For further information, please contact: Michael Williams in Nairobi at 254-2-623196, email:


UNEP News Release 00/60

Tuesday 23 May 2000
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