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Largest Ever World Wide Project to Promote Biosafety Launched by UNEP

A multi-million dollar project to help developing countries assess the potential risks and rewards from genetically engineered crops will be at the centre of an African Regional Workshop on biosafety that opens today.

Nairobi, 16 January 2002 - A multi-million dollar project to help developing countries assess the potential risks and rewards from genetically engineered crops will be at the centre of an African Regional Workshop on biosafety that opens today.

The project, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), will help up to 100 countries develop the scientific and legal skills for evaluating the health and environmental issues surrounding imports of so called Living Modified Organisms (LMOs).

The three year, $38.4 million, scheme, is seen as a key initiative to help developing countries prepare for the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which was adopted in January 2000.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is to carry out the project, said: "Industry is convinced that genetically engineered crops are the key to boosting yields in a more environmentally friendly way. But others are concerned that the new technology may actually pose environmental as well as health risks".

"The Cartagena Protocol is an attempt to reconcile these trade and environmental protection issues. It not only is the first legal, environmental treaty, to institutionalise the precautionary approach, but establishes the advanced informed agreement proceedure. This requires those
nations exporting LMOs to inform countries who import them so that the receiving country can decide whether or not to accept the shipment, " he added.

"Crucial to the success of this is developing countries having the skills and systems in place for evaluating these imports and for safely handling them. This is why this multi-million dollar, capacity building, project is so important," said Mr Toepfer.

To date, 107 governments have signed the Protocol and 10 countries have ratified it. 50 ratifications are required for its entry into force.

Christopher Briggs, the project's manager, said: "It is a direct response to the need for building capacity for assessing and managing risks, establishing adequate information systems, and developing expert human resources in the field of biosafety. And the key to achieving this goal is
pooling together the scarce institutional, financial, technical, and human resources within the region and sharing ideas and information amongst local and international experts. To this end more than 20 regional and sub-regional workshops will be convened in the near future."

Representatives from more than 46 countries are attending the three-day workshop, taking place at UNEP's headquarters in Nairobi, which runs to the 18 of January.

They will be discussing how to implement the new project through National Biosafety Frameworks as well as how to promote collaboration regionally, sub-regionally and between regions.

Mr Charles Gbedemah from Ghana, who is the project's task manager for the Africa region, added: "It is no coincidence that the first activity under this major biosafety, capacity building, initiative is taking place in Nairobi for the benefit of the African continent. Indeed Africa is one of
the five priorities of UNEP's operations. Africa has played a leadership role during the negotiation of the Cartagena Protocol and we hope that the implementation of this project will assist the African countries in playing a similar role throughout the implementation phase of the Protocol".

Mr Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Chief of the GEF Coordination Division in UNEP stated: "This is a unique project in the history of the GEF and will benefit greatly from the experience gained by the implementation of a pilot biosafety capacity building project of $2.5 million, involving 18
countries, which is also financed by the GEF and successfully implemented by UNEP. It will also build synergy with the implementation of eight on-going national biosafety demonstration projects, worth $ 4.5 million, aimed at implementing already existing National Biosafety Frameworks".

Note to journalists:

The project is being implemented by UNEP as one of the three Implementing Agencies of the Global Environment Facility. The GEF was established in 1991 as a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank Group. Under its GEF activities, UNEP is working in more than 144 countries.

The Biosafety Protocol seeks to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. The United Nations Environment Programme is providing the secretariat of the Protocol as well as the Secretariat of the
Convention on Biological Diversity located in Montreal, Canada.

Wednesday 16 Jan 2002
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