The Precautionary Principle as Stated in International Documents

"Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

— Rio Declaration on Environment and Development ("Earth Summit"), 1992, Principle 15

"Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of potential adverse effects of a living modified organism on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the Party of import, taking also into account risks to human health, shall not prevent that Party from taking a decision, as appropriate, with regard to the import of the living modified organism ... in order to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects."

"In cases where relevant scientific evidence is insufficient, a Member may provisionally adopt. . . measures on the basis of available pertinent information . . . (I)n such circumstances, Members will seek to obtain the additional information necessary for a more objective assessment of risk and review . . . the measure accordingly within a reasonable period of time."

- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 2000, Articles 10.6 and 11.8

— World Trade Organization 1993 Agreement on Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Article 5.7

CPB, exporting member countries must obtain an advance informed agreement for GMO importation before shipment. Such agreement is conditioned on the recipient country's performance of both an environmental risk assessment and food-safety assessment. The CPB includes guidelines for assessing environmental impact and provides for a central clearinghouse of information on GMO production, export, and biosafety data.

Countries that sign the protocol assume certain responsibilities with respect to the use of living GMOs. They are obliged to designate a focal point for liaison with the CPB secretariat and one or more competent authorities to carry out the assessment provisions of the protocol. These include development and implementation of regulations to manage the safe use of living GMOs. In practical terms, this entails a review and modification of existing legislation or drafting of new legislation, infrastructure development, and strengthening of biosafety review capacity within the government and scientific communities.

Codex Alimentarius

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an international working group that sets standards for food safety, quality, and labeling. It functions under the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome. The Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology was formed to develop standards, guidelines, or recommendations, as appropriate, for foods derived from biotechnology or traits introduced into foods by biotechnology. The final report is due at the twenty-fifth session of the commission in 2003.

In the interim, work on international guidelines for the labeling of GM foods is progressing; a draft was made available in 2002. Signatories to the Codex will be required to bring their national label ing legislation into line with the new Codex labeling guidelines when these enter into force.

International Plant Protection Convention

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is a multilateral treaty deposited with the director-general of the FAO and administered through the IPPC Secretariat located in FAO's Plant Protection Service. The purpose of the IPPC is to secure common and effective action to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products and to promote measures for their control. The convention provides a framework and forum for international cooperation, harmonization, and technical exchange in collaboration with regional and national plant protection organizations. The IPPC plays a role in trade because it is recognized by the World Trade Organization in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the WTO-SPS Agreement) as the source for international standards for the phytosanitary measures affecting trade. It therefore will affect the export and import of biotechnology products.

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