Protocol needs serious inter-ministerial deliberations, says MoEF official
Will India ratify the international treaty dealing with liability arising from damage caused by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and living modified organisms (LMOs)? Chances are bleak if one were to go by what M F Farooqui, special secretary with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), said. “India is positive about the protocol but it will take time to ratify it,” he said at a press conference held on October 1 at Hyderabad. Farooqui was referring to the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur (N_KL) Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The press conference was organised as part of the ongoing sixth meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The five-day meeting is the first part of the eleventh United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The Caratagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted in 2000 for protecting biodiversity from the adverse affects of GMOs and LMOs. LMOs broadly refer to genetically modified crops. It was accepted that these organisms, the products of the modern biotechnology and genetic engineering, cause damage to ecosystems and human health. The protocol is a multi-lateral environmental agreement that is intended to contribute to the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs and LMOs. The protocol was signed by 163 countries and the European Union. India is a party to this protocol.
But this protocol did not take into consideration the issues of liability and redress for the damage caused by the GMOs and LMOs. For making the protocol more strong, a supplementary protocol was adopted. Of the signatories to the Cartagena Protocol, only 50 countries have signed it. And only three countries—Latvia, Czech Republic and Jamaica ratified the supplementary protocol. The supplementary protocol will come into effect only when 40 countries ratify it.
“It (N_KL protocol) needs serious inter-ministerial deliberations,” said Farooqui. Only after that India can ratify it, he added. When it is yet to ratify the N_KL protocol, how can it allow large-scale field trials of genetically-modified crops? he was asked. “For that we have our own rules and regulations,” was Farooqui’s answer.
The current regulatory regime on LMOs in India is governed by the Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989, issued under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. A new law, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, has also been under consideration. But neither of these provide for civil liability.
The countries which ratify this protocol will have to assess damage, take appropriate measures, identify the operator who caused the damage and make the operator liable for the damage and make the operator pay for the damage. “Legal and administrative frameworks can be formulated only after the protocol gets stipulated ratification,” pointed out Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the CBD in the press conference.
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