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Treaties in Collision: The Biosafety Protocol and the World Trade Organization Agreements

March 2003

Citation: ELR 10192

Author: Sabrina Saffrin

On January 29, 2000, over 130 countries adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Biosafety Protocol or Protocol).1 The Protocol establishes international procedures applicable to the transboundary movement of bioengineered living organisms (referred to in the Protocol as living modified organisms (LMOs)). The adoption of the Protocol marked the close of over four years of intensive, contentious, and often emotional negotiations regarding the multibillion-dollar trade in bioengineered organisms.

Human beings have genetically modified plants and animals through domestication and controlled breeding for some 10,000 years with little controversy.2 Since 1973, however, modern biotechnology techniques have enabled the transfer of genes from one species to another unrelated species.3 For example, genes from a flounder known to survive in frigid waters have been transferred to tomatoes to make them resistant to frost4; and genes from a natural soil bacterium (bacillus thuringiensis) have been transferred to potatoes and corn to make them resistant to certain insects.5

Assistant Professor of Law, Rutgers University Law School, Newark. The author served as an attorney-adviser with the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser, and was legal counsel to the U.S. delegation during the negotiation of the Biosafety Protocol. She was recently an Open Society Institute Individual Projects Fellow and a Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute. The views, perceptions, and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the Department of State, the U.S. government, or the government of any other country. The author would like to thank Dean Stuart Deutsch, Jeremy L. Hirsh, David Van Hoogstraten, David Wirth, the Environmental Law Institute, and the Open Society Institute Individual Projects Fellowship for their assistance. Any errors are hers alone. This Article previously appeared in AM. J. INT'L L. (July 2002).

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