UN environment agency launches major project on genetically engineered food

UN environment agency launches major project on genetically engineered food

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced the launch of a multi-million dollar project to help developing countries assess the potential risks and rewards of genetically engineered crops.

The project, financed by the Global Environment Facility, 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 initiative is seen as a principal element in helping developing countries prepare for the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety adopted in January 2000.

"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," noted UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

"The Cartagena Protocol is an attempt to reconcile these trade and environmental protection issues," he explained, pointing out that the treaty established a procedure requiring countries that export LMOs to inform importing States so that the receiving nation can decide whether or not to accept the shipment.

Christopher Briggs, the project's manager, called the initiative 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."

The announcement was made as representatives from more than 46 countries gathered at UNEP's Nairobi headquarters to attend a three-day African Regional Workshop on Biosafety.