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The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety1) The inclusion of socio-economic considerations under Article 26 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) is voluntary. It is not a mandatory requirement, thus countries have the freedom of choosing whether to make it voluntary, mandatory or not required at all.

2) The literal/strict interpretation of Article 26.1 of the CPB is that inclusion may consider impacts on biodiversity, especially on local and indigenous communities. The inclusion of broader socio-economic and other considerations may be done under national laws and regulations.

The issue of whether Article 26 allows the inclusion of food/feed safety and public health considerations as part of its scope is a bit vague. On the one hand, the CPB itself has mutated from a strict environmental treaty seeking to protect and enhance biodiversity while allowing the safe use of LMOs to one where some argue that it has become a de facto risk assessment treaty for LMOs covering all general aspects in an evaluation system including environmental, food/feed safety and public health issues. Many of the issues beyond environmental safety have been covered in national laws and regulations.

On the other hand, countries maintain the sovereign right within the scope of their international obligations to do what they want in terms of assessments. The question then becomes, what will the Parties choose: a narrow/strict versus a broader interpretation of Article 26?

3) Countries certainly have the sovereign right o make decisions in their national laws and regulations on:

a) Whether to include (or not) socio-economic considerations in their decision-making.

b) Expand on the narrow definition of the article to broader considerations.

c) Define any implementation and decision making process, scope, implementing agencies, and others. This implies that nations have the sovereign right to choose between a system with no requirement whatsoever and a system with broad assessments that include their choice of issues for considerations–or any system in between.

Participants in many discussions, have reaffirmed directly or indirectly these basic concepts. We hope that while making their decisions, countries take into consideration all potential development and implementation implications–both negative and positive. Important noting that many countries that are not Parties to the protocol have functional regulatory systems that have performed multiple assessments and decisions to date. These include the United States of America, Canada, Argentina and others.

4) Some countries that are party to the CPB are planning to include or have already included socio-economic considerations in their decision-making. Modalities vary from “narrow” economic impacts on trade and on their own export competitiveness to inclusion of broader social, ethical, and religious considerations.

5) Inclusion of socio-economic considerations has many implications that countries need to be aware in order to empower them in making an informed choice. Implications include:

a) Increased regulatory compliance costs.

b) Gains in knowledge about the potential technology in the hands of farmers.

c) Reduction in the number and type of technologies available for release if a cost increase is binding to developer’s budget. This is of special interest to the public research sector.

d) Potential for selecting the best technologies (and to compare with other potential alternatives) and to weed out those technologies that are not safe or may have a negative impact on biodiversity and other socio-economic issues.

I will discuss these in more detail later in a future post.  Alternatively, the inclusion of socio-economics issues in the regulatory decision making process can cause the rejection of safe technologies. This fact calls attention to the question of how to judge socio-economic studies for quality and robustness. There is need to define how scientific peer review will be used in these situations.

6) Implementation issues include:

  • Focusing on the development of a check list of socio-economic issues -and its posterior inclusion in laws, regulations and policies- for inclusion without considering implementation procedures can lead to an unworkable system. One cannot disassociate legal/policy/regulatory development from implementation; experience has shown that these two factors need to be discussed simultaneously. Those of us who have been involved heavily with socio-economic assessments know the many limitations and issues that methods and approaches have in practice.
  • A lot of experience exists dealing with relatively simple assessment procedures such as simple cost/benefit, with different regulated technologies and activities, and yet, as we discovered in our review of economic methods (see Smale et al. 2009), we need to further develop our methodological toolkit if we want to examine broader social and economic issues such as gender dimensions and impacts on poverty, food security, and public health.
  • Countries have many options in terms of regulatory design and implementation. These options necessarily imply trade-offs in terms of costs, benefits, efficiencies and feasibility potential.

 

References

Measuring the economic impacts of transgenic crops in developing agriculture during the first decade : Approaches, findings, and future directions 

2009. Smale, Melinda; Zambrano, Patricia; Gruère, Guillaume P.; Falck-Zepeda, Jose´ Benjamin; Matuschke, Ira; Horna, Daniela; Nagarajan, Latha; Yerramareddy, Indira; Jones, Hannah. Food policy review 10. Washington, D.C. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/pv10.pdf
http://dx.doi.org/10.2499/0896295117FPRev10

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