GMO Amendment

Many people are concerned about the risks of introducing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment, and primarily with biodiversity, and possible health and socio-economic risks connected with the production and products in which GMOs are involved. So GMO related decisions fall within the scope of Principles 10 and 15 of the Rio Declaration which address the need for access to information, participation in decision-making processes, and the application by countries of the precautionary approach.

When the Aarhus Convention was drafted, unfortunately, due to considerable resistance by business interests, European Commission and some EU member states, the issue of public participation in decision-making on GMOs had a special, weaker, arrangement than other environmental issues.

After successful pressure from the European ECO Forum, in 1999 a Task Force on GMOs was established to look at current practice to make recommendations for expanding the scope of the Convention herein. A year later, this Task Force showed that major differences between countries existed in their approaches to biosafety, along with access to information and public participation in decisions related to GMOs. The majority of Signatories had limited public participation in decisions related to GMOs.

In 2002, the Guidelines on access to information, public participation and access to justice with respect to genetically modified organisms were adopted at the first Meeting of Parties in Lucca; they became known as the Lucca Guidelines on GMOs. The Meeting also established a new Working Group on GMOs to further explore the options for a legally binding approach. Due to continuous delaying pressure by the EU and the corporate lobby, for almost three years the Working Group on GMOs was not able to elaborate the most optimal legally binding mechanism leaving five options on the table (four legally binding and one non-binding). Representatives of the majority of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) countries, as well as NGOs such as the European ECO Forum, supported legally binding options. EU Member States, however, did not support legally binding options pointing out possible controversies and duplications with other international and regional instruments (including EU legislation, Cartagena Protocol, Codex Alimentarius), and potential complications with accession to the Aarhus Convention by new states.

Finally, at the second Meeting of Parties in Almaty in 2005, complex negotiations between the EU and EECCA countries supported by the European ECO Forum resulted in a compromise providing for a legally binding instrument for public participation in decision-making related to GMOs in what has become known as the Almaty Amendment.

The GMO Amendment represents a new wording of paragraph 11 of Article 6 and amends the Convention with Article 6-bis and Annex I-bis. The main obligation of the GMO Amendment is to provide for early and effective information and public participation prior to making decisions on whether to permit the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment and placing them on the market. The Annex I-bis requires the Parties to ensure transparency of decision-making procedures and provide access to the relevant procedural information to the public. It requires public authorities to inform the public of all phases and stages of the decision-making procedure related to GMOs early.

The amendment will enter into force when ratified by 27 Parties to the Convention, three fourths of the states that were Parties to the Convention when the Amendment was adopted. The ratification by the European Union or those states that have become Parties after the second Meeting of the Parties in Almaty will not count towards fulfilment of the abovementioned requirement. Also, after its entry into force the Amendment will be binding only on those Parties that have ratified it. As of today there are 28 Parties to the Amendment  in total and 5 ratifications are still needed for Amendment to enter into force.

Meetings and events which were taking place regarding the GMOs under the Aarhus Convention:

Round table on access to information, public participation and access to justice regarding LMOs/GMOs, 16 - 17 October 2013, Geneva

Joint Aarhus Convention/Cartagena Protocol workshop on public awareness, access to information and public participation regarding LMOs/GMOs,8 - 9 October 2010, Nagoya (Japan)

International workshop on access to information, public participation and access to justice regarding GMOs, 19-20 May 2008, Cologne (Germany)

Fourth meeting of the Working Group on GMOs, 18 - 20 October 2004, Geneva

Third meeting of the Working Group on GMOs, 24 - 26 March 2004, Geneva

First and Second meetings of the Working Group on GMOs, 9 - 11 April 2003, Geneva

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Parties and/or signatories