Letting the Gene Out of the Bottle
Delegates from almost 200 countries are meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, this week to discuss the future of genetically modified organisms. Their challenge is to strike a balance between the fondest hopes of the multi-billion dollar biotech industry and the deepest fears of environmentalists, who worry that GMOs could adversely affect ecosystems and human health. During the conference, environmentalists plan to call for a moratorium on planting genetically modified crops near native species, to prevent contamination of the natural gene pool. The last major international meeting on GMOs, held in Colombia in 1999, resulted in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which was designed to ensure the safe transfer, handling, and use of transgenic organisms. The protocol has been signed by more than 100 countries (not including the United States, unsurprisingly) but must be ratified by at least 50 to take effect. Those ratifications are expected to occur during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this year.