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Ratification of the Aarhus Convention on GMOs by Armenia can be a decisive step for regulating the field not only in our country

29.11.2017

gmo_photo1On November 9, “Public Awareness and Monitoring Center” NGO has addressed an information request to Nature Protection Minister Artsvik Minasyan in order to find out what work is carried out towards the ratification and implementation of the amendment to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters on GMOs and if our country in general is going to ratify it.

This amendment has been made 12 years ago and in order to enter it into force is necessary to be ratified by at least three-thirds Party countries to the Convention’s for the moment. It refers to the establishment and protection of public rights to participate in decision-making on the GMOs that are deliberately released into the environment and are placed on the market.

At the time of making this amendment, Armenia was the Party to the Aarhus Convention and could be one of the two decisive parties due to which the final regulatory instrument would come into force 12 years later.

Many countries have developed national biosafety frameworks as an initial step in developing legal frameworks that include components on public awareness, education and participation; however, more efforts are needed to implement these frameworks to support the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

This information was provided to the delegates of the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocols yet in November, 2016 during the second session on GMOs held in Geneva. The issues and conclusions discussed have been presented to the attention of the sixth meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention.

During the roundtable have ben pointed out the pillars of the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocol (in particular the Article 21), which may be tools to develop criteria which should be considered as confidential information in this area.

As regards public involvement, including the public participation procedure for decision-making on GMOs, then the Aarhus Convention’s Lucca Guidelines and Maastricht Recommendations are useful guidance for putting in place access to information and public participation procedures.

The Maastricht Recommendations clearly states when and how to inform about the decision-making process and what information should be provided in advance, as soon as all the opportunities are open, including the retreat path.

At the meeting of the Aarhus Convention, once again was highlighted the importance of access to information on GMOs for all members of society, farmers, local communities and children.
It was noted that the provided information regarding GMOs should be accessible to and understandable by all members of the public, including farmers, local communities and children. In providing information, the public should have a common understanding of definitions of different LMOs and plant breeding techniques.

This is the area where transparency and accountability are more important, however, even in countries somewhat regulated the field there is uncertainty about the accuracy of the information provided with regard to the GMOs.

This year in September, at the meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention held in Budva, Montenegro, it was again called upon the Parties to take concrete actions at the national level, in particular:

 Encourage Parties to the Aarhus Convention to nominate an additional focal point dealing specifically with GMO issues, given the complexity of the subject matter and the specific expertise required;
 Strengthen cooperation between public authorities and NGOs on GMO issues and promote effective interministerial or interdepartmental mechanisms to handle GMO issues that are open to NGOs, academia and other stakeholders (e.g., advisory bodies, national gene banks and associations);
 Make use of the Aarhus Centres, if available, or other relevant organizations, to help strengthen the capacities of authorities to effectively promote access to information and public participation in GMO issues, thereby assisting Parties to ratify the GMO amendment and implement the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in the context of GMOs;
 Ratify and implement the GMO amendment to the Aarhus Convention;
 Establish an effective system of access to information with regard to GMOs that would allow all interested stakeholders to receive information in a timely and effective manner;
 Establish a system enabling effective and inclusive public participation with regard to GMOs;
 Provide access to information with regard to customs officials, laboratories and other relevant stakeholders on existing legal provisions on the handling, transport, packaging and identification of GMOs, including for an efficient border control system;
 Address the issue of non-compliance in some countries where laws regarding GMOs are in place that may provide for a ban, while in practice GMOs are illegally grown and available on the market with no reliable information provided to the public;

The European eco-forum also urged the Parties to the Convention to adopt the amendment, moreover, to introduce the provisions contained therein in national legislation and be consistent in its full implementation. Establish an effective system of access to information on GMOs that will allow NGOs and stakeholders to obtain timely information.

In response to our information inquiry, H. Hovhannisyan, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Nature Protection informed that some processes are implemented in the Republic, which highlight the public’s participation in the GMOs use, replacement and solving biosafety problems, the actions carried out under the Cartagena Protocol are in line with the Aarhus Convention’s GMO goals and objectives, particularly noting that has been developed the draft law “On the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms, Biosafety,” but was withdrawn from the National Assembly.

However, this response did not contain information on when Armenia is going to ratify the amendment and carry out the above-mentioned proposed actions.

The basis for the preparation of the article was the 2nd International Roundtable on GMOs (http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/prtr/MOPP3/English/ECE_MP.PP_WG.1_2017_8_E.pdf) and the response to our information inquiry.

“Public Awareness and Monitoring Center” NGO

“This article has been prepared within the framework of “Raising Awareness on Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Armenia” project, which is carried out with the support of the A. D. Sakharov Human Rights Center. The content of the article, the views and opinions expressed therein belong to the author and may not coincide with the views of the A. D. Sakharov Human Rights Center NGO.”