1. What is biosafety?
Based on the description (http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/faqs2.aspx?area=biotechnology&faq=2)of the Secretariat of the CBD/Biosafety Division, “biosafety is a term used to describe efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting from biotechnology and its products. For the purposes of the Biosafety Protocol, this is based on the precautionary approach, whereby the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse to postpone action when there is a threat of serious or irreversible damage While developed countries that are at the center of the global biotechnology industry have established domestic biosafety regimes, many developing countries are only now starting to establish their own national systems.”
Biotechnology holds great future promise, but can also have potentially serious environmental and health impacts. The community at large can only benefit maximally from biotechnology if it is developed and applied judiciously. Therefore, the development of regulatory structures, policies and procedures; i.e. biosafety mechanisms, is necessary to ensure safe applications of biotechnology.
2. What is the precautionary approach?
The Precautionary Principle, and the precautionary approach based on that principle, are key elements for policy decisions concerning environmental protection and management. The term "precautionary approach" was first used in 1987 during the Second International Conference on the North Sea and was then considered a radical new approach to risk assessment. The precautionary principle is based on the obligation to control dangerous substances or activities if there are reasonable grounds for concern that a substance or activity could cause harm, even before a definitive causal link had been established between such substances or activities and health or environmental effects.
The Secretariat of the CBD/Biosafety Division provides an explanation of the “Precautionary approach” (http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/faqs2.aspx?area=protocol&faq=10) as follows:
One of the outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, was the adoption of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which contains 27 principles to underpin sustainable development. One of these principles is Principle 15 which states that "In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
3. What is a Clearing-House? (http://bch.biodiv.org/help/faq.shtml)
The term "clearing-house" was originally used mainly in the banking sector, where it referred to a financial establishment where checks and bills were exchanged among member banks so that only the net balances needed to be settled in cash. Today, its meaning has been extended to include any agency that brings together seekers and providers of goods, services or information, thus matching demand with supply.
4. What is the Biosafety Clearing-House of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety?
Article 20, paragraph 1, of the Biosafety Protocol (http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/articles.asp?lg=0&a=bsp-20) established a Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH) to:
(a) Facilitate the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information on, and experience with, living modified organisms; and
(b) Assist Parties to implement the Protocol, taking into account the special needs of developing country Parties, in particular the least developed and small island developing States among them, and countries with economies in transition, as well as countries that are centers of origin and centers of genetic diversity.
In addition to facilitating general exchange of information, the BCH is established as the only means through which Parties can provide certain information required under the Protocol, including information provided by Parties for the advance informed agreement procedure. The BCH will also provide the mechanism by which Parties are informed about final decisions regarding domestic use (including placing on the market) of LMOs that may be subject to transboundary movement for food, feed or for processing. This information will be vital for enabling governments to implement the Protocol; i.e. the BCH is an integral part of implementing the Biosafety Protocol.
5. What is the Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) of the Convention on Biological Diversity?
The CHM was established under Article 18, paragraph 3 (http://www.biodiv.org/convention/articles.asp?lg=0&a=cbd-18), of the Convention. The role of the CHM is broader than that of the BCH: it promotes and facilitates technical and scientific cooperation, including cooperation in the development and use of relevant technologies, training of personnel and exchange of experts, joint research programmes and joint ventures, and participates in the work of the thematic areas under the Convention.