Modifications to the genetic material of an organism are generally targeted to improve or develop the characteristics found in these organisms. While this can potentially benefit humankind, researchers and society at large are concerned about the unknown effects of introducing these living modified organisms (LMOs) into the environment. LMOs are genetically modified (GM) organisms which are capable of self-replicating and can be a plant, animal or microorganism.
Realising that LMOs may have adverse effects on biodiversity, there was a need to address biosafety matters, which led to the establishment of the international regulatory framework known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. With the aim to encourage “safe trans-boundary movement, transit, handling and use of all living modified organisms that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health”, this Protocol was adopted on 29th January 2000 and enforced on 11th September 2003, establishing procedures and regulations for LMOs intended for environmental introduction or for direct use as processing, food or feed. The time was ripe for precautionary policies on such matters as not much was known about GM crops or organisms. Wide-scale commercialization of the produce thereof was therefore still a distant dream.