Since the early 1970s, modern biotechnology has enabled scientists to genetically and biochemically modify plants, animals and micro-organisms to create living modified organisms (LMOs). Many countries with biotechnology industries already have domestic legislation in place intended to ensure the safe transfer, handling, use and disposal of LMOs and their products. These precautionary practices are collectively known as biosafety. However, there are no binding international agreements addressing situations where LMOs cross national borders.
Article 19.4 of the CBD provides for Parties to consider the need for and modalities of a protocol on biosafety. At COP-2, delegates established an Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG), which held its first meeting in Aarhus, Denmark, from 22-26 July 1996. It was attended by more than 90 delegations, including scientific and technical experts representing both Parties and non-Parties to the CBD, inter- governmental organizations, NGOs and industry representatives.
BSWG-1 marked the first formal meeting to develop a protocol under the CBD and to operationalize one of its key and most contentious components. Governments listed elements for a future protocol, agreed to hold two meetings in 1997 and outlined the information required to guide their future work.