Biosafety Assessment Tool Now Available


The African Executive
Agri Focus Section
May 6-13, 2009 Edition

The Norwegian GenØk – Centre for Biosafety, Third World Network (TWN) and the New Zealand INBI – Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety announced the release of the Biosafety Assessment Tool, or BAT, developed as part of a large programme in capacity building for the assessment of the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The BAT is a free-to-the-public and online resource to assist citizens and regulators who are reviewing the scientific data provided by developers of GMOs in support of their evaluation of safety.

The BAT was developed over the past five years as part of a larger Norwegian biosafety capacity building commitment underway since the earliest days of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement governing the movement of many kinds of GMOs. Researchers from New Zealand, Norway, Solomon Islands, Malaysia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, France and Germany contributed to the BAT, and the product was reviewed by top researchers and regulatory officials in additional countries including Iran, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Ghana. During its advanced development phase it has been used to support training of regulators, civil society leaders, policy makers, journalists and researchers who take part in the International Biosafety Course held annually in Tromsø, Norway.

Ms. Dubravka Stepic, who is head of Croatia’s Protection of Genetic Diversity Section in the Nature Protection Directorate and has used early prototype versions in her own work said that the BAT “was a brilliant tool.”

Anne Wetlesen, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the principal sponsor of the BAT, expressed pleasure on behalf of Norad the BAT was completed and will be a useful tool for developing country regulators and researchers assessing the biosafety aspects of GMOs.

The leader of the project’s international and interdisciplinary team, molecular biologist Professor Jack Heinemann, of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand opined that the BAT is a living resource that has feedback provisions that enable it to evolve and improve. A team of researchers remains in place to grow the already comprehensive coverage of hazard identification, risk problem formulation and evaluation, and to make the BAT more interactive.

The BAT is designed for use by those with a technical background as well as those who are new to the science behind GMOs and their evaluation. The Tool is organised as chapters ranging from explanations of molecular methods and biostatistics to subsequent chapters specialising on genome analysis through to tests for human health and environmental effects.

The Tool is built upon three entry points depending on a user’s background. Those new to risk evaluation and the relevant scientific information can enter into a section titled “Topic Guides”. These are in depth overviews of the pertinent issues. Those ready to begin an evaluation or are practiced in evaluation will then use the “Practical Assessment” section. All users may wish to finish with the “Checklist”, which helps to assure the user that they have identified all issues relevant and important to their evaluation.

According to Chee Yoke Ling, Co-Director, Third World Network, “the BAT fills a much-needed gap in assisting developing countries in particular, to responsibly assess and evaluate the risks associated with GMOs. This is critical for countries implementing their biosafety laws and regulations, who can now turn to the BAT as a very useful resource and scientific database.”

Further Information on this can be obtained from Professor Jack Heinemann of INBI – Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, University of Canterbury +64 3 364 2500 [email protected] or Katrine Jaklin of GenØk – Centre for Biosafety [email protected]

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