The Ministry of Environment hosted a National “Sensitisation Workshop on Biosafety”. Barbados has been a Party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety since September 2003 and is committed to raising public awareness on issues involving the release of LMO’s (Living Modified Organisms). These issues include the potential impacts on human health and the environment as well as establishing practical rules and procedures for regulating the movement of LMOs.
The objective of the workshop was to raise awareness of biosafety in general, the Cartagena Protocol and the implementation of national biosafety frameworks in the Caribbean Sub-Region.
To raise awareness and to achieve legislation for biosafety, stakeholders from the public and private sector were invited. Among those sectors included the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources, which are the Competent Authority for Biosafety Framework for Barbados, the Ministry of Health, Barbados National Standards Institute, University of the West Indies and Roberts Manufacturing.
The Workshop began with Welcoming Remarks from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment & Drainage, Mr. Edison Alleyne, Senior Agricultural Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources Mr. Michael James, The Environmental Officer of the Ministry of Environment and Drainage Ms. Kim Downes Agard and Dr. Michelle John, the Regional Project Manager for the Regional Biosafety Project. The presenters each discussed the importance of biotechnology, its application in the field of agriculture and pharmaceuticals as well as the need for biosafety and the regulatory frameworks for decision making for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
After the Welcoming Remarks, the first day of presentations began with the Introduction to Biosafety and Biotechnology by David Gopaulchan of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. In his introduction he explained the meaning of Biosafety and Biotechnology as well as the types of methods used in gene technology. The next presentation was given by Dr. Carlos Blanco of the University of New Mexico, USA on the topic; “Agrobiotechnology: What it is/what it is not“. Dr. Blanco in his presentation attempted to challenge the definition of GMOs and discussed its uses and benefits. He also made note that humans have been genetically modifying crops such as maize for thousands of years through selective breeding.
The next presenter was Mr. Micheal James, Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources (MAFFW) and he discussed the topic of Biosafety and Biotechnology in Barbados. In his address Mr. James looked at the steps the MAFFW is taking as the Competent Authority on Biosafety in Barbados as it relates to the entry of GMO plants and seeds entering the island. This is achieved by importers filling out permission paper declaring plants and seeds entering the island. Regulation is also done through physical inspection at ports of entry. At present the Barbados Plant Quarantine Department of the MAFFW rejects all GM plants and seeds entering the island. Technical Officers trained to research and identify any such items that may be possible GMOs. Any such items that are caught being smuggled into the island are confiscated and later destroyed. Mr. James in his presentation also identified the need to have equipment available to carry out laboratory testing to detect GMOs. At the end of the presentation, stakeholders were given an opportunity to pose questions and air the views during the discussion. During the lunch break, participants and presenters took a group photo acknowledging persons attending the workshop. (Pictured above)
In the afternoon session Dr. Wendy Hollingsworth of Policy Networks International Inc. discussed the Status of Biosafety and Biotechnology in the Caribbean. During the discussion, Dr. Hollingsworth made the distinction between biosafety and biosecurity. She explained that while biosafety looked at the containment principles, technologies and practices used to prevent the exposure of pathogens and toxins or their accidental release, biosecurity on the other hand looked at the mechanisms used to establish and maintain the security and oversight of pathogenic microorganism, toxins and relevant resources.
Dr. Hollingsworth also included in her discussion the steps that are being undertaken in the Caribbean towards Biosafety and the National Biosafety Frameworks Project. It was that the National Biosafety Framework would vary from one country to the next but its components would remain the same as a policy on Biosafety, the regulatory regime, the mechanisms to handle enforcement, compliance and the monitoring of environmental effects.
Another method of monitoring LMO’s to be implemented in the Caribbean is a Biosafety Laboratories. The laboratories would be assigned the role of carrying out testing of LMO’s in the environment or in the food or feed chain. She also discussed biotechnology such as medical, agricultural as well as techniques being currently used in the Caribbean.
The next presentation was on the topic; Regional Project for Implementing National Biosafety Frameworks in the Caribbean Sub- Region. This topic was presented by Dr. Michelle John. She noted that although CARICOM countries may have different perspectives on Biosafety and the threat of modern technology, they all are in agreement that Biosafety Systems are relevant. She also noted in the discussion that they are challenges facing the Biosafety Systems in the Caribbean, the main one specifically being the finalizing of a Draft Regional Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy as well as its implementation. Dr. John then discussed the outputs from the National Biosafety Frameworks Project. One of the most critical outputs included ‘back to back’ training workshops held in Trinidad which discussed Biosafety legislation, regulation and administrative systems. The training workshops allowed countries to either:
- Refine their existing draft legislation regulations and administrative systems.
- Begin the drafting process.
Another output was the Msc. In Biosafety which began in September 2014 at the University of the West Indies Cavehill Campus Barbados. Support was given to 16 students since its initiation.
In conclusion Dr. John pointed out the next steps for a National Component. The main focus areas include:
- Draft Biosafety Legislation.
- Revised Biosafety Policy.
- Establish National Biosafety Clearing House.
- Roster of experts.
- Completion of Technical Resource Working Group and facility for the submission of request for assistance to the group.
- Production of technical tools and guidelines.
In the final presentation of Day 1 of the workshop, Dr. John presented on Regional Policy on Biosafety and Technology. This topic discussed how the Cartagena Protocol acts as a global harmonisation mechanism. She noted that with a Regional Policy, through several countries can make their own decisions on LMO’s, the standards, guidelines , methods and approaches can be jointly developed at a regional level.
The workshop then concluded for the day and resumed for the following day at 9:30 a: m.
On Day 2 of the workshop Dr. Hollingsworth presented the topic, Public Engagement and Biosafety. The presentation looked at the importance of stakeholder engagement. She pointed out that stakeholders are increasingly dependent on sharing knowledge and working together which enables better risk management. It also provides the opportunity to inform, educate and influence stakeholders, their decision-making and actions that impact projects.
Methods of public engagement should also be broad-based such as advertising and workshops. The discussion on public engagement also looked at strengthening capacities which looked at overcoming the barriers that may hinder stakeholders from engaging in projects.
The second presentation of the day was to be presented once again by Dr. Hollingsworth which discussed the Cartagena Protocol. The discussion entailed elements of the Protocol and how it links with the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) since Biosafety is one of the issues addressed by the convention. The Protocol also contributes to ensuring the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs created through modern biotechnology.
Following after Dr. Hollingsworth was Dr. Michelle John. She presented on the topic; Proposed “best fit” General Model for the Caribbean Region. The regulatory framework for biosafety-related activities provides rules when there is an expectation of compliance by those being regulated. The development of a country-specific framework needs to incorporate considerations of existing biosafety frameworks and their functionality and be cognisant of the implications and obligations of the CBD.
Dr. John also discussed the main components of the regulatory system and the need for each of these components in the framework model. This presentation concluded the morning session of Day 2 of the workshop.
In the afternoon session, Dr. Carlos Blanco discussed the topic; Regulatory Frameworks used in the US, Canada and Mexico. He explained the regulation of biotechnology in the US, Canada and Mexico and how they vary when it comes to their view on human and animal health, the environment and efficacy. Dr. Blanco noted that there is other legislation that covers certain aspects of the regulatory frameworks. Such legislation would include; The Federal Plant protections Act, Toxic substances and Control Act and National Environment Policy Act.
He also discussed the risk management methods used in regulating GMO’s. The assessment through laboratory testing is also important such as Molecular Characterization, Toxicity and Allergenic Potential, Compositional Analysis and Nutritional Analysis. Finally, risk assessment must look at the impact on crop pollination and beneficial organisms, the impact on non-target species as well as the soci-economic impacts.
After Dr. Blanco’s presentation, Dr. John gave a summary of the topics discussed within the workshop brining the workshop to a close.
In conclusion, the Biosafety Sensitisation Workshop provided more input and exposure to stakeholders of both the public and private sector on Biosafety. It also emphasized need for Barbados to go forward in finalizing the Draft Policy in order for the regulatory frameworks to be put into full effect as well the training of a technical team to handle matters of Biosafety.