Accurate biosafety messaging: online discussion on LMOs

By Pablo Orozco

March 19, 2018

The guiding principle that public participation is key to a functional, effective biosafety regulatory system has prompted an online discussion around awareness of living modified organisms (LMOs).

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB)  — the main international agreement addressing the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the safe transfer, handling and use of  LMOs — enshrines this principle in its Article 23, requiring parties to promote and facilitate public awareness, education and participation on the matter.

The CPB will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its implementation on Sept. 11, and the Protocol’s secretariat is taking this opportunity to promote public awareness on biosafety, facilitating an online discussion now through March 30 that allows the exchange of views and information.

Considering the complexity of this field, it is vital to make good information available to the public and interested stakeholders. This facilitates knowledgeable engagement and accountability, builds trust, and demonstrates the competence and integrity of measures taken by the parties. However, it can be difficult to choose the right channels for effectively communicating science-based messages that clearly and accurately inform stakeholders on the biosafety regulatory processes, while also contributing to an improved understanding of the technology.

Join online discussion now through March 30

Moreover, when talking about biosafety it’s important to remember that the Cartagena Protocol by its nature performs a balancing act, since it addresses possible impacts to biological diversity while at the same time allowing access and transfer to a technology that is recognized as having “… great potential for human wellbeing if developed and used with adequate safety measures for the environment and human health,” as its preamble  clearly states.

As such, it has in place principles and stages for risk assessment, risk management and the allowance for decisions by competent authorities so that the parties can implement a science-based pre-authorization before introducing any LMO into the environment. These aspects of the regulatory framework should be as widely known as the definition of an LMO in order to present cohesive messages regarding the technology and its applications.

The CPB’s secretariat is promoting the forum, expecting to facilitate public awareness and education by sharing, building and maintaining joint initiatives; communicating biosafety; and ultimately empowering a wider audience. The discussion will be divided into three themes: a) March 15-22 “Messages and communication channels for the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and beyond”; b) March 23-30 “Collaboration for the Future: Mobilizing partnerships and funding for awareness”; and c) March 23-30 “Follow-up to the programme of work on public awareness, education and participation.

The guiding questions for each theme are available to download in English, Spanish, and French on the CPB discussion webpage. To participate, simply follow the instructions, modalities and guidelines on the website.

The Protocol has provided guidance for many national biosafety frameworks all around the world that also consider information dissemination and stakeholder engagement as pivotal. Even non-parties must deal with issues like the complexity of the subject matter, capacity or budgetary constraints or lack of awareness of the right to participate, not to mention the fact that biosafety regulations are in constant flux in order to include the emerging new advances.

The information and experiences shared by participants in overcoming hurdles is open to all who register for the forum and can serve to inform the many member countries and CPB website users of best practices and useful forms of messaging about biosafety — a win for everyone.

In any case, raising awareness, educating the public and fostering participation can also ultimately allow wider access to scientific information that is directly related to existing issues in biosafety by addressing concerns or highlighting benefits. Moderators are assigned for Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Western Europe and other states, so register, log on and start typing!