I have just returned from Tromso, Norway, where I spent two weeks taking an international biosafety course offered by Genok, Centre for Biosafety in the University of Tromso. I was among 40 students chosen from all over the world, from countries like Iran, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, Indonesia, Palau, Nepal, Bhutan, Mozambique, Cuba, Rwanda, Chile and China. The faculty and presenters included instructors and resources from the US, New Zealand, Malaysia, Italy, Austria and England, and included personal heroes of mine, like Ignacio Chapela, David Quist, Arpad Pusztai and Terje Traavik.
Those two weeks were really was an inspiring, intense and exhilarating experience, which I hope to elaborate on in the following days. Here is the course description:
Biosafety course: Holistic Foundations for Assessment and Regulation of Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Organisms
04.04.2008Date: 28 July – 08 August 2008
Venue: Science Park/University of Tromsø, Norway
• Holistic overview of genetics, genes and gene expression
• Hazard identification and molecular characterisation
• Critical evaluation of characterisation and profiling tools
• Sampling dynamics
• Risk assessment case studies
• Practical sessions in writing a risk evaluation that meets the Cartagena Protocol requirements
• Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from GMOs
• Various application areas for genetic engineering
• Various risk areas connected to GE applications/GMOs
• Economic and legal aspects of GE applications/GMOs
• Socio-cultural, ethical, and political issues in GE applications/GMOs
• Policy and regulatory issues, including capacity building and biosafety implementation
• Future and emerging GE applications
• Gene ecology and alternatives to GE/GMO applications
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety seeks to protect human health (including food safety) and biodiversity from the potential risks created by the use and dissemination of living “Genetically Modified Organisms” (GMOs), while taking into account socio-economic considerations. Implementation of biosafety regulation is therefore the focus of many countries to establish such safeguards. However, the process of implementing the Protocol has unveiled a limited capacity for science-based hazard identification that is necessary to perform risk assessments, including a holistic understanding of the policy, legal, regulatory, ethical, economic and social dimensions, which is also lacking in many cases.
Performing credible and relevant biological risk assessments requires multi-disciplinary scientific and social scientific competence that considers the local context of GMO introductions. Each country requires the capacity for general scientific risk assessment and management, tailored to their particular environmental, health, and community needs. Moreover, there is a need to assess GMOs developed domestically, or imported purposely or accidentally from others, into the context of their special cultural, ethical, socio-economic and policy frameworks. Such initiatives will require holistic approaches to develop adequate integration of diverse issues in the regulation of GMOs.
About the course
The course is designed to provide policy makers, regulators, scientists and NGOs/civil society leaders, specifically from developing countries (ODA-countries), the knowledge and training necessary to develop a holistic view on the issues surrounding GMOs. The goal is to empower the participants with balanced information on GMOs, in order to fairly, yet critically, evaluate the issue from their own perspective and country needs. Lectures, laboratory demonstrations, group work on case studies and discussions will form the basis of the course, which aims to offer biosafety capacity building within a holistic framework. Participants will also be required to submit a GE/GMO/biosafety country report in order to more broadly share their local experiences of the current status of GMOs/biosafety with other participants.