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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Workshop on biosafety capacity building

13 December 2009 
By Zora Chan
A WORKSHOP on biosafety for Sarawak stakeholders was held in Kuching recently, and the Malaysian Nature Society — Kuching branch, a stakeholder under the non- governmental organisation (NGO) category, was invited to participate.
            The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) held the one and a half-day workshop in collaboration with the State Planning Unit (SPU), Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC), Global Environment Fund (GEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Malaysia signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) on May 24, 2000, and the Biosafety Bill was re-drafted to harmonise with the CPB. Malaysia then ratified the CPB in September 2003 and the Biosafety Bill was passed in Parliament in July 2007.
Biosafety capacity building is a key prerequisite for the effective implementation of the CPB as well as the National Biosafety Act.
            In order to be able to effectively implement the National Biosafety Act and meet the country’s international obligations, appropriate institutional mechanisms and infrastructure, well-trained human resources, adequate funding as well as easy access to relevant information must be in place.
            ‘Support to Capacity Building Activities on Implementing the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the National Biosafety Act’, a project funded by GEF, led by NRE with support from UNDP Malaysia, was implemented in 2007 to answer the above needs as well as to build channels for information dissemination and public participation.
Therefore, NRE engaged all stakeholders at the state-level so that the gap in capacity development could be identified and activities geared towards bridging them. The workshop aimed to present the overall objectives of the NRE-UNDP-GEF Biosafety project, its implementation activities and also provide an opportunity to share experiences and lessons learned among various stakeholders in regulatory and enforcement procedures and the challenges to effectively implement the Biosafety Act.

THE ACT: A copy of the Biosafety Act 2007.

Objectives of the workshop were:
Biosafety Project

  • Ø  To share experiences and issues among the stakeholders in the area of biosafety capacity needs
  • Ø  To review information of past and on-going biosafety capacity building activities and gather future needs at the state level where biosafety capacity is concerned.

The speakers at the workshop were NRE Biosafety Core Team head Letchumanan Ramatha, Universiti Putra Malaysia associate professor Dr Norihan Mohd Saleh, Chemistry Department senior officer Jasbeer Kaur, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak associate professor Dr Edmund Sim Ui Hang and NRE-UNDP-GEF Biosafety Project national coordinator Dr Vilasini Pillai.
            Among others, they briefed participants on ‘The Development of Living Modified Organism (LMOs): Impact on Environment and the Need for Regulation’, ‘Overview on GMO — What’s in Store for Us?’, ‘Malaysia Biosafety Act 2007’ and ‘Introduction to Capacity Building Activities for the Implementation of the Cartagena Protocol and the Malaysian Biosafety Act’.
            According to Letchumanan, biosafety involves rules and procedures designed to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting from the applications of modern biotechnology and
its products so that it would be safe for human, plant and animal health, and the environment. The Biosafety Act 2007 came into force on Dec 1, 2009 and would pave the way to establish the National Biosafety Board (NBB) to regulate the release, importation, exportation and contained use of LMOs, and the release of products of such organisms, with the objectives of protecting human, plant and animal health, the environment and biological diversity.
            Workshop participants also held group discussions to provide feedback on the future needs of stakeholders at the state level where biosafety capacity is concerned.
They also identified gaps for biosafety capacity building, potential collaborating partners in Sarawak and how to establish two-way communication platform with NRE-UNDP-GEF Biosafety Project Team to facilitate future activities.

MORE INFO: Publications on biosafety from Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Among others, they agreed that a body like Sarawak Biosafety Council or Project Steering Committee should be formed; awareness programmes on Biosafety Act 2007 to be held for school and university students, the media and community; and a standard guideline to be provided for enforcement officers as reference.
They also listed out potential collaborating partners for implementing biosafety capacity building in Sarawak.
These included the Department of Agriculture, Department of Chemistry, Department of Immigration, Department of Customs, Department of Forest, State Planning Unit, local authorities, consumers associations, farmers association, religious bodies, trade associations, universities and NGOs like Angkatan Zaman Mansang (Azam) and MNS.

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