About Biosafety

The term ‘modern biotechnology’ is specifically used to refer to those biotechnological techniques for the manipulation of genetic material and fusion of cells beyond normal breeding barriers. The process of genetic engineering to create genetically modified/engineered organisms (GMOs/GEOs) is an example of modern biotechnology. New initiatives in biotechnology can provide countries in the Caribbean with opportunities to manage their natural resources, while seeking to obtain maximum benefits from the sustainable use of these resources for economic and social development.

Biotechnology in the Caribbean

Modern biotechnology promises remarkable advances in agriculture, medicine (new medical treatments and vaccines), new industrial products, improved fibres and fuels. Although research in biotechnology is being carried out in institutions in the Region in countries such as Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago, modern biotechnology is a very new field.

Despite this however, it is critical that the products of modern biotechnology, including living modified organisms (LMOs) be managed in such a way that all concerns with respect to potential negative impacts to plant, animal and human health and the environment are addressed.

The Cartagena Protocol

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) represents the instrument that was conceptualised as the mechanism to address these issues. Adopted on 29 January 2000 as a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the CPB entered into force on 11 September 2003. It aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking into account risks to human health.

Biosafety regulatory frameworks

Within the CARICOM region, countries have either ratified (Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Grenada, Jamaica), or acceded to (Barbados, Belize, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago) the CPB.

Although regional countries may not concur about the magnitude and consequences of the potential threats posed by modern biotechnology, there is agreement on the importance of biosafety regulatory frameworks. By having the necessary safeguards in place and clearly defining the requirements for the importation and release of an LMO, the responsible use of these products can be better assured.