Archived news articles - 2006

GMAC - 18 May 2006

GMAC releases the Singapore Biosafety Guidelines for Research on GMOs

The Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC), established in April 1999 to oversee and advise on the research and development, production, use, handling and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Singapore, is releasing a new set of guidelines to further promote and enhance the biosafety culture amongst Singapore scientists who are working on genetically modified organisms and, to establish a common framework for the assessment and notification of research on GMOs in Singapore.

Entitled the ‘Singapore Biosafety Guidelines for Research on Genetically Modified Organisms’, the Guidelines is yet another strategy by the advisory committee to strive towards ensuring public safety while allowing for the commercial exploitation of GMOs and GMO-derived products by companies and research institutions in Singapore. The committee had previously, in 1999, released the ‘Singapore Guidelines on the Release of Agriculture-Related GMOs’.

The Singapore Biosafety Guidelines for Research on GMOs is the first local guidelines specific to genetic modification research. It is available on the GMAC website or from the GMAC Secretariat from 18th May 2006.

Risk Assessments and Notification Central to Research on GMOs
A central philosophy encouraged by the guidelines is the concept of risk assessments to be undertaken by every researcher and overseen by respective institutional biosafety committees, and, if necessary, in consultation with GMAC. Additionally, notification to the relevant regulatory authorities is necessary for research work involving regulated organisms.

Genetic transformation or recombinant DNA technology involves the combining of genetic material from different sources to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that may not have, otherwise, existed naturally. While there are concerns that such GMOs may have undesirable and unpredictable properties that could present a biohazard when escaped from the laboratories, genetic engineering may be conducted in a safe manner when appropriate risk assessments and adequate safety measures are instituted.

Risk assessments help facilitate the identification of risk factors, whether probable or possible. This process of exploring the relevant risk factors would further assist the scientists to ensure that procedures, containment measures and facilities have been or will be put in place to minimize or eliminate the risks to users, community or environment, including the risks of escape.

It is important that risk assessments be undertaken by suitably trained and experienced personnel. It is also important for institutions to establish their respective Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBC) to ensure oversight of sound risk assessments, while at the same time keeping track of their own GM-related research activities.

Encouraging a regulatory infrastructure that meets international standards
With worldwide increased awareness of biosafety and biosecurity concerns, it is important that Singapore establish a regulatory infrastructure that meets international standards, which would serve the dual function of ensuring public safety and also establishing Singapore’s credibility and reputation to encourage and facilitate Singapore-based R&D companies to penetrate global markets.

The guidelines were drafted in close consultation with regulatory authorities, such as the Ministry of Health (Biosafety Branch) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, to ensure harmonization with existing legislation. GMAC has and will continue to work very closely with these regulatory authorities in implementing the guidelines.

Stakeholder Consultations and International Best Practices
The Biosafety Guidelines were developed with the end-users in mind. In this regard, GMAC had consulted and engaged various stakeholders, e.g. researchers, biosafety officers, regulatory agencies, etc, during its course of drafting the guidelines. At the same time, GMAC had also studied many international guidelines and standards. Marrying the local research landscape with international best practices, the final outcome is a set of biosafety guidelines that is both practical and logical.

A One-Stop Source of Information
The Guidelines also serve to present harmonized information for researchers and to highlight relevant legislation pertinent to work on GMOs. Flow charts included in the guidelines illustrate overviews of procedures, e.g. decision flow charts for assessment and notification of GM research work and operational flow charts for importation of GMOs for research. Also included are contact information of the relevant regulatory authorities.

Associate Professor Chan Woon Khiong, Chairman of the Subcommittee overseeing the Biosafety Guidelines for Research on GMOs, hoped that “the guidelines will serve as a one-stop information source for researchers who are working or interested to work on GMO research in Singapore”.

Inculcating a culture of enhanced biosafety awareness
Ultimately, the committee hoped that the implementation of the Singapore Biosafety Guidelines for Research on GMOs by research institutions would promote and eventually entrench the culture of enhanced biosafety awareness amongst Singapore scientists, a highly essential factor in today’s context of increased biosafety demand.

The Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC), a non-profit, multi-agency advisory committee was set up in April 1999 to oversee and advise on the research and development, production, use, handling and release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), ensuring that these are done in compliance with international standards. GMAC will continue to develop and approve biosafety guidelines regarding GMOs, as well as facilitate the harmonisation of guidelines with international authorities. GMAC has, since, expanded its role to take on creation and enhancement of public awareness on GMOs and GM-related issues.

Issued by GMAC

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