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Trainees collaborate with CBD in Montreal


Trainees in the research practicum traveled to Montreal, Canada to collaborate with our IGERT partners at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD asked trainees to review risk assessment frameworks currently used on living modified organisms (LMOs). The trainees reviewed risk assessment frameworks from a variety of countries that represent a range of geographic locations and levels of socio-economic development. The result was a comprehensive summary of the risk assessment processes used by Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Germany, Japan, South Africa and the US. The document produced was a whitepaper entitled, “Summary and Comparative Analysis of Nine National Approaches to Ecological Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms in the Context of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Annex III”, and it will be used by the CBD to help other countries develop their own risk assessment frameworks for LMOs. Trainee Thelma Heidel will present a poster describing the results at the IGERT PI meeting in Washington, D.C. May 24, 2010 and trainee David Smith will present the results at the Tribal Renewable Energy Research Workshop at the University of Washington May 11, 2010.

Trainees learned firsthand about the challenges (e.g., relying on technology for calls and meetings) and benefits (e.g., gaining research opportunities that may not exist locally) of working with international partners. They also learned what it can be like to work on a project that spans the globe, crosses many political boundaries and requires communication with scientists (social, political and biological) who do not publish their work in English. Even though the trainees had Spanish and French language skills their group needed help translating Japanese, Portuguese and other languages. Trainees found that while representatives of some countries were happy to share the details of their RA process, many representatives of other countries were not. This was a valuable lesson in how politics influences science and public policy. The trainees learned that government scientists in other countries are not always free to share their work. The experience will inform their future decisions to engage in international work and provides them with the background needed to succeed at it.

Address Goals

This report can contribute to improving LMO risk assessment procedures in an era when the use of LMOs is becoming increasingly common and widespread. The CBD will use the whitepaper that resulted from this international experience to help other nations develop their own risk assessment processes. The information within this report provides a resource for agencies developing or expanding their country’s LMO regulatory frameworks, as well as for researchers and government workers seeking to gain a better understanding of how risk assessment of LMOs is approached across the globe. The project was broadly inclusive because the whitepaper suggests that no one nation has the best methodology for conducting risk assessments. Indeed, it is beyond the scope of the report to offer prescriptive recommendations for how to conduct risk assessment, and it remains unclear how successful different approaches are at regulating LMO technology. However, discrepancies in the ERA process among countries do suggest that it may be difficult to reach global agreement on “best” principles and methodologies for LMO risk assessment. In fact, a diversity of approaches may be warranted in the context of different cultures, levels of desired precaution to protect biodiversity, and socio-economic considerations. The project will increase the scientific literacy of scientists around the globe as they discover the risk assessment frameworks used by nine different nations. Even if they do not adopt the ideas and approaches presented, they will be better prepared to create their own risk assessment process.