Members of the public are being invited to submit comments, concerns and suggestions on the draft Biosafety Policy for Jamaica, which was tabled in Parliament in June this year.
Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr., made the call as he addressed a consultation on the policy hosted by the Ministry’s Environment and Risk Management Branch on Thursday (October 15).
The document is available on the Ministry’s website, at public libraries and municipal corporations. Written comments will be taken up to October 30, and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minister Charles Jr. noted that the issue of biodiversity “is such that it is vitally important that we make every effort to engage in dialogue with citizens and also to listen; we have to hear their concerns”.
“Coupled with the development of the regulatory framework is the need for us to assure the wider society that their best interests are being served through this policy, and that their voices matter, and their comments have been considered,” Mr. Charles said.
Mr. Charles Jr. informed that the Biosafety Policy is aimed at, among other things, strengthening the rules and procedures necessary in handling biological and microbiological agents such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other related agents and microbiological products.
It covers their use and handling by clinical and microbiological laboratories, biomedical research facilities, teaching and training laboratories and other healthcare institutions such as clinics, health centres, and hospital facilities.
The Minister pointed out that while biotechnology is not new, recent advances raise a host of environmental, social and health issues.
“Having recognised the importance of modern biotechnology in advancing as a country, the inherent risks to our natural environment and health must be foremost in our considerations for its application,” he said.
He noted that the policy “seeks to strike this balance” by setting out the framework whereby Jamaica will be able to meet not only its international obligations, specifically those set out in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to which Jamaica is a party, but also the particular needs and requirements of the country.
Jamaica signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2001, which aims to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the safe transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), specifically focusing on transboundary movements through planned or accidental import/export.
The draft Biosafety Policy envisions that Jamaica has an enabling environment for the safe development and utilisation of modern biotechnology, resulting in minimal risks to human health and biodiversity while providing benefits to health, agriculture and industry.
The goal is to provide a safe and enabling environment for the development, transboundary movement, handling and use of living modified organisms, while managing any potential risks to human health and biodiversity.
Minister Charles Jr. noted that this vision and goal “are underpinned by a number of principles and values, chief of which is the precautionary approach. This means that where there is a potential threat to our environment or human health, lack of scientific information should not be used as a reason for not taking action to prevent environmental degradation or harm to human health”.
Implementation of the policy will result in the effective regulation of the transboundary movement (import and export) of living modified organisms (LMOs); mitigation of the possible adverse effects of LMOs on human health and biodiversity; and promote the development and utilisation of modern biotechnology at the national level that may provide financial benefits.
It will also provide for establishment of standards for the safe handling, storage, transport and use of LMOs, including packaging, labelling, documentation, disposal and contingency procedures, in keeping with international labelling standards; increased public education and awareness and information sharing on biosafety to facilitate effective implementation of the national biosafety regime; and increased capacity of the relevant national institutions to implement and monitor a national framework for biosafety.
“I encourage all Jamaicans to learn all we can about biosafety, and to do our part in helping to spread awareness about, as well as to implement the National Policy on Biosafety,” Minister Charles Jr. said.
It is anticipated that public consultations on the draft policy will be concluded this month and the feedback will help to revise the document, which is to be submitted to Cabinet for approval by January 2021.