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Solomons & NZ Regional Biosafety/Biosecurity Plan

Solomon Islands and the New Zealand Institute of Gene Ecology collaborate on regional biosafety/biosecurity

Groups from two countries that have both recently ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety joined together to raise regional capacity through the inaugural Regional Biosafety Course held in Honiara, Solomon Islands from 15-23 August, 2005.

The Biosafety Protocol is an international agreement on the trade and distribution of living (genetically) modified organisms and became international law in 2003.

The Forest, Environment and Conservation Minister of Solomon Islands, the Hon. David Holosivi, welcomed the initiative, saying that “We have been priviledged to host and witness a course combining cutting-edge science, world-class teaching and applied analysis suited to the Solomon situation.” Later he attributed the initiative to the “deep and genuine partnership” between the New Zealand Institute of Gene Ecology [NZIGE] and the Islands Knowledge Institute [IKI] of the Solomon Islands.

Mr. Paul Roughan, the National Biosafety Framework Coordinator for Solomon Islands, raised the idea of a workshop for regulators, scientists, and citizens with interests in, and official roles under, the Protocol. The course was co-taught by Roughan and staff of the NZIGE, a public-interest research centre located at the University of Canterbury. The NZIGE has raised support under the UNEP-GENØK Biosafety Building Capacity Package, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

Holosivi is calling for more of the same throughout the region. “[I]n the 2005 Solomon Islands Biosafety Course, we have witnessed a rare example of excellence in capacity building and partnership. This model deserves recognition, this experience needs to be repeated, and all partners in this occasion should be congratulated and encouraged,” he said. “Solomon Islands needs to continue to support, host and facilitate events such as this one.”

The NZIGE has responded to the spirit of the Protocol and the New Zealand Government’s declared commitment to biosecurity through this inaugural biosafety course for the South Pacific. Follow-up activities already under discussion include more advanced courses and repeated courses in Kiribati and Vanuatu.

“The Solomon Islands is emerging as a regional leader in biosafety as demonstrated by high level Government support for initiatives that build capacity and recognize that regulatory frameworks should be designed to augment capacity, not ignore gaps in scientific knowledge” said NZIGE Director and course instructor Assoc. Prof. Jack Heinemann. Holosivi agreed, saying that through this course “we have ensured that our priorities in biosafety are driven by knowledge and by our search for it, rather than by a lack of it.”

The course had lectures in biosafety-applied molecular biology, ecology, biodiversity, social impacts, and the role of public participation. The course also featured practical sessions on techniques for detecting GMOs in food. Participants developed a custom scientific risk assessment on an application for the release of a GMO using a prototype service being developed at the NZIGE, called the Biosafety Forecast Service.

Other instructors and resource personnel from New Zealand included Dr. Joanna Goven, Marina Cretenet, Camilo Rodriguez-Beltran and Billie Moore, all from the University of Canterbury. Holosivi thanked the New Zealand team, noting that their “dedication to genuine assistance has been apparent” and adding his hope that “this be the beginning of more to come.” The New Zealand team have the same dream.

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