Biosafety Clearing House Workshop

Under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) was designed as a global mechanism for the exchange of information pertaining to the movement and trade of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The primary goal of the BCH is to assist parties in complying with their obligations under the Cartagena Protocol.  This is achieved through the systematic sharing of technical, scientific, legal and administrative information.

The hub of the BCH is a central portal housed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on their website, which is designed to be interoperable with other databases.  Each party is required to contribute specific information to this global portal, and this information must be supplied within set time frames.

Unlike other clearing houses, the BCH is the first of its kind which must be used in order to fulfil legal obligations under its parent protocol.  Under Article 11.1 of this protocol decisions taken by parties to the convention at a domestic level, which involve the use of a GMO that may cross international borders at any point, must be communicated to other potentially affected parties through the BCH.  For this reason, its proper implementation is key.

Day 1 – Review of the Cartagena Protocol and Biosafety Clearing House

The workshop commenced with a review of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB).  The workshop’s facilitator, Dr. Ocampo, detailed the history of the CPB under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), explaining how the protocol was devised and when it was ratified.  After this he went on to explain the purpose of the CPB, which was to set out a regulatory framework for the transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The following session focused on the application of the CPB, explaining each article and how they were envisioned to be implemented in various scenarios.  For this, interactive training modules were used, which allowed each participant to test their knowledge of the CPB and its application under varying circumstances.  The interactive modules also went on to cover the obligations of parties under the CPB, and participants were later tested on this information.

Following the completion of the interactive modules and tests, the workshop moved on to the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH).  Participants were given an overview of the history of the BCH before Dr. Ocampo went on to describe the current iteration of the systems and its functionality.  An important part of this session was the detailed breakdown of information stored on the BCH.  As part of this exercise, participants were taught how to access the central portal of the BCH and find information that was relevant to their individual work.  Locating records on National Competent Authorities, the registry of GMOs, records of decisions made by foreign Competent Authorities and even summaries of risk assessments were covered in this session.  To complete this session, participants worked through a practise exercise using information from the BCH to make a decision on the export and subsequent import of GMO products.

Once this session was complete participants learned how to register these kinds of information in the central portal of the BCH, so that Barbados’ own obligations under the CPB could be met.  The workshop covered the administration of the BCH National Focal Point account as well as the creation of National Authorised User accounts for relevant officers.  The remaining time in this first session was spent reviewing the information registered for Barbados in the Central Portal of the BCH in preparation for updating outdated and erroneous information.

Day 2 – Updating of Barbados Information on the Biosafety Clearing House

The second day of the workshop commenced with the participants registering their accounts and updating outdated information on the BCH.  Most of the information on the clearing house was over ten years old and as a result referenced retired officers and agencies that no longer existed.  Contact information was also out of date and had to be updated by the participants.  In addition to outdated information, there had also been a number of changes made to the BCH since Barbados’ information was last input and updated.  As a result a number of mandatory data fields remained blank and needed to be filled.

Once this was complete, the participants began to identify reference information that could also be published to the BCH.  This information was considered non-official and could be uploaded by any user of the system.  This included information on non-governmental organisations, research institutions, public awareness and capacity building activities among other things.  The participants worked in groups to identify potential sources of reference information that could be used to flesh out Barbados’ contributions to the BCH.

Following this exercise there was a technical session on two technologies that could be used for the creation and maintenance of Barbados’ national node of the BCH.  The first technology explored was the HERMES system, which was a content management system designed, managed and maintained by the CBD.  It was explained that HERMES allowed for the creation of national BCH websites without the need for understanding web-development technologies and coding languages.  Participants of the workshop were taught how to use the HERMES system to create, edit and maintain a local BCH.  The second technology covered under the workshop was the AJAX plugin developed by the CBD.  The AJAX plugin allowed independently created and operated websites to pull information from the central portal of the BCH, and display them on local pages.  This technology was demonstrated using a test site.

Finally, the participants were asked to identify the functional requirements, structure and content of the proposed national BCH website.  This was done to form a concrete idea of what would be created under the project.  Once this exercise was completed, the workshop was brought to a close.

Workshop Outputs

During the course of the workshop a number of objectives were achieved, through combining the knowledge of the participants and the technical capacity and aptitude of the facilitator.  Among these achievements were:

  • Recovery of the BCH National Focal Point account
  • Creation of National Authorized User and Hermes Administrator accounts
  • Updating of BCH record for Barbados’ National Competent Authority to reflect the current name, address and telephone number of the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Removal of duplicate entries detailing legal regulations related to the import and export of GMOs in Barbados.
  • Updating of the Article 17 Emergence Contact for Barbados

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