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Biosafety Research Communication Network

Final Report Summary - BIOSAFENET (Biosafety Research Communication Network)

In the public debate on the bio-safety of Genetically modified organisms (GMO), the results and even the existence of GMO bio-safety research are often ignored. As a consequence, the already established stable basis for a science-based discussion on GMO biosafety is not fully explored in Europe and worldwide. The major aim of the project is to contribute to the information and discussion of the scientific issues related to bio-safety of GMO.

BIOSAFENET was a network of European scientists working in the field of GMO biosafety research. The project aimed to combine the information on biosafety from various EU research programmes and from existing European GMO biosafety networks. Additionally, research results were summarised for scientific discussion as well as for policy making and public. BIOSAFETY research, its results and activities, were presented in a clearer way to increase visibility and acceptance.

The information system that was offered by BIOSAFENET gave researchers and industry the means to garner the facts and figures of international biosafety research and resources. The BIOSAFENET consortium anticipated that online marketing, data analysis and editorial activities will help fuel the development and sustainability of a communication infrastructure. Strengthening communication will encourage public understanding, thus achieving BIOSAFENET's objective to make biosafety research more recognised.

To accomplish this a number of activities were started. Key of all was the 10th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organism in Wellington, New Zealand in November 2008, to which a delegation of 18 European scientists was invited by BIOSAFENET to actively participate. Two expert seminars on biosafety issues were held. The first BIOSAFENET seminar, organised in cooperation with Mike Wilkinson (University of Aberystwyth, United Kingdom), was held at ICGEB in Ca'Tron, Italy, in January 2008. It was entitled 'Beyond fitness: how do we predict the consequences of enhanced fitness following gene flow from GM crops'. There were 19 participants from the following countries: Germany, Hungary, Italy, United Kingdom, and United States. As an outcome of the seminar, a meeting report and a recommendation report were drafted, and the latter will be published in Environmental Biosafety Research.

The second BIOSAFENET seminar reviewed the 'Experience from monitoring the commercial cultivation of Bt maize in Europe - conclusions and recommendations for future monitoring practice' and was scheduled from 23 to 25 April 2008. It was coorganised with a workshop on GMO-monitoring by JKI in Berlin, Germany. 14 experts from Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom attended. A meeting report and a recommendation report were prepared, and the latter will be published in Environmental Biosafety Research. Three more seminars were scheduled for 2009 dealing with statistics for field trials, genetically modified insects, and stress resistant crops.

All BIOSAFNET contractors were connected with or participated in other EU-funded projects that were related to biosafety issues. Further information on biosafety research activity in the Central and East European countries were collected through a questionnaire, which was distributed among regional scientists and experts in several meetings. An internal list of biosafety experts and institutions is continuously being updated (it currently stands at 81 experts).

Several seminars were organised with focus on the regional networking of biosafety experts by the Pannonian Plant Biotechnology Association (PPBA) and the Black Sea Biotechnology Association. A series of seminars arranged by NHRF provided insight into the following topics: 'Biosafety, scientific background', 'Green biotechnology and biosafety', 'Social and perception issues', 'Principles of risk assessment, risk management and risk communication', and the 'Political context and regulation'. BIOSAFENET supported the International Society for Biosafety Research by designing and editing a newsletter.

The BiosafeRes (formerly GMO RES COM) database has been operational on the ICGEB biosafety webpage (please see online) since October 2007. The database has undergone a complete structural and programming overhaul, followed by both alpha- and beta-phase testing, i.e. in house testing to identify initial operational difficulties requiring further programming to resolve, as well as external testing by a selected number of possible project managers (primarily those new contacts from the Balkan region, in addition to ISBR members) to insert new / fresh data.

What is now needed are efforts to make the database more widely known, in order to bring the content up-to-date and be of greatest use. In 2008, two meetings with other EU-funded projects were organised. The first dealt with an introduction of the institutions and the identification of a common scientific issue that will be dealt with in further meetings: risk assessment strategies. The second meeting was linked to a conjoint presentation of the projects BIOSAFENET, SCIENCE4BIOREG, CO-EXTRA, TRANSCONTAINER and PHARMAPLANTA in the conference / meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol introducing European biosafety research and risk assessment to the international audience.

The BIOSAFENET internet platform, the central communication tool of the project to disseminate biosafety-related information to the public and relevant stakeholders, was successfully established in October 2006 (please see online). It now offers a broad range of information on biosafety issues in public debate, and scientific results are transferred to a broader audience through a series of interviews, focus articles (media sets) and news articles. The site maintains three databases, on coexistence, online biosafety documents and biosafety internet web resources, which can help users to find appropriate information (please see online). It currently receives up to 37 000 visitors per month.

Media-relations activities have contributed to a broad dissemination of biosafety-related information to public and stakeholders. A list of about 900 international journalists was compiled. This distribution list is used to inform journalists about BIOSAFENET-related products. In the course of the project, more than 20 requests of journalists / institutions for further information or interview partners were registered.

In addition, the number of newsletter subscribers increased from 1 200 to 2 950. The newsletter is sent approximately monthly. 16 information packages (media sets), which address important topics of the public debate have been published. A survey was initiated to retain feedback on the user acceptance of the BIOSAFENET website. Most respondents (about 87 %) rated the quality of articles as good or very good. Some respondents suggested new topics for articles and interviews (e.g. developing countries, risk-benefit analysis, organic farming).

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