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Discussion Group 1

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Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3282]
Dear Forum Participant,

Welcome to Theme 3 on "The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information".

We welcome you to answer the guiding questions listed below.


1. What is the main rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information in your country? (e.g. is it because access to information is a basic human right; because it fosters greater accountability, transparency, informed debate, informed participation; or because it is an obligation under international treaties?)

2. In what concrete/practical ways has public access to biosafety information contributed to or improved public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs in your country (Please give specific examples).

3. In your view, has public access to biosafety information contributed to greater accountability and transparency of decision-making regarding LMOs and/or public awareness of biosafety issues?

4. In your opinion, has public access to information in general lead to improved implementation of the Protocol?

Best regards,

Ulrika Nilsson
(edited on 2012-05-24 21:58 UTC by Ulrika Nilsson)
posted on 2012-05-24 17:22 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3447]
Pursuant to Article 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, a human being must not be hindered from seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas. Freedom to express convictions, to receive and impart information may not be limited otherwise than by law, if this is necessary to protect the health, honour and dignity, private life and morals of a human being or to defend the constitutional order. Pursuant to Article 30 of the Constitution, a person whose constitutional rights or freedoms are violated shall have the right to apply to court. Any hindrance (punishment, persecution, etc.) for a person to use a right provided for in the Constitution, save for the exceptions provided for in the Constitution, is illegal.

Best regards,
Gintare Blazauskiene
NFP
Lithuania
posted on 2012-06-05 05:53 UTC by Mrs. Gintarė Blažauskienė, Ministry of Environment
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3452]
1. What is the main rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information in your country? (e.g. is it because access to information is a basic human right; because it fosters greater accountability, transparency, informed debate, informed participation; or because it is an obligation under international treaties?)

Right to information is a basic right of an individual in our country  agos provided for in our 1987 Philippine Constitution stating that: “Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest (Article II, Section 28) This basic right supports the policy of transparency and accountability and good governance.
  
2. In what concrete/practical ways has public access to biosafety information contributed to or improved public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs in your country (Please give specific examples). Under our domestic framework, public information and awareness on the impacts of modern biotechnology is a continuing program not only of the government but of the other entities as well. Said initiatives started way back in the mid 1990’s when Bt corn is about to be tested under containment. Scientists and government regulators were invited to present the biosafety regulatory process that the application will go through. A series of seminars and consultations organized in cooperation with the officials of the Barangay (smallest local government unit)  with both the local government officials, members of the communities as well as other stakeholders opposed to the technology were held. Farmers group were also invited and listed to the heated debates and discussions. In some case, simultaneous foras are held by the pro and anti biotech groups. The purpose of these initiatives were to provide information about the technology so that the community can make an informed decision as to whether to allow the testing/experiments or not. In the end it is the farmers who will decide as to where or not they will adopt the technology based on the information shared with them. I believe that truthful and accurate  information sould be provided so that the concerned sectors, i.e. farmers, can make an informed decision.


In your view, has public access to biosafety information contributed to greater accountability and transparency of decision-making regarding LMOs and/or public awareness of biosafety issues?

I believe it has contributed to greater accountability and transparency by the decision makers.It enhances the public comment and public participation of the public in the biosafety decision-making.

In your opinion, has public access to information in general lead to improved implementation of the Protocol? To some extent. Initiatives on this area should be sustained and enhanced so that the general public can be informed accordingly thereby giving them the opportinity to decide. On the part of the regulators, they are provide with best available science based information that will guide them in their risk assessment of applications on GMOs.

Regards and thank you for this opportunity to share with you my views on the subject.

Julieta Fe L. Estacio
PDOIV, Department of Science and Technology
Secretariat, National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines and DOST Biosafety Committee
and  Focal Point, BCH Pilipinas
posted on 2012-06-05 10:09 UTC by Ms. Julieta Fe L. Estacio, Philippines
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3458]
Posted on behalf of Ossama El-Tayeb, Cairo University and NFP for Biosafety Protocol - Egypt

Issues relating to public access to information have been under consideration in Egypt for many years, and are one of the cardinal demands of a democratic environment created by the 25th January revolution.  Environmentalists were among the proponents of this demand.  There is a strong move towards including it in the new constitution.  The national biosafety law, currently under consideration by the Parliament, (as well as the national law on biodiversity) includes strong elements of transparency of applications for release of GMOs and of public participation in relevant decision making.  The process of approval could be suspended in order to hold public hearings on specific applications upon demand by NGOs and interested bodies.  Individuals could report to the regulatory authority of incidents of possible risks to the environment and to the health of people and the latter is obliged to consider and investigate, with possible action.  Individuals could also file for remedial action and possible redress for damage resulting from release of GMOs.  Decisions of the regulatory agency must be posted to the public by electronic and other means along with data of the GMO and its release (excluding information judged as confidential).  The National plan of action for GMO regulation currently under implementation includes clear provisions for raising awareness at all levels including scientists, local authorities, educational institutions, the media, citizens etc.  The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency appreciates examples of best practice experiences from other countries which would further help meeting the objectives of CEPA.
posted on 2012-06-05 20:56 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3462]
Public access to information represents one of the basic human rights. It fosters greater transparency of connected processes.
This is also in line with the commitments related to international treaties, especially Aarhus Convention - the Czech Republic ratified this Convention in 2004 and adopted biosafety related ammendment in 2009.
Public access to information contributs to transparency of decision making.
Public acces to information supports implementation of the Cartagena Protocol.
posted on 2012-06-06 08:28 UTC by Ph.D. Milena Roudna, Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3463]
I think that public access to biosafety information and public awareness play a crucial role in ensuring informed policy and decisions.
One purpose of public access to information is to increase the awareness of the public and the regulators. Such increased awareness increases the ability to identify relevant social and ecological changes. An awareness and sense of the known issues, questions and concerns related to biosafety in a country helps participants to identify the knowledge they have that is relevant, and thus to inform policy. It is an iterative process.
Public participation and public awareness are thus intrinsically linked. Participation is impossible without information being shared and accessed effectively. On the other hand, sharing information and raising awareness invites participation because it enables the public to consider issues and form opinions on them.
Generally speaking public participation in policy processes and decision-making is understood to be a central element of good governance and sustainable development because, in principle, participation should contribute to better-informed, more appropriate and effective, more legitimate and more broadly “owned” decisions and policies.
The Biosafety Protocol in Article 23 recognizes that for public participation to be meaningful there must be access to information, and public awareness and education.
Participation is integral to a good policy and biosafety regulatory framework. This is because, in many cases, regulators will not be dealing with GMOs that have been developed in their particular countries. Instead, different countries will have different local environments and agroecosystems, in which there may be no previous field release and hence experiences with the GMO in question. Participation by local people with knowledge of local conditions thus becomes important. To ensure informed policy and decisions, we also need information on diverse experiences and perspectives that are relevant to assess and manage the risks and impacts of GMOs. Past experiences with introduced technologies, and the power relations associated with them are relevant. Technologies themselves are not neutral instruments as they are embedded in particular cultural worldviews and contexts. It is not only the physical environment that is relevant, as there is also the social environment, and the economic, political and cultural characteristics of the society concerned. For instance, the release of genetically modified (GM) crops involves interactions with social systems such as agricultural practices and farming. This ultimately raises questions as to whether farmers’ rights to use, save, exchange, and sell seeds – practices vital to the farming communities in most developing countries – would be affected by proprietary GM crops. What are the cultural implications of crossing cultural boundaries, or the significance of manipulating organisms for which peoples have relationships with, and custodianship over? What are the implications of an instrumental treatment of maize, for example, which is integral to the cultural and spiritual life of many indigenous and local communities?
Public participation can help to provide answers to these questions by mapping local knowledge, i.e., information on diverse local conditions, practices and cultures that are relevant for the assessment of risks and impacts of GMOs. The authorities have to know which ecological and social systems the technology is going to interact with, and have to engage with the people who live in those conditions, as they will have a key role in evaluating the risks and impacts of GMOs.
This suggests that assessments of GMOs must include an assessment of risks to cultural integrity. However, neither ‘risks’ nor ‘benefits’ can have any meaning without reference to social values. Risk is embedded in values, in that it is a situation or event in which something of value to people is at stake and the outcome is uncertain. So, assessing risk requires knowledge of what people value, why they value what they do, and who decides upon the value. It is thus not possible to evaluate the impacts of new technologies without reference to social concerns.
O.A.ElKawy
(edited on 2012-06-06 11:06 UTC by Ossama Abdelkawy)
posted on 2012-06-06 11:05 UTC by Mr. Ossama Abdelkawy, Syrian Arab Republic
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3473]
Public  access to biosafety information  in general  has indirectly led to improve implementation of the Protocol  since decision makers /regulators/administrators  have  gained knowledge  for  providing and/or  improving tools, i.e. law,policy,administration including  risk management procedure  etc., to  implement  the Protocol . However  I suggest that  information on  importance of biosafety  should be emphasized more to  make public  aware  and then have willingness to comply with provisions of the Protocol.
posted on 2012-06-07 07:21 UTC by Ms. Praopan Tongsom, Thailand
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3502]
1.  The right to the access to information on the biosafety is a right devoted by the constitution of Benign and reinforced by the protocol of Cartagena on the prevention of the biotechnology risks to which the Benin one left. 

2.  The right of access to information on the biosafety contributed effectively to the participation of the public which weighed in the catch of the two moratoriums.  Currently within the framework of the development of preparatory project of  law of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) on the biosafety the NGO and the organizations of the civil company take an active part in all the discussions and expressed the point of view by proposing a directive in the place of the Law or in the case of adoption of the Law, they required that an article be designed to allow the States and community to have the zones without LMO.


3.  The access of the public to information on the biosafety contributes indeed in the decision-making on the LMO and also in the awareness of the public on the biosafety.
posted on 2012-06-09 20:39 UTC by Mr. Comlan Marcel KAKPO, Ministère de l'Environnement, de l'Habitat et de l'Urbanisme
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3508]
Dear All,
I find that this theme is crucial to understand the origin and resulting trends that we are experiencing in our countries.

1. The main rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information in my country is, under the current into force law that applies, a series of measures undertaken at the highest level to promote transparency and combat corruption, but at the same time our Law on Access to Public Information (Decree 57-2008) is a development of articles 30 and 31 of our National Constitution which speaks from the points of view of its citizens.  It is also written under this approach because it seeks to provide and facilitate accountability.  From the point of view regarding to meet the deep country needs, the main rationale is to develop an informed public based on available biosafety information to enable the adoption of more consent decisions concerning LMOs approvals, which is something that historically does not generally occur as other processes of national decisions have shown.

2. My country case is special when it come to give practical ways in which the public access to biosafety information have contributed to public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs, because we have not approved yet the necessary laws and institutional arrangements required to make decisions on LMOs approvals through Competent National Authorities, as we are still developing a National Policy, a National integrated system on biosafety and the set of regulations and rules that enable decision-making at all levels and jurisdictions.

3. The previous assertion applies to this question.  However, most trained participants in workshops of the BCH-II Project (a recent initiative that is related to public awareness on biosafety) have shown a deep interest on the subject and have also asked to receive more training in the near future, which is a fact that shows that there are not many reliable biosafety information sources that exist in Guatemala and that active developing or researchers in the biotechnology field are not disclosing their projects and/or results to related actors of other sectors and institutions.  Considering that my country has not approved any LMOs until now, we found that an explicit answer to this question is not possible because It demands to have an effective way to assess the cause-effect relationship among public access to information and greater accountability and transparency of decision-making on LMOs/public awareness of biosafety issues.  Additional results will be obtained with the biosafety awareness surveys we asked our 107 trained participants of the BCH-II Project in the coming weeks.

In my opinion, I believe public access to information, even if our experience is still incipient on this matter, has allowed to have the attention of the closer institutional actors to biosafety issues, which is previous step o improved implementation of the Protocol, as the response to our workshops call have shown in the past ten months, considering that we have been conducting the Biosafety Implementation Project concomitantly.

Best Regards,
Estuardo Solórzano (BCH-NFP)
Technical Bureau of Biodiversity
National Council of Protected Areas
GUATEMALA, Central America
posted on 2012-06-10 22:56 UTC by Leslie Melisa Ojeda Cabrera
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3511]
1. What is the main rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information in your country? (e.g. is it because access to information is a basic human right; because it fosters greater accountability, transparency, informed debate, informed participation; or because it is an obligation under international treaties?)
        The legislation of the Republic of Belarus aims at ensuring the public’s right to auspicious environment and safe foodstuffs and food raw materials. It shows clearly that access to information is recognized in Belarus as a basic human right, and Belarus implements its obligations under international treaties as well.   

2. In what concrete/practical ways has public access to biosafety information contributed to or improved public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs in your country (Please give specific examples).
        The mechanism of an active public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs is discussing now. It does not mean that public can not influence on those issues. At present, the public participation is expressed through mass-media mostly and written requests from some interested citizens to the governmental or administrative bodies or to the National Co-ordination Biosafety Center.

3. In your view, has public access to biosafety information contributed to greater accountability and transparency of decision-making regarding LMOs and/or public awareness of biosafety issues?        
        Yes, I think that public must has access to biosafety information and be able to influence on decision-making process regarding LMOs.

4. In your opinion, has public access to information in general lead to improved implementation of the Protocol?
        Public access to information in general leads to improving implementation of any laws and regulations. So, public access to biosafety information and participation in decision-making process regarding LMOs will lead to improving the implementation of the Protocol.

Best wishes,
Prof. Elena Makeyeva, The National Co-ordinaton Biosafety Center, Belarus
posted on 2012-06-11 05:39 UTC by Assoc. Prof. Elena Makeyeva, Belarus
RE: Theme 3: The rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information [#3523]
Posted on behalf of Mr. Efrem Okbaghiorghis, National Biodiversity/Biosafety Coordinator, Eritrea:

1. What is the main rationale/importance of public access to biosafety information in your country? (e.g. is it because access to information is a basic human right; because it fosters greater accountability, transparency, informed debate, informed participation; or because it is an obligation under international treaties?)

Because it fosters greater accountability, transparency, informed debate, informed participation

2. In what concrete/practical ways has public access to biosafety information contributed to or improved public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs in your country (Please give specific examples).

By setting awarness programmes especially among  farmers and other industrial processing workers they have commented on LMOs but the concrete idea of LMOs is at a lowest stage for most farmers generally the people.

3. In your view, has public access to biosafety information contributed to greater accountability and transparency of decision-making regarding LMOs and/or public awareness of biosafety issues?

To assure this idea we are trying to have Strategy and Action plan on biosaftey

4. In your opinion, has public access to information in general lead to improved implementation of the Protocol?

To assure this idea we are trying to have Stratey and Action plan on biosaftey
posted on 2012-06-11 14:34 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety