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Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3284]
Dear Forum Participant,

Welcome to Theme 1 on "Meaning and scope of public access to information".

We welcome you to answer the guiding questions listed below.

1. Is public access to biosafety information defined in your national law or policy? If so how?

2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

3. In your national law or policy, who is referred to as the “public”? How is the public defined?

4. In your opinion, who is or should be considered to be the public?

Best regards,

Ulrika Nilsson
(edited on 2012-05-24 21:56 UTC by Ulrika Nilsson)
posted on 2012-05-24 17:23 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3441]
The access to information is defined in the national legislation of the Czech Republic, namely:
The right to information in general in the Act 106/1999 on Free Access to Information (amended in 2006) - this regards information gathered by State administration and State institutions.
The right to environmental information in the Act 123/1998 (amended in 2000 and 2005)
The right to biosafety information in the Act 78/2004 on the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetic Products.
This means that Government authorities and other public entities are covered.
Public is not specifically defined. The Act 123 defines applicant as person or entity requiring information.
Under public individual persons, civil society organizations, NGOs etc. can be understood.
posted on 2012-06-04 15:52 UTC by Ph.D. Milena Roudna, Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3442]
1. Yes, In China,all most all government offices have set up a speaker who in periodically claim the information the public are concerning and some events. Of course, In China, national law and policy define the biosafety information should be public access by general people. But the government system is now short of this branch in China. The scholars and some officers are appealing to set up this kind of regular office for response public biosafe information.

Dingming
posted on 2012-06-04 16:15 UTC by Dr Dingming Kang, China Agricultural University
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3444]
Access to the information and public participation to the decision making is the subject of the Art 39 of the national law on Biosafety of 2001. A mechanism for public information and public participation is also established via the special regulation of 2009 and involve requirements for posting relevant summaries via internet, BCH, leaflets and e-mails to the public during examination of notifications. Public hearings considered also one of the efficient methods to consult the public. An electronic Register for interested public is available via the nBCH and involves various stakeholders and public, as NGOs, consumer associations, farmers and farmer associations, doctors and medic personnel, teachers, youths, academia, universities, mass media etc.
The special provisions of the information that could not be considered as confidential information should be make public available is described i the regulation.

Networking and better collaboration between governmental agencies in relation of access and exchange of information related the biosafety should be improved.
I would be interesed to learn from the countries experience related the best practices for public access to the information and public participation.
Best regards
Angela Lozan
Moldova
posted on 2012-06-05 00:55 UTC by Angela Lozan
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3489]
I would like to provide additional information for your reference, but it only comes from my own experience.

As Prof. Kang indicated, there is a way to transfer information by press conferences in China. A few ministries have such mechanisms. However, the spokesmen can only provide limited information in general. Currently, more and more governments open their information to public by websites. I am not aware of a definition of 'public', I guess all residents could be assumed as public in China.

In China, biosafety information is rare compared to that of those progresses in technology. List of approvals for commercialized transgenic organisms including importing is available at the website. But others at earlier stages of development and field trials before reaching approved commercialization are kept from public, even scientists, and are treated as secret information. There are actually several public websites handled by government to release biosafety information (regulation and management, etc.)

The center government is now trying to increase the situation of public awareness and I believe that there will be a progress soon. I think biosafety related information held by government authorities and other public and private entities should be accessible to public.
posted on 2012-06-08 11:03 UTC by Mr. Wei Wei, China
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3491]
Niger republic has set in every ministry a public communication office which can give information related to government policies and strategies in all areas and sectors particularly the [3N]initiative of republic president aiming at involving population in the conservation and sustainable use of national biodiversity for food security in the country. This suggest public information , awareness and training in modern biotechnology place in agriculture and Cartagena Protocol implementation in the country.The ministry of Environment which is the national competent authority of biosafety and Cartagena Protocol
mainly notify its public on essential biosafety information made available through official journal,posters and medias.
posted on 2012-06-08 12:40 UTC by Mr. Mahaman Gado Zaki, Niger
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3445]
The public access to biosafety information is clearly defined in Lithuanian national law. According to the Article 12 „Provision of Information to the Public and Participation in Decision-making“ of the national frame Law on GMOs, „The public shall have the right to participate, according to the procedure established by legal acts, in the making of decisions relating to the use of GMOs and GMPs and to receive information thereon“. Also, the requirement to provide information to the public has been set out into the Governmental Order approved on 10 February, 2010 (No. 102) „Concerning the delivery of environmental information to the public in Lithuania“.

The Order on Regulation on Public Information and Participation in Issuing authorizations for Use of GMOs, adopted by the Minister of Environment on 11/06/2003, declares the rights and duties of notifier to inform public publicly announcing the intention to use GMOs and GMPs, inviting to express and deliver comments on the application and preliminary decision taken on each specific case. The Order on GMOs Information System regulates how to gather and manage the biosafety data and information related to the GMOs and to publish for the public through the GMOs information system. All national regulations correspond to the International (Aarhus Convention, Cartagena protocol on Biosafety) and EU requirements.

Public awareness, access to information and public participation are very related to each other. The public access to biosafety information should promote biosafety awareness and facilitate effective participation in the decision-making process. The public has to be well informed for effective participation in the decision-making process.
In Lithuania the Ministry of Environment administer the national biosafety database on GMOs, which is accessible via internet address: http://gmo.am.lt. The national database itself can not provide sufficiently enough publicly available information to the general public, as public education can not be similar confined to examining only the publications. This process is much more complex. It is important to work with the media as the most efficient mechanism for promoting public awareness and public participation. Though media plays a very important role, but general problem exists related to unbased impartial information.

The role of government authorities in the field of public access to biosafety information is leading. However, the identification of the target public interest groups: state authorities, scientists and the organizations (universities, research centres, various scientific societies, etc.), local communities, non-governmental organizations (environmental, consumers, etc.), farmers and their representative agricultural organizations, business sector (food industry, seed importers, etc.), mass-media and local governmental (municipalities, etc.) is very important in public awareness, information and participation. The public should be aware of and acquainted with each of the opinions that are represented by particular public group. GMO issue is a broad and complex one, therefore it is important when referring to the public do not stick to a single one opinion formed by a certain group, rather than trying to combine forming the consensus and promoting people‘s debate from different public groups.
Also, for the formation of the national biosafety policy the arguments from the target groups and views from different groups in society are very important. It reflects the public attitude to GMOs, in particular their tansboundary movements, and general operation principles securing safe handling of modern biotechnology in the country.

According the Order on Regulation on Public Information and Participation in Issuing authorizations for Use of GMOs, „Public means natural entities, legal entities, associations, organization or other groups residing or operating in the Republic of Lithuania“.

It is very important to distinguish between different groups of the public (consumers, scientists, farmers, politicians, journalists), concerning the different understanding and interests. Also, it is very important to make relevant information (including scientific, legal information) available to the public. All of the public should participate in the decision-making processes.

Best regards,
Gintare Blazauskiene (NFP)
GMO Division
Nature Protection Department
The Ministry of Environment of Lithuania
posted on 2012-06-05 05:16 UTC by Mrs. Gintarė Blažauskienė, Ministry of Environment
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3448]
2: In my opinion it is important to carefully consider what is meant by “access” to biosafety information.  Access, for me, means accessible.  Asking whether biosafety information is accessible to everyone is different from asking if everyone has access. For example, if the information is available online, the public arguably has access to it, but it will not be accessible for people without an ability to connect to the internet. The same applies if the information is held in government offices; is it reasonable to expect that farmers living miles away will be able to take time out from their busy lives to travel to the office to access the information? If not, then it may not be considered accessible. Additionally, being able to see the information does not necessarily mean that you are able to access its meaning. In this sense, for information to be accessible, it must also be understandable, i.e. presented in such a way that members of the public can access its meaning. Therefore, for me, public access to biosafety information means not only that information is available to the public, but also that it is understandable and easily accessible.

When it comes to the scope of public access to biosafety information, the most important thing in my opinion is that this includes access to the scientific studies performed and cited as demonstrating safety. It is often the case, for example, that while the public has access to the details of an application for LMO release and may have a right to comment on this application, they typically will not have access to all of the scientific studies cited as evidence in support of the application. This is either because the scientific studies have been performed by the applicant and are not publically available, or are published in peer reviewed journals that may involve subscription costs for access. Members of the public should have full and free access to all scientific studies cited as demonstrating the safety of LMOs, so that they may interrogate the quality and interpretation of these studies for themselves. Full and free access to the risk-based science performed on LMOs, by both private and public actors, is therefore in my opinion, an important part of what should be included in the scope of public access to biosafety information.

4: While “the public” is often taken to mean anyone and everyone, it is important to carefully consider how this can be framed in different ways. The dominant general framings of “the public” typically present members of the public as either laypeople, affected parties (or stakeholders), interest organisations or consumers. A better way to frame, define and consider members of “the public” may however be as citizens – as members of a community with both rights and responsibilities. How such an approach to framing the definition of “the public” would impact public awareness, education and participation initiatives is worth considering. Finally though, it could be argued that talking about “the public” in a singular form is misleading and that rather than a public, what we have is multiple publics - different groups and collectivities that vary, sometimes dramatically, in their constitution and purpose.  Finding ways to recognise, acknowledge and respect this diversity is always important.
posted on 2012-06-05 09:03 UTC by Ms. Fern Wickson, GenØk Centre for Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3451]
Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information
1. Is public access to biosafety information defined in your national law or policy? If so how?

The National Biosafety Framework for the Philippines (E.O. 514), under Section 1, Constitutional Policies, item 1.7  provides for  Right to Information, which states 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 This policy is provided in Article II Section 28 of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

Public access to biosafety information means providing the public adequate information on activities on GMOs. It can take the form of Foras, briefings and seminars on the planned activities on GMOs in any given area or location in the country. This public information/participation scheme allows exchange of ideas between and among the major players, i.e. local government authorities, members of the communities, the proponents and other stakeholders, thereby allowing the public, especially the citizens in the area  to make an informed decision as early as the planning stage of any experiment on GMOs.  Another type of public access is by allowing the public or interested parties access decisions and pertinent laws, policies, rules and regulations and updated information on GMOs on the government established websites, i.e. BCH, NCBP, DOST Biosaefty Committee, and the DA biotech website.

In the existing biosafety regulatory system, public participation has always been been part of the regulatory process. This was demonstrated even during the crafting of the biosafety guidelines in the late 1980’s where series of consultations were held with the science communities and other stakeholders presenting the policies and guidelines which later became national in scope and is currently used as basis in regulating GMOs intended for contained use. The same scheme was adopted for the latest  Executive issuance strengthening the national biosafety regulatory process on GMOs. Public comment and consultations was provided for in the Agriculture Department’s A.O. 8 giving the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed field testing and propagation of GM crops.

3. In your national law or policy, who is referred to as the “public”? How is the public defined? In    your opinion, who is or should considered to be the public?

There is no specific definition of “public” in our biosafety law nor in our constitution. But the way I understood  it, public are citizens or nationals who have stake in the decisions made by our  government.

Regards,
Julieta Fe L. Estacio
Project Development Officer IV
Department of Science and Technology
Secretariat, NCBP and DOST Biosafety Committee
and Focal Point, BCH Pilipinas
posted on 2012-06-05 09:33 UTC by Ms. Julieta Fe L. Estacio, Philippines
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3455]
Posted on behalf of Mariam Mayet, African Center for Biosafety: 


Article 23(1)(b) deals with access to information on the part of the public and provides as follows: The Parties shall endevour to ensure that public awareness and education encompass access to information on living modified organisms identified in accordance with this Protocol that may be imported.

Article 23(2) also contains an element dealing with access by the public to information regarding decisions made regarding LMOs, while respecting confidential business information in accordance with Article 21.

Article 23(3) deals with the obligation on the part of a Party to inform its public that it may access information from the Biosafety Clearing House.

In summary therefore, the scope of the public access to information in Article 23, thus encompasses:

(a) access by the public to information on LMOs that may be imported;
(b) access by the public to information concerning decision making with regard to LMOs;
(c) limitation of the right of access to information by the public to information by the operation/provisions of Article 21 concerning confidential business information, and
(d) access by the public to the BCH.

For the time being, we deal only in this part of the discussion, with the issue of access by the public to information on LMOs that may be imported and the issue of limitation of such access by the provisions of Article 21 dealing with confidential business information.

Invariably, Parties have crafted special Biosafety legislation to implement their obligations under the Protocol and in so doing, have addressed the issue of Article 23, as has South Africa. In addition, general legislation concerning access to information and confidential business information may also exist along side discreet biosafety laws that may also contain provisions dealing with confidential business information. Our experience indicates that often, the following is typically provided for in such discreet biosafety laws:

(i) A mechanism requiring an applicant for a permit to place a notice in national land/or local newspapers where a release is intended to take place, advising the public of an intended release and inviting the public to submit comments within a specified period of time (e.g. 30 days in the case of South Africa).
(ii) A further opportunity to access to information is provided to the public to apply for a copy of the application and risk assessment, upon payment of a fee therefor.
(iii) Once an application is made for a copy of the permit application and risk assessment, the provisions relating to confidential business information kicks in.
* As a public interest group engaging continuously with the GMO permitting and decision making process in South Africa, our experience is that we have struggled enormously to participate effectively in GMO permitting. Our experience is that typically, a sanitized version of the GMO permit application is made available to the public. Information necessary to conduct a meaningful, independent assessment of the risks associated with the LMO in question is excluded on the grounds that such information constitutes confidential business information.

* The applicant for a permit application is given the opportunity to decide which information is CBI and in this regard, we are totally at the mercy of the Applicant to delineate the scope of our rights to information.

* In any event, information should be readily available and should not entail an onerous administrative procedure to access such information.

South Africa’s GMO/Biosafety law perhaps is similar to the laws of other Parties, and guarantees, perhaps mindful of the provisions of Article 21(6) of the Protocol that the following information shall not be kept confidential:

• the general description of the LMO, the name and the address of the applicant and the purpose of the contained use, release and the location of use;
• the methods and plans for the monitoring of the LMO and for emergency measures in the case of an accident; and
• the summary of the scientifically based risk assessment of the impact on the environment and human and animal health.

It is difficult to discuss the scope of public access to information, without also discussing the provisions of Article 21 of the Protocol.  There is opportunity for the crafting by the Party, of guidelines or criteria for the operation of Article 21(1) of the Protocol.  In any case, it appears as if the scope of Article 21 is restricted to LMOs in respect of which the Advanced Informed Agreement applies, under the Protocol, which needs further discussion and work.

Nevertheless, we can say, that in our experience, we have struggled enormously to participate effectively in the LMO permitting process in South Africa. These difficulties are documented in various objections submitted by the ACB to the Registrar. The objections relate to permit applications concerning, inter alia, to  the following LMOs: potato, vaccines, grapes, yeast used for wine, cotton, cassava, sugarcane, wheat, maize, soya, rice, sorghum and canola. The common denominator in all of these objections is that we were given such paltry information, that we were unable to participate meaningfully in the decision making process. We can also say, that the process is not geared towards the ensuring that the General public is informed but is geared towards only, groups such as ourselves who are already steeped in the issue.

A study commissioned by the now disbanded Ministerial National Environmental Advisory Forum (NEAF) with regard to access by the public to information, made a number of recommendations, based on the concerns raised by the public.  Some of these recommendations included: permit applications be published on a website and that notices be emailed to stakeholders registered on a database. That attention be paid to how notifications can reach and be given to illiterate members of local communities that may be affected by the release of an LMO into their environment.
(edited on 2012-06-05 13:55 UTC by Ulrika Nilsson)
posted on 2012-06-05 13:54 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3460]
Public access to biosafety information has not been specially defined in the National Information law 1997,since it is a new issue.
  In my opinion,
   - scope of public access to biosafety information should include access to information held by both government and also public& private entities.
   - public should be considered to be any persons in general who are interested in biosafety information.
posted on 2012-06-06 04:50 UTC by Ms. Praopan Tongsom, Thailand
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3464]
Posted on behalf of Nasrin S. Esmaeilzadeh, BCH Focal Point, Islamic Republic of Iran:

Providing required information related to GMOs by related organizations are defined in article 2.2 and some other articles of Implementing regulation of Iran biosafety law. Apart from that, Iran Biosafety Clearing House, affiliated to the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology has done a lots of activities to promote public education and awareness in biosafety issues including the followings:
• Publishment of seasonal biosafety bulletin (35 issues have been published so far)
• Performing and attending biosafety congresses, workshops and seminars,
• Performing BCH project (I) and creation of nBCH,
• Providing a list of mailing addresses of scientists (biotechnologists), students and interested people in biosafety, and sending them related biosafety news and information mostly once a week,
Apart from that, biosafety module is added to postgraduate biology courses. 
The problem is that provided information is mostly useful for scientists, students and educated people and are not understandable by ordinary people.
Public Participation in decision making is still controversial among scientists and regulators.  Most of the regulators believe that it is not possible at this stage of public awareness to involve public in decision making because their knowledge about biosafety is not enough to make a right decision, until then public participation in decision making is just limited to the membership of an expert from scientific societies such as Iran biosafety Society in National Biosafety Council.
More work has to be done for informing and educating people and gaining their trust, and it should be planned and executed at different stages and levels.

Kind regards
Nasrin S. Esmaeilzadeh
BCH Focal Point
Ministry of Science, Research & Technology
Islamic Republic of Iran
posted on 2012-06-06 14:08 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3467]
Dear All,

I have followed the on-going debate with interest, and thank the Secretariat for the technical support for this kind of discussions. I find the system quite user-friendly.

Yet, as regards the themes and guiding questions of this topic, it strikes me that the scope is limited to providing information about biosafety.

Article 23 of the Cartagena Protocol states in paragraph 1 under (a): “The Parties shall promote and facilitate public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. In doing so, the Parties shall cooperate, as appropriate, with other States and international bodies”. 

The scope of the term “safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms “ is much broader than biosafety alone. Limiting it to biosafety is not consistent with article 23 and other articles of the Protocol and does a disservice to informing the public.

To facilitate that members of the public can develop informed opinions, it is important that balanced and clear information is made available to the public about:
• the technical background of modern biotechnology, and how it relates to conventional breeding,
• potential and experienced benefits in areas such as sustainable production of food, feed and biomass, health care and environmental protection, and how research is stimulated in those areas,
• potential risks and how safety is addressed on the national and international level.

In other words, as was agreed in Chapter 16 of Agenda 21: “Creating awareness of the benefits and risks of biotechnology is essential“

Looking forward to the rest of this discussion.

Piet
(edited on 2012-06-06 17:16 UTC by Piet van der Meer)
posted on 2012-06-06 16:37 UTC by Mr. Piet van der Meer, Ghent University, Belgium
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3536]
Posted on behalf of Prof. Behzad Ghareyazie, Iran (Islamic Republic of):

Dear all:
Greetings to all of you and thanks to the secretariat for the excellent technical support.
Following closely the on-going debate, I am glad to see that the benefit of the biotechnology and the access of the public to scientifically sound and balanced information are also raised.
According to Article 23(1) (a) the Parties shall promote and facilitate “public awareness, education and participation” concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity…”

Paragraph 15.4 (h) of the Agenda 21 states: Governments should “Implement mechanisms for the improvement, generation, development and sustainable use of biotechnology and its safe transfer, particularly to developing countries, taking account the potential contribution of biotechnology to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of biological resources”.
Now the question is how to integrate, educate and facilitate the public awareness that includes both contribution of biotechnology to the conservation of biological diversity and sustainable use of biological diversity. This element is sometime missing in some education programs where the focus is made only on potential negative effects and not the whole picture. This is in one way or another prevention of or deviation from “public awareness and education”.
I wish to support the contribution made by Dr. Piet Van Der Meer from Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI).
posted on 2012-06-11 15:48 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3540]
I have totally different experience with Prof. Behzad Ghareyazie. In most instances, talking about the benefit is the mainstream especially in the developing countries.
posted on 2012-06-12 01:31 UTC by Mr. Wei Wei, China
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3472]
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this forum. I will attempt to answer the questions as best as I can. The discussions have been very interesting and I am already learning from the information presented and from the experiences of the other partners.

2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

According to the Free Dictionary, to access means the ability, right or permission to approach, reach, enter, or make use of something. Thus for someone to have access to something, it must first be reachable (available and accessible). I believe that everyone, from the local farmers to government officials and scientists, should have access to biosafety information. However, the information may be available, but persons may not know how to obtain it, and even after it has been obtained, they may not know how to utilize it to their advantage. Thus, in the Saint Lucian context, the role of education is fundamental in instructing persons on how to access and utilize the information presented. Issues like the availability of Information and Technology Communications (ICT) also play a key role in someone being able to access the information. For example, in Saint Lucia, some of the farmers may not be able to access the information on BCH simply because they may not own a computer, and even if they do (perhaps for their children), they may not know how to use it. Others may not have access to the internet. These are very real issues that need to be addressed when seeking to make information more accessible to everyone.

I am also of the opinion that everyone should have access to the scientific research conducted on GMOs and not just on LMO release or application. Often, developing countries are at a disadvantage with poor information flows, and the multidisciplinary and holistic nature of biosafety requires the engagement of all sectors of society, and access to all types of information. Experience has also shown that the public can effectively discuss scientific issues if these have been communicated in a way that people can understand, and that the public has an insightful wisdom in dealing with scientific uncertainty and science policy that must be heard if science is truly to serve the needs of society. (Ling et al, 2005).


4. In your opinion, who is or should be considered to be the public?

To exclude anyone from the term “public” would mean that we are assuming that the information that we are making available to “the public” is not important to them. It is sometimes misconceived that certain groups need to be excluded because they are ‘ignorant’ or ‘unlearned’ and that this type of information surpasses their level of understanding.  With polarised views and vastly divergent interests, a credible “public” enables all views to be heard and debated on all issues, avoiding dishonest value judgments on the kinds of information or in the way that this information is distributed. Despite the heterogeneous meaning of the term public, I strongly believe that persons should be treated like citizens rather than mere laypersons, consumers or stakeholders. Thus I am of the opinion that the term public should be considered to be everyone, because everyone is affected by GMOs and LMOs in one way or another.
posted on 2012-06-06 19:19 UTC by Ms. Bethia Daniel, Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy and Science and Technology
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3474]
Hello everybody,
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this forum. My colleagues and me – the personnel of the National Co-ordination Biosafety Center in Belarus - recognize the importance of involving public in the decision-making process in regard to biosafety problems. We are trying to do the best to keep public informed on LMOs/GMOs issues and the experience gained by other countries in that field is very important for us. I am very grateful to all participants of this forum. Now my responses on questions provided. 

1. Is public access to biosafety information defined in your national law or policy? If so how?

    The public access to biosafety information is defined mostly in the Law “On the Environment Protection” of November 26, 1992, No.1982-XII (in a new redaction of July 17, 2002) and in the Law “On Safety in Genetic Engineering Activities” of January 9, 2006, No.96-3.
Biosafety information is inseparable from the definition "ecological information" that is why I would like to start from the short description of corresponding parts and articles of the law “On the Environment Protection” of November 26, 1992, No.1982-XII (in a new redaction of July 17, 2002).
        Rights and responsibilities of the citizens and public associations in the field of the environment protection is defined in the Part 3 of this law, namely: Citizens are rights: a) to apply to the governmental bodies, other institutions and officials for full, firsthand and actual ecological information in the statute-established order; the order of  the ecological information provision is defined in the Article 74-4; b) to participate in the preparation and discussion of the materials on evaluation of influence on the environment; c) to make proposals on carrying out of the public ecological expertise and participate in that process; and so on.
      The order of biosafety information gathering and accounting and public access to it is defined in two parts of the Law “On Safety in Genetic Engineering Activities” of January 9, 2006, No.96-З: in the Article 23 of the Part 5 “The Right of Citizens and Public Association of Access to Information in the Safety Field of Genetic Engineering Activities” and the Article 27 “Departmental, Industrial and Public Control in the Safety Field of Genetic Engineering Activities”.
       Belarusian public can access to biosafety information on the website of the National Co-ordination Biosafety Center (NCBC). Almost all laws and other lawful regulations corresponding to biosafety field are published on the website.
The personnel of NCBC provide on the constant base the scientific information concerning the achievements in genetic engineering for Belarus citizens. CBD Secretariat Notifications and Press Releases have been located on the website immediately after receiving them. Each website visitor can access to biosafety information posted on BCH in two ways: directly and through NCBC website.

2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

On my opinion, the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information should include access to biosafety information held by governmental authorities and other public and private entities as well. The main role in gathering and providing the biosafety information for public should belong to National Co-ordination Biosafety Center (NCBC) as an authorized and competent body or BCH National Focal Point where there is no such Center. The task of public education in biosafety field can be provided by personnel of NCBC too. NCBC personnel in Belarus, for example, gained an appropriate experience in that kind of activities. The short description of the activity during the last 2.5 years is presented below to express NCBC aspiration to deliver as more information as possible concerning LMOs and the National Biosafety System as a tool for regulation of LMO market turn-over and GMO use in the food industry:
        Three press-conferences have been held at the National Press-Centre of the Republic of Belarus (2010) and during the scientific events organized by NCBC in 2011. 
        In 2010–2011 the NCBC personnel granted above 20 interviews, and all of them have been published in the central newspapers of the Republic of Belarus (“Soviet Belorussia–Belarus Today”, “Republic”, “Minsk Courier” and so on). NCBC specialists were invited by the local radio stations (“Radius FM”, “Radio Belarus” and other ones)  and national and international TV channels (e.g., NIS TV “MIR”, Belarus Channels “Belarus-1”, “ONT”) for discussion of LMO problems and national regulation mechanisms of the genetic engineering activity. Information published by the Telegraph Agency BELTA has been disseminated through Internet.  
        Spreading the objective information in regard to LMOs among school teachers, pupils and students is considered by us as a main way for education and enlightenment of all Belarus citizens. In 2011–2012 two articles were published about scientific principles of LMO development and detection of the genetically modified ingredients in foodstuffs and feed in the methodological journal for teachers “Biology: Education Problems”. The NCBC personnel delivered several lectures on LMO and biosafety problems to university students and one lecture was delivered to students of secondary schools at the National Health and Education Center for Children “Zubryonok” in 2010–2012.
        The preparing of the Second National Report on Biosafety allowed the correspondents of all Belarussian TV and radio centers to conduct the interviews with the famous scientists and specialists studying GMO and to transfer them over the most local radio channels. Belarussian people have been asked to send their feedbacks, opinions and comments directly to NCBC or use the NCBC website biosafety.org.by.

3. In your national law or policy, who is referred to as the “public”? How is the public defined?

        Citizens and public associations are referred as the “public” in Belarus national laws.  But at present an Ad Hoc Expert Group has been established to review the national laws and other lawful regulations and evaluate the accordance of the definition “public” used in the Aarhus Convention with the definition used in the Belarusian legislation.

4. In your opinion, who is or should be considered to be the public?
In the opinion of my colleagues and me - citizens and the public associations interested in the environmental decision-making should be considered to be the public. 

Prof. Elena Makeyeva, BCH NFP, Deputy Head of the NCBC, Minsk, Belarus
posted on 2012-06-07 07:23 UTC by Assoc. Prof. Elena Makeyeva, Belarus
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3481]
Posted on behalf of Julieta Fe L. Estacio, Philippines:

1: The meaning, scope and importance of public access to biosafety information [#3475]

Theme I: Meaning and scope of public access to information

1. Is public access to biosafety information defined in your national law or policy? If so, how?

The Philippine government recognizes the people’s right to public information as provided by the following Sections of the 1987 Philippine Constitution:

a. “The State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interests.” (Article II, Section 28)

b. “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject so such limitations as may be provided by law” (Article III, Section 7).

According to Bernas (2006), rights guaranteed in this Section are “(1) the right to information on matters of public concern and (2) the corollary right of access to official records and documents.” He further added that these political rights are available only to citizens.

This provision clearly set forth limits on these rights, stating “…subject to such limitations as may be provided by law”. This signifies that this Section only guarantees one right—the right to information on matters of public concern—and that the right of access to official records is a resulting privilege to exercise the right to information. However, it is determined that there is allowable scope of official limitations as to the implementation of the latter.

Some of the limitations to the exercise of the right to information and the state policy of public disclosure (Item a) include (1) national security matters, (2) trade secrets and banking transactions, (3) criminal matters or classified law enforcement matters, and (4) other confidential matters.


Public access to biosafety information is provided through the following provisions of the executive issuances, mandated by the above-written Sections of the 1987 Philippine Constitution:

a. “The State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interests.” (Article II, Section 28 as stated in Section 1.7 of the National Biosafety Framework of the Philippines, E.O. No. 514, s. 2006);

b. “Publish the results of internal deliberation and agency reviews of the committee” (Item G, Section 4, E. O. No. 430: Constituting the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines);

c. “Hold public deliberations on proposed national policies, guidelines and other biosafety issues” (Item H, Section 4, E. O. No. 430);

d. “…Towards this end, they shall conduct public consultations with representatives from civil society, government and business…” (Philippine National Policy Statement on Modern Biotechnology); and,

e. “…WHEREAS, public awareness, education, and understanding of biotechnology is essential for the responsible application and regulation of this new technology…” (Presidential Proclamation 1414: Declaring every Last Week of November of every Year as “National Biotechnology Week”).

These provisions direct implementing government agencies and government-owned corporations and subsidiaries with regard to ensuring biosafety information available and accessible, at any rate provided by the Law. It is explicitly written that public deliberations and consultations, publication of results and reviews, and public awareness activities related to biotechnology henceforth be conducted. This educational and informative approach provides platform to implement public’s right to biosafety information.


2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by the government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

Public safety, or biosafety for this matter, is considered a public concern since it directly affects the lives of the people within the State’s jurisdiction.  Biosafety also captures public interest that it has steered several issues and cases involving government agencies and the sectors engaged in biotechnology initiatives.

Building on the grounds of public safety and the right given by Article II, Section 7, biosafety information must be opened for public retrieval and review, while precautionary measures are observed to recognize the limitations, likewise placed within the said Section. This embraces the spectrum of confidentiality as stated in The Ethical Standards Act (R.A. No. 6713) that outlaws public officials and employees from revealing and utilizing “confidential or classified information officially known to them by reason of their office and not made available to the public” (Bernas, 1997).

Any government office aim for a balance and equal management of information for public use notwithstanding the integrity for protecting intellectual property rights (Article XIV, Section 13, The 1987 Philippine Constitution) and confidential matters as explained above. It is a sole responsibility of government authorities, in their own discretion, to determine materials and information that might cause threats to public safety and public health, thus, setting grounds for restrictive use and divulging of such information.

As regard to information held by non-government and private entities, it is ideal that this information be open for the public. However, with the integration of “corporate social responsibility” to the business model, these could be achieved.

Corporate social responsibility is a mechanism already been promoted for several years, with the goal of ensuring compliance of the business/industry sector to the Law, ethical standards, and international norms. It encourages companies to embrace social responsibility and accountability to all its activities that could have an impact to different stakeholders, whereby it also elevates responsible business to a different level: bringing positive changes to the public sphere.

Parallel to the 1987 Philippine Constitution, public access to biosafety information should be available and open to the public, but with allowable restrictions in the interest of ensuring national security and equally important rights provided by the Law.


3. In your national law or policy, who is referred to as the “public”? How is the public defined?

The people, or the public, as an element of the State is defined as “a community of persons sufficient in number and capable of maintaining the continued existence of the community and held together by a common bond of law. It is of no legal consequences of they possess diverse racial, cultural, or economic interests” (Bernas, 1997).


4. In your opinion, who is or should be considered the public?

The public should consist of all individuals and groups of people, either citizens or not, staying and/or residing within the territory of the State, whereby laws and policies applicable should be enforced for the benefit of the State.





References:

Bernas, J. (2006). The 1987 Philippine constitution: A comprehensive reviewer. Manila: Rex Book Store, Inc.

Chan Robles Virtual Law Library. (n.d.). The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Retrieved
June 5, 2012, from http://www.chanrobles.com/philsupremelaw2.html.

National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines. (2006). Executive order no. 514: Establishing the
national biosafety framework, prescribing guidelines for its implementation, strengthening the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines, and for other purposes. Retrieved from:  http://bit.ly/KgG71P.

National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines. (2001). Policy statement on modern biotechnology.
Retrieved from: http://ncbp.dost.gov.ph/guidelines/Policy%20Statement%20on%20Modern%20Biotechnology.pdf.

SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center. (n.d.). Philippine policy guidelines on modern biotechnology. Retrieved June 6, 2012, from http://www.bic.searca.org/info_kits/policies/eo430.html.
(edited on 2012-06-11 16:16 UTC by Giovanni Ferraiolo)
posted on 2012-06-07 14:26 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3482]
2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

Public access to biosafety information needs to be broad. It needs to include access to information held by governments as well as public and private entities. This includes - but is not limited to - information held by companies, public and private research institutions and scientific journals.

Since "the public" is very varied and includes experts in all fields (see question 4), complete, affordable and timely information is needed, including access to original data.

Sufficient awareness about biosafety and a meaningful participation in decision making is only possible if such information is accessible.

Examples of such information includes - but is not limited to - data about the LMO (e.g. DNA sequence of the inserted construct, insertion site, additional inserts and deletion), changes to the phenotype/characteristics of the LMO, which companies and research institutions are working with the LMO, locations of deliberate releases, the full risk assessment including original data (not only summaries), scientific publications referred to in the risk assessment, and information about the decision-making process.

Especially access to original data is often missing or classified as "confidential business information". Access to scientific publications that are of importance for the risk assessment is often seriously hindered by prohibitive costs of individual articles.

Information is also needed in the form of labelling of LMOs and derived products. Labelling and accurate data about releases for research and commercial production are relevant for liability and redress and the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Protocol.
Where appropriate, information with relevance for the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing are also required.


4. In your opinion, who is or should be considered to be the public?
As previous contributors have pointed out: There is not one "the" public, but a broad range of actors from diverse backgrounds. This includes scientists working in public and private institutions, in academia or NGOs; lawyers, experts on crosscutting and related issues (eg. medical, agricultural, food security), farmers, consumers and journalists. Often they are also multipliers for their own constituencies.
Due to this diversity of "the public" we require access to the original data instead of just summaries. That way experts as part of the public can effectively participate in the decision making, as well as help in the awareness raising.
posted on 2012-06-07 16:11 UTC by Ms. Antje Lorch, Ecoropa
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3487]
Article 23 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety deals with public awareness and participation. The issue of public access to information is thus closely related and is integral to meaningful and effective facilitation and implementation of biosafety public awareness, education and participation.

A number of challenges present themselves. How are scientific issues to be presented to the public in a manner in which the lay person can understand, and are hence accessible to all? How should scientific uncertainty and scientific disagreement be communicated to the public?

It is often misconceived that the public is critical and skeptical of genetic engineering simply because people are ignorant. Or that the scientific discussion should be left to the scientists in the policy arena, while the public is left to comment on the ethical and socio-economic concerns.

Instead, a credible public awareness, education and participation process should provide access to and accessibility of information in order to enable all views to be heard and debated on all issues, avoiding dishonest value judgments on the kinds of information and the way it is presented to the public.

This also presents an opportunity to hear from all available expertise in the public from all fields, outside of the commonly used pool of expertise. Experience has also shown that the public can well discuss scientific issues if these have been communicated in a way that people can understand, and that the public has an insightful wisdom in dealing with scientific uncertainty and science policy that must be heard if science is truly to serve the needs of society.

Another key challenge is to reach out to the sectors of the public that are not organised, outside of the usual NGOs and civil society groups that are usually seen as the public front. These include farmers, especially the small farmers in developing countries, and consumers in general.

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
posted on 2012-06-08 08:27 UTC by Ms. Li Ching Lim, Third World Network
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3494]
Just a brief observation related to the discussion on "Biosafety information", and my experience participating in CBD workshops on Capacity Building for Biosafety -

There seems to be often quite different views on the scope of "Biosafety information".

Some see this as information related to the use or exposure to LMOs, including the means to identification and evaluation of LMOs and potential adverse effects. In the context of the CBD/CPB would see this in the context of adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking into account risks to human health, and specifically. This would also include information related to regulatory compliance (for example regulation of import on LMOs or outcomes from LMO monitoring).

Others may consider it to include what might be more aptly called "biotechnology information",  that is,  information on their intended application, background principles on how LMOs are produced and intended benefits of LMOs.

Depending on case, both may be relevant, but there also may exist an asymmetry or resource constraints to access of such information (due to confidentiality of business information, copyright restrictions on access etc).

My point of writing here is not to start a discussion, but to consider that and caution against a qualifying "information" too much with a term that may, in some fora or forms of request, to restrict to the access of information for the public.

Kind regards,

David Quist
posted on 2012-06-08 17:41 UTC by David Quist
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3495]
Dear all,
Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for sharing your thoughts and providing the possibility of contributing to this important topic. Public Participation is usually desirable on environmental topics and its benefits seem obvious and significant, but the experience shows that this is not always achieved. I think we have to bear in mind the desired outcomes and the needed points to accomplish them. Reading carefully once more article 23 (PUBLIC AWARENESS AND PARTICIPATION) of the Protocol. I believe that some of you raised a good point when referring that according to this article, one has to take it in a broader sense than providing extensive information on biosafety.
If we read, for instance, Paragraph 1(b) : “Endeavour to ensure that public awareness and education encompass access to information on living modified organisms identified in accordance with this Protocol that may be imported.” And Paragraph 2:” The Parties shall, in accordance with their respective laws and regulations, consult the public in the decision-making process regarding living modified organisms and shall make the results of such decisions available to the public, while respecting confidential information in accordance with Article 21. I see different possible reasons for public participation and the desired outcome, such as to obtain input to share the decision making. As well as the recognition of filling gaps and giving the needed access to context such as: education/knowledge and awareness in order to promote the desirable positive impact of public contribution in decision taking. It’s important to consider ways of effectively achieving this goal to promote a wise, responsible, effective, and well informed participation on safe transfer,… of LMOs (Paragraph 1.a). It’s unlikely that we will have an effective and meaningful outcome of public participation on decision making, simply by providing tons of information on biosafety that expert risk assessors consider. Providing information on biosafety is not an end in itself, but one of the needed components. For achieving the aim article 23 and a successful public participation, one has to consider providing all the other relevant information such as the comparative risk/safety associated with other alternatives. In addition, it is crucial to focus on the desired outcome and all the needed components to reach it. Evaluating existing practices of public participation might reveal interesting aspects.
Best regards,
Lúcia
posted on 2012-06-08 18:49 UTC by Ph.D. Lúcia de Souza, PRRI - Public Research and Regulation Initiative/ANBio (Associação Nacional de Biossegurança - Brazilian Biosafety Association)
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3498]
Dear all
I would like to thank you all for sharing experience and information to this important topic.As suggested by some colleagues, biotechnology information may include among others background principles on how LMOs are produced and intended benefits of LMOs.
In Niger republic biosafety law project, National Competent Authority ,in this case, Ministry in charge of Environment must consult the public in the decision_making process regarding living modified organisms in conformity with Cartagena Protocol and the decision taken is made available to public by medias large diffusion with the public feed back in turn.
The biosafety law project was elaborated according to an participative approach including all stakeholders in the 8 regions of the country.
Best regards
Dr Gado
posted on 2012-06-09 11:16 UTC by Mr. Mahaman Gado Zaki, Niger
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3497]
As a practising science communicator who deals directly with the all sectors of the public, I am following this discussion with much interest.

Firstly, I would like to share a definition for "public" provided by Burns et. al. (2003): "The simplest and most useful definition of the public is every person in society". Although there are a number of definitions for the "public", this simplest definition fits the purpose of Article 23. As products of GMOs are reaching every individuals in one form or another, it is safe to say that everyone in the society need to be informed to be able to make well-informed decisions.

However, public awareness strategies need to be carefully drawn out as "public" is an heterogeneous group with diversed needs, interests, attitudes and level of knowledge. Simply posting biosafety information on BCH, or printing leaflets will not do the job. It is very important to realise that the language of the "public" is completely different than that of regulators and scientists. In fact, there is no one-size-fit-all strategy in science communication.  Countries should have a robust biosafety/biotechnology communication strategy in place and this has to have the following elements:

1. science-based information minus emotions and scaremongering tactics
2. Biosafety education for the public cannot be divorced from biotechnology education. It is crucial for the public to have some basic information on modern biotechnology before they could digest information on risk assessment
3. Different media should be used to be able to reach all sectors of the public
4. Biosafety/Biotechnology information should be translated into simple laymen language for public consumption
5. Competent science communciators with good understanding of biotechnology and biosafety

In creating public awareness and facilitating public participation, there is no shortcuts. Public behaviour and attitudes need to be fully understood to decide on the media, strategies, and communication tools.

Burns, T.W., O’Connor, D.J., & Stocklmayer, S.M. (2003). Science Communication: A Contemporary Definition. Public Understanding of Science. Vol. 12, pp 183-202

Thank you
Maha
Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC)/Public Research & Regulation Initiative (PRRI)
(edited on 2012-06-11 15:45 UTC by Ulrika Nilsson)
posted on 2012-06-09 04:56 UTC by Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3499]
1. the Republic of Benin, Party to the Cartagena Protocol on the biosafety, must implement , article 23 of this one.  But while using of the principle of precaution, took into 2002, Moratorium for five (5) years on the Living Modified Organisms (LMO) and its derived products. 
This one was extended into 2007 for five (5) years.  The principal objective of these moratoriums is the placement of the institutional and legal instruments to allow the use without danger of the LMO. Within the framework of the implementation of these moratoriums, a particular accent was put on awareness,  education and  public participation. 
Thus, it was asked: 
- to make a national survey into the presence of the LMO.  What was made. 
-   To organize round tables televised and broadcast;
-   To organize a constant media beating having to allow the public opinion to be largely informed on the LMO ; 
-   To require the labeling of products to inform the consumers about their content of products of the LMO.

May 20 2004, the government of Benin, took a bearing decree creation, attributions and procedure of the National Committee of Biosafety.  This national Committee has for another mission, that of: 
-  To capitalize information as regards GMO;
          - To animate the reflexion groups on the sets of themes related to the GMO; 
          - To create and animate a news bulletin on the GMO; 
          - To develop and animate a network of information on GMO products in Benin, in the under region  and the world. 


2.  The access of the public to information on the biosafety is of capital importance.  It remains a priority for the government of Benin in the implementation of the Cartagena Protocol. 
The access of the public to information on the biosafety must is assured as well by the Government, as by the civil company and the Non Governmental Organizations (NGO). 
3.  the public is defined like the official institutions, the producers, the industrialists, the consumers, the Non Governmental Organizations (NGO), the local  elected and the civil society. 
4. in my opinion, can be regarded as public:  the producers (farmers, stockbreeders, pisciculturists), industrialists, economic operators (importing, exporting), consumers, researchers, pupils, students, elected officials (elected members, communal elected, and s local advisers), NGO and of the civil society organizations (CSO).
posted on 2012-06-09 20:31 UTC by Mr. Comlan Marcel KAKPO, Ministère de l'Environnement, de l'Habitat et de l'Urbanisme
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3503]
I am sorry for joining a bit late but I wanted to share with you some information about Lebanon.
In Lebanon, the Code of Environmental Protection (Law 444), developed in 2002, adopts 8 among which one which pertain to access to information and public participation.  The “Public Participation Principle” gives rights to citizen to access information according to the laws.
On the other hand, the National biosafety framework aimed in one of its main objectives to increase the national capacity for biosafety management by developing mechanisms for promoting and facilitating public awareness, education and participation and the development of human resources for biosafety management.  It clearly integrates public participation as one of the 5 principles on which its development and the one of national biosafety were based.  In order to ensure successful public participation process, not only access to information is needed but capacity development as well.  BUT in some countries even if mechanisms to access information are well established - we do not have enough capacities which make the public ready to participate in the decision making process.  Meanwhile, Do we have enough human resources and what about institutional and technical capacities on biosafety especially? (Not to mention other environmental related issues) 
Article 17 in the Lebanese biosafety decree developed in 2005, the National Competent Authority shall promote and facilitate the public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs; and shall endeavor to inform the public about the means of public access to the information that relate to the safe transfer and use of the LMOs, through a special Internet website, brochures, leaflets, pamphlets, educational manuals, and other publications, as well as through seminars, workshops, professional discussions, and training program.
Furthermore, the National Competent Authority shall involve the public and consult the stakeholders on LMO-related decisions in the framework of existing legislation. Under the biosafety framework, the public include all stakeholders, groups and/or individuals (Scientists, practitioners, farmers, lawyers, government officials, researchers, … the public in general.)

Elsa Sattout, Ph.D (CPB Regional Advisor)
Assistant Professor
Department of Sciences
Faculty of Natural & Applied Sciences

P.O.Box 72, Zouk Mosbeh, Lebanon
Phone: +961-9-218950 (Ext. 2619)
Fax: +961-9-218771
E-mail: esattout@ndu.edu.lb
posted on 2012-06-10 09:15 UTC by Dr. Elsa Sattout, Notre Dame University
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3506]
Dear All, I declare that I appreciate your interest in sharing your professional experiences regarding public access to biosafety information and recognize a variety of key elements that one must be aware of and keep in mind.
1. Based on a documents review and consultations to colleagues, our country adopted a Law on Access to Public Information (Decree 57-2008), which entry into force on April 2009, that aims to guarantee that any interested person has the right to require and have access to public information under the possession of authorities of a series of 35 kinds of public entities (including dependencies of the three organisms of the National State, etc.).  It develops articles 30 and 31 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala and its approach looks to provide certainty on the transparency of public administration and facilitate its accountability, under the principle of maximum publicity and excludes only information considered confidential or reserved (e.g. sensitive data, issues of national security) by the Constitution or specific laws, etc. or the information under reserve clauses adopted in ratified International Conventions.  More specifically, we have now a draft National Policy on Biosafety which brought together the opinions of a variety of institutions and sectors and is the result of a one year-process on consensus, which establishes a line of operative action about transparency and citizen participation.  This statement pursues to enable the public to have the right to be informed about decisions concerning the different activities of the products of modern biotechnology and also contribute to more transparency and confidence in regulatory decisions, as well as to increase the related public perception.
2. In my opinion, the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information should be defined in terms of the needs and care to promote biotechnology/biosafety development that responds and respect the most important national values of our country, which relates both to our megadiversity of life forms and living human cultures.  For sure this includes government authorities as well as public and private entities and other kind of social actors not generally identified.
3. Since our Law on Access to Public Information embraces “public information” in a broad sense, which is until now the only legal instrument in force regarding this topic, the public is referred as active human beings which are any individual o legal person, public or private, that has the right to require, have access to and obtain public information requested under the terms of this law.
4. In my opinion, considering that the reach of biosafety decisions is oriented to issues of the overall country population and its regions, the concept of the public needs to be understood as anybody that is included in that same thought philosophy.
The following considerations are of particular relevance:
a. Several of you have mentioned their experiences regarding the use of different methods for disclosure of biosafety information to the public which would be very interesting to know in more detail the challenges they face and how they managed to solve them.  In my country the support and promotion one has to look for on the radio, local TV channels, local newspapers or bulletins, etc. is crucial to reach many distinct set of target audiences that might normally not have an easy access to the international BCH and other internet websites to inform themselves and that represent a huge part of the national population.
b. I believe the question on what to include under the concept of biosafety information will remain until more countries will advance and arrive to a second-level of knowledge management and awareness, one that assures that most of their citizens, at all levels, understand and participate in regulatory decision of LMOs and are aware of their benefits and risks.  Until then, many countries and their regulatory officers and Focal Points cannot or should not leave a basic understanding and comprehension of biosafety key elements out of this concept and also out of their role performances, if they are to play the representative role they were appointed to.
c. As Ms. Arujanan from Malaysia expressed, competent science communicators is one of 5 key elements for a robust biosafety/biotechnology communication to be put in place.  After that, we have to ask ourselves where will those communicators come from when in the country settings there are few communicators on general topics of science, as it cannot be a random process.  This comment is to stress the crucial need and importance to link the demands of the biosafety topics coverage and the preparation of communication science on those specific topics in academic instances.
d. I agree with Ms. Blazauskiene in that the information has to be appropriately written and presented for the different kinds of target groups (consumers, small farmers, journalists, etc.), but I add that the sharing of this disclosure documents (bulletins, pamphlets, etc.) must be accompanied by an inclusive and authentic attitude to join the ongoing process of participatory decision-making.  The documents by themselves have demonstrated not to be effective enough and the different groups frequently asked to have real evidences of the advancement of the steps of the process.  Again, this disclosure of documents emphasizes on the importance of the planned academic preparation of a group of competent science communicators on the field of biosafety/biotechnology.
e. I suggest to establish a mechanism to facilitate the exchange of successful experiences in public biosafety awareness, education and communication from one country/region to the others, so that the gaps regarding biosafety communication advancement are curtailed.

Best Regards,
Estuardo Solórzano (BCH-NFP)
Technical Bureau of Biodiversity
National Council of Protected Areas
GUATEMALA, Central America
posted on 2012-06-10 21:20 UTC by Leslie Melisa Ojeda Cabrera
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3535]
Posted on behalf of Mr. Ho-Min Jang, Repulic of Korea:

1. Is public access to biosafety information defined in your national law or policy? If so how?

Yes, public assess to biosafety information is defined in South Korea national law(LMO law). According to Article 13(Risk examination procedures and vicarious execution), Government shall in advance make the public informed of information on LMOs to be decided, and take opinion from the public into consideration in approving the import or production of LMOs. Also According to Article 32(Biosafety clearing house), BCH shall make available to the nation the information on the safety of LMOs.
Korea BCH and related administrative agencies have established homepages and updated information on LMOs. Also they have conducted education programs, seminars, communication activities on LMOs.

2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information? Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well?

Public access to biosafety information is the most fundamental and important part for public participation. In this sense, from the point of the public should not there be any limit of access to biosafety related information in principle. Therefore, information sourced from any identities have to be allowed forward the public. This is more of the case that it may affect people’s health and the environment.

3. In your national law or policy, who is referred to as the “public”? How is the public defined?

There is no specific definition of “public” in our law. However, the term “public” is used in a sense that it means people, like citizens, who have both rights and responsibilities in law.
posted on 2012-06-11 15:47 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3537]
Posted on behalf of Mr. Efrem Okbaghiorghis, National Biodiversity/Biosafety Coordinator, Eritrea:

1. Is public access to biosafety information defined in your national law or policy? If so how?

It is defined in the environmental draft law

2. In your opinion, what is or should be the meaning and scope of public access to biosafety information?

It means any person who is interested and engaged in biotechnology concerns Should this include access to information held by government authorities only or other public and private entities as well? It includes both

3. In your national law or policy, who is referred to as the “public”?

Any interested person, any person in relevant fields or activities How is the public defined? any entity engaged in a relevant activity

4. In your opinion, who is or should be considered to be the public?

Any person interested and involved in the field, farmers, people in industrial processing,scientists,students,officials,etc
posted on 2012-06-11 16:34 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
RE: Theme 1: Meaning and scope of public access to information [#3626]
Posted on behalf of Philip L. Bereano, University of Washington:

Article 23 concerns the obligation of each Party to “Promote and facilitate public awareness, education and participation”; and further “The Parties shall, in accordance with their respective laws and regulations, consult the public in the decision-making process.” In other words, the public should be guaranteed channels for making input to the decision-making processes.

However, nearly all the comments submitted in both rounds of discussion under this Article are about one-way communication—how can the public be assured of access to information concerning what decision makers are doing. Of course, this leg of activity is of immense importance to both democratic theory and practice.  The adoption of the “Freedom of Information Act” in the US in the 1970s (and corresponding legislation in the States) significantly altered decision-making in my country. It helps to counter corruption and insider dealing. Of equal importance is insuring that the public can make effective use of the information it receives.  That is, there must be effective administrative and legal procedures available to hold the government officials accountable for their actions.

However, it is a different—and equally important—matter to provide effective channels by which members of the public, individuals and civil society organizations, can provide input into the decision-making process.  Usually industry has such access, by virtue of its wealth and power.  The democratic aims of the Protocol require, however, that mechanisms be established so that other sectors of society (the vast bulk of society) can participate as well.
For example, as was discussed during the negotiations of the Supplemental Protocol on Liability, often members of the public will know about adverse impacts before government officials are aware; it is their farm animals that are dying, or children who are developing health problems, or fields that are stunted or browning.  We need to promote the existence of clear and inexpensive ways that such early warning information—as well as other sorts of information at other stages of the procedure, from import to cultivation, to harvesting, to processing, to consumption—can be transmitted to the proper authorities.  And mechanisms to insure that it is fairly considered rather than ignored.

As President Obama has said in announcing an “Open Government Initiative” in 2009 : "Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. "
(edited on 2012-06-18 14:41 UTC by Ulrika Nilsson)
posted on 2012-06-18 14:38 UTC by Ms. Ulrika Nilsson, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety