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Reinforcement for CTNBio

Specialist to make up team that assesses transgenics

The federal government will be reinforcing the work of the National Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNBio), responsible for assessing risk and laying down rules and regulations on the use of genetically modified organisms and the use of genetic engineering techniques, among others responsibilities. At a meeting that took place on February 15th at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, in São Paulo, Minister Ronaldo Sardenberg announced that the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT), the organ responsible for the commission, is going to create a program to strengthen Brazilian policy on biosafety, with specific research projects.

Besides the minister, others taking part in the meeting were the executive secretary of the MCT, Carlos Américo Pacheco; FAPESP’s scientific director, José Fernando Perez; the director of the Ludwig Institute, Ricardo Brentani; the coordinator of the Institute’s Laboratory of Cancer Genetics, Andrew Simpson; Carlos Alberto Moreira Filho, from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of São Paulo; the representative of the biotechnology industry on the CTNBio, Joaquim Machado; and the representative of the Biotechnology Center of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Jorge Guimarães.

The intention is to hire, within this semester, a group of specialists to speed up the appraisals in the processes assessed by the 36 scientists who make up the CTNBio. “Biosafety is a permanent theme, and the strengthening of the CTNBio will ensure its progress”, Sardenberg explained. Also provided for are the accreditation and creation of new laboratories for examining products related to the use of genetic engineering. The commission will have closer relations with the international scientific community and increase interchange with foreign institutions. “We need to expand our contacts, in order to be able to assess how the question of biosafety is faring in the more advanced countries”, Sardenberg added.

National policy
The CTNBio was created in 1995. Amongst other responsibilities, it has the task of proposing the national policy for biosafety, the Code of Ethics for Genetic Manipulations, classifying genetically modified organisms according to risk degree, issuing technical opinions on projects relating to transgenics, and monitoring the development of these projects. Since its creation, the commission has already assessed over a thousand processes of experiments with transgenics. “The CTNBio has an original concept: it takes generic decisions, but assesses on a process by process basis”, the minister explains.

Over the last few years, however, there has been an advance in polemics over genetically modified organisms, which requires the work of the commission – made up of 18 full members and 18 replacements appointed by the various ministries – to take on, in the minister’s words, a routine nature. “There have to bebetter working conditionsso these themes can be dealt with in the normal course of business”, Sardenberg explains.

Since its creation, the CTNBio has authorized the planting and cultivation of just one genetically modified organism, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean. But a lawsuit filed by the Brazilian Institute for the Defense of the Consumer (Idec) and by Greenpeace prevented planting from getting started. The two bodies want to condition freedom to cultivate any transgenic to a study of environmental impact (EIA-Rima in Portuguese) and to rules being drawn up to assess risks to health. The case is being judged by the Regional Federal Court in Brasilia.