GMOs are genetically modified organisms. Scientists use them in biotechnology facilities and research laboratories. Genetic modification involves the alteration of the genetic material of an animal, plant or micro-organism. Among the latter are fungi, parasites, viruses and bacteria.
In a standard GMO process, a scientist removes DNA from an organism. The scientist then manipulates the DNA, and either places it back in the original organism or transfers it to another one. The purpose is usually to cure or reduce diseases and abnormalities.
The main legislation relevant to GMO use in the workplace is the Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2000. Amendments to the law appeared in 2002 and 2005.
The law places great emphasis on environmental protection and human Health and Safety. Above all, the law requires everyone working with GMOs to consider the hazards of all related activities, and to put necessary controls in place.
To achieve this, the law states the legal obligations of all those who work with GMOs. It also gives a framework for making judgments about risks.
The law demands that all GMO activities have a Risk Assessment. This is part of a classification system. This reflects the risk of each activity.
The classification system must follow the standard for microbial laboratories. It has four levels:
- Class 1 - negligible or no risk
- Class 2 - low risk
- Class 3 - medium risk
- Class 4 - high risk
The law obliges those involved with GMO work to notify HSE (Health and Safety Executive) of individual Class 2, 3 and 4 activities. Scientists must obtain consent for Class 3 and 4 activities before commencing work.
Furthermore, all research laboratories and biotechnology facilities that intend to become involved with GMOs must tell HSE of this intention. HSE has a form for this purpose. The details required include the address of the premises; confirmation that there is a genetic modification safety committee in place to give advice on risk assessments; the nature of the work; and the qualifications of personnel.
In addition, there are fees to pay. For its part, HSE maintains a public register of all premises where GMO work takes place and of certain types of activity.
The public can view this register and make comments about new Class 3 and Class 4 activities to HSE. The time limit is 30 days after HSE acknowledges receipt of the notification of these activities.
Inspections and Policy
HSE has a specialist team that gives guidance and advice on GMO issues. The team also inspects premises.
An HSE policy team develops national GMO law, and discusses and introduces European and International GMO legislation.
To further ensure health and safety, there is a group of external experts known as SACGM (CU) (the Scientific Advisory Committee on Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use). The group give advice on the risks of GMO work.
In the context of GMO work, contained use refers to the control measures that restrict contact between GMOs, humans and the environment. Contained use must give a high degree of safety. This means that GMO work must take place in controlled areas such as laboratories, suitable plant facilities, and appropriate animal housing.
Last Updated on 25 May 2021