Marianela Araya-Quesada
Biosafety Unit, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Wendy Craig and Decio Ripandelli
Biosafety Unit, ICGEB, Trieste, Italy

Biotechnology has the potential to help improve food production in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a continent where agriculture plays a dominant role in peoples’ lives and in trade. It is therefore critical that recombinant DNA (rDNA) biotechnology is regulated in such a manner as to capture its benefits and to minimize any potential risks. In order to best understand biosafety needs in LAC, an email-based stakeholder consultation was carried out, augmented by personal communications with well-informed respondents, and integrated into a desktop study incorporating information from recent peer-reviewed literature. The resultant qualitative study tracked developments in rDNA biotechnology and biosafety in the region and reviewed regulatory capacity as well as the legacies of previous capacity-building projects in these areas to culminate in a snapshot of the present situation. It demonstrated that approximately half of the 31 countries represented in the study are not carrying out any domestic research and development on genetically modified organisms (GMOs); furthermore, the majority have not developed GM products beyond the proof-of-concept stage. Only 58% of the study countries appear to have operational biosafety regulatory systems in place. Acknowledging that methods of delivering capacity building should be tailored to specific demand-driven needs, the study identified possible knowledge and expertise gaps in the region, to be used as a basis for possible training and/or support interventions.

Key words: Biosafety, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), capacity building, research and development (R&D), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).