When handling biological materials such as GMOs, safety measurements should be taken into account. To this end, various levels of institutes/organizations are involved to maintain all the different aspects of safety. Here, we will describe the most important organizations who are responsible for this and provide you with all the necessary information.

European level

Most of all the Dutch legislation concerning biotechnology is derived from the European Union (EU). On a European level, a directive was published to ensure safety not only for the researcher but also for the laboratory and the environment. For more information click here.

National level

The Dutch government processed these rules into national legislation. As of 2016, the Dutch government also started the research program termed ‘Biotechnology and Safety’ with its goal to explore and identify long-term risks and insecurities derived from biotechnological innovations. Since our project focusses on the dairy industry we want to highlight the following legislation regarding the labelling of foods and other products with GMOs. The most important ones are highlighted here:

Legislation labelling of foods and products with GMO’s
  • Products containing more than 0,9% of GMO products, the manufacturer is required to label it as a GMO product.
  • Milk, meat, and eggs from animals which have consumed GMO-food do not have to have labelled
  • In the case that products do not contain any GMO’s, food manufacturers are allowed to label it ‘made without gene technology’ when they conform to the rules of ‘Warenwetbesluit Nieuwe Voedingsmiddelen’.

Dutch Department of Infrastructure and Environment

In addition, the Dutch Department of Infrastructure and Environment (Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu, I&M) is responsible for renewing and modernizing policy concerning biotechnology. Not only does this entail creating more opportunities for this sector, it also focused on safeguarding and providing the appropriate frame for biotechnological innovations. For more information about our talk with Sr. policy officer Rob Duba on Biotechnology at the Department I&M click here

National Institute of Health and Environment (RIVM)

In turn, the Department of I&M requests advises of the National Institute of Health and Environment (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, RIVM), a national institute who writes a lot of advisory reports for the Dutch government concerning biotechnological innovations. The RIVM focuses on safeguarding consumer health and promoting a healthy environment for all Dutch citizens. Fortunately for us, the RIVM is highly involved in the iGEM completion and assists all Dutch IGEM teams. In return for their financial support, they designed the so-called ‘Think before doing’ assignment in which Dutch teams were compelled to, as the name implies, consider biosafety at the start of our project. In collaboration with the RIVM, we made a game regarding safety in synthetic biology called ‘Outbreak!’.

We already spoke to various employees of the RIVM who were so kind to give us advice. For more information about our talk with Wouter Ghering click here.

Rathenau Institute

The Rathenau Institute, an institute that focuses on stimulating the public and political opinion with regard to social aspects of science and technology in the Netherlands, launched the iGEMmers guide to the future’ together with SYNENERGENE, a Mobilisation and Mutual Learning Action Plan funded by the European Commission’s FP7 Science in Society Work Program. The guide that was designed turned out to be an extremely helpful tool for our human practices-related activities and you can explore the results from assignments throughout our website!

The Dutch Commission on Modification (COGEM)

Moreover, the Dutch government is advised by the Dutch Commission on Modification(COGEM). This organization consists of experts in different fields who write scientific reports about the possible risks of either production or use of GMO’s for humans and environment and informs the government about ethical and social aspects related to genetic modification as well. For more information, please visit the COGEM website.

University of Groningen

At our university, guidelines are set up by the Arbo- and Milieu Dienst (AMD; Occupational Health & Safety and Environmental Service) and the concerning departments of the university. Together they assign biosafety officers too research groups and institutes. If you would like to know about the biosafety officers of the Groningen Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology Institute (GBB) please refer to this.

To ensure safety, iGEM Groningen 2017 team members received training from a RUG-biosafety officer about working in the lab with GMOs. Other team members already gained a certificate in Safe Microbial Techniques during their studies (primarily students Biology and Life Science & Technology) demonstrating that they are able to work safely and handle GMOs responsibly. The training included learning about disinfection and sterilization techniques but primarily focused on the general lab rules (clothing e.g.) and safe microbiological techniques. To handle biological materials such as GMO’s we used biosafety cabinets and open benches.

10 COMMANDMENTS for Safe Microbiological Techniques (or Veilige Microbiologische Technieken)
  1. All VMT related work can only be performed by those people that have permission from the Biological Safety Officer (BVF). Work according to the rules, even if you believe there is no apparent risk.
  2. During VMT related work all doors and windows have to be closed. Verify that insects and other pests are not present in the lab.
  3. Wear a closed laboratory coat. Do not take this lab coat outside the VMT area unless it is absolutely necessary for the experiment. In case of a contamination of the lab coat, sterilize the lab coat first, with bleach or by autoclaving, before washing.
  4. Clean and sterilize spills immediately. Report serious contamination immediately to the BVF.
  5. It is absolutely prohibited to eat, drink or smoke, or to have cups, plates, mugs or silverware in the VMT area.
  6. Pipetting by mouth is prohibited. Used pipettes are collected in a disinfecting solution.
  7. Prevent aerosols. These may be created by -splashing drops; -pouring of liquids; - discharging pipettes; -opening of moist plugs; - using inoculating loops that are too hot. Use needles only if there is absolutely no alternative.
  8. Glassware and instruments that have been in contact with GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms, GGO’s in Dutch) have to be sterilized or disinfected before being washed, reused or discarded. Biological waste has to be collected in autoclavable plastic bags, which are autoclaved before discarding (use indicator tape to demonstrate that the bag was autoclaved).
  9. Wash hands with soap and water after work and before leaving the room. Bench surface areas have to be cleaned and disinfected daily. Keep area clean and organized.
  10. Record the general nature of the work clearly in a lab journal.

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