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  • Biosafety back on the agenda in Pakistan


[ISLAMABAD] Pakistan has relaunched its agency overseeing regulation of biotechnology research, arming it with more powers that include developing stricter biosafety laws.

The new task force, announced earlier last month (6 October), replaces the previous Pakistan Biological Safety Association (PBSA) launched just a year ago by the country's Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) core group in life sciences (see Pakistan launches National Biosafety body).

The PBSA was backed by Atta-ur-Rahman, who stepped down as chairman of the HEC in October 2008, apparently dissatisfied with the new government's low funding for universities (see Pakistan's science reformers steps down).

It is among the several institutes affected after Rahman's resignation. The HEC's core group on life sciences itself was closed down in 2008 and the PBSA was reduced to a volunteer society of professionals running only biosafety awareness campaigns, with no government funding.

The new task force consists of scientists drawn from the departments of science, environment, atomic energy and foreign affairs of 21 bioscience institutes. They will regulate bioscience research, monitor for bioterrorism and introduce biosafety in university bioscience syllabi.

One of the task force's immediate priorities is to introduce in Pakistan's parliament, within the next six months, a new law meting life imprisonment to researchers misusing bioscience research.

"We hope to get a biosafety law passed by the parliament very soon which will make biosafety not just voluntary but a legal obligation," PBSA convenor Anwar Nasim, who heads the new task force, told SciDev.Net.

"Apart from promoting productive research, the task-force will also monitor professionals engaged in performance of biological, biomedical, biotechnological and other life sciences research work to ensure that high-risk materials and data are not used for destructive proposes," Pakistan foreign ministry's director-general Irfan Yousaf, told SciDev.Net.

Shahana Kazmi, professor of microbiology and dean of the faculty of sciences at the University of Karachi, describes the development as "vital for avoiding directionless research in biotechnology".

"Making of laws is good but their implementation is best. We expect this body to ensure the implementation of biosafety laws and set national priorities in biotechnology research to avoid wastage of funds and efforts," Kazmi told SciDev.Net.

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