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What is Biosecurity?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Biosecurity refers to measures that are taken to stop the spread or introduction of harmful organisms to human, animal and plant life. The measures taken are a combination of processes and systems that have been put in place by bioscience laboratories, customs agents and agricultural managers to prevent the use of dangerous pathogens and toxins.

Goals of Biosecurity

The main aim of biosecurity is to protect human health and to increase and protect agricultural produce through the prevention, control and management of biological risk factors. Biosecurity also aims to protect against acts of bioterrorism and to prevent adverse biosecurity events as well as offering advice on appropriate interventions and political and social changes that should be adopted by government regulatory agencies.

What are the Biosecurity hazards?

A variety of biosecurity hazards threaten health and biosafety. Some of these are listed in the table below:

Table 1. Definitions of hazard as annlicable to different biosecurity sectors
Sectors Definitions of hazard
Food safety A biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food with the potential to cause an adverse health effect (CAC).
Zoonoses A biological agent that can be transmitted naturally between wild or domestic animals and humans (OIE).
Animal health Any pathogenic agent that could produce adverse consequences on the imnnrtation of a commodity (OIE).
Plant health Any species, strain or biotype of plant, animal or pathogenic agent injurious to otants or plant products (IPPC).
Plant health quarantine A pest of potential economic importance to the area endangered thereby and not yet present there, or present but not widely distributed and being officially controlled (IPPC).
"Biosafety" in relation to plants and animals A living modified organism (LMO) that possesses a novel combination of relation to genetic material obtained through the use of modem biotechnology that is likely plants and to have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological animals diversity, taking also into account risks to human health (Cartagena Protocol on Biosafetv'.
"Biosafety" in relation to food A recombinant DNA organism directly effecting or remaining in a food that relation to could have an adverse effect on human health (Cartagena Protocol on food Biosafety).
Invasive alien species An invasive alien species outside its natural past or present distribution whose introduction and/or snread threatens biodiversitv (CBD).

Biosecurity in laboratories

Pathological agents may be collected, grown, stored or handled in clinical laboratories, diagnostic facilities, public health laboratories, research centres and production facilities. All of these facilities are at risk of biosecurity incidents.

The term “biorisk” refers to the risk associated with biological substances and infectious agents. Biorisk assessments are carried out to identify the acceptable and unacceptable levels of these risks. The methods adopted to manage the occurrence of biorisks is an important field of research.

The reduction of biorisk involves the sharing of expertise and advice regarding the guidance and training that is needed for disease agents to be handled and controlled safely.

There are several non-legislated guidelines that set out the standard of conduct or behavior with respect to a particular biological activity. Organizations and individuals voluntarily agree to abide by these guidelines.

The term “biohazard” refers to a biological substance that poses a risk to health, particularly human health.

Laboratory biosecurity involves responsibility for the protection, control and accountability of biological materials within facilities to prevent their unauthorized access, theft, misuse, loss, or intentional release or exposure. Misuse refers to the use of biological materials for inappropriate or illegitimate purposes. Examples of biological materials that require this management include pathogens and toxins, as well as non-pathogenic organisms such as vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and cell components or genetic elements.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 7, 2014

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