What is biosafety? Why is it necessary?

The need for biosafety was recognised as soon as the first GMO was created


Combine on a field. By: Igor Nael
IS OUR FOOD SAFE? Living modified organisms created with biotechnology are increasingly being used in today’s agriculture. The safe use of GMOs is governed by international agreements. By: Igor Nael


The term biosafety (sometimes also biological safety) has several meanings in Estonian. In a narrower sense, it means the prevention of diseases, poisonings, or allergies caused by biological organisms. This approach is used in the fields of food safety [1] and occupational health [2], as well as laboratory rules [3], hunting, beekeeping, and animal husbandry [4]. More broadly, however, biosafety refers to the safe handling of living modified organisms (genetically modified organisms (GMOs)) that have been created using modern biotechnology. This meaning is taken from the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which entered into force in Estonia in 2004.


The purpose of biosafety is to prevent, control, and eliminate the environmental and health risks that may arise from the use of GMOs and to protect humans and the environment from potential risks. For example, people must be protected from potential new allergens, while the environment needs to be protected from the so-called superweeds, herbicide-resistant biotypes which can be formed when modified crops pass on their insecticide or herbicide resistance to natural species.


The need for biosafety was recognised as soon as the first GMO was created. Initially, biosafety measures were applied to laboratories (guidelines of the Asilomar Conference) [5], but later extended beyond. Major international organisations – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – began issuing guidelines for the biosafety of GMOs as early as in the 1980s.


In the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the central body in the field of biosafety, responsible for all GMOs to be authorised in the European Union, with the exception of pharmaceuticals.


In the mid-1990s, the public started taking more interest in biosafety, resulting in the preparation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The protocol deals with the safe use of GMOs and their cross-border movement, covering both the deliberate transport and the illegal cross-border spreading of GMOs, for example by air or water.



Last modified: 30.11.2021




[1] https://www.agri.ee/toiduohutus-toidumargistus/toiduohutus/bioloogiline-ohutus, ka https://toiduteave.ee/toiduohutus/bioloogiline-ohutus/

[2] https://www.tooelu.ee/et/94/haigusetekitajad

[3] http://vl.emu.ee/userfiles/instituudid/vl/VLI/dokumendid/BIOOHUTUSE_JA_BIOTURVALISUSE_JUHEND.pdf

[4] https://www.agri.ee/taime-ja-loomatervis/loomade-tervis-heaolu-ja-aretus/loomatervis

[5] E. Ojandu, L. Eek. Geneetiliselt muundatud organismid – mis need on? Tallinna Tehnikaülikool, 2010. https://www.etis.ee/Portal/Publications/Display/ef0b117f-b343-4d8d-ad47-e9e86cfcf53c