Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS)

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The Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) is an initiative supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to "create the infrastructure developing countries need to use biotechnology safely, building policies and capacity for science-based regulations and examining biosafety in the broader context of economics, environment, science, and trade issues."[1] It is one of three programs that were announced as part of the Collaborative Agricultural Biotechnology Initiative (CABIO) in 2002. As noted below, some of the biggest barriers keeping genetically modified organisms (GMOs) out of the Global South are strict regulatory systems or lack of regulatory systems at all. On one hand, biotech corporations like Monsanto look for countries with relatively simple and inexpensive regulatory processes to allow them to introduce their products. On the other hand, biotech corporations refuse to enter countries where their intellectual property rights are not protected. PBS works to address both of these barriers to allowing GMOs into developing countries.

According to a 2005 account:

"PBS, a five-year, US$15 million program, continues with and deepens USAID's work at the policy level, which was formerly handled through ABSP. Its goal is to set up "systems" in target countries that can bring GM crops to market. This means orchestrating public relations and crafting GM crop approval processes, regulation."[2]


A 2004 article by Lawrence Kent of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center describing barriers to bringing biotechnology to the Global South notes lack of regulatory systems as a major roadblock to the entry of "privately created GM technologies" into the developing world. This article underscores the significance of PBS in the introduction of GMOs into the Global South. Kent's argument is summarized as follows:[3]

"Agricultural biotechnology offers great potential benefits to farmers in developing countries, but so far only a small handful of genetically modified (GM) crop products have been planted in only a few developing countries. This paper discusses the reasons why more GM crops have not reached farmers in more developing countries. It argues that publicly funded research efforts have largely failed, so far, in developing GM crops adapted to developing country needs, because of inadequate funding and insufficient focus on producing products. It argues that privately created GM technologies-such as Bt maize-have a better chance of reaching farmers in developing countries, but the transfer of such technologies is hampered by high biosafety regulatory costs, high seed regulatory costs, inadequate intellectual property protection, and local concerns about losing export markets. Overcoming these obstacles will require more money and product focus in public sector institutions, expanded efforts to improve regulatory environments, and the nurturing of local farmer constituencies for GM technologies."

He elaborates calling biosafety regulatory problems "the most formidable" challenge to bringing biotechnology to the Global South. He notes that, as of 2004, "Forty-eight of the 53 countries in Africa have not yet created official regulations governing the commercial release and distribution of transgenic seeds. None of the large international seed companies that own commercial biotechnology products (Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer, etc.) is willing to sell these products in countries that do not have a regulatory system in place to confirm their environmental and food safety."[3]

Biotech corporations do not like to enter markets in nations that "require exhaustive, expensive, multiyear studies to demonstrate safety; without clear guidelines and with too much room for arbitrary requirements and decisions, standards tend to shift during the process."[3] "Particularly problematic" for biotech firms are laws "demanding extensive and costly biosafety assessments, including food safety assessments, as a condition for approving preliminary field trials of newly developed transgenic crops."

To attract biotech firms to enter their countries, Kent writes that developing nations "will need to make it possible, if not easy, to conduct field tests under local conditions." He then praises PBS, saying:[3]

"Through its new Program for Biosafety Systems, USAID will raise awareness in developing countries about the need to "link policy development and formulation of regulations more explicitly to considerations of implementation" (USAID, 2002b). This is an important and essential initiative that must become effective as soon as possible to provide an alternative to the antitechnology "precautionary principle" being disseminated widely by the United Nations Environmental Program and nongovernmental organizations throughout the developing world."

"To encourage the transfer of commercial technologies, already developed, such as Bt maize or cotton," he adds:[3]

"The lack of appropriate regulations — either their complete absence or their impractical nature — is the biggest single barrier to moving commercial biotechnology products (seeds) into developing countries. Such products cannot reach farmers if their approval is impossible, denied, or endlessly delayed. To change this situation, the US government will need to encourage the development of more appropriate regulations in developing countries, through projects such as USAID's new Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). To have an impact, this project will need to become actively involved in the development and dissemination of model regulations and legislation, as well as consulting, educational, and awareness-raising activities in targeted developing countries. The project will also need to build capacity to implement effectively the existing regulations."



National and Regional Advisors:[4]

Policy and Regulatory Experts:[4]


PBS Consortium Members:[5]

Collaborative national partners in Asia and Africa: Philippines:


East Africa:

West Africa:

Southern Africa:

Regional collaborative partners:

International Programs and Research Centers:

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. Collaborative Agriculture Biotechnology Initiative: Mobilizing New Science and Technology to Reduce Poverty and Hunger, USAID, June 12, 2002, Accessed September 5, 2011.
  2. "USAID: Making the world hungry for GM crops, GRAIN, April 25, 2005, Accessed October 15, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Lawrence Kent, "What's the Holdup? Addressing Constraints to the Use of Plant Biotechnology in Developing Countries," AgBioForum, Volume 7, Number 1 & 2, Article 12.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 PBS Team, Accessed October 14, 2011.
  5. Partners, Accessed October 14, 2011.

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