New Legislation Controlling the Release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

Please be informed that the Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance, Cap 607, and its subsidiary legislation, the Genetically Modified Organisms (Documentation for Import and Export) Regulation has taken effect since 1 March 2011. The objective of the Ordinance is to implement the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hong Kong by controlling the release into the environment and the transboundary movement of living GMOs. 

GMOs are living organisms that possess a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology (e.g. recombinant DNA technology). The use of GMOs in laboratories under contained conditions can be regarded as contained use and prior approval from the authority is not necessary. These include any GMO operations undertaken within a facility with effective measures to prevent their contact with the environment. For example, effective measures are in place for transgenic plants to be kept inside a greenhouse so as to prevent their pollens from spreading to the outside environment; knock-out transgenic mice are handled carefully to prevent them from escaping; and cultures of GM bacteria are sterilized before disposal. Contravention of the requirements for contained use may be regarded as release of the GMOs into the environment. The release or import intended for release of a GMO requires prior approval from the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation. 

According to the subsidiary regulation, there are also documentation requirements for the import and export of GMOs. Such requirements apply to GMOs intended for release into the environment as well as for contained use. Shipments containing GMOs have to be accompanied with prescribed documents to enable easy identification of the GMOs and to provide the contact points for further information. 

The ordinance provides a six-month transitional period (from 1 March 2011 to 31 August 2011) with respect to the maintenance of released GMOs. During the transitional period, researchers may maintain the life of a GMO that was released into the environment without offence to the law. However, they must, before that period expires, inform the Director of such maintenance by written notice or submit a GMO approval application in respect of the released GMO.  For more details about the Ordinance, Regulation, application procedures and documentation requirements, please refer to the website of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) at http://www.afcd.gov.hk/gmo or contact AFCD at 21506918.