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Central Committee on Biological Safety

The Central Committee on Biological Safety (ZKBS) is a voluntary expert panel responsible for evaluating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with regard to the potential risks posed to humans, animals and the environment and delivering opinions on this matter.

The ZKBS was launched in February 1978 with the Directives on protection against damage from nucleic acids which have been recombined in vitro. This was finally institutionalised in law by the Genetic Engineering Act, which came into force in 1990.

The ZKBS consists of twelve experts from the specialist fields of microbiology, cell biology, virology, genetics, plant breeding, hygiene, ecology, toxicology and technical safety, as well as eight competent persons from the following areas: trade unions, occupational safety, economy, agriculture, environmental protection, nature protection, consumer protection and research-funding organisations. The members of the ZKBS and their deputies are appointed for the duration of three years by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection in agreement with the Federal Ministries of Education and Research, of Economics and Technology, of Labour and Social Affairs, of Health as well as for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety.

The tasks of the ZKBS include containment level assignment for genetic engineering operations and assessment of required safety measures in genetic engineering facilities. Additionally, the ZKBS carries out risk assessments of micro-organisms that are to be used as donor or recipient organisms in genetic engineering operations. It delivers opinions on these matters to the national competent authorities. The ZKBS also evaluates possible risks associated with deliberate release or placing on the market of GMOs and delivers its opinions to the competent authority, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). General position statements of the ZKBS and a regularly updated list of micro-organisms which have been assigned to risk groups are published in the Federal Gazette and on the BVL website. In addition, the administrative office provides databases on vectors, oncogenes, micro-organisms, Escherichia coli strains and cell lines which have been subjected to risk assessment on the BVL website.

The ZKBS reaches its decisions either in a written procedure or at a closed meeting which normally takes place every two months at the BVL in Berlin and to which the competent federal state authorities and federal ministries are invited. Yearly activity reports are published in order to provide information to the general public.

The ZKBS administrative office is based at the BVL. It receives applications and enquiries made to the ZKBS, prepares the opinions or responses from the ZKBS and the decision-making procedure, and forwards decisions made by the ZKBS to the competent federal state authorities.

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