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Safe Transport of Biological Substances
(Last revised: November 8, 2002)

There are no specific regulations or recommandations governing the safe transportation of genetically modified or pathogenic micro-organisms or organisms. However, several international instruments are dealing with this issue, through the integration of these organisms into broader definitions such as "dangerous goods" or "infectious substances".

At the european level, several Directives have been or have to be published to cover the transport of dangerous goods in or between Member States.

These Directives (and in general all other international instruments) are based on a common basic text, the UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (as developped by the UN ECOSOC Committee of Experts).

These Recommendations rank dangerous goods among several classes, two of which potentially concerning genetically modified or pathogenic micro-organisms or organisms.

- Class 6.2 ("Infectious Substances") : this Class comprises substances known to contain or reasonably expexted to contain viable micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses, rickettsia, parasites, fungi, also as recombinant, hybrid or mutant micro-organisms, that are known or reasonably believed to cause disease in animals or humans. They are subject to the provision of this Class if they are capable of spreading diseases to humans or animals when exposure to them occurs.
Genetically modified micro-organisms and organisms, biological products, diagnostic specimens and infected live animals shall be assigned to this Class if they meet the conditions for this Class.
Micro-organisms assigned to risk groups III and IV (according to Directive 90/679/EEC) and which are then considered with high risk potential, must be subjected to special conditions of packaging, including the following essential elements:
- a leakproof primary receptacle,
- a leakproof secondary packaging,
- an absorbant material placed between the primary receptacle and the secondary packaging,
- an outer packaging of adequate strenght to meet performance tests.
Live vertebrate or invertebrate animals used to carry an infectious agent shall be packed, marked, indicated, and carried in accordance with the relevant regulations governing the carriage of animals (e.g. Directive 91/628/EEC).

- Class 9 ("Miscellaneous Dangerous Substances and Articles") : this Class covers substances and articles which, during carriage, present a danger not covered by the headings of other classes.
Are included in this Class genetically modified micro-organisms which are not dangerous for animals or humans, but which could modify animals, plants, microbiological substances and ecosystems in a way that does not occur naturally.
This Class also comprises genetically modified organisms which are known or suspected to be dangerous to the environment, and which shall be carried in accordance with conditions specified by the competent authority of the country of origin.
Genetically modified micro-organisms which have received a consent for deliberate release into the environment (under Part C of Directive 90/220/EEC), are not subject to the provisions of this Class.

Useful Links

European Commission DGVII (Transport)

International Air Transport Association (IATA)

IATA Dangerous Goods Information Online

IATA List of Packaging Suppliers Complying with UN Rules

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

United Nations Committee of Experts on Transport of Dangerous Goods

Universal Postal Union (UPU) or

World Health Organization (WHO): 1997 Guidelines for the Safe Transport of Infectious Substances and Diagnostic Specimens (Downloadable as a PDF File)

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