Current Status of Bio-safety in Vietnam

Le Thi Thu Hien1, Le Thanh Binh2 
Nong Van Hai1, Le Tran Binh1

1.      Institute of Biotechnology (IBT), National Center for Natural Science and Technology (NCST), Hanoi, Vietnam
2.      National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MOSTE), Vietnam.


Biotechnological Research and Development in Vietnam                                     
Current status of Bio-safety in Vietnam
Challenges and Constraints
Future plans
Main contacts and addresses

1.      Biotechnological Research and Development in Vietnam

Biotechnology has made a significant contribution to the economy of Vietnam. In a national social economic strategy, it has been identified as an essential and important prerequisite for achievement of national goals. For the period 1995-2010, the government’s first priority for scientific research is in biotechnology. Four major focus areas have been identified for the application of biotechnology in agriculture:

·        Development of large-scale micropropagation technology for economical important plants;

·        Application of genetic engineering and cell technology to plant  and animal breeding programs, with emphasis on rice, vegetables and root crops;

·        Research and technology transfer for improving crop and animal varieties and processing agricultural products;

·        Development of biotechnology related to environmental protection and reforestation.

Considered as a national priority, biotechnological research and development has been received funding from the government which is increased considerably (Table 1). Government support for capital construction is also provided. For example, by the years 2001-2003 the government approved to fund IBT three millions USD ($US 3,000 000.00) for setting up National Key Laboratory for Gene Technology.
Table 1.  Capital investment from Vietnam Government for Science and Technology from 1996 to 2000 (billions Vietnamese dong)

                                                                                Data source: MOSTE and General Statistical Office







National budget for Science and Technology






Percentage in comparison with total national budget (%)






The biotechnology research activities in Vietnam are concentrated in several ministries and agencies:

·        Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD): Within MARD biotechnology research is conducted by several national programs in many Research Institutes including Agricultural Genetics Institute (AGI), Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute (CLRRI), Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute (VASI), and Food Crops Research Institute (FCRI), etc. At province level, many plant tissue culture laboratories have been set up.

·        The National Center for Natural Science and Technology (NCST): Under NCST, the Institute of Biotechnology (IBT) has been established as a leading biotechnology research institution of Vietnam.  IBT focuses on fundamental and applied research in the field of biotechnology and related subjects.

·        The Universities: Within the Universities, several Biotechnology Centers have been created.

·        Other sectors

Modern biotechnology has been developed at IBT and several national institutes of MARD such as AGI and VASI. These Institutes implement national research programs in biotechnology and focus on the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Presently, GMOs for agriculture could be produced at least at four national research institutions as follows: IBT, AGI, Institute of Tropical Biology (ITB), and CLRRI.

Agronomically important genes have been introduced into many important crops such as rice, papaya, potatoes, sugarcane, and tomato. These genes include Xa21 (bacterial blight resistance); cryIA(a,b,c,d) (insect resistance); chitinase gene (fungi disease resistance); P5CS, OAT, Tps, Nha, HAL (salt and drought tolerance); CgS, SAT (amino acids content enhancement); CP (PRSV resistance); ACC antisense (delayed ripening), etc. At IBT, many industrial genes are using for research and development (Table 2) and transformation experiments of rice, sweet potato, papaya, potato, cotton and maize have been attempted and several small-scale tests of transgenics at laboratory and field trial levels have been conducted.

Table 2. Industrial genes used for research and development at IBT

Gene                       Purpose(s)                                                             Progress


Amylase                 production of industrial enzyme                        already has recombinant bacterial strains

Pectinase               production of industrial enzyme                        at gene expression level

RIPs                      drug-products                                                 gene expression

Lipase                    industrial enzyme                                             recombinant strain

Fab                        production of antibody                                    recombinant strain

DNA polymerase   molecular biology                                            on screening

HbsAg                   recombinant vaccine                                        gene expression


At IBT and some other Institutes, well-equipped laboratories for molecular biology and genetic engineering have been setting up. Main facilities and equipment included Automated DNA Sequencers, Oligonucleotide Synthesizer, Thermocyclers, Ultracentrifuges, Micromanipulator, Biolistic Particle Delivery System, Fermentors (5-85L), Continuous Centrifuge, Spray Dryer, Freeze Dryer, FPLC System, UV Spectrophotometer, Automated Amino Acid Analyzer, Electrophoresis Systems, Green House and Experiment Fields, Animal House, Bio-informatic Unit, Research Library, etc. With all these essential research facilities, the research works have achieved some impressive results. However, up to now no GM crop has been released in Vietnam.

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2.      Current status of Bio-safety in Vietnam

·        National level

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), entered into effect on December 29, 1993 establishes important principles regarding all aspects of biological diversity. Under this convention, the Cartagena Protocol was adopted as a guiding framework for activities on safety in biotechnology.

Vietnam became a party of CBD since 1994 but has not yet signed the Cartagena Protocol on bio-safety. However, Vietnam recognizes the ecological and economic importance of an effective bio-safety regulation in biotechnology development. It also recognizes the need to have in place an appropriate safety regulation before large-scale field trials of GMOs are being conducted and released to the environment. At present, Vietnam is in a process of designing, developing safety regulation and has brought into the government consideration for rectification and approval of Cartagena Protocol.

Responsibility for drafting the National Regulation on Safe Management of Living Modified Organisms and their products (the Regulation) lies with the National Environment Agency (NEA) under Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MOSTE) and AGI of MARD. However, many experts from biotechnology research institutes and governmental agencies are strongly contributed and involved in drafting and incorporating the Regulation in National Laws. The draft Regulation has passed and endorsed by the Committee, which was led by the MOSTE and is now under consideration by the Government. So far, Vietnam has not had in place the Regulation as well as the monitoring procedures for implementing it. This is one of the reasons that delay the further GMOs product development.

·        Institutional level

There are risks associated with either the use or the non-use of GM crops. To minimize the risk of genetic recombination even further, institutional bio-safety guidelines for laboratories and research work have been prepared and implemented in few biotechnology research institutes without setting up of institutional bio-safety committees.

Particularly, at IBT bio-safety is of a major important issue and therefore having received much attention. Its own bio-safety guideline has been implemented in a professional manner. Followings are some activities on bio-safety that have been carried out:

(i)                  training all students, visiting fellows and junior researchers on bio-safety before employment in specific research laboratories; and

(ii)                co-organizing with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA) a workshop on biotechnology awareness addressing many aspects of bio-safety issues. Biotechnologists, ecologists, regulatory bodies are getting benefit greatly from this event.

(iii)               conducting biotechnology programs including an associated project on risk assessment leading by Dr. Le Tran Binh.

However, the existing regulatory institution is not adequate for oversight of biotechnology products since there is no national legislation to address all aspects of bio-safety issues so far.

·        Overview of the National Regulation on Safe Management of Living Modified Organisms and their products

Basically, the criteria for bio-safety in Cartagena protocol have been adopted. In general, the Regulation:

-         aims at ensuring that the use of biotechnology products will not be detrimental to the environment and human health.

-         addresses issues associated with the conduct of containment trials, field tests and the transport of GMOs within Vietnam as well as trans-boundary movement of GMOs.

Article 2 of this Regulation states that: The Regulation shall apply to all domestic and foreign organizations and individuals whose activities undertaken on the territory of Vietnam are related to biological safety, including the research, deployment and development, management, handling, transport, use, transfer and release of GMOs and their products.

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3.      Challenges and Constraints

Although in most industrialized countries, bio-safety regulations have been implemented since the mid 1980s, Vietnam now is still in process of developing and implementing safety regulation in a harmony with the ASEAN framework. Therefore, as a new practice, drafting and implementing of the Regulation has posed challenges and constraints. These challenges are:

·        Lack of understanding or misunderstanding of bio-safety among scientists and media

·        Lack of well –trained personnel who are involved in developing and implementing bio-safety regulatory mechanisms.

·        Insufficiency of monetary and enforcement systems.

·        Lack of experience in the regulatory process and in analyzing the environmental risks of small and large scale field releases and commercial use of transgenic crops.

·        Lack of facilities for analyzing the risk assessment.

·        Inadequate institutional capacity.

4.      Future plans

It is very important to develop National Projects, which focus on the preparation of a National Bio-safety Framework including regulatory, administration and decision-making systems, and mechanisms for public participation and information. Here are some of the activities:

·        Gathering of necessary information concerning the use of modern biotechnology, existing legislation on biotechnology and/or bio-safety;

·        Establishing Committees such as: National/Institutional Bio-safety Committees, GM Advisory Committee, Review Committee, and GMO Approval Committee to enforce the Regulation;

·        Training Bio-safety Committees at both institutional and national levels to conduct scientifically sound bio-safety reviews, etc;

·        Developing National Bio-safety Database and linkages to the Bio-safety Clearing House;

·        Drafting legal instruments as Guidelines for implementing the Regulation;

·        Sharing of experience on the organization and risk analysis with other countries, which are in a more advanced stage of drafting and enforcing bio-safety regulations;

·        Cooperating with other countries and international organizations in developing relevant educational, public awareness programs and intensive workshops on bio-safety.

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5.      Main contacts and addresses


Vietnam National Focal Points on Bio-safety
Name:                    National Environment Agency (NEA)

Address:                 67 Nguyen Du, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tel:                         +84-4-49424557

Fax:                        +84-4-8223189


Director General:    Nguyen Ngoc Sinh


Vietnam-Biotechnology Institutions 1.      Insitute of Biotechnology (IBT)

Address:     18 Hoang Quoc Viet Rd., Hanoi, Vietnam.

Director:     Prof. Dr. Le Tran Binh

Tel:  +84-4-834 4691

Fax: +84-4-836 3144


Home page:

2.      Agricultural Genetics Institute (AGI)

Address:     Pham Van Dong Rd., Tu Liem, Hanoi, Vietnam

Director:     Prof. Dr. Tran Duy Quy

Tel: +84-4-754 4712

Fax: +84-4-7543 196


3.      Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute (CLRRI)

Address:     O Mon, Can Tho

Tel:             +84-71-861954

Fax:            +84-71-861457


Director:     Prof. Dr. Bui Chi Buu

Tel: +84-71-861392

Fax: +84-71-872286


4.      Institute of Tropical Biology (ITB)

Address:     1 Mac Dinh Chi, Hochiminh City

Director:     Dr. Nguyen Tien Thang

                  Tel: +84-8-8241346

                  Fax: +84-8-8241346


5.      Food Crops Research Institute (FCRI)

Address:     Gia Loc, Hai duong

                  Tel: +84-320-716463

                  Fax: +84-320-716385

Director:     Bsc. Tran Quoc Tuan

6.      Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute (VASI)

Address:     Thanh Tri, Hanoi

Tel: +84-4-8615480/8615487

Fax:            +84-4-8613937


Director:     Prof. Dr. Nguyen Huu Nghia

Tel: +84-4-8615556

Fax: +84-4-8613937


Le Tran Binh. Current status of Plant Biotechnology in Vietnam. Paper presented at the Workshop on Biotechnology Awareness in Hanoi, 6-7 July, 2001.

Le Tran Binh. Current status of genetic engineering research in Vietnam. Proceedings of National Biotechnology Conference, Hanoi, 1999, pp. 71-75.

Draft version of Vietnamese Regulation on Safe Management of Living Organisms and their Products.

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