Experts say IBCs are a crucial tool for ensuring the safety of biomedical research. Critics say they are too opaque.
In 2004, an activist named Edward Hammond fired up his fax machine and sent out letters to 390 institutional biosafety committees across the country. His request was simple: Show me your minutes.
When set up well, Institute Biosafety Committees (IBC) can be an essential component of research governance for research institutions that conduct research with biosafety considerations (such as work with genetically modified organisms and crops). But as this Undark item reports of some IBCs in the US, they can be murky, hostile and slow. The exact opposite of what is needed.
The agency also requires these committees to maintain detailed meeting minutes, and to supply them upon request to members of the public. But when Hammond started requesting those minutes, he found something else. Not only were many universities declining to share their minutes, but some didn’t seem to have active IBCs at all. “The committees weren’t functioning,” Hammond told Undark. “It was just an absolute joke.”