In 2016, the European Biosafety Association (EBSA) chose to hold its annual conference in France. Over 300 biosafety experts from fields as diverse as academia, medicine and agricul-ture convened at Lille Grand Palais April 19th to 22nd. Professor René Courcol, president of the French Society for Microbiology, shares his experience of this unique event dedicated to the increasingly important field of biosafety.
A first in France
This year marked the 19th annual EBSA meeting and the first time the conference was held in France. “In previous years, the conference was held in eastern or northern European countries,” explains Professor Courcol. “As President of the French Society for Microbiology, I was invited to organise the conference in France this year.” A native of Lille, Professor Courcol was aware of the city’s close proximity to the rest of Europe via train, automobile and aeroplane; Charles de Gaulle airport is a short 50-minute train ride from the centre of Lille. “In addition to easy connec-tions with Europe, Lille is the closest city to the EBSA’s headquarters in Ghent,” says Professor Courcol.
When looking for a location to hold the conference, Lille Grand Palais seemed the natural choice. “Lille Grand Palais is the only venue in the region that can accommodate this type of event because of its well-established and proven logistic expertise,” says Professor Courcol. Lille’s extensive hospitality and cultural offer also pleased guests, who came from around the world.
A small conference with large impact
Created in 1996, the ESBA is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to establish and apply best biosafety and biosecurity practices. “Biosafety is gaining importance at many levels and concerns many fields,” explains Professor Courcol. “Health is the most obvious, but food and animal safety are other examples where pathogenic microorganisms could…contaminate the environment. We develop and apply these best practices to protect the environment.”
This year’s ESBA conference drew 300 attendees from Europe, the Middle East, Japan and China. The first two days of the conference were dedicated to small-group trainings of about 30 people on highly specific topics such as implementing bio-risk management systems and de-contamination. The last two days featured parallel speaker sessions on gene therapy and work-ing with plants and animals, followed by breakout and debate sessions. Thanks to Lille Grand Palais’ modular configuration, the EBSA was able to hold all of its events on one level, an im-portant consideration for the organisers. “People weren’t forced to go up and down stairs as they are at larger events,” explains Professor Courcol. “It was important for us to have everyone together.”
A growing field
The ESBA Annual Meeting may be a small conference, but the issues at stake are enormous, enough to warrant an opening speech by Benoît Vallet, General Director of Health at the French Ministry of Social Affairs end Health, member of the National Council on Biosecurity. “Biosafety is gaining attention and importance in France because people are realising that we must take these issues into account when organising laboratory activities, if only for the protection of peo-ple and the environment,” explains Professor Courcol. Thanks to this 19th edition held at Lille Grand Palais, the world’s biosafety experts were able to further discussions and debate on a growing field with security impacts on many levels.