Quarantine and Postal Regulations/Restrictions

The issues of shipping, packaging and quarantine are covered in a paper submitted to SGM Microbiology Today and also available on the SGM web site.

This paper is available to provide relevant information on how the law affects culture collection work. View PDF

Quarantine regulations


Clients in the UK who wish to obtain cultures of non-indigenous plant pathogens must first obtain a Defra license. Applications for licences should be made through Defra’s eDomero system. Under the terms of such a licence the shipper is required to see a copy of the permit before such strains can be supplied.  

Non-indigenous tree pathogens can only be supplied if the customer holds a current permit issued by The Forestry Commission: Forestry Commission Headquarters, 231 Corsthorphine Road, Edinburgh EH12 7AP.

All shipments to Canada and the USA for plant pathogens must be accompanied by import mailing labels, without which entry of cultures to these countries is refused. 
For further information please consult:

The specified Animal pathogens order 2008 makes it an offence to possess or spread a listed animal pathogen (eg. Brucella) within Great Britain without a licence. It is supplemented by the importation of Animal Pathogens Order 1980 which makes it an offence to import any animal pathogen, or potential or actual carrier, of an animal pathogen from a non-EC country, except under license. Both the supplier and recipient must hold the appropriate licences and undergo regular inspections from Defra. Requests for strains must be refused where the requestor is unable to produce a copy of the appropriate licence. Such licences can be obtained in the UK from The Pathogens Licensing Team, Defra, Area 5A, 17 Smith Sq., London, SW1P 3JR.


Information on the transport of plant pathogens throughout Europe can be obtained from the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO), 1 rue le Nôtre, 75016 Paris, France.

Postal Regulations and Safety

Countries have their own regulations governing the packaging and transport of biological material in their domestic mail. International Postal Regulations regarding the postage of human and animal pathogens are very strict on account of the safety hazard they present. There are several organisations that set regulations controlling the international transfer of such material. These include the International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is common place to send microorganisms by post, as this is more convenient and less expensive than airfreight. However, many countries prohibit the movement of biological substances through their postal services. The International Bureau of the UPU in Berne publishes all import and export restrictions for biological materials by national postal services. 

See www.ebrcn.net/download/WP5_EBRCN_transport.doc for the international regulations for packaging and shipping of microorganisms.

Some countries will not accept human pathogens through the post for carriage overseas and this now includes the UK. A list, which changes from time to time, of these countries can also be obtained from the Post Office (also see Anon, 1998; Smith, 1996).

It is probably not uncommon for cultures to be transported on the person. This is a practice that should be resisted. Such an act contravenes public transport regulations and where aircraft are concerned cultures are considered dangerous goods under the IATA regulations with the possibility of heavy penalties imposed on those caught. Carriage on the person also circumvents all the controls described herein, which are designed to promote safety.

Safety information provided to the recipient of microorganisms

A safety data sheet must be despatched with an organism indicating which hazard group it belongs to and what containment and disposal procedures are necessary. In the UK, microorganisms are covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations (1988), HSW Act s.6(4)(c) and subject to the Approved Code of Practice for Biological Agents 1994 (Anon, 1994). Article 10 of the EU Directive 90/379/EEC regulates that manufacturers, importers, distributors and suppliers must provide safety data sheets in a prescribed format. A safety data sheet accompanying a microorganism must include:

  • the hazard group of the organism being despatched as defined by EU Directive 90/679/EEC Classification of Biological Agents and by the national variation of this legislation for example, in the UK, as defined in the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) Categorisation of biological agents, 4 edition, and the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for Biological Agents.

  • a definition of the hazards and assessment of the risks involved in handling the organism.

  • requirements for the safe handling and disposal of the organism.

    • containment level

    • opening cultures and ampoules

    • transport

    • disposal

    • procedures in case of spillage