Tuesday July 22 2014

Drop biotechnology, bio-safety Bill

Parliament under the committee of Science and Technology is concluding public consultations on the Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill 2012. A Bill intended to promote the introduction and commercialisation of Genetically Modified Organisms in Uganda. In 2008, the government approved the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Policy, and is now in advanced stages of passing the law to enforce this policy.

What is surprising is that; despite the absence of the law, there are on-going GMO field trials at Kawanda and Namulonge research institutes for example; trials in GM banana, cassava, rice, maize, etc.

I think abandoning our perennial crops for GMOs will make Uganda dependent on imported seeds. GMOs with regard to Agriculture will bring high costs to farmers because; the seeds are patented by the corporations that sell them.

Patented seeds mean that seed saving is forbidden and farmers must buy new seeds each season. Consequently Ugandan farmers, especially small-scale farmers, will not be able to bear the additional cost of buying expensive patented seeds each season.

In other countries such as Canada and the US, farmers have been sued by the corporations for saving their GM seeds, even when the garden has been accidentally contaminated with GM genes through cross-pollination; the farmer will still be made to pay. So what will Ugandan farmers do if such a thing happens? I am also afraid that contamination of our agricultural systems with GMO seeds will mean loss of export markets to countries that have already rejected GMOs. Consequently; this will lead to the perpetual enslavement of small scale farmers by corporations, by controlling seeds and forcing farmers to buy on their terms.

Some GMOs have had genes from different species put into them. They are new and potentially unsafe. There could be unknown health risks associated with inserting genes from different species into our food. Therefore, there is risk of contamination of our indigenous crops from fields planted with GMOs, through the likely event of cross-pollination and probably they will opt out of farming.

I appeal to the government to ban GMOs until further independent studies show that there is no risk to human life, animals or the environment. I would also like to say that, even the current GMO trials at Kawanda and Namulonge Research Institutes are illegal and should be prohibited immediately.

The Biotechnology and Bio safety Bill 2012 holds no respect for the rights of the farmers and it should be dropped. Biotechnology development especially in agriculture should not be done at the expense of the farmers and the general public.

Dornam Ahumuza,