President Museveni has declined to sign into law the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012.
The bill seeks to provide a regulatory framework that facilitates the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development and release of genetically modified organisms.
Biotechnology is any technique that uses living organisms or substances from living organisms to make or modify a product, improve plant, animal breeds or micro-organisms for specific purposes while biosafety is the safe development, transfer, application and use of biotechnology and its products.
The Government of Uganda, through the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), is already conducting research on crop plants produced through modern biotechnology. The research aims at overwhelming chronic problems such as insect and disease epidemics, drought stress, and malnutrition.
Uganda which has a National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy (2008) needed a law to guide implementation of this policy and before the improved varieties from biotechnology could be made available to farmers but the bill has since 2012 left the science world divided on the place of genetic engineering of crops and animals using modern science and the role of indigenous technology built over centuries by Africans.
In his December 21 letter to speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, the president outlines why he is sending the bill back to parliament to clarify among other issues, its title, patent rights of indigenous farmers and sanctions for scientists who mix GMOs with indigenous crops and animals.
Mr Museveni said he has been informed that there are, “some crops and livestock with unique genetic configuration like millet, sorghum, beans, Ankole cattle, Ugandan chicken, enkoromoijo cattle which have a specific genetic makeup which our people have developed for millennia through selection (kutorana for seeds, kubikira (selecting good bulls), enimi or empaya (he-goats).”
Using the new science of genetic engineering, he argues, one may add an additional quality-such as drought resistance, quick maturing, disease resistance, but, “this law apparently talks of giving monopoly of patent rights to its adder and forgets about the communities that developed original material. This is wrong, yes we appreciate the contribution of the adder but we cannot forget original preservers, developers and multipliers of the original materials. This must be clarified.”
Expressing his open-mindedness to scientific innovation and in so doing ridiculing Pope Urban VIII who ex-communicated scientist Galileo Galilee for proposing that the earth is flat. In contrast with the Pope’s view, the president asserts, “to be on the safe side, GMO seeds should never be randomly mixed with our indigenous seeds just in case they turn out to have a problem.”
Mr. Museveni also wants parliament to clarify on other aspects of genetic engineering such as setting out the boundary of the technology to crops and animals with no crossover to human beings, labeling of GMOs and wonders why there is a plan to have genetically modified materials in the irrigated areas of Mobuku Irrigation Scheme.
Under article 91(3) of the constitution the President shall, within thirty days after a bill is presented to him or her— (a) assent to the bill; (b) return the bill to Parliament with a request that the bill or a particular provision of it be reconsidered by Parliament; or (c) notify the Speaker in writing that he or she refuses to assent to the bill. Article 91 (5) directs that, “Where the President returns the same bill twice and the bill is passed for the third time, with the support of at least two-thirds of all members of Parliament, the Speaker shall cause a copy of the bill to be laid before Parliament, and the bill shall become law without the assent of the President.”
Parliament director of communication and public affairs Mr. Chris Obore told Daily Monitor could not confirm if the speaker had received the president’s letter but reiterated the constitutional provision on the legislative process when and if the president declines to assent to a bill.
“I can’t confirm the speaker received the president’s letter, it may have come during the festive season. If the president sent back the bill the normal procedure is that parliament will look at the issues raised, discuss and if it finds it fit make amendments. If it believes there is no problem with the bill, it will also write to the president stating the same,” Mr Obore said.