Law to regulate GMO use is essential

Tuesday January 7 2014

By Erostus Nsubuga

The Parliament of Uganda is currently considering the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to regulate the use of modern biotechnology. Our MPs should immediately pass this law. This law is needed to guide using biotechnology to advance agriculture, health, industry and environment management.

The current debate underway signals that those who are opposed to the Bill do not understand the relevance of a law to regulate scientific applications. We all know that rapid advances in science can offer solutions to many of mankind’s challenges but every technology, however useful it may be, can be misused intentionally or unintentionally and may result in undesirable consequences if not appropriately regulated by responsible technical bodies. The Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill is designed to do just that.

The science of genetic engineering is not new. Also known as genetic modification (GM), it has been widely used in the medical, industrial and environmental sectors worldwide. Though the public often hears about the controversy, the approach has been used for almost two decades without a single valid safety concern.

To date, 30 countries cultivate GM crops, and supply food and animal feed to all countries in the world, including Uganda. It is only right and prudent that we in Uganda also have a clear regulatory system to evaluate and guide the use of this technology.

Without a law in place, we do not have legal recourse to check the work of our scientists or that of importers dealing with GM tools and products. There is international consensus that the science of GM must be regulated, as enshrined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a major international treaty governing the trans-boundary movement of modern biotechnology products, and to which Uganda is a signatory.
Our own scientists are using GM technology to address agricultural production challenges where conventional plant breeding approaches have failed. Our MPs should not only immediately pass this law; they should also be seeking input from Ugandan experts in the field of molecular biology to help shape a law that not only guides the safe use, but can help us rationalise its potential benefits against any risks in our country’s best interest.