Ugandans need a law that bans GMOs, not one that promotes them

Monday March 18 2013

By Ellady Muyambi

I was compelled to write this article after learning that the government passed the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy in 2008 and is now in advanced stages of passing the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 commonly known as the GMO law, specifically to promote Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Uganda.

The Bill was at first presented by Mr Denis Hamson Obua, Member of Parliament for Ajuri County and the Chairperson for the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology as a Private Members Bill.

It was, however, later taken on by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and approved by Cabinet in October, 2012. It was read in Parliament for the first time on February 6, where it was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, which has been given only 45 days to report back. The Committee is collecting public views and is left with less than 10 days to make a report.

Vital aspects of GMOs include the hyper use of the pesticide glyphosate sold under trade name Roundup, which is not only too toxic to crops but also to human health and other environmental specimens as well as loss of indigenous seeds. This Bill is, therefore, contentious because, in its current form, will pave way for mass introduction of GMOs in Uganda – under the pretext of saving Uganda from food insecurity!

For instance, Part 1 Clause 2(b)- Page 4 of the draft Bill, makes it very clear that the objective is to facilitate and promote GMOs in Uganda. Part 111 Clause 25(a)- Page 21 of the draft Bill states that a GMO can be freely accepted in Uganda so long as it has been accepted in another country. To put it into bluntly, with the passing and implementation of this Bill, those who enjoy local chicken and other traditional African dishes will soon forget them.

Also, Part 111 Clause 25(d) - Page 22 makes says a GMO can quickly and easily be allowed in Uganda if the competent authority (in this case, the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST), which was established automatically : Part 11 Clause 6) believes that there is an emergency.

This is ridiculous! Everyone knows the position of UNCST on GMOs. It is a direct promoter of GMOs. It is, therefore, impossible for it to regulate them when it wants them in the country.

There are so many other overlapping functions in the draft Bill. For instance, Part 11 Clause 4 talks of the National Focal Point of GMO issues in the country. How can this be the Ministry of Water and Environment? Why is the Bill neglecting the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries?

Uganda clearly has a comparative and competitive advantage in organic agriculture. In the current form, this Bill will hamstring Uganda’s competitiveness and kill jobs. The Bill has not been given much public consultation and yet Article 1 of the Cartagena Protocol to which Uganda is a signatory, demands that the public must debate thoroughly and agree on the introduction of GMOs in a country. It is, therefore, important to have more public debate on the competent authority to deal with these issues.

Mr Muyambi is the secretary general for Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control and the Executive Director for Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives. [email protected]