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More public debate needed on GMOs

By Ellady Muyambi

Those who enjoy local chicken and other traditional African dishes should be saying bye-bye to them

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 MP Obua Denis Hamson, (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 as a normal Bill 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 Feb.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 soliciting public views before it makes 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 current form, it will pave way for mass introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Uganda – under the pretext of saving Uganda from food insecurity.

Part 1 Clause 2 (b) – (Page 4) of the draft Bill makes it very clear that objective is to facilitate and promote GMOs in Uganda.  Part 111 Clause 25 (a) – (Page 21) of the draft bill makes it clear 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 should be saying bye-bye to them.

Also,  Part 111 Clause 25 (d) -(Page 22) makes it very clear that 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. For sure, every one 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 everywhere 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 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 there is more public debate on the competent authority to deal with these issues.


The writer is the Secretary General for Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control (UNETMAC) as well as the Executive Director for Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI):

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