Ugandan food activists hail president for not signing biosafety bill into law

Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan environmental activists and civil society organizations (CSO) have hailed President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to decline to sign a bill into law that would allow genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country.

The Environment and Food Sovereignty activists in a statement issued here late on Wednesday said that the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2017 in its current form will eliminate the local indigenous plants, animals and birds.

President Museveni last month reverted the bill back to the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga for the lawmaker’s to do further considerations, make reviews and amendment before he assents to it

“We appreciate the President attitude for rejecting the Bill. If it had become law, all the indigenous species would disappear,” said the statement by Frank Muramuzi, Executive Director, National Association of Professional Environmentalists.

“The move cherishes the work of Ugandans in promoting and protecting the environment and the natural resource. Having GMOs will not promote our food sovereignty,” it said.

In a December letter to the speaker, Museveni said the use of the GMO crops will contaminate the indigenous ones which Ugandan farmers have developed for years.

“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,” said Museveni.

“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,” he said.

The constitution of the East African country empowers the president to approve the bill, or return it to the parliament for reconsideration and notify the parliament speaker in writing of the refusal.

The law passed by lawmakers in October provided a regulatory framework that would facilitate the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development and release of GMOs.

It also established institutions that would regulate and promote the usage of biotechnology in a bid to modernize agriculture and environmental protection, as well as enhance public health and industrialization.

After the parliament passed the bill in October, Elioda Tumwesigye, minister of science, technology and innovation, told reporters it was critical that the country enact a biosafety law to protect its borders from unauthorized entry of GMOs and to protect the public from consuming unsafe biotechnology products.

He said the move could also support scientists to fully and safely utilize their advanced knowledge and capabilities in biotechnology to help solve contemporary challenges especially in health, agriculture, industry and environment.

A parliamentary committee that scrutinized the bill before it was passed argued that GMOs have been used in Uganda with no enabling law.

There is a heated debate globally over the use of GMOs, with proponents arguing that those organisms have the potential to boost food, fuel and fiber production, which will accelerate economic growth and foreign exchange earnings.

Opponents of the law argue that since the technology comes from developed countries, there are varied interests which may be veiled with ill intentions.

Scientists argue that the enactment of the law now paves the way for extending their trials to the field instead of being limited to working within their institutions’ boundaries. Enditem

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