Biosafety Bill detrimental to farmers
Publish Date: Apr 23, 2013
  • mail
  • img

Barbara Karugonjo
SUNDAY VISION -The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill being discussed before the parliamentary committee on science and technology lacks the necessary safeguards to protect interests of farmers and favours multinational companies. 
Uganda has become a testing ground for various genetically modified (GM) crops developed by multinational seed companies which require farmers to buy new seed for every planting season.
This will eventually jeopardise the traditional practices of farmers sharing, saving and exchanging seed because multinational companies invest a lot of time and money developing these varieties, therefore must recoup their investment. 
In 2003, Uganda ratified the Cartagena Protocol which mandates all parties to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology. Unfortunately, the proposed Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill is intended to facilitate massive introduction of genetically modified crops in the country while ignoring the potential risks and the need for a precautionary approach. 
First, the objective section of the Bill does not make any reference to precautionary principle as enshrined under international obligations in the Cartagena Protocol.
Therefore, abandoning of the precautionary principle reduces liability of multinational companies who would take advantage of the situation and flood the local market with GMO products at the expense of local farmers.
The mere fact that the Bill does not make mention of the precautionary principle defeats the purpose of the proposed legislation to be cautious of emerging technologies.
Second, the Bill provides for expedited review of an application for research and general release of a GMO approved in another country with comparable ecosystems.
The impression created by this provision is that Uganda is clearly in a hurry to introduce GMOs without any safety procedures. It is important to note that no two ecosystems are similar and such provisions undermine the ethos of the Cartagena Protocol and places the farmers in severe jeopardy.
Third, the Bill does not provide for compensation to farmers who have been affected by an accidental release of a GMO. The Bill states that a restoration order may be issued where an activity of a person causes damage.
However, it is silent on who will bear the liability, whether jointly or severally, and does not attach liability to the developer of the GMO. Such clauses have been vaguely defined to protect multinational companies from liability and ignore the interests of the farmers. Under such a provision, a farmer would be hard pressed to prove that the person introducing the GMO was at fault and failed to follow safety measures.
This would make it very hard for farmers to expect compensation in such circumstances. The proposed Bill should introduce a strict liability approach to ensure that whoever introduces a GMO shall be automatically liable for damage caused. This would be one way of operationalising the precautionary principle.
The Bill is lacking in many other respects and silent on issues of public participation in decision making processes with regard to biotechnology development.
It is important to note that public participation is a necessity and not a matter of choice given the concerns surrounding biotechnology; significant public involvement is an essential strategy in building public confidence in legal and regulatory processes. The Bill is also silent about labelling of GMO products.
The Bill should have an explicit provision on labelling so that people can exercise their right to choose products free from GMOs.
The concerns surrounding biotechnology dictate that it is necessary to develop an elaborate regulatory regime to safeguard the interest of farmers. As a country, we cannot stand by and risk being swamped with GMOs from other parts of the world.
The writer is researcher with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
Pope Francis in Africa: Leadership and Inspiration in the Face of Climate Change
THE Pope is in a unique position. As head of the smallest country in the world, his ability to legislate on climate change may have limited impact...
Climate change is here
Dear Pope Francis, Your visit to Uganda, which coincides with COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, comes at a crucial time, though, both for our country and the world...
After Paris
The attacks in Paris by individuals associated with the Islamic State, coming on the heels of bombings in Beirut and the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, reinforce the reality that the terrorist threat has entered a new and even more dangerous phase....
Hypocritical response of “international community” to terror attacks
The months of October/November 2015 will truly go down in the annals of our global history as a period of unprecedented resurgence in Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - instigated terrorist assaults....
Empower children in this holiday break
December holidays are just an inch away in Uganda. Primary seven pupils are already at home in their holidays. Senior Four and Six are equally winding up their school programs. The rest of the classes will soon follow suit....
Why Paris Climate agreement should block fossil fuels
By Boaz Opio Do you ever wonder why despite all efforts global climate change activism put in stamping out dirty energy productions, there seems to be a resisting, highly biased force halting governments’ renewable energy development efforts?...
Is Uganda ready for the pope's visit?
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter