By Robert Tumwesigye Baganda
I am writing to respond to wild allegation by Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo that appeared in the New Vision of December 18, 2013. It is on record that the Parliament’s committee on science and technology has had many guided trips to different countries such as Kenya, South Africa and many others. If you check on the Parliamentary record, most of the trips have not been funded by Parliament.
The hullabaloo about the Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill before Parliament intends to deprive Ugandans of their food sovereignty and put it on the mercy of multinationals. We are concerned because the current Bill intension is to introduce GMOs in Uganda on large scale. The Bill ignores the traditional methods of genetics and intends to contaminate our crops with foreign genes which have disastrous effects on health and environment.
Proponents of GMOs contend that the opponents of GMOs are alarmists who do not have scientific evidence to back their claims. They have forgotten the precautionary principle or precautionary approach which states that, if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. Therefore, lack of scientific evidence should not deter Uganda from making a law that will protect her from eminent dangers of GMOs.
First of all, it is not true that the opponents of GMOs do not have scientific facts. Instead the proponents of the GMOs in Uganda have not showed because why Uganda desperately needs GMOs.
The proponents of GMOs have not shown Ugandans scientific, economic, environmental and social reasons why Uganda needs GMOs urgently as they are purporting. Instead what is clear is that Uganda will lose her traditional genetic heritage and her seed industry will be controlled by multinational companies and our Ugandan small scale farmers will lose their seed sovereignty.
Professor Ogenga Latigo has forgotten that most of the seeds in the market are hybrids which are not GMOs but are by-products of genetic engineering, which is why some of the seeds cannot germinate. Consequently, we are calling for an inclusive law that regulates the whole notion of genetic engineering. If the government wants to promote GMOs, let them bring to Parliament a GMO Bill instead of confusing Ugandans with a high sounding title of biosafety and biotechnology whose sole aim is to promote GMOs.
The professor contends that the international companies do not have interest in our traditional food crops like millet, sorghum, and ground nuts and bananas because they are self-pollinating. This argument is misleading, because after this Bill, there’s is another Bill in offing titled Seed and Variety and Plant Protection Bill which basically protects the seeds companies.
More research should be done as experiments are confined to the fields until Uganda gets concrete reasons why we need GMOs. The Bill in Parliaments should be withdrawn and a law that protects Ugandans from GMOs is redrafted.
The writer is the executive director of the Pro-biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU)