'Leave window in biotechnology law'

By Christopher Bendana

Added 28th February 2017 10:33 AM

"You leave a window for the National Biosafety Committee to decide how to regulate new technologies they are currently not aware of."


A Brazilian biotechnology expert, Dr. Maria Jose Amstalden, has advised Ugandan MPs to be strategic in debating the National Biotechnology and Biosafety 2012 Bill and leave gaps which they can fill later as new technologies come.

Speaking to MP from Uganda at Embrapa offices in Brasilia on Thursday, Amstalden said technology innovations were coming out so quickly that having a law looking at one  particular technology would be self-defeating.

Embrapa is the national agricultural research arm of Brazil, the equivalent of National Agricultural Research Organization.

"You leave a window for the National Biosafety Committee to decide how to regulate new technologies they are currently not aware of," she said.

"In Brazil we didn’t and that is why we are facing the problem of technology overlap.”

The MPs are in Brazil learning more on biotechnology legislation and biosatey.

They include Robert Ssekitoleke, chairperson on the science and technology committee, Lowila Oketayot, the chairperson agriculture committee and Kenneth Lubogo, the chairperson, trade and tourism committee. Others are Dr Michael Bukenya, chairperson health committee, Amos Lugoloobi, chairperson budget committee, Denis Sabiiti, chairperson physical infrastructure and Margaret Komuhangi, the chairperson gender, labour and social development. 

Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, is also here.

They have been in Brazil for a week.

The Bill 2012, which was formerly under the Ministry of Finance, is now under the ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Wilfred Niwagaba, MP Ndorwa East, who is representing the leader of opposition in parliament, said they are appreciating the need for a flexible law because technology was evolving fast.

Modern biotechnology is moving quickly from simply incorporating one gene in a specie to having more than one gene incorporated in an organism also referred to as stacked genes. There is also gene editing and synthetic biology.

Ssekitoleko however cautioned that the window left in the law can be abused considering the unethical behaviour of many Ugandans.

The team visited the livestock, tree and crop integrated system, palm oil, and maize evaluation sites at Embrapa.

The trip is organised by Uganda National Council for Science and Technology in collaboration with the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology.

The National Biotechnology and Biosafety law is one of the most debated bill in the history of Uganda. The Bill which has a sophisticated scientific field of genetics has become one of the few science bills where ordinary citizens battle it out with professional geneticists.

It is meant to regulate the development and safety of genetic modified organism in the country. Tumwesigye said Uganda was positioning itself as the scientific power of Africa by 2030.


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