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GMOs: A good law will boost agricultural research and development

By Admin

Added 27th November 2018 08:25 PM

I am specifically referring to the proposed strict liability clause which seeks to criminalise — without finding fault —scientists who are simply carrying out their duties in research and commercialisation of genetically modified crops using proven and established standard procedures.

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I am specifically referring to the proposed strict liability clause which seeks to criminalise — without finding fault —scientists who are simply carrying out their duties in research and commercialisation of genetically modified crops using proven and established standard procedures.

OPINION

By Prof. Joseph Obua, Chairman NARO Governing Council

I have been closely following the on-going discussions regarding the National Biosafety Act in Parliament. While I wish to applaud the august House for fulfilling its responsibility to legislate agricultural biotechnology research and development, proposed revisions to some sections of the Bill raise serious concerns.

I am specifically referring to the proposed strict liability clause which seeks to criminalise — without finding fault —scientists who are simply carrying out their duties in research and commercialisation of genetically modified crops using proven and established standard procedures.

The NARO fraternity is concerned that the proposed provision will make it impossible to advance research in biotechnology and negatively impact agricultural productivity and competitiveness.

Today, the critical challenges to agriculture such as climate change and recent devastating pests and diseases are formidable and require innovative solutions, including latest advancement in science to meet increasing demand for food, feed and income.

Ugandan scientists are highly recognised and a restrictive law will isolate them and erode confidence in regional and international collaborations.

Investment in agricultural research is not possible when a country’s regulations are unfavourable.

With the current supportive policies, Uganda has made significant progress in agricultural research. A major deviation from the enabling biotechnology and biosafety policy that was adopted by the Cabinet in 2008 is going to be self-defeating.

Meanwhile, Uganda annually loses more than $429m as banana, cassava, maize, rice and sweet potato are ravaged by banana bacterial wilt (BBW), virulent cassava diseases, devastating drought and voracious maize stem-borers and fall armyworm, respectively.

Over the last 15-20 years, NARO has built the human and infrastructural capacity to use modern agricultural biotechnology to stem the factors that are harming Uganda’s food and cash-security crops.

Unless Parliament enacts a good biosafety law, farmers will not be able to access the recently developed genetically modified banana, cassava, maize, rice and sweet potato crops that can boost their incomes and food security, while helping them reduce their use of pesticides and fertilizers.

A fair and balanced regulatory system should scrutinise each technology for safety and efficacy before deployment. The design and implementation of biosafety legislation should be science-based and decisions informed by the best available scientific data on a case-by-case basis.

I appeal to Parliament to reject the proposed strict liability clause and consider adoption of a fault-based liability for a more functional law as guided by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and other international instruments to which Uganda is signatory.

There are existing legislations with liability regimes for managing other plant breeding methods and these do not provide strict liability for errors and commissions. Why can’t the same be applied for genetically engineered crops? (Refer to the Seed and Plant Act 2006, Plant Variety Protection Act 2014). I make this request For God and My Country.

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