“Since we don’t have a dedicated law, we can make use of NEMA act to have a stop-gap, because issues of GMO are real.”
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), plans to draft regulations that will guide the environmental release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Under the revised Act of 2019, NEMA was given the mandate to regulate GMOs in the environment although the regulations were not made, until the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Act (GERA) that is before parliament is passed into law to give details on the regulatory process.
This was revealed by the executive director NEMA, Dr. Tom Okurut, during a zoom meeting organised by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE), during a monthly media bio cafe, on the NEMA Act 2019, emerging regulations and guidelines, on Wednesday.
"In the absence of a specific law for GMO regulation, we should move to draft regulations and guidelines without any further delays, because GMOs are already with us," said Okurut.
To ensure that the process takes shape, Okurut said NEMA is in talks with stakeholders such as the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovations (MOSTI), Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST), and researchers among others, to secure funding for the process.
According to Okurut, the NEMA Act 1995 had omissions especially on aspects such as the Oil and Gas industry waste, electronic waste, and management of GMOs.
He however adds that these have since been catered for in the amended act of 2019, apart from the aspect of GMOs which we are supposed to make laws that will regulate it. But for NEMA to make the regulations, they had to wait for the GERA bill to be passed into law, an issue which is not yielding results.
"There are still pseudo scientists peddling lies about the technology without taking time to understand the basic science used by researchers in developing these products and we need the law to regulate the use, entry, and consumption of all products from GMOs," said Okurut.
Okurut was backed by the director of regulation and biosafety at the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovations, Dr.James Kasigwa, who seconded NEMA to use the amended act, to regulate GMOs.
"Since we don't have a dedicated law, we can make use of NEMA act to have a stop-gap, because issues of GMO are real," said Kasigwa, who also made reference to Kenya, saying that Kenya plants genetically modified cotton and they are about to release cassava too.
"Our borders are porous, what is in Kenya, will find its way into Uganda. Let us leverage any provisions in NEMA to have anything workable to put in place a regulatory framework," added Kasigwa.
Dr. Kasigwa noted that MOSTI is willing to cooperate with NEMA to ensure that a regulatory framework is in place.
Currently, the agriculture sector is faced with challenges of pests, diseases, and climate change, which are threatening many crops like bananas which are devastated by bacterial wilt, and maize production, which suffers from drought-related insect pests, among others.
"Fortunately, many of these have been addressed through biotechnology and are in research fields waiting for regulation to be availed to the farming community to improve our productivity and competitiveness," said Isaac Ongu, the Executive Director of Scifode.