Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has declined to sign the new National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill (of 2012). He says it lacks clarity with regards to its title, the possible contamination of local crop, plant and animal varieties, the protection of patent rights of indigenous farmers and sanctions for scientists who mix genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with indigenous crop and animal varieties.
The bill seeks to provide a regulatory framework to facilitate the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development and release of GMOs.
Since its introduction in 2012, it has divided scientists over the practice of genetic engineering in crops and animals, as well as its failure to acknowledge the role of indigenous technologies built over centuries by Africans.
The bill is expected to guide the operations of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), which is presently conducting research on the use of modern biotechnology to produce crop and plant varieties that are resistant to pests, diseases and drought.
The law will provide implementation guidelines for the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy, which was introduced in 2008. The bill, which permits the use of GMO technologies in crop and animal production, has been approved by Cabinet and was only waiting for President Museveni to sign it into law.
CONCERNS OVER GM CROPS AND ANIMALS
However, in a letter sent to Ugandan Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga on 21 December, Museveni said he was referring the bill back to Parliament because it lacked clarity on several key provisions.
Museveni said he was concerned that while the introduction of GMO variants threatened the survival of indigenous millet, sorghum and bean varieties, which have unique genetic configurations, the bill was silent on the preservation of local cultivars and animal breeds.
He said the possible introduction of genetically engineered cattle breeds posed threats to uniquely Ugandan breeds like the Ankole cattle, indigenous goats and chickens that have a specific genetic makeup that was developed locally for millennia through the selection of best seeds, good bulls and breeder goats.
Museveni said that while the science of genetic engineering may add additional crop and animal qualities like drought resistance, early maturity and resistance to diseases, the biosafety bill was legally flawed because it granted monopoly of patent rights to the “adder” and excluded the communities that developed and nurtured the original material.
“This is wrong. Yes we appreciate the contribution of the adder, but we cannot forget original preservers, developers and multipliers of the original materials. This must be clarified,” Museveni said.
Parliament is also required to give clarify on other aspects of genetic engineering, such as limiting the boundaries of application of GMOs technologies to crops and animals and guaranteeing that there will be no cross-over to human beings, the labelling of GMO products and why there is already a plan to introduce some genetically modified crops in certain irrigation schemes around the country.