Ugandan scientists differ on proposed GMO law

Saturday July 13 2013

By Joint Report

A raging debate over the proposed genetically modified law has split Uganda down the middle.

The National Biosafety Bill is currently before parliament as scientists, civil society and lobby groups pull in different directions over the rationale of enacting the law.

Anti-genetically modified organisms lobby is questioning the rationale for the law, while proponents want it passed quickly, to allow the country move forward with the biotechnology agenda.

Pro-GMO activists argue that Uganda needs the biosafety law to facilitate research on genetically engineered crops in a bid to improve agricultural productivity, food security and nutrition. According to the proponents, biotechnology will help the country improve the nutritional values of food crops by fortification. For example, the recently released orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are enriched with Vitamin A.

In addition, they argue that biotechnology will improve production because the available traditional seeds are not high yielding owing to replanting.

“To achieve sustainable food security we will need different techniques, including organic, conventional, possible hybrid systems as well as biotechnology, to produce more food at affordable prices,” said Dr Andrew Kiggundu, head of bioscience at Kawanda Research Institute.

The Bill intends to introduce biotechnology seeds and allow commercial release of GM products from ongoing research into the markets.

President Yoweri Museveni recently urged Members of Parliament to quickly pass the Bill.

“We have seen GMO crops help farmers in Burkina Faso and South Africa, and we believe that the technologies being developed here by our scientists will help many farmers transform from peasantry to commercial,” said President Museveni during a recent biotechnology conference in Kampala.

Current legislation only permits the research component, which is done in laboratories and confined to field trials. Tabled in parliament in February this year, the Bill has generated a storm among top scientists, civil society and the media.

Passing the law will put Uganda at par with other East African countries —Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda — that have biosafety laws.

According to anti-GMO group, Uganda does not need both biosafety law and genetically engineered products to improve food production in the country.

Report by Halima Abdallah and Isaac Khiisa