KAMPALA– Parliamentary committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation on Wednesday, November 5, accepted President Yoweri Museveni’s objections to provisions of the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill.
The bill, which seeks to provide a regulatory framework for safe development and application of biotechnology and release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), was passed by Parliament on October 4, 2017.
However, Mr Museveni declined to assent to the law and returned it to Parliament for reconsideration.
The president specifically sought clarity on the title, patent rights of indigenous farmers and sanctions for scientists who mix GMOs with indigenous crops and animals.
He said Parliament had a duty to protect crops and livestock with unique genetic configuration developed by Ugandans.
He argued that using the new science of genetic engineering, one may add an additional quality such as drought resistance, quick maturing and disease resistance, which ingredients he said are sidelined by the Bill which talks of giving the monopoly of patent rights to its adder and forgets about the communities that developed 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,” he said.
From that background, Museveni also demanded that parliament clarifies on other aspects of genetic engineering such as setting out the boundary of the technology to crops and animals with no crossover to human beings, labeling of GMOs, and the proposal to have genetically modified materials in the irrigated areas of Mobuku.
The committee has since acknowledged that the initial bill had shortfalls.
“The Committee is in agreement that… all indigenous plant and animal varieties should be kept, uncontaminated with any Genetically Engineered Organism, for future use if there is any crisis within the modernization efforts,” the committee report reads.
The committee recommends that a National Indigenous Gene Bank is established for this purpose.
The Committee has also provided for containment of confined field trials in greenhouses to guarantee separation of indigenous seeds from Genetically Modified Seeds.
MPs have further proposed amendments to cater for isolation distances between GMO and non-GMO fields.
The committee, however, says that the use of poisonous and dangerous bacteria as inputs in genetic engineering may not be avoided saying that safety measures have been provided for in the Bill to ensure that there is no danger to plants, humans, the environment and animals.
The report also shows that an amendment has been proposed to the Bill to specifically exclude human cloning following fears by the President that “adders” may start cloning humans.
The committee further proposed a new provision of strict liability to ensure that a developer of GMOs who produces dangerous material that harms the environment or people or animals, is held responsible.