Prof. Calestous Juma

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are seeking the intervention of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to push the Ugandan Government to over haul the bill on Bio-safety and Biotechnology.

The CSOs are appealing for a strong legislation that will protect and respect food security, farmer’s livelihoods, the environment and human health saying that government should promote biotechnology that is favorable to the needs of the farmers and right to food.

A visiting scholar at the Makerere University College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Giregon Olupot said that the bill should wait since no much publicity and consultation has been made in the twenty years of its existence. He said there are many issues that need to be put right before the bill is discussed like how the farmers are to be protected and compensated incase of risks.

Olupot said that the bill needs to be dismantled and a fresh one drafted because even when EAC tries to harmonize all the biotechnology bills in the Partner States, Uganda in particular still lags behind. Countries like Tanzania already have National Bio-safety guidelines which are clear with the originality of their Bio safety Regulations.

Professor Olupot notes that all the environmental guidelines that the country could have used to beef up the bill like the National Environment Management Authority and others were left out and the bill stands in isolation.
Agnes Kirabo, a national coordinator for Food Rights Alliance said the CSOs are greatly concerned about the manner the Ugandan Bio-safety and Biotechnology Bill 2012 was drafted saying. She says it is unfair and a lie to Ugandans because biotechnology is broad but the bill talks about one contentious element of bio technology which is genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Kirabo said that government should at least bring a GMO bill to be debated but if they choose a biotechnology bill then it should bring out the broad aspects of biotechnology and take into consideration the contests in its regard. She adds that the bill is weak on bio-safety since the powers and penalties spelt out therein are just pocket change given to the people who are going to promote and distribute genetically modified organisms in the country.

Kirabo further explained that the bill is very bad in its shape hence requiring debate and definition of what Ugandans want in order to draft a law that protects the interests of people. She urged scientists interfering with the bill to step aside for a while since the kind of research they are carrying out is not nationally driven but research of international agenda.

The Bio safety bill was read for the first time in February on the floor of parliament and handed over to the parliamentary committee of science and technology from where consultations are ongoing.

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