Following the passing of the National Biosafety Act 2017, by Uganda’s Parliament this week, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations (STI) has said that the new law puts in place enough safeguards that will prevent the importation or unauthorized development of biotechnology products that could harm people’s health and the environment.
Addressing a news conference at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala on Friday October 6, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, revealed that the law puts in place two important committees comprising politicians as well as scientists that will monitor and approve the importation or development of any product of biotechnology.
According to Dr. Tumwesigye, the law provides for the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Policy Committee on Biotechnology and Biosafety that will be chaired by the Prime Minister and consisting of Ministers responsible for STI , Health, Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Education, Lands and Defence.
The law further states that minister will create a technical committee, dubbed The National Biosafety Committee that will oversee and regulate the development and importation of biotechnology products.
Why emphasis on safety?
Apart from the fact that GMO products are generally subjected to more rigorous checks, the apparent overemphasis on safety in Uganda’s law, partly arose from the influence of the anti-biotech campaigners who alleged that Genetically Modified products, pose a threat to human health and the environment. This influence forced the bill, formerly known as the Biotechnology and Bio safety Bill 2012, to change its title to the National Bio-safety Act.
However due to strong campaigning by the scientific community in Uganda as well as President Museveni’s stewardship, Parliament finally passed the law after more than ten years in Parliament.
The minister’s statement appears aimed at re-assuring the general public and members of the civil society who had expressed anxiety at the passing of the law.
Benefits of the law
Dr. Tumwesigye however hailed the passing of the law as a watershed moment for Uganda, saying it will greatly contribute to improving food security, job creation, protecting the environment among others.
The minister outlined other benefits of the law as follows.
1. Protect our borders from unauthorised entry of GMOs
2. Protect our people from consuming unsafe biotechnology products
3. Alleviate our farmers from the devastation and impoverishment often caused by crop diseases, animal diseases, uncontrolled use of expensive pesticides and unpredictable weather and drought occasioned by climate change.
4. Give the country opportunities to use all science and technological options including modern biotechnology tools to handle crop and animal diseases and other stresses that cannot be effectively handled by conventional tools.
5. Support our scientists to fully and safely utilize their advanced knowledge and capabilities in biotechnology to help us solve contemporary challenges especially in health, agriculture, industry and environment
6. Unlock the full potential of our economy to create wealth and jobs for our young people as well as shared prosperity for all using all facets of the bio-economy.
Dr. Tumwesigye hailed President Museveni’s unwavering support to the cause of science as having been decisive in the passing of the biosafety act.
Tumwesigye said: “The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation is proud of the commitment of the President H.E Gen Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who has overtime showed unparalleled, unprecedented and pivotal support to our scientists and Institutions and has often come out publicly to support the passage of this law.”