CSO Take the GMO Bill to People's Parliament
May 24, 2016 Farmers, CSOs, Honourable Members of Parliament, Agriculturalists, Scientists, and a variety of other stakeholders met at the NTV People’s Parliament for a lively debate over whether Uganda should pass or redraft the National Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill, 2012.
The bill, which was sent back to the Committee on Science and Technology in November 2013, is intended to facilitate “the safe development and application of modern biotechnology, to designate a national focal point and a competent authority and to provide mechanisms to regulate research, development and general release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and for related matters in Uganda.” However, the Bill sparked so much discussion with a number of the participants arguing that it is simply a tool being employed by developers of GMOs to facilitate the introduction, development and trade of these products.
“We need to get this Bill out of Parliament,” urged Food Rights Alliance executive director Ms. Agnes Kirabo, stating that it must be withdrawn and redrafted after proper consultation with all stakeholders. She believes the current bill does not sufficiently address the dangers that GMOs pose to farmers and consumers.
Several doctors and scientists testified to these dangers, raising concerns that GMOs have previously been correlated with increasing rates of cancer, infertility, obesity, and other risks. “The technology is best to build weapons of terrorism, not agriculture,” one doctor commented.
Researchers from the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) objected that genes have always been transferred between animals and plants, and that the only difference is that now, humans can deliberately control the process to engineer crops that are disease/pest resistant, produce higher crop yields, or possess higher nutritional value. They claim that NARO only wants to research GMOs to address agricultural problems that traditional solutions have failed to address.
“Even if it is just one farmer out there who needs drought-resistant maize, let him have it,” said a NARO representative. Other participants quickly called out the organization insisting that it has a bias towards transnational corporations who have for long funded the work of NARO. Among these was Monsanto, a leading agrochemical company in developing GMOs.
“This bill is to ensure that the African continent relies on Monsanto, the corporate seed giant that has earned a negative reputation in many countries for its greed and pervasive influence”.
“There are better ways of feeding the world than GMOs,” argued one farmer and teacher. She expressed concern that very few farmers know about GMOs, the bill, and whether it would allow farmers to choose for themselves whether they want to grow GM crops. Another farmer pointed out the growing demand for organic food in North America and Europe, and the opportunity for Uganda to supply it.
A number of other participants raised concerns about the effects on genetically modified animal husbandry, and the ethics behind using and introducing GMOs. The Food Rights Alliance is concerned that GMOs will bring high costs and dependency to farmers because of Monsanto’s patents on seeds. Other dangers include unknown health risks, loss of traditional knowledge, accidental cross-pollination with indigenous crops and ensuing lawsuits, loss of export markets to countries that have rejected GM foods, potential for sterile seeds, and the loss of small farmers’ agency misappropriated by corporations.
FRA also believes that many elements of the 2012 National Biosafety and Biotechnology Bill are unclear, and that the proposed penalties for breaking the law are neglectful considering the damage GMOs can wreak on the environment and overall livelihoods.
As a member of the People’s Parliament quoted, with audience members murmuring along: “Whoever controls the seed, controls food and whoever controls food, controls life.”
By Emily Sousa and Victoria Coo