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RE: Civil Society Concerns on the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill 2012.
We the undersigned civil society members and individuals do hereby write to you in reference to the above Bill that has been before you since February, 2013.
The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, 2012 seeks, among others things, to facilitate the safe development and application of modern biotechnology, designate a national focal point and a competent authority and provide mechanisms to regulate research, development and general release of genetically modified organisms and related matters.
Whereas we acknowledge the critical role that you play in policy formulation processes in this country and recognize the efforts of the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology while undertaking stakeholder consultations on this Bill, more stakeholder consultations on this Bill need to be undertaken to further assess it. The Speaker of Parliament had delayed the passing of this Bill precisely that such consultations be carried out. Moreover, the findings of this same Committee on their visits abroad and other studies have not been made public so that they can be reacted to.
We are aware that Uganda is a signatory to the Cartagena protocol which mandates her to not only consult all concerned stakeholders but also educate the general masses so that consensus on related matters is based on informed consent. We are not aware that your Committee or any other relevant body has sufficiently addressed this concern and others raised by some CSOs and concerned individuals in different forums.
We are therefore concerned that:
The Bill does not provide for LABELING of GMOs especially for general release on the market. A clause mandating the labeling of GMOs is needed to ensure that the right to informed consent is not violated and to enable the public hold accountable companies/individuals that have caused harm. The Bill should also give powers to the Minister in consultation with the competent authority to develop regulations regarding packaging and labeling of the GMOs before being put on the market. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety requires that any GM food, feed or products derived thereof with GM material ranging from 0.1% and above to be labelled.
The Bill lacks a liability clause. It is totally silent on who should be held liable upon damage and risk arising out of the proposed technologies. A strict liability clause is needed specifying who shall be held liable in case of risk or harm from GMOs; the victim or victims to be compensated, compensation mechanisms and the nature of compensation. Refer to part VIII Clause 40.
There is limited awareness creation and consultations on the Bill. Awareness creation among key stakeholders on the content and intention of the Bill and information on the likely impact of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on Uganda’s economy, human health, food security, environment and Uganda’s seed systems remains inadequate. Some of your colleagues whom we have met do acknowledge that they themselves are not properly informed about the implications of passing of the Bill into law.
The Bill uses a good and all- encompassing title ‘National Biotechnology and Biosafety’ to market and regulate only one application of biotechnology, GMOs. Whereas the title of the Bill is about biotechnology, the content is only about GMOs, which is deceptive and disregards other biotechnologies like natural selection and processing of seeds for next planting by farmers, hybrid breeding and tissue culture and other biotechnology applications in health, water management and waste management. Additionally, almost 97% of GMOs have to do with pesticides. These are not addressed despite their devastating effects on our health and on the environment!
The Bill prioritizes promoting as opposed to regulating the GMOs.The Bill facilitates unfettered introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) on a massive scale without adequate safeguards for small farmers, their indigenous knowledge, nutrition and markets. This is a violation of the precautionary principle, which forms the basis of the African Union’s revised African Model Law on Biosafety.
The Bill fully accords the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNSCT) powers as the competent authority with the mandate to approve the development, testing and use of GMOs in Uganda. UNCST however, has a conflict of interest here because they play a key role in the promotion of GMOs through, for instance, research. There is no provision in the Bill on conflict of interest despite the attendant risk(s). This is against the Cartagena Protocol. Refer to Part II Clause 7 (1 (a). Specific provisions are therefore needed especially in regard to the roles of the Institutional Biosafety Committees, National Biosafety Committee and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology. Refer to Part II Clauses 9 and 14 (6) (a).
The proposed offenses and penalties for failure to comply with the law are neither punitive nor deterrent enough to potential offenders. For instance one hundred twenty currency points, as proposed in part III Clause 18 and sub clause 2 of the Bill, is a mere 2,400,000 UGX which is ridiculous compared to the likely damage. A similar offense in other members of the EAC such as in Kenya would attract more than two billion Uganda shillings.
The provision for public participation and consultations during the development and general release of GMOs is quite inadequate. We propose that separate provisions on public consultations are developed as part of the miscellaneous provisions. Clause 7(i) of the Bill is inadequate.This is a violation of Article 23 of the Cartagena Protocol which requires all parties to promote and facilitate public awareness, education and participation of all stakeholders concerning safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
The definition section is in comprehensive.The following terms ‘unintentional release’, ‘bioethical’, damage, a person, confined field testing and ‘benefit sharing’ that are missed out in the interpretation yet they are key. For appreciation and enforcement purposes, all key terms need to be clearly defined. Refer to Part I clause 3
The provision for risk assessment and management is also wanting: The Bill in its current form provides for a very narrow scope of protection on risk assessment and management. Absence on an elaborate risk assessment and management procedure poses a big risk to all aspects that will have interaction with these technologies. Refer to part IV, Clauses 29-30 and schedule 4 of the Bill.
The provision on expedited review is wanting.Clause 25 (a) and (b) on Expedited review of applications gives the competent authority vague and wide powers which are susceptible to abuse given the discretionary nature of the same. There are no two countries with the same ecological systems. All applications should go through the normal application procedure.
Concerns on GMOs
Hon Member of Parliament,
In all aspects please do not ignore the following universal critical concerns about GMOs: Gradual destruction and contamination of traditional family farming, local seed systems and Ugandan rich, unique food system: The massive introduction of GMO’s will increase family farmer’s dependency on agro-industry. Farmers will be locked into buying costly protected (patented) seeds and expensive fertilizers. This will increase costs of production, limit many farmers from timely planting, expose them to the risk of high indebtedness resulting into significant reduction in food production, food self-sufficiency and as consequence the entire Uganda’s food sovereignty. This destruction and contamination of the environment and of the traditional seeds – it is not possible to avert this after release of GMOs- will equally affect Uganda’s bio-diversity and local varieties and animal breeds which are core for research, sustainability and development. The relevant Parliamentary Committee has so far not addressed the safety concerns sufficiently raised in scientific literature with regard to the introductions of GMOs for humans and the environment.
The economic paradox upon destruction of Uganda’s capacity to produce organic products for the export market: Since 2000 Uganda has been experiencing a positive growth in the export of organic products both in quantity and amount of foreign exchange. For instance 20011/2012, export of organic agricultural products were estimated to be in a range of US$28.4 million having risen from US$ 6.2 million 2004/05. The organic agricultural sub sector is growing at a rate of 38% per annum. Uganda is presently estimated to have 200,000 certified organic agricultural farmers and an estimated 185,000 hectares of land certified for organic farming. In addition, organic agriculture markets are currently at US$46 billion in Europe, US$ 45 billion in the United States and US$ 11 billion in Japan. What market potentials do exist for GMO products?
Exposing Uganda’s agricultural and food systems to corporate control: Food is a fundamental human right and a basic good for humanity. The bill is being developed in context of the global capitalist economic context. The Bill is in the interest of Multinational Corporations that have specialized in seed production as a means of controlling the world food system for profit gains. According to available information 94% of the world seed market is controlled by the top ten proprietary seed market companies and the 10 biggest pesticide firms control 90% of the global pesticide market.In this case it is not only farmers to be affected butall food consumers in and outside Uganda.Locally, the impact will be felt by failure to reach the anticipated outcomes of Vision 2040 in Uganda.
The challenges of Uganda’s agricultural sector are less to do with the kind of seed that farmer’s plant as the Bill proposes. The agriculture sector performance is constrained by absence of an appropriate agricultural extension, post-harvest handling losses estimated at above 40% in grains and over 70% in fruits and vegetables, poor standards and quality, absence of markets and storage facilities among others. With these challenges prevailing, the introduction of GMOs is no solution. Moreover, there are no scientific studies in Uganda to justify the introductions of GMOs supposedly to solve malnutrition as opposed to using more available and accessible means.
Uganda’s comparative advantage lies in the rich natural uncontaminated bio-diversity. This is what Uganda can offer to global research. Economic science only lies in production of organic products. Can we leverage this comparative advantage and we remain competitive, develop our food tourism, achieve the objectives of Vision 2040 and sustain our agricultural and food systems?
We acknowledge the fact that Uganda should have a law to regulate dealings in GMOs but the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, in its current form, is inadequate to address the risks that GMOs pose. Even with the proposals of the Committee on Science and Technology over the Bill, it remains inadequate to protect the rights of food producers and consumers. The Bill therefore should be withdrawn from Parliament and a new one which addresses the concerns highlighted herein and elsewhere be drafted.
“WHO EVER CONTROL SEED CONTROLS FOOD. WHOEVER CONTROLS FOOD CONTROLS PEOPLE AND RULES THE WORLD”
Presented and signed by:
Action Aid Uganda (AAIU)
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
Citizen’s Platform for Democracy and Accountability (CIPDA)
Historic Resources Conservation Initiatives (HRCI)
Makulima Development Initiatives Ltd
Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM Uganda)
Pro-biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU)
Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI Uganda)
Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control (UNETMAC)