UGANDA – Going by the contradicting views from various stakeholders including disagreements among scientists, Parliament will have an uphill task in refining the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill to especially safeguard the interests of Uganda against the interests of multinational seed giants like Mosanto.
Amidst opposition from fellow scientists, some scientists on Tuesday attempted to allay fears from MPs and other stakeholders on the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill which seeks to legalize GMO products in Uganda.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are animal or plant organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The process of making GMOs is called modern biotechnology or genetic engineering.
The workshop was the second discourse after another one which was held in the same venue last week.
After a heated debate in the House in November 2013, the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga deferred debate on the Bill so that MPs consult their constituents before enactment.
Responding to the fear of the hidden interests of multinational seed giants, Dr. Yona Baguma, the NARO research coordinator, explained that Uganda scientists have the capacity to develop their own GMO products.
“Uganda has some of the best scientists in the world. Uganda has produced the first banana and cassava GMOs in the world,” Baguma explained.
Justifying the need to have GMOs, Baguma advised the MPs on the science and technology committee to only ensure that stringent measures are incorporated in the Bill to safeguard the interests of Uganda.
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Giving examples of various crops attacked by various diseases that are threatening to cause their extinction, Baguma said use of genetically modified organisms to produce seeds that are disease resistant will be inevitable in various circumstances.
But another scientist, Dr. Joseph Okia from Mulago Hospital, said, “We are not opposing use of science to solve problems. Our opposition is to Mosanto and those that represent Mosanto’s interests like Bill and Melinda Gates. We should restrict introduction of GMOs to only our scientists.”
Okia gave the example of Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) as some of the projects involving Uganda scientists which are funded by Mosanto.
Representing pharmaceutical Society of Uganda, Dr. Robert Otto also cautioned Uganda law makers against allowing GMO crops, arguing many of them have devastating effects like outcompeting indigenous species to point of extinction and having toxin which cause allergy to humans.
Otto explained that whereas there are GMO medicines like insulin and penicillin, the GMO crops are not as safe as GMO medicines due to the variation in the purification process.
Calling for the withdrawal of the Bill, Uganda Youth Platform (UYP) made a presentation warning Uganda against the consequences of allowing GMOs in Uganda.
Citing countries like Sri Lanka, Sweden, Germany, Algeria, Norway, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Egypt, Italy, Poland and many other countries which have banned GMO crops, UYP program manager Jude Nkoyoyo requested the Uganda government to establish why most countries have banned GMOs before the Bill can be considered.
UYP leaders asked Parliament to probe science and research initiatives in Uganda to establish the magnitude to which they are being funded and influenced by multinational seed companies.
Dr. Maxwell Otim, the deputy executive secretary for National Council for Science and Technology said, “We have competent scientists who are well equipped to protect Uganda’s interests. Of course GMOs have negative side effects, but we shall have mechanisms in place to test GMOs and ensure that only those that are safe are allowed into our market.”
Speaking as a concerned citizen, Faith Katana from State House gave information on how some individuals behind seed giants said they would be able to reduce the world’s population through biotechnology products like GMOs.
Katana also cited an example of her relative who planted GMO bananas and there was crop failure for the third generation of the entire plantation and no other crop could be successfully grown on the soil.