"Passing of "GMO Bill" sparks controversy in Uganda"

Days after parliament quietly passed the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, widely known as the 'GMO Bill', in early October, Meg Hilbert Jaquay, the Managing Director of Jakana Foods Limited, remains sad. 

Her company exports 30 metric tonnes of organic dried fruits to U.S., Europe, Asia, and across Africa every year.

But, she says, all this is now under threat as Uganda will become less competitive for the fastest growing food market segment in U.S. and Europe.

"GMO products are not allowed under either the Organic Standard or Fair Trade standards," Meg told The Independent, "The rest of the world is moving away from this old technology, and instead of Uganda looking to the future it is still in catch-up mode."

Meg says because of government's failure to recognise the organic sector, Uganda which was second in the world has now dropped to fourth, and it may drop further unless the government agrees to pass the Organic Policy to protect the sector.

Dr. Godfrey Asea, the director of National Crops Resources Research Institute (NACRRI), one of the research institutes under NARO in Namulonge in Wakiso district congratulated Parliament for passing the Bill.

"We now have a framework to conduct environment release and research outside the institutes," he said.

Erastus Nsubuga, the chairperson of the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium, called the law "a great achievement" that will help scientists work within the country.

CSOs threaten court action
But Ellady Muyambi, an environmental scientist with the nonprofit Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria; one of the civil society organisations which had been fighting the Bill, accuses the scientists at National Research Organisation (NARO) of being bankrolled by global seed companies who want to dominate the market and who sponsor their research and study abroad.

"We are definitely going to court to quash the Bill," he told The Independent, "We should already have gone to court after Parliament passed the Bill but our lawyers advised us that we can't until the President assents to the Bill and it becomes law."

According to its framers, the Bill is intended to be a regulatory framework that facilitates the safe development and application of biotechnology in Uganda. But opponents of the Bill claim genetically modified foods are harmful to humans and that they are used by big agribusiness firms to control global seed markets and farmers around the world.

The Bill faced opposition from MP outside the committee also.

Gen. Pecos Kutesa (UPDF) warned that the Bill is a threat not only in Uganda, but the rest of Africa, because, he said, "one who creates seeds can create artificial seeds". Thomas Tayebwa (Ruhindi North) said the Bill was sponsored by foreign agencies.

"The European Union whose market we are targeting is totally against the production of genetically modified products in favour of organic products. The GMO industry, which we are trying to invest in, is going down and Ugandans are going to lose out." Tayebwa is reported to have said.


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