by Ronald Ssekandi
KAMPALA, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- Uganda has enacted the controversial biosafety law, paving way for the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the east African country.
Elioda Tumwesigye, minister of science, technology and innovation told reporters on Oct. 6 that the law was passed by Parliament with many clauses aimed at stopping the misuse of GMOs.
He said the law establishes institutions that will regulate and promote usage of biotechnology in a bid to use it for modernizing agriculture, environmental protection, enhancing public health and industrialization.
Tumwesigye argued that it was critical that the country enacted a biosafety law in a bid to among others protect its borders from unauthorized entry of GMOs and to protect the public from consuming unsafe biotechnology products.
He said the move was also to support scientists in the country to fully and safely utilize their advanced knowledge and capabilities in biotechnology to help solve contemporary challenges especially in health, agriculture, industry and environment.
A parliamentary committee that scrutinized the bill before it was passed by Parliament argued that GMOs have been used in Uganda with no enabling law. They have been used in industries to process wine and beer, cheese and yogurt, bread and for the extraction of cobalt, all of which necessitate putting in place a regulatory framework.
There is heated debate globally over the use of GMOs with proponents arguing that they have the potential to boost food, fuel and fiber production, which will accelerate economic growth and foreign exchange earnings.
Opponents to the law argue that since the technology comes from developed countries, there are varied interests which may be veiled with ill intentions.
"The European Union whose market we are targeting is totally against the production of GMO products in favor of organic products. The GMO industry, which we are trying to invest in, is going down and Ugandans are going to lose out," Thomas Tayebwa, a legislator was quoted as saying by the state-owned New Vision on Oct. 6
Tayebwa argued that the law was unnecessary and its passing was spearheaded by foreign agencies.
Government however argues that it consulted widely before the bill was brought to parliament.
"We have put in place provisions as per best practices globally that ensures that modern biotechnology is used in a matter that is safe to humans, animals, biodiversity and the environment," Minister Tumwesigye said.
Scientists argue that the enactment of the law now paves way for extending their trials to the field instead of being limited to working within their institutions' boundaries.