University don wants dialogue on the GMO bill

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By Frank Lukwago, New Vision/NECJOGHA

Kampala, Uganda –  A Uganda university don has called for dialogue between scientists and President Yoweri Museveni over the biotechnology bill.

Biotechnology involves the transfer of living organisms from one plant with desired traits into another to make it better.

Kisubi University Vice Chancellor Prof. John Ssebuwufu made the call last week during the first annual inter-university symposium on biotechnology at Kisubi University.

The symposium, organized by the Uganda biotechnology and biosafety consortium (UBBC) ,  brought together students from Kyambogo, Makerere and Uganda Martyrs universities. The others were International University of East Africa and St. Augustine University.

Prospero Grace Lonyo, the co-ordinator of UBBC, said the aim of the symposium was to create awareness about the importance of the proposed legislation on biotechnology and  support student researchers.

She said they are already supporting three innovators from Makerere and Mbarara universities to further develop their products.

At the beginning of this month President Museveni for the second time refused to assent to the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill. In his letter to the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, the president said some critical issues he raised in the previous communication had not been addressed in the amended law.

The concerns were on the implications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetic modifications on indigenous seeds, livestock, health through GMO mosquitoes and the overall effect  of GMOs on agriculture, ecology, food as well as national social security and the sovereignty of the country.

The president said the parliament was unable to address concerns because of the narrow interpretation of procedure, which limited the number of clauses to be debated. He advised parliament to allow free deliberations and if possible remove contentious clauses until a harmonized position is reached.

“We must have a law that allows scientists to carryout research and make breakthroughs, at the same time safeguarding the beautiful ecology and diversity of our country as well as the interest of the masses who continue to depend on land for subsistence production,” Museveni wrote to the speaker.

Meanwhile, Dr. Barbara Zawedde, a scientist from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), said researchers have used biotechnology and developed cassava varieties that are resistant mosaic and brown streak disease, bananas resistant to bacterial wilt and sigatoka disease.

Regarding health, she said a team from the Uganda virus research institute is in the final stages of developing a vaccine that treats tuberculosis through biotechnology and GMO mosquitoes that can fight malaria.

For livestock, Zawedde said a team of from Makerere University working with researchers from NARO and other development partners have developed a vaccine that will help researchers get rid of ticks.

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