By Nicholas Wassajja, New Vision/NECJOGHA
Kampala, Uganda – The Chairman Board of Trustees of the Pan-African club, Prof Edward Kakonge, has asked the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, to accord parliament more time to scrutinise the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Bill, before voting on it for the last time
Kakonge petitioned Kadaga to reconsider her ruling that in passing the Bill again since parliament’s committee on science and technology will not be reconvening to consider adopting issues raised by President Yoweri Museveni on the bill commonly known as the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Bill.
“We find that the concerns raised by the president are not different from those raised by various activists across the country. We also find that he raises pertinent issues which touch our strategic food security, food sovereignty, health and environmental conservation. Therefore, it’s our treasured prayer to allow the GMO Bill to be scrutinised again, before voting on it,”Kakonge said.
He expressed his concern that the bill, in its current form does not specify isolation distances, which leaves room for abuse of GMOs in contravention of the Plant Protection Act, hence the need to protect organic and conventional agriculture in the new law.
In July, President Museveni for the second time, refused to sign into law the GMO Bill that he first rejected in December 2017, which means that parliament now has leeway to pass the controversial statute without his assent.
Museveni reasons that the bill does not safeguard “the beautiful ecology and diversity that God has bestowed on our country, as well as the interest of citizens who depend on land for their sustenance and provide stringent measures to ensure that GMO crops do not contaminate the organic crops.
GMO is defined as an organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the introduction of foreign genes, with potential to modify original behavior, which Kakonge said is confused with hybrid grafting.
The petition received by parliament last week is consigned by Pan-African club coordinator John Ngabirano and copied to the Prime Minister and ministries of agriculture and science and technology.
Kakonge also wants the Bill re-examined, to address the use of dangerous chemicals.
“The GMO Bill, in its current state, will limit farmer options in the long run and expose the country to the grave risk of being held hostage by the originators of the GMO technologies who, after their crops/technologies have engulfed the local varieties, will turn around to demand royalties,”Kakonge said.
He argued that the liability fine, not exceeding shs10m, is not deterrent enough to hold those in contravention of the law accountable and suggests for more stringent penalties, such as life imprisonment, depending on the gravity of damage caused by the GMO abusers.
Since GMO promoters claim that they are safe, Kakonge said the GMO Bill should levy the burden of proof on inventors and introducers of GM material, in case it causes harm.
In the petition, Kakonge said because introduction of GMOs in agriculture can hinder farmers from saving already patented seeds from harvest for replanting in the following season, parliament should instead promote a scientific study on the potential of agro-ecological farming and its associated benefits.
He suggests that instead of rushing the bill, parliament should be pre-occupied with establishing organic seed banks from national to village level, revival of farmers’ cooperative unions, implementation of the 2004 agricultural zoning plan, provision of extensional services to farmers and availing them with cheap financing, value addition and increment in resource allocation to the agriculture sector.