News Column

Experts Want Change of GMO Law

August 6, 2014

Orton Kiishweko

NEPAD Agency African Biosafety Network of Expertise has called for review and repeal of a legal clause that holds everyone liable to punitive sanction should anything go wrong in the development and utilisation of agricultural biotechnology.

The Executive Director for NEPAD Agency African Biosafety Network of Expertise, Profesor Diran Makinde, said in an interview with the 'Daily News' that responsible regulation promotes compliance, noting that where smallholder farmers are unaware, it is unethical and irresponsible to hold out what is safe and works well for them.

Noting that should Malawi legalise growing of genetically engineered crops next year, it was highly likely that farmers in southern Tanzania would use the crops as long as they hear about the benefits from their counterparts.

Prof Makinde pointed out that unencumbered and effective regulation is essential to timely adoption of safe and useful GM crops He noted that scientists and researchers believe that there is hope that even if a repeal of the strict liability clause in the 2004 NEM Act is delayed, the government would fund tissue culture in the 2014/2015 national budget to assist small-scale farmers fight vulnerabilities of their traditional crops.

"If biotech rules review is delayed, tissue culture technology is the only option that, if exploited efficiently in the agricultural sector, could save commercial farming and hence boost the country's forex earnings," said MARI Head of Cashew Biotechnology, Dr Emmarold Mneney.

The technology is used for mass production of planting materials, production of virus free plants, plant-breeding purposes, conservation, and multiplication of crops and livestock and has been tested by researchers at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and Maruku Research Institute (MARI).

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives has throughout 2013/2014 grappled with the threat of declining food productivity in regions across the country where traditional food crops have been affected by disease and drought.

Currently, there is divided opinion in various sectors in the agricultural industry on whether the strict liability clause in bio-safety regulatory framework should be removed to increase output of the crop.

The contestable clause in the bio-safety regulatory framework ensures that even if GMOs were to be introduced, the companies s upplying them would be accountable in case anything wrong happens.

Prof Makinde said genetically engineered crops can contribute to meeting Africa's food and fibre needs by increasing productivity per unit area.

"For some countries, precaution in decision making is based on scientific risk assessment. For other countries precaution is prohibitive legislations that deny farmers a powerful tool to tackle some crop production constraints," he noted, saying that for some others, overly restrictive regulation is a failed regulation in that it was not complied with by farmers.

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Source: AllAfrica

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