Call to repeal bio-technology law in Tanzania misplaced
*Robust debate and awareness about GMOs priority
DODOMA –There is need for robust debate in Tanzania about the usage of genetic engineering technology for agriculture development, according to the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture, livestock and Water.
This came out following a seminar that was attended by a cross-section of the committee members, lawyers and civil society in Dodoma recently.
At the meeting, it emerged that Tanzania could be among the few African countries with strict laws about genetic engineering, that some biotech investors’ claim are not conducive for business. The Environmental Management Act (EMA), of 2004, that came into operation on 1st July 2005 provides for legal and institutional framework for regulating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Some stakeholders have been advocating for the law to be repealed to remove strictly liability clause that calls for accountability.
The committee member, Hon. Professor Peter Msolla said that it was paramount for lawmakers to know about genetic engineering technology, its suitability or unsuitability for Tanzania as matter of priority.
“It’s important for all members of parliament to familiarise themselves more with GMO technology,” said the former don, who founded SUA’s faculty of Biotechnology.
Rhetorically, he asked, “would such a technology have mass negative impact for small holder farmers, the biggest workforce in the country? how do we monitor the food imports at the supermarket or consignments that may come as food aid to know if they are safe or not?”
Hon. Prof. Msolla said there are effects of usage of GMO to the people, environment and other living matters. Proving negative effects, he said, may take a decade or so.
Some MPs felt that biotech investors wanted the law to be changed so that they could escape accountability as they were not very sure of certain technologies that could harm the people and environment.
“We would like to know if there is any study conducted in other African countries on the side effects of GMO say in South Africa where GMO food is being consumed,” said Hon. Dr. Christine Ishengoma, who confessed of hearing many rosy stories about GMOs.
Mr. Isakwisa Lameck Mwamukonda, a lawyer from the Vice President’s Office Legal Unit said Tanzania has not prohibited use of GMOs technology, only that procedure must be followed to protect the country and her people.
Mr. Mwamukonda lamented that some scientists and investors have been propagating incorrect information about the country’s position on GMOs technology.
A major investor in GMO in Tanzania has been appealing to government to repeal the strict liability clause in the biosafety regulations (EMA), otherwise the field trials for maize claimed to be water efficient will be closed.
Section 67 of EMA provides for measures for conserving biological diversity while Section 69 (1) obligates any person dealing with GMOs to ensure that such does not cause harm to the environment and human health including socio economic, cultural and ethical concerns.
The law have general principle such as Principle of Prevention: Which is to the effect that approvals shall be subject to compliance of preventive measures such as risk assessment and EIA. Precautionary Principle: Is to the effect that, where there is a reason to believe that harm or damage may result from any undertaking involving GMOs or its products, lack of scientific evidence shall not be used as a basis for not taking preventive measures and Strict liability Principle: Which is to the effect that approvals for the introduction of GMOs or their products shall be subject to a condition that the applicant is strictly held liable for any damage caused to any person.
The law also provide liability and redress. The provision of the principle of strict liability which is to the effect that, persons who carry out any activity in relation to GMOs shall be held strictly liable for any harm, injury or loss caused directly or indirectly by such GMOs or their products thereof. The law add that Liability shall be attached to the applicant, the person responsible for the activity which resulted in the damage, injury or loss as well as the supplier, provider or developer of GMOs or their products. In case of harm, compensation shall include costs of reinstatement, rehabilitation and costs of preventive measures among others.
CSO who attended the seminar included members of ANSAF, TABIO, ESAFF, PELUM Tanzania as well as national farmers networks: MVIWATA, TOAM, Bio Sustain, TACOGA, SWISSAID, and ActionAid Tanzania.
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