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Fri08222014

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Local researchers confident on GMO field trials

SOME local researchers who have done applied laboratory research on suitability of genetically modified organism (GMO), are confident that a clause which holds them and their partner companies liable for any negative effects will be changed this year.

The liability clause which is a regulation directly from 2004 National Environmental Management Act has prevented them from doing field trials, they argue.

A member of National Bio-safety Advisory Committee, Dr Roshan Abdallah and Commission for Science and Technology acting Director General, Dr Nicholas Nyange expressed hope that a bill to amend the 2004 NEM Act will be sent to Parliament this year to allow them complete field trials for GM maize.

“It takes sometime to change regulations in which case this liability clause directly emanated from the mother law,” said Dr Abdallah who said President Jakaya Kikwete had promised to work on the legal hurdle when he officially opened the modern biotech laboratory at Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) last year.

Dr Abdallah pointed out that the clause has scared foreign multi-national corporation working with local scientists, to introduce the crops in the country because it opens all avenues of legal litigation against them.

“We think time is ripe now for us to be allowed to conduct field trials as our neighbours in Kenya and Uganda are already doing and will soon start growing GE maize,” she argued.

Scientists at MARI have for the past five years done laboratory research on genetically engineered maize, but progress stalled at Makutopora field trials for fear of the tough clause which imposes penalties on all parties participating in a GE research which harms the public or environment.

While insisting that more than 30,000 researches have been conducted globally with none proving that GE crops are harmful to human health or the environment, Dr Nyange warned that time is running out as Kenya and Uganda are advancing to start commercial cultivation.

“Our friends are making progress and we are not an island. Even if we don’t want this technology, it will come,” asserted Dr Nyange who also expressed hope that the government will soon make the necessary amendments to accommodate local researchers continuation of the field trial process.

He said world bodies including World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have sanctioned GMO consumption, saying so far no harm has been scientifically established.

Genetic engineering involves a scientific implanting of a gene in a different cell or tissue to give it some quality such as resistance to pests, draughts or diseases.

Critics of GMOs argued that there are unknown health and environmental consequences associated with GE technology.

They also fear that patent holding multi-national corporations will endanger food security by forcing farmers to buy new seeds each planting season, which many local subsistence farmers can’t afford.