What Are the Dangers of Biotechnology?

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Scientists, media and civil society organisations will get together in Gaborone, Botswana next week to interact and share understanding on issues concerning biotechnology, biosafety and the sustainable use of biodiversity. Biosafety is a concept to ensure the safe use and handling of biotechnology products. Taking into consideration that the media and civil society have wider constituencies and play a major role in transmitting information, the workshop plans to make people understand and reflect on biosafety issues. There are worries that SADC is taking too long to implement biosafety regulations, which would help monitor the movement of living modified organisms (LMOs) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) due to the fact that the impact of the products on food and on the environment is still being questioned. According to the Regional Agricultural and Environmental Initiatives Network (RAEIN-Africa) Regional Director, Doreen Shumba Mnyulwa, only three countries in the region, namely, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe have policies regarding biosafety while the rest have draft frameworks. Namibia’s legislation is in the process of being finalised. Although many countries that do not have policies on biosafety have some kind of laws that would help in the case of transboundary movement of LMOs and GMOs, when cases such as these get to the level of the courts, there would be need for proper legislation, said the regional director. Among the objectives of the workshop is to impart knowledge on modern technology and raise awareness on why biosafety frameworks are a must in SADC, to discuss Article 27 of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety and the potential role of each of the stakeholder groupings represented in ensuring effective public participation in the decision-making processes. The objective of the protocol, which is a protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements. Article 27 of the protocol says, “The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol shall, at its first meeting, adopt a process with respect to the appropriate elaboration of international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movements of living modified organisms, analysing and taking due account of the ongoing processes in international law on these matters, and shall endeavour to complete this process within four years.” Namibia will be represented by a delegation, which includes a scientist, a representative of an NGO, three journalists and a ministry of education official. Namibia, which ratified the Convention in February 2005, while it entered into force in May 2005, is among the 37 African countries that are signatories to the protocol. The workshop will also raise awareness on the need for the effective participation by civil organisations and the media in decision-making on biotechnology, biosafety and the environment and whether it will support or undermine the 2010 biodiversity target. The workshop expects a nucleus of media personnel to share information on biotechnology biosafety and create awareness on the need for biosafety systems and the group of civil society organizations to create awareness on the need for mobilizing public participation in biosafety and the impact of modern technologies on the environment. REIN Africa and the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agricultural Research are organisiing the workshop, which will be attended by participants from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Mo-zambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and host Botswana.

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