Rwanda has taken a significant step towards regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with the introduction of a new biosafety bill. Approved by the Cabinet on July 13, this draft law aims to address potential risks associated with GMOs, protect biodiversity, and preserve the integrity of the environment. The Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) has stated that the bill is crucial in ensuring the safe use and handling of GMOs in the country.
Genetically modified (GM) crops are plants that have been modified by inserting genes from the same or unrelated organisms using genetic engineering methods. These inserted genes provide beneficial traits such as pest resistance, tolerance to extreme conditions, and increased nutrient levels. While GMOs have the potential to improve agricultural productivity and address food security challenges, there are concerns about their potential impacts on human health and the environment.
The proposed biosafety bill in Rwanda would require individuals or institutions intending to engage in activities involving the use, handling, commercialization, import, or export of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs), commonly known as GMOs, to obtain authorization from the competent authority. This requirement ensures that comprehensive risk assessments and robust risk management plans are conducted before authorizing any activities related to GMOs.
The bill also establishes institutional arrangements for the implementation of the law. It designates the institute responsible for the environment as the competent authority, responsible for coordinating the enforcement of the biosafety regulations. In addition, the bill calls for the establishment of a national biosafety committee, which will review applications and provide advice to the competent authority. Furthermore, an institutional biosafety committee will be created to offer technical assistance for contained use and confined field trials.
To ensure compliance and deter violations, the draft biosafety law outlines faults, sanctions, and penalties. Offenses include engaging in activities involving LMOs without proper authorization, withholding post-approval information that could impact risk evaluation, providing false information to obtain approvals or permits, using LMOs for unethical purposes, and obstructing the duties of the competent authority. Penalties for these offenses will be defined by the law to emphasize their illegal nature and the consequences of non-compliance.
Rwanda’s decision to regulate GMOs comes as the country’s Agriculture Board conducts confined field trials for a GMO cassava variety that is resistant to cassava brown streak virus disease (CBSD). CBSD poses a significant threat to the production of this staple food crop and farmers’ income. By implementing the biosafety bill, Rwanda aims to strike a balance between harnessing the potential benefits of GMOs in agriculture while safeguarding human health, the environment, and biodiversity.
It is worth noting that several African countries, including South Africa, Sudan, Malawi, Nigeria, Eswatini, and Ethiopia, grew GMO crops in 2019, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks to human health.
The biosafety bill in Rwanda demonstrates the country’s commitment to ensuring the responsible use and management of GMOs. By setting up a regulatory framework and establishing strict guidelines for their handling and commercialization, Rwanda aims to protect its citizens and the environment from potential risks while reaping the potential benefits of GMOs in agriculture. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament for consideration and adoption in the near future, paving the way for a comprehensive biosafety regulatory regime in Rwanda.
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