Ethiopia: Contentious Bio-Safety Bill Endorsed With Parliament Amendment

The House of Peoples’ Representative (HPR) on Tuesday has endorsed the controversial Bio-Safety amendment bill which aims at easing restrictions on the use and import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Ethiopia. The draft bill, which was presented before parliament for approval in October 2014, has been scrutinized for longer period of time than any other bills during the current parliamentary tenure.

Environment and Natural Resource Standing Committee, where the draft bill was referred to for review, conducted five consultation meetings since October 2014 with various stakeholders including, Gene Bank, Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute and Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) as well as a public hearing.

The Standing Committee’s report also indicated that committee members held consultations with Belete Tafere, minister of MoEF, and his advisor Tewolde Gebregziabher, a renowned scientist known for his firm anti-GMO stance. The new amendment bill the house approved has tweaked the definition of “modified organism” from the Biosafety Proclamation. According to the new definition, the introduction of a chemical in to a biological entity does not make it a modified organism.

The new amendment also lessened the restriction on the importation of modified organisms into the country. According to the amendment, a person can apply for an advanced informed agreement from MoEF for the importation of a modified organism “provided that the law of the exporting country authorizes… “

The previous provision in the Biosafety Proclamation had put in place a strict requirement for the application for an advance informed agreement to be accompanied by “a statement signed by the head of the competent national authority of the country of export to the effect that the competent national authority takes full responsibility for the completeness and accuracy of the information provided.”

The new amendment bill also provides for the establishment of a National Biosafety Advisory Committee by a Council of Ministers regulation. The Committee is given the task of advising MoEF and will be accountable to it. The draft amendment bill had caused an uproar between environmentalists and pro-GMOs. There has been a strong push, particularly from researchers in the field of bio-technology, for a more lax legislation whereas environmentalists, wary of the risks associated with GMOs, wanted a stricter law.

In a bid to boost to the manufacturing sector, particularly the textile industry, the government has been considering the option of using genetically modified crops like BT cotton. The option was considered as an alternative to alleviate shortages of raw material which has plagued the textile sector.

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