Namibia will consider the potential risks to the health and safety of Namibians when it introduces genetically modified organisms (GMOs) regulations, says the Minister of Education, Dr David Namwandi.
GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques, including microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish and mammals. The minister said the social, cultural, ethical and economic considerations would also be considered during the process.
That, Namwandi says would provide an adequate level of protection to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. He said Namibia cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of biotechnology, since it is applied all over the world and in many sectors such as agriculture, mining and the health sector.
Namwandi said modern Biotechnology is relatively new and its potential implications are not fully known yet. "This makes it a very controversial subject, since it is human nature to fear what we do not know," the minister said in a speech read on his behalf at a biosafety public awareness workshop held in Windhoek on Tuesday.
Namibia has developed its Biosafety Act (Act nr 7 of 2006) to regulate GMOs, however the law is not in place yet, although the education ministry said processes have been set in motion to advance the process.
"It should be noted that the establishment of the Biosafety Council is in process, following which the Biosafety Council should start operating, including finalising the Biosafety Regulations in order to regulate GMOs," Namwandi said.
The regulations on biosafety will address pre-notice agreements, risk analysis and management, handling, transport, packing, identification, information distribution and Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) (dialogue platform and Internet entrance to exchange and spread information about GMO-related matters), public participation, socio-economic considerations and capacity.
The minister also revealed that they are in the process of building a National Genetically Modified Organisms Testing and Research Laboratory. Most foods are currently sent for tests to South Africa. Calls for the speedy implementation of the Biosafety law have been heard recently from concerned consumers and organizations demanding the labelling of products containing GMOs.
This is after reports surfaced that some Namibian products such as maize contain GMOs. Namibia is party to the Cartagena Protocol, which obliges countries to handle issues around GMOs responsibly.