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[LUSAKA] Zambian policymakers have adopted a biosafety bill that paves the way for legislation to deal with issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The bill was drafted by the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Technology, and submitted to parliament on 3 April for scrutiny and adoption.

Minister of Science and Technology Brian Chituwo said the bill was needed because GMOs were bound to find their way into Zambia.

Currently, Zambia does not have a regulatory framework to regulate biotechnology issues, including the research, development, application, import, export, transit and use of genetically modified products.

If enacted into law, the bill will establish a National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and Scientific Advisory Committee. The NBA will ensure the bill is adhered to and provide guidelines on its implementation. The Scientific Advisory Committee will oversee the operations of the NBA.

The bill will promote public awareness of biosafety with information and consultation services.

It also seeks to provide a mechanism for liability and redress for any harm or damage caused to human and animal health, non-GMO crops, socio-economic conditions, and biological diversity by any GMO or product.

Minister of Justice, George Kunda, said the Zambian government was eager to have the bill passed and made into law to allow for the domestication of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which Zambia is a signatory. The international agreement aims to provide protection in the transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology.

Kunda said Zambia needs the legislation to avoid becoming a 'dumping ground' for such products, as it currently does not have the technology to test imported material for GMOs.

Saviour Chishimba, chairperson of the Education, Science and Technology Committee said, "The bill is aimed at ensuring that Zambia remains a GMO free country."

Zambia is one of several countries in southern Africa that prohibit the growing or consumption of GMO foods. Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland have taken a similar stance.