Setting the Record Straight on Tanzania’s Biosafety Laws
Tanzania has recently amended the Biosafety Regulations, the law which applies to the import, export, deliberate release, confined use, contained use, transit and placing on the market of GMOs and their products. The amendment was driven by persistent pressure from the Tanzanian research community supported by the biotechnology industry. In response to the announcement Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO) has thoroughly examined the amendments, taken legal advice, and consulted with the regulatory authority (VPO Div of Environment). This is what we found:
Strict liability is still in force in Tanzania
Despite the triumphalist rhetoric of the GMO lobby, Tanzania has NOT removed strict liability from its Biosafety Regulations. In fact, strict liability is alive and well and continues to provide a strong legal framework protecting the nation against any harm, injury or loss caused by GMOs. This strict liability applies to all GMO activity including importation, transport, release, and of course commercial sale, – in fact everything apart from research.
What has changed is that a few additional clauses have been added to allow researchers to carry out GMO research, free of strict liability. However the researchers are still liable for any damage they may cause, but under a reduced ‘fault-based’ liability.
Two types of liability:
Strict liability means that whoever introduces a GMO is directly legally responsible for any damage, injury or loss caused by the GMO.
Fault based liability means that whoever introduces the GMO would be responsible only if it was proved that they were at fault or negligent in carrying out their activity.
What this means is that now we can expect to see more applications for GMO research submitted to the regulatory authority, for example to carry out confined field trials of GM maize, cassava and cotton. We recognize that field trials will bring new risks, for example gene flow to non-GMO crops and the possibility of unintended release of GM products into the local market and food supply. As such it is critically important that the research activities, particularly confined field trials, are closely monitored and rigorously regulated to ensure the nation’s biosafety.
It is also imperative that the biosafety regulatory authority fulfills its obligations to make every GMO application available to the public upon receipt, and allows sufficient time for comments, and considers such comments, before making a decision.
What the new biosafety regulations say:
The law still states in article
6.-(1) All approvals for introduction of GMO or their products shall be subject to a condition that the applicant is strictly liable for any damage caused to any person or entity.
Also it states in article
56.-(1) Any person or his agent who imports, transits, makes contained or confined use of, releases, carries out any activity in relation to GMOs or products thereof or places on the market a GMO shall be strictly liable for any harm, injury or loss caused directly or indirectly by such GMOs or their products or any activity in relation to GMOs.
The new additional clauses read as follows:
6.-(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-regulation (1), strict liability shall not apply to researchers and research activities.
56.-(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-regulation (1), any person or his agent who develops, imports, transports GMOs or products thereof, or carries out any activity for the purpose of undertaking research shall be liable for any harm, injury or loss caused directly or indirectly by such GMOs or their products or any activity in relation to GMOs.
The amended regulations also clarify what is meant by the words “research”, “researcher”, “confined use”, and “contained use” - as follows:
“Research” means a contained or confined use, and the words “research activities” shall have a corresponding meaning;
“Researcher” means a person who undertakes a contained use or confined use;
“Confined use” means any operation undertaken by restricting a GMO and its traits to a specific and defined area of the environment that effectively limit escape or persistence of the GMO or its genetic material in the environment;
“Contained use” means any operation undertaken within a facility, installation or other physical structure, which involves GMOs that are controlled by specific measures that effectively limit their contact with, and their impact on the external environment.
Thus it is clear that any experimental releases other than ‘confined use’ or ‘contained use’ are still subject to strict liability.
Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity is an alliance of civil society and private sector organizations concerned with the conservation of agricultural biodiversity for livelihood security and food sovereignty.
TABIO contends that GMOs pose unnecessary risks to human health, destroy biodiversity, lead to increased costs for farmers, increase corporate control of the food chain, and fail to combat global hunger.