NCRST accused of bias
The Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT) has accused the National Commission on Research Science and Technology (NCRST) of being biased in favour of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s).
Speaking to The Villager, the Executive Director of NCT, Michael Gaweseb said the national policy that has been crafted to actively enable GMO’s into Namibia is making the distinction between public interest and sectors that benefit from GMO’s almost impossible.
“Public interest advancing organisations and community activists have deliberately been excluded from the official advisers of government for example the Biosafety Council. Socio economic concerns of the community have subsequently been suppressed as representatives of science have been elevated at the community’s expense,” Gaweseb said.
Gaweseb added that Cabinet never expressed itself on the promotion is GMO and that judging from activities by its official advisers the NCRST’s lack of public interest considerations are worrisome as Namibia has been flooded by undeclared GMO products which violates consumer rights.
“Civil servants and official government legal advisers have interest in business and the planned consumer protection law under ministry of trade have seemingly been shelved indefinitely despite government officials having gone to many countries for benchmarking. Those funds cannot be accounted due to a lack of reconciliation with the final product a comprehensive consumer protection act. It is worth mentioning that further spending was made on consultants from the USA whom we thought did a fairly impressive job in drafting the comprehensive consumer protection bill and policy,” Gaweseb said.
Speaking on the Biosafety Act, which was drafted by NCRST, Gaweseb highlighted the importance of stakeholder engagement key issues, adding that public interest such as socio economic considerations and legitimate expectations of consumers should be taken into account. Gaweseb added that this has been lost forever in the Biosafety policy due socio economic representative exclusion in decision making.
“This can only be balanced through a comprehensive consumer protection policy and law, which unfortunately has seemingly been shelved and government can only look on as the private sector in the name of jobs takes Namibian consumers for granted living them with no place to complain to in the face of abuse in the market place. In short it is important for consumers to be represented in public policy making for public interest enhancing organisations such as NCRST to protect their credibility,” Gaweseb said.
Meanwhile, the NCRST said that new set of regulations will govern, propagate and market the sale of GMO containing products in Namibia were approved the Minister responsible for science and technology in February 2016 and were submitted for legal drafting in the same month. The drafting process was completed recently and the regulations are due to be gazetted in September 2016.
“Additionally, the NCRST recently signed and MoU with the Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA) to ensure that inspection and surveillance of agricultural produce is undertaken in a holistic and synergistic fashion,” Elzita Beukes, Head of Corporate Communication and Marketing at NCRST told The Villager.
Beukes added that the NCRST has successfully constituted the institutional framework that will implement the Biosafety Act. This included establishing and resourcing the Biosafety Secretariat, Biosafety Council and Biosafety Inspectorate. The NCRST is currently in the process of establishing a GMO testing laboratory which will allow for the detection of GMO’s locally.
GMO usage in consumer products have decreased significantly, research done by the NCT shows, with attribution to the current levels of GMO’s used in maize. The ‘Top Score’ product contained a mere 1.09% in 2012, while in 2015 it contained 66.79% GMOs. Another product (White Star) ‘Super Maize Meal’ had a mere 2.75% back then, but in 2015, it has 87.34% GMOs. This is however still high as the acceptable GMO in these products must label above 0.9%.