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Government may reconsider its position on the ban of genetically modified organisms if a comprehensive study on their merits and demerits in agriculture is conducted, a senior State official has said.

Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Dr Godfrey Gandawa, said this during a fact-finding visit to the National Biotechnology Authority offices in Harare on Monday by a parliamentary committee.

“We need to do a thorough research and give Cabinet full facts outlining the merits and demerits of producing GMOs,” he said.

“I think every reasonable Government would adopt GMOs if the merits and demerits are known to Cabinet.”

Dr Gandawa said there was need for close collaboration with Agriculture Mechanisation, and Irrigation Development Ministry to support development of biotechnological innovations in agriculture and other fields.

The Agriculture Ministry can issue permits on GMO products and technologies but has ruled out lifting a ban on these until more research is available.

On the other hand, the Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Ministry has been lobbying Government to embrace GMO technologies for agriculture, medicine and other fields.

“There is a notion that when our people hear of biotechnology they fear GMOs,” Dr Gandawa said.

“There are a lot of benefits that Zimbabwe can realise if it promotes the use and application of biotechnology in agriculture, industry and the health sector. If policy-makers embrace biotechnology, Zimbabwe can get far.”

The Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development visited the NBA to better understand their operations.

Dr Obadiah Moyo, the NBA interim chair, said: “By bringing legislators here, we hope they will understand biotechnology issues more. We want our MPs to grasp biotechnology issues, comprehend them to some level and to be able to debate and talk more confidently on biotechnology issues.”

Committee chair Dr Peter Mataruse said legislators were keen to learn about biotechnology and offer policy support.

“We want to make sure that efforts to promote biotechnology are successful in the country. We have learnt a lot and it is through learning that we can be effective in our debates and in the articulation of biotechnology issues.”

The committee also toured laboratories at the University of Zimbabwe Crop Science Department as well as Agribiotech, a private research organisation headed by Dr Ian Robertson, which was involved in tissue culture development for sweet potatoes, potatoes and cassava.

The visit highlighted the sorry state of research laboratories at UZ.

Zimbabwe has taken a precautionary approach towards risk regulation of GMO products and technologies as reflected and reinforced by the adoption of the National Biotechnology Authority Act of 2006.

Scientists have said GMOs have become highly politicised with Government being generally suspicious of biotechnologies.

Source : The Herald

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