African Model Law on Biosafety
In February 1999, when the negotiations of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety were stalled, the African Group in the Convention for Biological Diversity and the Organization for African Unity (OAU, now the AU) started to develop the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology. Its first purpose was to provide for a harmonized approach towards biosafety in Africa serving as a model legal instrument for developing national biosafety legislations in case the international negotiations would fail. The first draft was developed by an OAU workshop of experts from Africa and other developing countries in Addis Ababa in June 1999. This draft was based on the proposal of the African Group for a biosafety protocol, which it submitted to the CBD Secretariat during the 3rd Conference of the Parties in Buenos Aires in 1996 and which was introduced at the second meeting of the working group to negotiate the Biosafety Protocol in 1997. In May 2001 this draft was finalized by an OAU working group in Addis Ababa, which gathered 50 representatives of 28 African governments, 34 representatives of NGOs, scientific institutions, and the biotechnology industry as well as 5 representatives of the OAU and UNEP.
In spite of the fact that the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was finally adopted, its limited scope to regulate GMOs served as a significant reason to further support the work on the Model Law. As an international treaty under the Convention of Biological Diversity several crucial activities and areas in the field of biosafety are either not covered or the provisions were not sufficient to guide either not countries in the development of comprehensive national biosafety legislation. These areas include:
The 47th OAU Council of Ministers in Lusaka in July 2001 supported the work of the working group and called for the finalisation of the Model Law. The 37th Assembly of Heads of State and Government, which followed it, confirmed this resolution. At the Maputo meeting of the AU Executive Council in July 2003, the AU Commission presented the agenda item "The Africa Wide Capacity Building In Biosafety". In its Decision EX/CL/Dec.26(III) the Executive Council urged the Member States to use the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology as a basis for drafting their national legal instruments in biosafety. During the development of National Biosafety Frameworks and biosafety regulations in the context of the global UNEP/GEF biosafety capacity building projects this decision of the Heads of State and Government was only followed to a limited extent.
The review of the Model Law comes against the backdrop of increased cropland being devoted to GMOs and African countries joining the struggle. The global biotechnology crop area reached the 250 millionth acre in 2006, with more than 10 million farmers in 22 countries planting 102 million hectares of biotech crops. Of the countries that grew biotechnology crops in 2006, South Africa was ranked eighth in terms of the hectares devoted to growing biotechnology crops.
It is clear that African countries will generate modern biotechnology products and processes and will not be mere recipients. Therefore the Model Law should not restrict investment in biotechnology rather it is aimed that it acts as a facilitative instrument driven and informed by science to assist countries maximise the benefits of biotechnology while avoiding or minimising the risks.
The need to review thus arises from a number of key factors:
- Approval of deliberate releases of LMOs
- Approval of LMOs and their products for food and feed
- Contained use of LMOs
- Domestic development & export of LMOs
- Labelling of LMOs and their products for food and feed
- Liability and redress
- Public participation in decision making
In 2006, the draft Model Law from 2001 was translated into the four official AU languages and sent to the National Focal Points of the Cartagena Protocol. They were informed about the planned revision and were asked to contribute to that process. The Project also commissioned the development of the document "Context for Revising the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology". This document outlines the circumstances that called for the revision of the Model Law at the regional as well as international level. What is more, the document analyses the legal status of biosafety of selected African countries, which have already developed biosafety legislation. A comparison of laws is made and the general trend that had been taken by most countries has been absorbed as a common position thereby indicating the inclination that would be followed in revising the Model Law. The Technical Advisors Committee of the Project along with the Biosafety Unit reviewed the Context Document. The first draft-revised Context Document was submitted to the meetings of the AMCOST Steering Committee and Bureau in June 2007. The Steering Committee encouraged the revision of the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology taking into account emerging developments and evidences at regional and international levels. The Bureau Meeting also confirmed this recommendation.
After this decision was obtained, the first draft Revised Model Law was produced and the Technical Advisors Committee of the Project were invited to comment on that draft.
In August 2007, the Project convened an Africa-wide Experts' Meeting on the Revised African Model on Safety in Biotechnology, which discussed the revised draft Model Law and gave its recommendations. The workshop was composed of the following experts to secure a broad participation of governmental officials and relevant stakeholders operating in an Africa-wide context:
- Technical and legal developments at the international level
- Policy developments at the African Union level
- Sub-regional initiatives
- National R&D and legislative and policy developments
- Increase of biosafety initiatives in Africa, which have influenced the development of national R&D infrastructure as well as laws and policies.
The final draft is was then presented the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology in November 2007 which endorsed the process. Following this the draft document was presented to the Executive Council of the AU at the January 2008 summit which also agreed on the revision and further suggested that all stakeholder ministers should view the revised text and deliberate on it. Based on this recommendation the revised text was further presented at the 12th session of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment in June 2008. The Ministers endorsed the process and further called for African Union Commission to spearhead in issues of biosafety so as to ensure African common positions in the field.
The AU Biosafety Project subsequently planned a series of meetings with the regional economic communities (RECs) for the five geographical regions of Africa. The meetings were aimed at engaging in a coordinated and harmonized approach in response to the recommendations and decisions regarding the draft Revised African Model Law on Biosafety and implementation of the African Strategy on Biosafety.
Consequently, three meetings were held covering four regions of which 26 African Union Member States participated. Elaborate discussions were held with the participation of scientists, lawyers, Civil Society Organizations and regional organisations implementing biosafety initiatives.
The draft Revised Model Law will still undergo some developments based on the inputs of the regional discussions. It is expected that the Revised Model Law will further be presented to the Ministers of Trade and Industry and Ministers of Agriculture for extensive participation in the process.
- National Focal Points of the Cartagena Protocol
- National Focal Persons for Science & Technology
- Representatives of civil society organisations
- Representatives of biotechnology-related research and industry organisations