The Cameroon Biosafety Law No 2003/006 titled “Law No 2003/006 of 21 April 2003 To Lay Down Safety Regulations Governing Biotechnology in Cameroon” (“Biosafety Law”) was signed by the President of Cameroon on the 21 April 2003, and passed by the Cameroon Parliament during November 2003.

Cameroon is a Party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (“Biosafety Protocol”) The Biosafety Law was probably written in French and translated into English. It is entirely possible that in the course of such translation, the meaning of important concepts and principles have been lost or altered. Detailed explanations and comments are provided in a Table below.

The analysis provided in the Table has been grouped around key issues, namely: Risk Assessment; Authorisations; Safety Measures; Destruction of GMOs that pose risks; Products of GMOs; GMOs that are pharmaceuticals; Prohibition of hazardous substances connected with GMOs; Contained Use, Field Trials; General/environmental release; Waste and gas treatment; Risk Management; Import/Export of GMOs; Decision-making; Accidental releases and emergency responses; Transit; Liability and redress; Labelling,(identification), packaging and marketing; Transport, handling and packaging; Public Awareness , participation and consultation, Confidential information and access to Information, Offences and penalties; and Enforcement.

Having regard to the critical analysis provided, it is strongly recommended that the Biosafety Law be reviewed in its entirety and a new piece of legislation to be drafted, afresh. Amendments to this Law in a piece meal fashion will not cure it from its deficiencies, some of which are even flawed in law (e.g. the liability provisions) nor can these be remedied by the promulgation of regulations.

  1. The Cameroon Biosafety Law is first and foremost an enabling or framework law. It requires several regulations to be made on key issues, in order for the Law to become operational and meaningfully implemented. This is fully canvassed below.
  2. Generally speaking, the Biosafety Law is cumbersome, convoluted and user-unfriendly. It appears as if the drafters of the Biosafety Law, perhaps under pressure to put in place a biosafety framework, have not paid adequate attention to ensuring consistency, lucidity and detail on key safety issues. With the result, the Biosafety Law is comprised of a mixed bag of provisions, haphazardly arranged comprising of: reasonably good provisions (e.g. transit; socio-economic impacts; destruction of GMOs that pose risks); provisions that can do more harm than good (e.g. safety measures) bad provisions (e.g. public participation; liability); ambiguous provisions (e.g. confidential information); provisions that simply water down safety measures (e.g. genetically modified (GM) pharmaceuticals; products of GMOs; out of court settlements); contradictory provisions on key biosafety issues (e.g. risk assessment, “safety measures”); provisions that raise a number of concerns (e.g. risk management; risk level setting, “safety attestations”) ; provisions that are forward- looking and innovative (e.g. transport of transgenic animals, insects, material and micro-organisms, packaging and handling of GMOs) ; provisions that implement the Biosafety Protocol (e.g. components of the AIA procedure for import and export); provisions that fail to fully implement the Protocol (e.g. Article 23 dealing with public participation and consultation; Article 16 dealing with risk management).
  3. Thus, owing to its lack of coherency and clarity on key issues, it is feared that the Biosafety Law may present too many challenges for regulators to interpret and implement the Law in a consistent manner that favours more rather than less stringent protection against the risks posed by GMOs. This situation does not augur well for public confidence in the regulatory system. There can be no doubt that members of the public will have great difficulty in making sense of this law.
  4. It appears that anticipated activities involving GMOs in Cameroon may be focussed on two key areas in the future. The first, is the role that Cameroon may play as a transit state for GMOs imported into West Africa from the United States, Argentina and Canada. This is reflected in the relatively stringent measures that are imposed for GMOs in transit. Second, Cameroon appears to see itself as producing products of GMOs for the domestic market and for export. This is borne out by the specific provisions that exist for these products, distinguishable from products of GMOs that will be imported into Cameroon.
  5. The African Union’s African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology (“African Model Law) does not appear to have influenced the drafting of the Biosafety Law. This is regrettable.
  6. The Biosafety Law has not implemented the Biosafety Protocol in its entireTy.
  7. Since the discussion Is concentrated on what is actually contained in the Biosafety Law itself, it is important to make mention here, the issues that have been omitted from the Biosafety Law it its entirely. These omissions relate to (a) powers, functions and decision-making on the part of the competent national authority; and (b) provisions for post-release monitoring.
  • 7.1 The Biosafety Law does not contain discreet provisions dealing with the functions, powers and duties of the competent national authority, which is charged with coordinating the activities relating to the Biosafety Protocol, and tasked with “taking decisions within a national committee made up of services and bodies concerned.” This oversight is quite serious, because it is critically important that there is transparency in a biosafety regime regarding the manner in which decision-making bodies responsible for the administration/implementation of the law are to function. Members of the public should know about staffing arrangements, how decisions will be made; and the details concerning the involvement if any, of experts in decision-making. It must also be noted, that the Biosafety Law does not require decision-making to be based on the precautionary principle. This is a very serious omission, particularly since the precautionary principle is at the very heart of biosafety decision-making.
  • 7.2 The Biosafety Law has neglected to include post-release monitoring provisions because it has opted for self-regulation. Monitoring is principally the responsibility of government.

Post release monitoring is a critically important component of biosafety regulation of GMOs. The objective of such monitoring is to prevent risks. Its other key function is to improve on predictive models to identify risks. Examples of what should be monitored include: environmental effects of on water, soil and bio-organisms; non-target effects that are limited to pre-commercialisation testing on a small spatial sites; multi-year testing of effects; and animal and human health monitoring over a period of time etc.

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