The Mauritian Paradox Selva Appasawmy, April 2004


Mauritius has introduced legislation to regulate genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and its associated activities. This legislation perhaps represents the most stringent precautionary regulations yet on the African continent. As a Party to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Biosafety Protocol), the Mauritian government can also be said to have put in place, through this legislation, stricter measures than the minimum standards established by the Biosafety Protocol. At the same time, the Mauritian government is strongly committed to becoming a GE centre of excellence – a GE hub and plant nursery for the African region.

It is in the throes of establishing the Mauritius Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (MABI) to provide impetus and complement the GE research currently underway by the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute (MSIRI), the Food and Agriculture (FARC) and the University of Mauritius. But still, is this sufficient reason not to congratulate the Mauritian government for having taken such bold steps in putting in place a seemingly stringent biosafety regime? It must be specifically noted that the entire process of drafting this unique ‘stringent’ law took place out of the public’s eye: in secret. Meaningful public awareness, consultation and participation processes clearly contemplated by Article 23 of the Biosafety Protocol did not precede it.

The public will therefore be forgiven for being extremely suspicious of the underlying motives behind this seemingly stringent regime. Indeed, an examination of the key provisions of the GMO Act does reveal an inescapable truth: the stringent biosafety rules are merely paper tigers because the decision-making for GE applications are firmly in the hands of those whose activities and products the law is designed to regulate hence making a mockery of biosafety generally and the Biosafety Protocol in particular.