According to the Minister of State in the Vice President’s office-Environment, the Honourable Mr Ntagazwa, the Biosafety Guidelines are meant to “facilitate the importation and use of GMOs and their products in Tanzania”.

Indeed, the Guidelines, which pay a great deal of attention to scientific details, establish a non-legally binding, voluntary framework for the introduction of GMOs into Tanzania. This framework is meant to compliment and mutually support national policies and legislation. The Guidelines also appear to be of a temporary nature in that one of its primary objectives is to “encourage and assist the establishment of an appropriate national regulatory framework”.

It is unknown why the Tanzanian government has not chosen to draft legally binding regulations instead of opting for non-binding guidelines. The Guidelines are made up of 105 pages, comprising of a bundle of measures: non-binding “regulatory” type measures that typify a permitting system for GMOs; extensive measures under the heading “Risk Management” dealing with different types of “containment procedures”; and ten annexes.

The document is thus not only voluminous but may be quite intimidating to farmers and ordinary citizens in need of information. It is beyond the scope of these comments to deliver a line-by-line analysis of the Guidelines. Indeed, such an enterprise will be extremely time consuming. Rather, the emphasis in this document will be on highlighting key issues with a view to providing a critical yet constructive analysis of such key issues. In doing so, the following striking features of the Guidelines have been identified:

  • Its non-binding legal status and hence lacking the force of law for compliance and enforcement purposes. It therefore is sorely lacking “teeth” and is an extremely poor substitute for a legally binding biosafety regime;
  • Its commitment to a public-private partnership for the introduction of GMOs into Tanzania;
  • Its emphasis on field trials, yet its neglect of adequate biosafety regulation for commercial releases and imports of GMOs as food, including food aid, feed and processing;
  • Its neglect of explicit reference to the precautionary principle in regard to decision-making ostensibly because it has already decided that it is prepared to live with certain levels of risks especially in respect of commercial growing and imports of GMOs and GMOs imported as food aid; and
  • Its commitment to public consultation in order to neutralise opposition and win support for GMOs through “consensus building.” In fact, no effort has been spared in the Guidelines to ally the fears of the public by committing to an open and transparent process.

Comments On The National Biosafety Guidelines For Tanzania, Third Draft, June 2004, Mariam Mayet (March 2005) – read here.