As the government dithers on the development of legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), some enterprising people are doing roaring business outside agricultural shops in Gaborone, selling substances that artificially enhance organism growth.
“If you go to the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board, Feed Centre or Techno Feeds shops, someone will accost you outside and ask: ‘Do you have a poultry business? I am selling something that enhances growth.’ I want you to clarify what we are doing about this issue,” the Gabane-Mankgodi MP, Pius Mokgware, asked of the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Patrick Ralotsia, in parliament. “What is our position? It also appears like this is a black market business ÔÇô or is it lawful?”
He cautioned that if this business is lawful, it could precipitate a public health emergency.
“The claim about one of the substances on the market is that when you feed it to chickens, they will be ready for slaughter within four weeks. It is in a small packet that sells for P275,” the MP said.
As Ralotsia would later confirm, GMO trade is indeed not regulated. He said that the government is still studying the matter with a view to developing appropriate legislation. Basically, this means that this trade has a quasi-lawful status that has enabled some people to freely sell the substances that Mokgware is worried about outside agricultural shops. The MP fears that foreigners will exploit this loophole in the law and sell harmful substances that could precipitate a rise in human diseases.
“If you google the names of the substances, you will find that some are manufactured in the Philippines, others in China. I plead with the minister to develop appropriate policy,” he said.
The newly formed Real Alternative Party (RAP) has also weighed in on this issue. The economic justice that the party envisions is one in which “perishable foods are labelled and dated.” RAP’s leader, Gaontebale Mokgosi, says that this sentiment was motivated by the fact that unlike countries like Japan, Botswana doesn’t have a comprehensive food labelling law that protects consumers. Mokgosi not only laments Botswana’s over-reliance on other countries to meet its food security needs but also that some food imports are actually GMOs which are not labelled as such. The latter can be hugely problematic because not everyone would be able to tell that a green pepper almost the size of a water melon couldn’t have been organically grown. Numerous studies have linked GMOs to diseases like cancer and liver damage. Mokgosi says that the healthy living message retailed to the public by health officials circumvents reality that the quality of food that one consumes is more important than physical exercise.