Laws regulating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Bangladesh

Genetically modified Organism (GMO) is basically an organism (plant, animal or microorganism) created by application of bio-technology which is such a technology by the application of which a new genetically characterized organism is created by introducing a new character or genetic carrier or gene in any organism found from that organism or from any wild species thereof or from completely different type of organism.

The term GMO or LMO (Living Modified Organism) are used interchangeably to denote the same thing pertaining to modern biotechnology. In the context of Bangladesh, GM crops and foods are highly debated issue over the last few years. This issue at first drew the attention of Bangladeshi people after the agreement between Monsanto and Grameen Bank in 1998. After many days on 30th October 2013 Government by a notification approved to cultivate Bt. Brinjal then, Bangladesh becomes the first in South Asia to grow a GM food crop. The promoters of GM crops or foods argue that, Bangladesh’s population is increasing rapidly but cultivable land is decreasing @ 1% per year, agriculture is also threatened by adverse impacts of climate change (i.e. salinity, drought, flood, storm), insects and diseases. So high yielding GMOs (e.g. Golden Rice, Bt. Brinjal and GM Banana) will be the miracle solution to meet demands of food production and nutrition. On the other hand, environmentalists allege that, some international companies are trying to deprive Bangladesh from her rich variety of agricultural crops by appropriating and displacing them by introducing their own GM crops, which would make Bangladeshi farmers permanently dependent on them for seeds. Some GM crops may have higher output, but their long term safety for human health, environment and preservation of biodiversity, and their long term viability for the farmers are yet to be firmly established. Eco-feminists are also committed not to sacrifice their seed and food sovereignty for corporate control and profits, as women are primary food-growers and food-givers claim that, alternative lies in women’s hands and minds and demands a paradigm shift from monocultures to diversity and from chemicals to organic.

Previously there were no special laws regulating biotechnology, biosafety and GMOs in Bangladesh even though the country ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (makes provisions to regulate, manage or control risks associated with transfer, handling and use of GMOs/LMOs and products thereof that may have adverse effects on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity) on 5 February, 2004. In 2012 Government has passed The Bio-Safety Rules, in exercising Rules making power delegated under Section 20 of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995. With the passing this Rules, GMOs are no more unregulated in Bangladesh.

This Rules imposes restrictions on import and export of GMOs in rule 3 as ‘no person or institution can import, export, buy, sell or commercially use the Genetically Modified Organism and products thereof, without prior permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forest’. This Rules also provides for mandatory provision for identification or labeling of GMOs in rule 5 as ‘any box or cover, which carries Genetically Modified Organism or Products thereof, shall have detail identification or labeling on it relating to the nature of Genetically Modified Organism or products thereof, which is additional provision, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law regarding this’. This Rules criminalized adverse impacts of GMOs as ‘environmental pollution and damaging the ecosystem’ in the following words ‘if any environmental pollution is created or ecosystem is damaged by the Genetically Modified Organism or Products thereof, the producer institution, exporter, importer, store keeper, supplier and retailer, all shall be liable for the offence of environmental pollution or ecosystem damage, unless he/they proves that he/they does not have direct involvement with such pollution or damage’ (rule 9). The Rules penalize violation of rule 3 & 5 and pollution mentioned in rule 9 as punishable with imprisonment not more than 2 (two) years or fine not more than 10 (ten) thousand Taka or with both (rule 10).

In respect of Biosafety related to GMOs, Bangladesh has developed a Biosafety Guidelines in 2007, which is endorsed by the Biosafety Rules. The Guidelines of 2007 formed the basis of the regulatory framework of monitoring and enforcement processes in respect to Biosafety in Bangladesh and it also structured the institutional frameworks. This Guidelines provides different Biosafety Committees and their composition, powers, functions and responsibilities. Committees are: National Committee on Biosafety (NCB); Biosafety Core Committee (BCC); Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC); and Field Level Biosafety Committee (FBC). Biosafety guidelines are applicable to all research and development activities of modern biotechnology conducted in laboratories of the government research institutes, state enterprises, universities, international organizations located in Bangladesh, private companies or non-governmental organizations.

In accordance with the mandate of National Bio-Safety Framework- 2007, the Government of Bangladesh is now framing a National Biosafety Policy and a GMO Enforcement Manual. As regards the laws of Bangladesh non-compliance is the main problem. These legal provisions should be monitored properly and enforced strictly, so that no one can take advantage of the weak regulatory mechanism of biosafety in Bangladesh.

Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal

LLM Student in International Law at South Asian (SAARC) University, New Delhi, India
Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal is currently pursuing LLM in International Law at South Asian (SAARC) University, New Delhi, India. He serves as an Editor in Chief of the Bangladesh Law Digest (BDLD).
He is more interested to do research on different environmental issues in Bangladesh. He has already written a good number of articles on environment adjudication of Bangladesh and some of them have already been published in various law journals and dailies.