The National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) is mandated to implement the Biosafety Act, 2006 (Act no. 7, 2006) which provides for measures to regulate activities that involve the research & development, production, marketing, importation, transportation, and trans-boundary movement of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
The NCRST is established in terms of the Research Science and Technology Act, 2004 (Act no.23 of 2004) and started operations in July of 2013. Ever since its inception the NCRST has taken the mandate to implement the Biosafety Act seriously and escalated it to the very top of its agenda. Establishing a robust Biosafety Framework as provided for in the Biosafety Act requires a holistic approach which will ensure that the entire nation is protected against the potential threat that GMOs may pose to the environment, also taking into account human and animal health. This necessitated the formation of a Biosafety secretariat which is tasked to handle all administrative matters pertaining to GMO regulation.
Section 5 of the Biosafety Act provides for formation of the Biosafety Council whose functions are, amongst others to investigate and consider applications for permits to deal with GMOs, consider and decide on applications for the registration of facilities where specified classes of dealings with GMOs are required to be carried out, issue technical and procedural guidelines in relation to GMOs and biosafety, provide information and advice to the public in relation to the regulation of GMOs, and undertake or promote research in connection with risk assessment and the biosafety of GMOs. In its short period of existence the NCRST has expedited the establishment of the Biosafety Council, which was fully constituted in September of 2014. The formation of the Council was an important milestone which allowed for commencement of a national process that would see the drafting of Biosafety regulations and full implementation of a national Biosafety framework.
The Biosafety regulations are important for enforcing the Biosafety Act. As Biosafety matters affect a wide range of stakeholders and the general public at large, it was necessary for the NCRST to seek input from all affected parties. A consultative process was thus launched in September 2014 and comprised of public workshops and one-one meetings with key stakeholders. After conclusion of the stakeholder engagements the Biosafety regulations were drafted and are now undergoing final review by legal experts. Once complete, the regulations will be submitted to Minister for approval and Gazetting.
In the meantime the NCRST is not resting on its laurels to get the Biosafety framework up and running once the regulations come into force. To this effect the NCRST is acquiring human resources that will strengthen the Biosafety secretariat, establishing a Biosafety Inspectorate that will monitor all GMO activities in the country, and building the capacity of Biosafety Council members in order for them to carry out the responsibilities endowed upon them through the Biosafety Act effectively.
The public is assured that the NCRST is committed to building a Biosafety Framework that is robust and protects our national biodiversity as well as human and animal health, taking into account issues such as socio-economic impacts inclusive of food security.