Transgenic GMOs are strictly regulated throughout the continent. No country has yet commercialized any GMO animals, although the issue is widely debated in scientific circles, particularly in those countries with cows that provide both milk and meat. Several nations have either adopted or are in the process of adopting more flexible legislation regulating GMOs and gene-edited organisms, but there is no sign that strict regulation of animal gene editing will be relaxed.
- Nigeria’s 2015 Biosafety Act includes a framework for authorizing the release of GMOs, but does not address gene editing, although lawmakers are considering an amendment on gene editing and gene drives.
- Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) is drafting guidelines to regulate gene-edited products.
- Cows produce more milk: Scientists in Africa and at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health are working to increase the milk yield of African cows.
- Disease-resistant livestock: The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health received funding from the Gates Foundation to work with African researchers to develop chickens resistant to Newcastle disease and cows resistant to East Coast fever.
- Disease-resistant cattle: International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya developed cattle resistant to East Coast fever, one of the major constrains to cattle production in eastern Africa. The institute is also developing cattle resistant to trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease in cows and other animals.
- Heat-tolerant cows: The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health is collaborating with US firm Acceligen and African research institutes to produce African cattle that will better tolerate heat.
- More productive cows and chickens: Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the University of Edinburgh are collaborating with counterparts in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and the United States to develop cows with higher milk production and chickens and cows with higher protein production as well as cows that can tolerate heat better.
- Bringing back northern white rhinos from extinction: The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany is using gene editing to create stem cells from cells biopsied from northern African white rhinos. These stem cells will be used to create test-tube rhinos, which will be carried to term by surrogates from the species’ closest living relative, the southern African white rhino. About 98.5% of white rhinos live in just five countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda).
2019: African Union considers harmonizing biosafety regulations to foster development of biosafety regulatory systems and tools and improve access and utilization by AU member-states.
2019: Nigeria signs amended NBMA Act, which expands the role of the National Biosafety Management Agency.
2018: Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), announces the development of a draft guideline on contained use of transgenic animals.
2016: South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology commissions an expert report on the regulatory implications of New Breeding Techniques (NBTs), although animal breeding was not examined.
2009: Kenya Biosafety Act 2009 passes, which includes clauses on labelling GMOs.
2003: Nigeria ratifies Cartagena Protocol, which protects the transport and use of organisms modified by biotechnology.
2001: Nigeria establishes National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) to promote, commercialize, and regulate biotechnology products.
1998: South Africa’s National Environmental Management Act No. 107 passed, which strictly regulates GMOs with “foreign” DNA (transgenes).
1997: South Africa’s Genetically Modified Organisms Act No. 15 defines a GMO as “an organism the genes or genetic material of which has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally through mating or natural recombination or both” and requires risk and environmental impact assessments.
NGOs, many with connections with European advocacy groups, have been very active throughout Africa in discouraging the adoption of GMOs, and it is expected they will redirect their opposition to gene edited crops as research progresses and various countries consider regulations.
The African Center for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) are among the most vocal opponents of biotechnology on the continent. ACB has proposed indefinite bans on gene editing.
South African lobby group, Biowatch, has argued that genetic engineering is “controversial” with “dubious economic advantages”. Biowatch is funded by multiple anti-GMO organizations, most based in Europe.
In Ghana, scientists urged anti-GMO groups to accept gene editing, but multiple farmer and agriculture organizations, many linked to global and European anti-GMO environmental groups, have supported the government’s decision in 2020 to prohibit GMOs.
Various anti-capitalist advocacy groups in Nigeria, led by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), which has links to global anti-biotechnology groups including Canada’s ETC Group and the London and Boulder, CO-based Global Greengrants Fund, claims that embracing biotechnology will lead to western control of the African food economy.
● Genetic Literacy Project’s FAQ on gene editing