Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Biosafety boss sacked in import row

By GATONYE GATHURA gathura@ke.nationmedia.com

A chief executive has been sacked for allowing the importation of genetically modified food.

Dr Roy Mugiira of the National Biosafety Authority was sacked last Thursday over the illegal importation of corn-soy blended relief food.

The authority’s chairperson, Prof Miriam Kinyua said Dr Mugiira had in March written to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service advising them to allow the World Food Programme to import emergency food from the US without being tested.

Normally imports from the US and South Africa, some of the world’s major producers of genetically modified maize and soya, arouse suspicion requiring that they be tested and the importers declare their genetic status.

The regulatory authorities say this was never done while the importers claim they have always followed the law to the letter.

According to Prof Kinyua, the authorisation for the plant inspectorate to issue import permits should not have been done by the chief executive, but by the board.

“We found this to be a breach of regulations and hence we have dismissed the officer.”

Dr Mugiira, declined to comment yesterday, saying “the issue is being handled by relevant authorities.”

However, he said he handed over his responsibilities to a colleague last week and would report back to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology.

The plant inspectorate Coast regional representative James Wahome said they had since cancelled 61 import permits issued to the World Food Programme.

The UN food relief agency has denied any wrong doing. Mrs Rose Ogola, its public information officer in Kenya said the organisation had never tried to bring any genetically modified food illegally.

It is also suspected that huge amounts of contaminated relief food from the US have been let in.

Anxiety has been heightened at the biosafety authority by a recent demand from Cabinet and parliament’s agriculture committee for a comprehensive report on the status of genetically modified organisms in Kenya.

Committee chairman John Mututho’s claim that they had taken maize samples from several consignments at the Mombasa port for testing abroad sent the biosafety authority officials looking into their closets and coming out with “incriminating evidence”.

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