Sunday, March 13, 2011

US pushed for passing of Biosafety Act

A woman during a past protest against GMOs in the city. Sustained pressure by the US led to the speedy enactment of the Biosafety Act. Photo/FILE

A woman during a past protest against GMOs in the city. Sustained pressure by the US led to the speedy enactment of the Biosafety Act. Photo/FILE 

By GATONYE GATHURA [email protected]

Americans were the main force behind the speedy enactment of a law that allowed the introduction of genetically modified crops and products into the country, a diplomatic cable released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has revealed.

A cable sent to the American Secretary of State in March 2009, by US ambassador Michael Ranneberger, just a few days after President Kibaki had signed the Biosafety Act 2009 into law, tells of how use of financial and technical support helped to speed up and overcome opposition to the Bill.

The ambassador’s cable, which was to be widely distributed in Washington, to among others the Department of Commerce, Treasury, Agriculture and agencies responsible for science and technology, tells of how a hesitant Parliament was finally overcome.

The cable from WikiLeaks explains how a USaid-funded programme had created linkages among key national institutions which were used to lobby for the support of the Bill among policy makers, parliamentarians and government agencies.

“A USAID-funded Programme for Biosafety Systems created linkages among key national institutions, thus building support for the Bill among policy makers and biosafety regulatory agencies,” writes the ambassador.

The programme, he says, also provided technical regulatory support to facilitate confined field trials of genetically modified cotton and corn.

Seeds in these programmes have been provided by American multinationals.

International conference

Ranneberger tells how an international conference organised in Nairobi, All Africa Congress on Biotechnology in 2008, by African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, galvanised local proponents.

This was most likely the biggest biotechnology conference ever to have been held in Africa, attracting top representatives from 39 countries and almost all of the Who is Who in Kenyan agriculture.

According to a conference report, the leading international organisations and funders were USaid, United States Department of Agriculture and featuring prominently was the giant American GM seed producer, Monsanto.

The meeting was opened by then Agriculture Minister William Ruto, who explained his desire to see all African countries adopt enabling biotechnology policies.

“I believe the best way to remove poverty and food insecurity is to adopt the adequate technology. If there is no proof of harm from GMOs, we should adopt them because they have a scientific backing,” said the minister at the time.

Mr Ruto said Kenya was already making strides towards embracing biotechnology in food production. He said the proposed legislation to handle biosafety issues would be re-introduced in Parliament in two months’ time.

After that, the Bill progressed with what seemed to be satisfactory speed for the Americans.

“Agriculture minister William Ruto subsequently led the charge in Parliament for passage of a Biosafety Bill, which President Mwai Kibaki signed on February 12,” says the cable.

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