Move to shield Kenyans from GM maize
Appointment of officers at the Biosafety Authority signals efforts to come up with procedures guiding the importation and exportation of genetically modified organisms in the country.
Kenyans might soon be shielded from harmful genetically modified maize and other products following the appointment of officers at the National Biosafety Authority.
The new team is expected to come up with procedures guiding the importation and exportation of genetically modified organisms in the country.
In the latest issue of the Kenya Gazette, Dr Sally Kosgei, who until last week was the minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, has appointed seven people to serve in the board of the Authority, effectively setting in motion the efforts.
A fortnight ago, following the discovery of GM maize at the port of Mombasa, it emerged that Kenyans have been eating genetically modified maize for three years now. A report by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service for the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture says of 11 vessels that brought maize to Mombasa between 2008 and 2009, five had contaminated cargo.
The revelations came in the wake of sensational claims by Committee chairman and Naivasha MP, John Mututho, that 30,000 tonnes of GMO maize were being offloaded at the Mombasa port from South Africa.
In the notice, Dr Kosgei, who has since been transferred to the Agriculture docket, appointed Prof Miriam Kinyua as the chairperson of the Authority. Others appointed as members were: Grace Thitai, Prof Moses Limo, Otula Owuor, Dorcas Kamunya, Wiily Bett and Jitendra Shah. They were appointed to serve for three years.
The appointments means that the National Biosafety Committee which has been executing its activities under the National Council for Science and Technology, comes to an end and its mandate left to the new body.
Also the appointments at the agency charged with co-ordinating biotechnology and biosafety issues in the country come at a time when the government has been complicit in enforcing measures to safeguard the population.
The Kephis report, for instance, indicts the government. It says most of the maize was imported on behalf of the government, especially under the emergency maize importation to counter last year’s hunger that was declared a national disaster in January by President Mwai Kibaki.
Mr Mututho argued that regulatory authorities only react after being prodded yet they are the custodians of the people’s safety.
Higher Education, Science and Technology minister, William Ruto had denied any existence of GM maize in the country while in charge of Agriculture.
“Until we develop our own local variety, no GM food will be imported here,” he was quoted as saying last year.
Mr Ruto, a proponent of using biotechnology to improve productivity, has been moved to the ministry charged with spearheading efforts to come up with efficient, but safe, technologies of producing food in the country.
He has on several occasions gone on record in support of GMO technology, saying the dominance by genetically modified maize is frustrating government efforts in sourcing for imports in key international markets to cover for local production deficits.
Last year, the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition and some members of the civil society raised fears that Kenyans could be consuming GMOs unknowingly. The biodiversity group had claimed relief supplies from donor countries could be genetically modified since they are reported to have a high rate of contamination.
The Authority, established under the Biosafety Act, implements the Cartagena protocol on Biosafety in order to address safety for the environment and human health in relation to modern biotechnology. It’s mandated to promote awareness and education among the general public in matters relating to biosafety.
Kenya was the first country to sign up the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety when it was opened for signatures in 2000. Ratification followed in 2003, and the Biosafety Bill was drafted in 2005 to bring Kenya’s law and practice in line with the protocol. Late 2008, the Bill was passed through by Parliament and signed into law on February 12, 2009 by the President.