The National Biosafety Authority has approved the release of genetically modified cotton for environmental trials.
This follows the application for the release by Monsanto Kenya Ltd last year, seeking approval for environmental release through the national performance trials.
Monsanto will now be required to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the crop and submit a report to the National Environmental Management Authority for approval of this variety, commonly referred to as Bt cotton.
“We wish to let the public know that the National Biosafety Authority has approved environmental release of the Bt cotton,” said Willy Tonui, the authority’s chief executive.
The authority, however, turned down the request for cultivation and placing in the market the biotech cotton, noting that the approval was limited.
“Whereas the applicant had sought approval for environmental release, cultivation and placing in the market of Bt cotton, the authority has granted limited approval for limited environmental release,” said Mr Tonui (below).
The Bt cotton is insect-resistant and farmers need not use pesticides.
Currently, Kenya is suffering from a serious shortage of cotton, which has seen some factories close down for lack of raw material.
Foreign investors targeted by the government for mass cotton production are reluctant to invest in the venture unless Kenya reverses the ban on genetically modified products as the firms have agreed to commit to the multibillion shilling venture if allowed to grow cotton using biotechnology.
Tumours in rats
The ban on genetically modified crops in the country was made in 2012 when a task force formed by minister for Public Health Beth Mugo declared that the foods were not safe for consumption, basing the decision on earlier studies that linked the crop to cancerous tumours in rats.
But a global scientific journal retracted an article that it had published earlier that linked genetically modified food to cancer, prompting journalists to call for the lifting of the ban.