The Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) has succumbed to public pressure and withdrawn the processing of its controversial draft regulations meant to regulate the industry.
The regulations numbering about nine were withdrawn before they could be presented to the National Assembly for approval, in line with the Statutory Instruments Act of 2013, which states that all subsidiary laws generated by government agencies must be adopted by MPs.
In a short statement on Monday, KDB Managing Director Margaret Kibogy said the suspension will allow consultations and further public participation.
“It is noted that some comments made through various media outlets are misinterpretations of facts and intentions of the regulations. We wish to inform stakeholders that the processing of the regulations has been suspended to allow for consultations,” Ms Kibogy said.
The regulations, described as offensive by a section of industry players, civil society organisations and political leaders, provide that a person shall not sell, offer for sale or expose for consumption, any milk in raw form.
And in the absence of processors, farmers will take their milk to cooling facilities.
The application essentially means that a farmer will not be allowed to sell fresh milk to neighbours, hawkers and other consumers without processing at farm gates, a move that stifles family incomes and increase liabilities of registration and licensing to engage in the trade.
Currently, farmers sell their milk in raw form to supplement their earnings, creating employment for distributors.
Those opposed to the laws say they are akin to empowering established dealers to collect milk from the gates of farmers at choice prices based on their own assessment of quality, as they are the ones with the capabilities to pasteurise the product.
But those who defy the regulations risk a fine of at least Sh500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both.
Even as the KDB pulled back, Githunguri MP Gabriel Mukuha said the application will stifle the rights of farmers at the expense of established entities.
“I will be the first to oppose the proposed laws when they come to parliament because they are not friendly to our farmers,” Mr Mukuha, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, said at parliament buildings on Monday.
Stephen Mutoro, Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) Secretary-General, described the regulations as outrageous, noting the mandate of safety and packaging rests under the domain of Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS), not the board.
“KDB appears to imagine that traditional ways of treating milk, such as boiling, do not meet its threshold. This is wishful thinking,” Mr Mutoro said, adding there is no evidence that KDB supervises safety.
"It imagines rather wrongly and without basis, that fresh milk sold at the so- called milk ATMs in supermarkets is safer than that what is sold directly without dispensers."
According to Mr Mutoro, demanding that only those who can pasteurise milk be allowed to sell it will result in discrimination against farmers and consumers.
“When this happens, many farmers will decide not to continue with small scale commercial dairy farming. This will create a shortage and eventually lead to the importation of powdered milk, whose preservative chemical composition is more unsafe, especially for young children.”
The regulations also provide that milk may only be sold in bulk through organised groups of farmers, which may include but are not limited to cooperatives or registered companies authorised by the board to sell raw milk, as long as this is not to consumers.
The regulations also provide for a strict licensing regime that requires the dairy board to inspect whether any person taking part in the storage, handling, distribution or sale of licensed produce is suffering from any infectious or contagious disease.
They also provide for checking of the cleanliness of a person as well as his or her clothes.
Milk bar owners were to pay Sh3,000 in annual fees, mini dairy and dispenser owners Sh6,000, cottage industries Sh4,000 and processors handling below 100,000 liters per day Sh25,000.
Those handling more than 100,000 liters per day were to pay Sh50,000 and distributors Sh25,000.