Scientists oppose move to have MPs legislate GMO field trials

Thursday May 26 2016

Activists representing organic movements stage peaceful protests in Nakuru on October 16, 2015 to mark World Food Day and press the government to tighten biosafety regulations to deter against health risks that might arise from consumption of Genetically Modified Organisms. FILE PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Activists representing organic movements stage peaceful protests in Nakuru on October 16, 2015 to mark World Food Day and press the government to tighten biosafety regulations to deter against health risks that might arise from consumption of Genetically Modified Organisms. FILE PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By OUMA WANZALA
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Biotechnology experts have opposed plans to transfer the function of approving field trials for GMO products from the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to Parliament.

The Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBICO) said the Natural Resources (Classes of Transactions Subject to Ratification) Bill before the Senate is seeking to usurp the powers of NBA, which is the lead regulatory agency for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

The Bill that proposes a raft of changes to the management of natural resources in the country was passed by the National Assembly and forwarded to the Senate for consideration in accordance with the law, because it also affects counties.

MPs want to have an input in scrutinising the GMO transactions, to protect the environment, natural resources, and ensure that people make maximum benefit from the resources.

The Consortium’s secretary General, Joel Ochieng, said the Senate should expunge Material Transfer Agreements and Field Trials from the list of transactions that require parliamentary approval.

The scientists drawn mainly from the University of Eldoret, Egerton, Kenyatta, Maseno, and the University of Nairobi were speaking in Nairobi on Thursday.

“Material Transfer Agreements are done on a weekly basis amongst scientists and the institutions we collaborate with to enhance research and teaching, unnecessary delays will be inevitable if we have to wait for the MPs approval,” Dr Ochieng said.

Dr Ochieng who is an agricultural biotechnology researcher at the University of Nairobi said the intention of the Bill as it is, is to scuttle local innovation at the expense of foreign multinational companies.

“Why would anyone want to scuttle local research, development and final cultivation of genetic crops and animals, but remains mum on importation?” Dr Ochieng asked.

Prof Richard Mulwa, Director of Research Training Management at Egerton University said if enacted without amendments, efforts to improve food security in the country will be compromised as it will be impossible to conduct research.

“The bill will make it easier to import finished products of GM crops than to develop and cultivate them locally,” Prof Mulwa observed.

He said the government has a duty to support training of biotechnology courses that are being funded by taxpayers, particularly in public universities by ensuring graduates access opportunities.

Early this year, the NBA approved National Performance Trials for drought-tolerant and insect protected GM maize, as the researchers strive to clear doubts over safety concerns of GM products.