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Genetically modified food imports an abomination

Wednesday May 13 2009

By RACHAEL WAKIO

The wave of civilisation witnessed in the last 200 years is a direct result of the application of science and technology. From communications and travel to construction and manufacturing, the juggernaut marches on. But throw in food and the situation becomes very ugly.

The science of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was devised to usher in a new era of food sufficiency the world over. Instructively, the masses edging the scientists forward did not know that it is not the work of science to determine what we eat, why we eat, when we eat or even how we eat.

From time immemorial, food has been about sustenance, health, culture and religion. The four have marched hand-in- hand from the Stone Age. And the age of the silicon chip is not about to stop it simply because it can’t.

Let us look at what this means to Kenya in our present circumstances.

FIRST, IT IS NO LONGER A SECRET that some politicians have connived to import and dump into the country GMO maize in the guise of mitigating the effects of famine.

Early this week, Public Health minister Beth Mugo told the country that the contaminated maize had already been condemned by her ministry, and that it was not even fit for animals. She also said the maize was hurried from the port in the secrecy of darkness. .

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Forget about the Kenya Biosafety Act, which was signed into law two months ago. The Kenya Biosafety Authority, the supposed regulator stipulated in the Act, is not even in place.

Right now, we only have a small body known as the National Biosafety Committee in the Ministry of Higher Education pretending to do the work the authority is supposed to do.

Simply put, the committee, which is staffed by bureaucrats, does not have the wherewithal to do the work of a key national regulatory authority. Food is a universal product and Kenyans have the right to know exactly where they are being taken by GMO proponents.

Indeed, they were supposed to be asked if they wanted GMO technology in the first place. This did not happen. They were not even told what the whole technology was all about. As a result, there are many sections of society in Kenya who are at risk of GMOs.

Intermixing of genes from various plants or animals into another element means that any Kenyan with an allergy to a certain substance will no longer know what he or she is eating. This is a grave danger because medical studies have proved that some allergies can be fatal.

If you are allergic to pumpkins, how will you know that the maize flour at the supermarket is not derived from maize with genes extracted from a pumpkin to enhance its nutrient content?What about the Muslim who will not know what product contains the gene of a pig? What about the Hindu who will not eat cow products?

This technology can remove a gene of a horse and plant it in sorghum, which has actually been done successfully. The prospect that we face today is that the cultural and religious contexts of food as we know them are being altered in laboratories.

Besides religious freedoms and other sacrosanct cultural tenets, the proliferation of GMOs will bring about unprecedented health complications.

Let us ask ourselves why advanced economies like China, France, Germany and Canada have banned GMOs. Why are these economies citing regulatory problems, and yet they are light years ahead of us in terms of capacity?

IN THE WORLD OF PHARMACEUTIC-als where genetic technology is rampant, we have already seen individuals developing resistance to medicine because of constant use of GMO-induced drugs.

In GMO, chemical implants are introduced into plant and animal genes to enhance their capacity to fight insects and infections. Bringing the same technology to farming means that we will be eating chemical-laden food every day, thus creating even greater resistance to drugs.

We have not even mentioned peasant farmers, who, thanks to the terminator technology, will be at the mercy of seed manufacturing conglomerates. Hasn’t anyone in high office realised that we have just made an awful decision?

Ms Wakio works with an international development agency in Nairobi.

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