News Column

Authority put under microscope as GM goods land on Kenyan shelves

July 11, 2014

Ramenya Gibendi -1

The National Biosafety Authority's mandate is on the spot after a total of 12 popular food products in the country were found to contain more than the allowed limit of GMO content.

The authority, which is charged with preventing entry of genetically modified products into the country through port and border controls, had submitted 25 samples to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service Kephis for testing.

"The screening method used indicates presence or absence of genetic modification and not specific modification or their relative quantities," reads a sample conclusion letter from Kephis to the biosafety authority.

While only three products were found to contain the un-required GM quantity in the first tests, the authority said the rest will be subjected to further examination though they are equally suspicious.

"In the next two or three weeks, we should get results of the remaining nine but for now we are treating them as containing suspicious GM quantities," said an executive of the authority who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Most of the suspicious products are popular cereals, food additives, cooking oil, and maize flour, underlining the possibility that many Kenyans could be consuming genetically modified foodstuffs.

The lab tests from Kephis show that out of seven maize flour samples, 5 are suspected to contain genetic modification while one was found to be contaminated thus faces potential prosecution.

Soko maize flour

The biosafety authority has so far initiated steps to institute charges against makers of popular maize flour Soko.

It has written to the directorate of Criminal Investigations Ndegwa Muhoro to further investigate Thika-based Capwel Industries, the maize flour maker, to pave the way for the prosecution of the firm and its owners.

"The authority conducts random sampling and testing of imports. If a consignment is suspected to contain GMO or is voluntarily submitted, the importer is charged Sh10,000 for analysis but you know random sampling is not water tight," said the biosafety authority management.

It is also pursuing importers of Bokomo, a grain and oatmeal cereal made in the UK and which tested GMO positive. The product is imported by Baba Dogo-based Debenham & Fear Limited.

Maggi chicken seasoning produced by Nestle is also under the watch of the authority as tests declared it suspicious.

The law requires that all goods containing GM ingredients be approved by the authority. Only products with undetectable or less than one per cent GM content are exempted from labelling.

Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) has, however, urged the government to lift the ban on GM technology arguing that studies from credible institutions have proved that GM is safe.

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Source: Nation (Kenya)

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