News Column

EU accused of double standards on GMOs

July 4, 2014

DENNIS ODUNGA -1



Two scientists have accused the European Union of double standards following a warning that they would not accept genetically modified crops (GM) from Kenya should the country adopt the technology.

The scientists faulted the head of the EU delegation to Kenya, Mr Lodewjik Briet, whom they accused of singling out products from African countries "when it is in the public domain that they usually import goods from GM producing countries".

During a recent appearance on Citizen TV's breakfast show, Cheche, Mr Briet said Europe would not accept products cultivated through the GM technology.

Dr Margaret Karembu, a director at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Africentre, said the statement showed double standards.

"Europe is a big importer of GM products. Why should they be against the technology when they have concentrated so much on GM pharmaceuticals?" she said.

The scientist said that warning Kenyans against adopting GM crops was a diversionary tactic aimed at frustrating research and the country's quest to be self-reliant in food production.

"The European Union is targeting African countries for the wrong reasons.

They export so much from countries like Argentina, Brazil and the USA that are well known for GM products," she said.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Thika centre director, Dr Charles Waturu, said Kenya was a victim of trade feuds between Europe and America.

"We can't tie our development to what Europe says," he said.

"Europe and America are fighting over technology and markets and we are just innocent victims of circumstances."

The scientists said that Kenya is grappling with food insecurity and proven technology for production cannot be ignored simply because of opposition from some countries.

"We are the ones suffering from food shortages. We don't want to live in that dependence mode always and keep on relying on relief food because we have accepted to be swayed away by Britain or other foreign countries," said Dr Waturu.

Mr Briet said during a recent Citizen TV's breakfast show, Cheche that Europe would not accept products cultivated through the GMO technology.

He said they had also passed the same message to South Africa, which mainly cultivates GM maize for both local and external markets.

Kenya is on the edge of commercialising GM cotton after a series of research spearheaded by KARI indicated that the technology would save farmers from high production costs.

Under the technology, application of pesticides is reduced from 12 sprays per season to 3 by integrating the GM technology in seeds so that the plants are protected.

KARI is through with the requisite research and all that is remaining is permission from the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to take the crop out of the confined field trials to the farms.

However, the ban on importation of GM food in November 2012 following a cabinet decision that saw the government constitute a taskforce headed by Prof Kihumbu Thairu, has delayed the commercialisation process.

Health Cabinet Secretary, Mr James Macharia told the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, last week that he had received the report from the taskforce that was mandated to investigate the safety of the GM.

Mr Macharia said he had submitted a cabinet memorandum to the Cabinet, which would set the stage for deliberation on whether the ban should be lifted or not.

"The Cabinet has not met. So we cannot share the recommendations put to the Cabinet as doing so will be unconstitutional," Mr Macharia told the committee.

However, Mr Macharia and Prof Thairu hinted that they were not satisfied with the country's capacity to regulate GMO food, a move that implies that their recommendations are highly likely to be that the ban stays.

Prof Thairu said that the National Biosafety Authority, which is the lead regulatory agency for GMOs, concentrates so much on handling of GMOs as opposed to the issue of safety for human consumption.

"Safety procedures in the GMO world are driven by the industry players.

There is no independent evaluation by people without a stake in it, unlike in the medical industry where we have independent evaluations," said Prof Thairu.

He said the GMO technology was not a bad idea but what is lacking and causing controversy is a regulatory framework, which he said does not address safety of GMO foods.

"Every single tablet in the market has been tested for safety for human consumption.

Controversy in the GMO sector is due to lack of a procedure for testing GMO products for human consumption," Prof Thairu said.


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Source: Nation (Kenya)


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