News Column

Kenya Is Not Ready to Deal With GMOs

August 20, 2014

Patrick Wangamati

Is Kenya ready for genetically modified crops? No.

Going by the findings of the task force appointed by Health Secretary James Macharia to review matters related to GMO and food security, there was a hint of caution on Kenya's capacity to handle GM food imports.

The task force concluded, "looking at the current situation, the country has some capacity to handle and monitor GM food imports". Yet went on to caution, "the capacity to detect GMOs is separate and distinct from ability to assess the safety of GMOs".

It's clear that safety testing for human consumption has not been provided for in the regulations outlining the mandate of the National Biosafety Authority nor approval procedures for the import of GM foods.

The proponents of GMOs are concerned about food security. They argue that GM crops have the potential to end hunger and malnutrition.

Food insecurity is caused by low productivity, post-harvest losses, over-reliance on rain, climate change, increasing food prices and land tenure. On the other hand food availability depends on production, storage, exchange of food or availability of social protection measures and transport infrastructure.

If hunger is driving Kenya to embrace GM foods, then producers of GM foods do not produce for consumption rather for processing and animal feeds. Even if GM foods were introduced today, they would not be a solution to hunger.

Japan, which is behind the Nagoya Protocol that is supplementary to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2010, called for GMOs to be denounced, proscribed and outlawed indefinitely.

The 2010 special report by the Consumers Union of Japan stated, "this clearly indicates that introducing genetically modified canola is a big mistake, with unknown effects, and threats to the local biological diversity in Japan".

The report says independent laboratories confirmed that Round up Ready and Basta tolerant types of GMOs were among types found growing wild as a result of the import of canola from North America.

India's parliamentary Committee on Agriculture of 2011-2012 reported that, "there have been 7,992 farmers' suicides in the region of Vidharbha from 2006 to 2011 due to indebtedness and other problems caused by sowing of Bt cotton as the contributing factor".

"The committee strongly feels that given the reach and spread of outside containment applications of modern biotechnology viz cultivation of GM crops on commercial scale, containment of harm would be a very challenging task even for some of the most well-equipped developed countries and simply impossible in a country like India", the report recommended.

Monsanto, an American agribusiness corporation, has become infamous over the years for many human rights violations, lies and omissions in its quest for more and more markets and profits.

On February 22, 2002, Monsanto was found guilty of poisoning the town of Anniston, Alabama, with their PCB factory and covering up. In Indonesia, Monsanto is said to have given bribes and questionable payments to at least 140 officials, attempting to get their GM cotton accepted.

Monsanto's brand of herbicide is called Roundup. It was found that two labs conducting safety studies for Monsanto were indulging in routine falsification of data.

A paper on Giving Away Indian Agriculture on a platter released in 2010 reported, "Monsanto is paying researchers to ask questions that its most interested in having answered".

In April, France banned Monsanto's MON810 - the only crop allowed in the EU - after the French Parliament adopted a law prohibiting the cultivation of any variety of GM corn or maize, including those approved for growth by the EU, citing environmental risks.

Maize production in Kenya has been below consumption levels since 2006, due to inadequate rain, disease and shortage of certified seed. Maize, the most important staple food in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, feeds more than 300 million people on the continent, most of them vulnerable.

The task force notes that global GM crop production focuses on two traits; herbicide tolerance and insect pest resistant. Food assurance for Kenya will arise from access to safe, affordable foods in spite of changing weather patterns.

The Nagoya Protocol set to come into force on October 12. However, Kenya has not ratified it.

The NBA is emphatic on having functional offices at points of entry and exit. However, it is plagued by several challenges such as public awareness, inadequate capacity and high cost of infrastructure to detect GMOs.

There is also low appreciation of biotechnology and biosafety by information and communication agents, low technology literacy levels among stakeholders and inadequacies in the appreciation of the value of biotechnology and biosafety information.

Proponents of GMOs have to consider other ways of addressing food security.

Patrick Wangamati is a nominated MP, a member of the parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, and chairman of the Luhya Elders Forum.

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Source: AllAfrica

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