GMO food is not magic bullet but best intervention so far, scientists say

Professor Richard Oduor from Kenyatta University's Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Biotechnology and Dr Joel Ochieng of Nairobi University, assured Kenyans there's nothing to worry about.

"GMOs generally remain safe for humans and the environment," said Prof. Oduor.

He said the genetically modified variety is the BT Maize but not the Roundup-tolerant variety. "The BT stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a species of soil bacteria that produces proteins toxic to certain insects but harmless to humans," he said.

Prof Oduor said that the maize commonly planted in Kenya is susceptible to the stem borer insect which stunts and kills maize, leading to low yields.

He said as bio-scientists, they can identify the gene responsible for the production of the protein in the bacteria and genetically modify the maize from a genetic level to produce or express the same protein innately.

This, in extension, reduces chemical use.

"Common herbicides such as Roundup herbicide which is still in use to kill weeds has been found to cause tumours. Further, insecticides mass sprayed on the maize, kill all insects, including those which don't infest maize or crops," he said.

"Herbicides and insecticides are hence more harmful to the environment and humans. BT crops pose no single safety concern since their introduction close to 40 years ago."

Since the ban on GMO foods was lifted by the government, Kenyans have had varied opinions with some saying there was no public participation.

"Global grain prices show GM maize to be cheaper than non-GM," said Dr Ochieng. "The ban on GM foods had severely affected food prices."

He said that, unknown to many, the ban was lifted in June 2017 by the government following a petition by KUBICO. "The government also allowed for the limited importation of GMO maize in July 2022," said Dr Ochieng.

Prof Oduor said they would rally and ensure supervision and surveillance of proper labelling as provided for in the Biosafety Act to allow consumers to make informed choices.