All GM foods and crop imports to be vetted, assures regulator

All bioengineered or genetically modified (GM) foods and crops imported into the country for consumption by Kenyans will be vetted for safety, the government has assured.

The National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the primary regulatory agency responsible for ensuring the safety of GM products in the country, says it will make sure that foods that are bioengineered ingredients meet the same strict safety and health standards as all other foods for human consumption.

Kenya recently lifted a decades-old ban on GM crops in response to the worst drought to affect the East African region in 40 years, with authorities hoping it will improve crop yields and food security.

"On October 3, 2022, the Cabinet lifted a 10-year ban on importation, cultivation
and use of GM foods in Kenya, thereby opening the gates for any person wishing to deal in products derived from GMOs to do so in fidelity to the guidelines of the National Biosafety Authority," said NBA Chief Executive Roy Mugiira in a notice.

Under the NBA guidelines, a person shall not import into Kenya a genetically modified organism without the written approval of the authority.

"The authority shall communicate its final decision of approval or rejection of the application to the applicant, within one hundred and fifty days of the receipt of the application but not earlier than 90 days of such receipt," said the regulator in the notice. 

Breaches attract hefty jail terms of up to 10 years and penalties of up to Sh2 million or both.

The authority charges up to Sh850,000 for releasing GM products into the environment and Sh50,000 to import. 

Most GM plants are used to make ingredients that are then used in other food products.

Some popular GM-linked foods include Maize (corn), soybeans, potatoes, papayas, pineapples and apples, among others.

Nairobi has been under pressure from GM-dealing firms to allow access to their products, and the latest approval provides a huge market for such players, especially American companies which are the world’s biggest producers of GM crops.

Kenya had been reluctant to approve the import or planting of GM food crops since November 2012 amid an ongoing debate about their safety despite being touted to have several advantages such as higher yields and resistance to drought and pests.

The move had restricted the sale of products from US companies such as DowDuPont Inc and Monsanto, which have been seeking potential new markets like Kenya.

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