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State under pressure to lift ban on genetically modified foods

By Jackson Okoth | November 10th 2014
Shoppers at a supermarket in Nairobi.

Nairobi; Kenya: The European Union (EU) has given its stamp of approval to biotechnology and use of genetically modified (GM) foods, urging the Kenya Government to lift the ban on GM food imports.

The union has in the past threatened to lock out genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its market in what it now says has been miscommunication. GMOs are products of Modern Biotechnology that involve the manipulation of the genetic material of organisms through genetic engineering procedures.

According to Richard Oduor from Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (Kubico) there are over 58 GMO products that can be exported into the EU. "We also have the regulatory framework, research facilities and what is still lacking is Government goodwill," he said.

Mr Oduor made the remarks on the sidelines of a forum that attracted researchers, policy makers, parliamentarians from relevant parliamentary committees and the private sector. The forum was organised by Kubico in collaboration with the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB-Kenya).

Legal framework

The European Union Head of delegation to Kenya, Briet Lodewijk, presented perspectives on the EU GMO legal framework and use, as academicians and policy makers deliberated on Kenya's capacity to develop and regulate GM technology and its products.

Participants at the meeting heard that contrary to popular belief, EU is one of the strongest users of Biotechnology and GM crops. European countries have adopted GMO drugs such as insulin, while countries like Spain, Czech Republic and Slovakia grow GM maize.

The European commission as well as leading scientific regulatory bodies in various European countries has declared biotechnology, and in particular GM crops, to be as safe as their conventional counterparts.

But a section of farmers are still apprehensive about GM crops even with the presence of such watchdog bodies as the National Biosafety Authority. The Authority was established in 2009 by the Biosafety Act No 2 of 2009 to exercise general supervision and control over the transfer, handling and use of GMOs.

"Our local scientists are yet to verify that imported GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption as well as environment, says Kenya National Farmers Federation CEO John Mutunga.

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