According to a study undertaken in 2018 by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) under the National Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programme, out of the 1,139 food samples taken, 530 (46.53 per cent) had pesticide traces.
Many of the pesticides detected are known to have negative chronic effects on health and environment.
Yet for a long time, we have lived in some sort of fool's paradise. We eat with little care about the safety of our food, especially regarding pesticide residue contamination.
While other countries have put in place stringent laws and standards to protect their citizens, we fail to implement structured mechanisms of ensuring that the food products Kenyans eat are safe.
As one of the Kenyans who have petitioned Parliament to withdraw certain toxic pesticides from our market, I wish to respond to the casual dismissal of our concerns by Okisegere Ojepat in his article titled, “Leave politics out of our food production” published in The Standard on January 21, 2020.
Our petition to Parliament, currently before the National Assembly Committee on Health, calls on the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) to withdraw some of the active ingredients that have been found to have negative effects on humans.
There is evidence to show these pesticides are carcinogenic (can cause cancer), interfere with genetic make-up (mutagenic), interfere with the hormonal systems (endocrine disruptors), interfere with the nervous system (neurotoxic) and others show clear negative effects on reproduction.
Some of the pesticides have a long-term environmental persistence and are harmful to bees and fish.
The petitioners are not “throwing around the word cancer” to scare people, but are relying on the evidence of studies done on these pesticide active ingredients and their relationship with various illnesses.
The studies prove chronic health effects are a real possibility.
The article suggests that the petition asks for a total ban of all “plant protection products”. Far from it! The petitioners have emphasised that it is 235 products (out of 862 registered products) that contain active ingredients that have been removed from the European market.
That is 27 per cent that we need to consider as a priority because of their health effects, environmental persistence, high toxicity towards fish or bees or due to the fact that there is insufficient data to prove definitively that there is no harm to humans or nature.
Europe is not one country, it is an alliance of 27 individual countries who have decided to protect their citizens from chemical exposure.
It is malicious to insinuate that petitioners have “employed a Women’s Rep to petition Parliament for a wholesale banning of hundreds of pesticides.” Gladys Boss Shollei, the Eldoret Woman Rep, understands the issue and the negative implications of these pesticides and championed the petition in order to protect fellow Kenyans.
The petitioners’ approach is neither “populist” nor “ignorant” or intolerant of “divergent information and views”. Evidence that informed the withdrawal of the said products is based on peer reviewed scientific studies done on the specific active ingredients, which concluded that they have negative chronic effects on human health and environment.
The EU’s decision was informed by the precautionary principle. And, if they are bad for Europeans, they are also bad for Kenyans, and everyone for that matter.
Notably, not all pesticides have been withdrawn in Europe, only the dangerous ones. Change of mode of assessment, whether risk-based or hazard-based, does not make a dangerous chemical safe.
It is the studies undertaken on those active ingredients’ impact that informed their withdrawal, not the mode of assessment.
Indeed, it is imperative that PCPB adopts the stricter hazard-based assessment when registering products and we should maintain this approach in the process of reviewing and putting our house in order when it comes to agrochemicals.
Let us not confuse Kenyans about the intent of the petition. It is presented by concerned citizens with utmost good faith and with no conflict of interest. It calls for withdrawal of specific active ingredients that have negative effects on human health and environment.
It is not a political call but a responsible, moral and patriotic one to relevant authorities to protect Kenyans.
The process so far gives us hope that our MPs will be judicious in assessing the evidence presented before them and guide on the way forward, contrary to Mr Ojepat’s insinuation that they are a gathering of ignoramuses.
Mr Kiarii is the CEO of Kenya Organic Agriculture Network