Food safety debate dominates event on biological weapons

Debate on food safety dominated a workshop on the control of biological weapons as Kenya assured that it had adopted measures against harmful organisms.

Participants at the conference in Mombasa heard that the government had mandated the National Commission of Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) to carry out continuous surveillance against the weaponisation of biological agents.

The workshop was organised by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in collaboration with Kenya's National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and sought to, among other things, boost preparedness and response to deliberate biological threats.

Participants were told Kenya was alive to the fact that viruses, bacteria and various toxins can be used by terrorists and criminals.

"The recent construction and inauguration of the National Forensic Lab at the Directorate of Criminal Investigation is a demonstration of great efforts towards enhancing national security," Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said when he opened the conference on Tuesday, October 18, 2022.

Debate on food safety dominated a workshop on the control of biological weapons as Kenya assured that it had adopted measures against harmful organisms. [iStockphoto]

In line with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), Prof Magoha said Kenya had joined more than 180 countries in adopting practices aimed at mitigating threats posed by biological weapons.

Besides enhancing security and vetting scientists, Kenya demonstrated commitment to the BWC by hosting representatives from 14 countries in Mombasa for the two-day workshop to come up with mechanisms to counter threats posed by biological weapons.

Kenya has adopted a multi-agency approach, by involving ministries and departments including the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, Government Chemist, National Defence University, Egerton University, Office of the President and National Biosafety Authority.

Other agencies brought on board include Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.

Citing the Covid-19 pandemic, the CS emphasised that biological weapons were a major threat just like chemical and nuclear weapons.

If misused, biological weapons can lead to food shortages and other catastrophes.

"The question that should be at the back of everyone's mind is, how safe is the sukuma wiki (kale) we consume? There is also concern that some of the flour brands could be containing aflatoxins, which are harmful to human health," said Prof Walter Oyawa, NACOSTI director general.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula promised that Kenya will domesticate all conventions and treaties. Article 2(6) of the Constitution states: "Any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the law of Kenya under this Constitution,"

Wetangula expressed disappointment at the slow pace of implanting BWC due lack of mandatory transparency measures and a dedicated monitoring organ.

"It is alleged there are no specific measures set up by the BWC to verify compliance with the obligation not to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain biological agents or toxins for hostile purposes," he said in a speech read on his behalf by Ugenya MP David Ochieng.

A review of the convention reveals that parties are not obliged to declare biological agents or toxins used in non-prohibited activities.

"Parties are not obliged to declare all laboratories engaged in research and development of substances that could be used as agents of warfare," he said.

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