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Trade CS Moses Kuria under fire


Trade, Investment & Industry CS nominee Moses Kuria. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Trade and Investments Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria is facing backlash for a statement he made rationalizing the importation of Genetically Modified maize, which seemed to suggest that the government was unconcerned about their safety.

Kuria said that there were many things that are killing Kenyans, and adding GMOs would not really worsen the situation.

"Being in this country you are a candidate for death. And because there are many things competing for death, there is nothing wrong with adding GMOs to that list. That is why we are deliberately allowing GMOs into this country," Kuria said at Strathmore University.

The government followed up the lifting of the ban on GMO maize in October with the announcement that 10 million bags of maize would be imported into the country tax-free in the next six months.

But if Kenyans were already worried about the safety of consuming genetically modified maize, the Trade CS fanned the flame by referring to the maize as just another on a list of things that will kill Kenyans.

While his quip drew laughter from his audience at the university, that was as far as the joke went.

The statement has fanned anxiety in Kenyans, even as he said that the government saw GMOs as an immediate fix to the country's food insecurity.

There was a bipartisan condemnation of both Kuria's statement and the importation of maize, with the concern loudest among members of the Opposition as well as anti-GMO lobby groups.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei's immediate concern was the effect maize importation would have on maize harvests in North Rift and the drops in prices.

"CS Moses Kuria is at his usual element but our Rift Valley farmers are currently harvesting maize, the importation of maize should stop until the government has mopped up all this year's crop and avoid lowering prices that don't match the inputs incurred by maize farmers," Cherargei said.

But away from Cherargei, the sentiment was grimmer. One that painted a picture of death and disease from the consumption of the maize.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna thought that it was expected of Kuria to make the statement as he did.

"If you are shocked by anything Moses Kuria says or does, you are the problem. Kula tu GMO ukufe (Just eat GMO and die)," he said.

His colleagues in Parliament, Homa Bay Town Member of National Assembly Peter Kaluma and Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina saw things as Sifuna did.

Kaluma saw a foreign hand in the government's quick action on GMO maize importation.

"President Ruto is under pressure from the West to allow the dumping of GMO products in Kenya. This is an African country sitting along the tropics with fertile arable soil and enough rain to produce adequate natural food," he said.

Ledama's was an appeal to Kenyans not to let the government's decision stand.

"If a cabinet secretary can say they have deliberately decided to allow GMOs into the country to kill people, should we really fall into their trap?" said Ledama. "This is absolutely ludicrous!"

The biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya said it was disheartened by the announcement.

The organisation said that the importation and introduction of GM maize is going to interfere with the rights of consumers directly.

Anne Maina, BIBA National Coordinator said the government should ensure that mechanism for approved labelling for all genetically modified food is done to ensure our people choose whether to consume genetically modified food.

The lobby group is asking the government to drop the GMO maize importation plan and consider a non-GMO food importation arrangement.

Maina further said that the government should put in place a robust institutional capacity to carry out risk and food safety assessments before the introduction of GMOs and any other related questionable technologies.

"Food security starts with food safety, we ask that the government exhausts all other known safe food options before they can think of GMOs," she said.

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