Kenya: Last week’s promise by members of the European Union (EU) that they would allow genetically modified foods from Kenya into their region may have been premature, with the European Parliament taking a new vote on Tuesday.
The new vote will give EU individual states the power to limit cultivation or importation of the controversial GM crops into their territory even if they have been approved by the 28-nation bloc.
Last Friday, Dominique Davoux on behalf of the head of the European delegation to Kenya Briet Lodewijk, had said such crops would be welcome in the EU region provided they met the necessary requirements.
Lodewjik was recanting a statement he had made in June warning Kenyan farmers that the union would not allow GMO exports into the region. But the new vote removes the decision making from the commission, meaning Kenya or any other country will have to engage with individual’s EU states, many of them opposed to GMOs.
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Lodewijk’s retraction followed a five-month period of intense pressure from American-funded pro-GMO groups that saw them petition the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
The ambassador’s problems started in June when, in a local morning TV show, he warned that the EU would not accept GMO products from Kenya or from anywhere else in the region.
This prompted the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) to lead a delegation to the EU headquarters in Belgium to petition that Lodewijk be made to retract the statement.
ISAAA, an International NGO, has three centres globally in Kenya, the Philippines and the ISAAA Ameri Centre located in New York, which serves as the global administrative and financial headquarters of the agency.
It is funded by the Americans through USAID, private seed giants of Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, Sygenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred, two European banks and a host of other sources.
The delegation, according to a statement released by ISAAA Nairobi, was led by its director Dr Margret Karembu. Others were MPs Kareke Mbiuki, Florence Mutua and Pukose Satia.
The statement says the team had expressed their concerns to the EU Chief Scientific Advisor Prof Anne Glover over Ambassador Lodewijk’s comments.
The delegation seems to have won then, with Lodewijk calling them for a meeting last month that was also attended by Dr Wilson Songa, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Industrialisation.
“The way forward is for the ambassador to participate in a press conference where the same media house that aired the statement plus the spill-over media especially vernacular radio stations that aired the story would have an opportunity to develop a factual story on the same,” says the statement.
However, the ambassador seems to have managed to partially wriggle out of the trap at the last minute, choosing to be represented at the press conference last Friday by one of his officers, Mr Dominique Davoux.
Davoux said his boss had been quoted out of context and Kenya’s exports would be welcome into the region if they met set standards.
The lobbyists also wanted the ban on GMO importation lifted against the advice of a Government task force, which has concluded that the country lacks a competent mechanism to regulate GMO products.
The task force led by Prof Kihumbu Thairu, a board member at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, concluded there is inadequate data to prove that indeed GMOs are safe for human consumption.
But this may be just about to change. An international group with backing from Russia, the US and Europe is planning what will be the longest, largest and most definitive study of GMOs to date to try to settle the debate once and for all.
The group is planning a $25 million study that will involve 6,000 rats to be fed on GMO maize to understand their health consequences on animals.
A statement from the study called Factor GMO says preparatory work started early this year and full experimentation will begin in 2015 and will last two to three years.
“The study will take place at undisclosed locations in Western Europe and Russia. The exact locations of the study must be kept confidential for security reasons.”
The organisers say the study will answer questions like those which led Kenya to ban the importation of GMOs in 2012. These include whether GMO food causes cancer, damages internal organs such as kidneys, causes birth defects and/or reduces fertility.
The organisers promise to provide a full list of funders at the start of the experimental phase in 2015. “Factor GMO has not and will not accept funds from the industry that manufactures GM crops and their associated pesticides.”