After a two-year hiatus the debate on genetically modified organisms in food is back after the government last week suggested an import ban placed in 2012, will be lifted.
The ban was placed following persistent confusion on the safety of GMOs created by both local and international groups either supporting or opposing transgenic foods.
To clear the confusion, the Ministry of Health in October 2013 created the Thairu Taskforce to ‘review matters relating to genetically modified foods and their safety,’ and advise the government on the way forward.
The task force has since completed its work and last year presented the report to the appointing authority. However, its contents are yet to be made public despite repeated pleas by researchers, activists, farmers and students. A consumer lobby group has threatened to go to court if the matter is not acted on within seven days.
The mandate of the taskforce was to clearly and scientifically establish the safety of GMOs, audit Kenya’s capacity to handle them and make unambiguous recommendations on the way forward.
Most important, as stated in their Terms of Reference, was to provide scientific evidence on which the government and all Kenyans would base their decisions and actions on matters concerning GMO.
This alone gives the people the right to access the publicly funded Thairu report otherwise the government may risk undermining further the existing public distrust in GMOs.
Deciding on the ban either way, without making public the foundation on which it is anchored, will greatly undermine the rationale of establishing the Thairu Taskforce.
We hope the decision to lift the ban is based on compelling scientific evidence which is defensible within the general public and the scientific community. However it can only be interrogated if put in the public domain.