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Critics say GMOs not fit for human consumption, but others disagree

Kenya lifted the ban on Genetically Modified Crops. [Istockphoto]

Critics of Genetically Modified Crops insist the government has jumped the gun by approving a controversial technology which is still contested.

They wondered why the government was in a rush to allow for the importation and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when they had not yet exhausted the natural ways of farming.

Fredrick Ochieng, who works for Biovision Africa, an NGO that promotes ecological farming, reckons that GMOs are not necessarily “sustainable” to the health of human beings, animals, plants and the environment.

According to him the country is yet to exploit what he reckons are the less harmful natural ways of farming so to move to the untested waters of GMOs.

“We are touching on something that is widely debated. There are controversies around it. It has never really been settled by the authorities,” said Ochieng, even as he advocated for what he described as ‘agroecology’ which vouches for farming methods that do not tinker with nature.

Dr Roy Mugira, acting CEO of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) Board of Directors, the body that is responsible for checking and confirming the safety of GMOs, however allayed the fears by opponents of these inorganic crops.

“Twenty-six years down the line, there hasn’t been any credible of adverse effects on health of human and animals or negative impact on environment,” said Mugira.

However, critics such as Ochieng, insists that 26 years is such a short time for people to know the real impact of GMOs.

Samuel Nderitu, a seed saver, reckoned that other countries that permit GMOs such as Burkina Faso, India and the US have not had success stories with these crops.

In India, for example, Nderitu insisted, farmers were left in agony after the GMO seeds they were sold to by multinationals turned out to be unproductive.

The failed GM crops are BT Cotton and BT Maize, those which failed in Burkina Faso and which are being introduced in Kenya.

There are around 13 GM crops which are different stages. BT Cotton has already been filled having been approved by the Cabinet.

BT Cotton has been genetically modified to resist the African Bollworm, one of the most devastating pests in cotton production.

Then there is the BT Maize, which is at the environmental release level. The process has been concluded and the Biosafety Authority has given it a conditional approval, and is only awaiting the nod of the Cabinet, albeit with the lifting  of the ban the buck stops with the Biosafety Authority.

Then there is the virus resistant cassava which is almost getting into the national performance trials.

Critics also insist there is no evidence that GMO crops have better yields than non-GMOs.

Mr Ochieng said the country is moving too fast.

“Why do you want to jump into this train that has not really been settled? We are not really sure of its destination,” said Ochieng.

The country, he argues, ought to have first addressed challenges of food security such as the poor extension services and farmers being poorly equipped.

“For me, if we would just be able to work towards bridging this knowledge gap we can improve on our production,” said Ochieng.

He noted that the country has not even optimally invested in agriculture

“Out problems are not necessarily going to be addressed by GMOs,” said Ochieng.

Mr Nderitu wants comprehensive research on GMOs to be carried out before they can be rolled out. “You cannot do research and close the research to yourself. You do a research and let other people see the research that is going on,” said Nderitu.

But there are also fears that with GM seeds, some which are produced by large multinationals, might end up crowding out majority of the small holder, organic farmers.

There are also fears that adopting GM seeds might result into the wiping out of indigenous seeds.

“As a small, organic farmer, I want to grow without being pushed or being forced to go otherwise,” said Nderitu, adding that there has generally been bias against organic farming.

“Let people be given a chance to grow what they want to grow,” said Nderitu.

Nderitu reckons that there have been a lot of laws and policies which have basically been against the small holder and organic farmer.

Small holder farmers constitute 70 per cent of crop growers in the country.

Poor policies

Critics also wonder why Uganda and Tanzania, which sell animal feeds to Kenya, had not resorted to GMOs, insisting that poor government policies that have made  cost of production prohibitive in Kenya is to blame.

“The inputs have become so expensive because of poor policies,” said Nderitu.

But Dr Mugira does not think there is a reason to fear noting that NBA is on top of things.

After its establishment in 2010, it developed regulation that gave guidance on the transactions of GMOs in Kenya. However, its work was derailed in 2012 after the Cabinet instituted a ban on importation and consumption of GMOs.

The ban followed a controversial study that purported to show that eating GMOs causes cancer. The study has since been discredited due to its flawed methodology.

Dr Mugira does not think the cabinet decision to lift the ban on GMOs was a knee jerk reaction aimed at dealing with the current drought situation that has left millions at risk of dying from hunger.

“Way back as 2015 when the president came to one of our conferences, he offered to have the ban lifted in 30 days. Already, there was movement in this direction,” said Mugira, noting that the Cabinet despatch talks of long-term and short-term ways of addressing drought.

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