30 November 2012 | EN
Scientists fear Kenya's ban on GMOs could threaten food security
[NAIROBI] Scientists fear that Kenya's recent banning of the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be a significant blow to progress on biotechnology research and development in the country.
A cabinet meeting chaired by Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, this month (8 November), directed the public health minister to ban GMO imports until the country is able to certify that they have no negative impact on people's health.
In a statement to the press, the cabinet said there was a "lack of sufficient information on the public health impact of such foods".
"The ban will remain in effect until there is sufficient information, data and knowledge demonstrating that GMO foods are not a danger to public health," it added.
The directive comes three years after the government's establishment of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), tasked with exercising general supervision and control of the transfer, handling and use of GMOs.
The NBA board chair, Miriam Kinyua, tells SciDev.Net that for now, the government directive will stand. However, she added that researchers will continue to provide the government with information arising from research into GMO safety, so that a possible review of the directive can be undertaken.
Kinyua says biotechnology research in Kenya will continue, as the ban does not infringe upon existing research and development activities. She also thinks the directive could help intensify research to provide sufficient data and knowledge on biotechnology.
Richard Okoth, a biotechnology scientist at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, feels that the government's imposition of a ban while continuing to fund research on biotechnology through the National Council for Science and Technology is a contradictory position.
"The essence of GMO research is to provide a product that can complement efforts towards food security. This ban will discourage research, as the product for which the research is being conducted has been placed on import ban," Okoth said.
Biotechnology research funding might be compromised, as international donors could be reluctant to provide funds following the ban, he adds.
But the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a regional research network based in Kenya, supports the step taken by the government and calls for the ban's strict implementation.
"The ban should be strictly implemented and the regulatory institutions should be empowered to enable them do assessment on all imports to safeguard against the bypassing of the law," says Gathuru Mburu, ABN's coordinator.
Kenya only has three biosafety officers, and poor infrastructure and human capacity may make implementing the ban very challenging.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.
Aequitas ( South Africa )
30 November 2012
Do politicians realise how silly they are when they make statements like "...until there is sufficient information, data and knowledge demonstrating that GMO foods are not a danger to public health." On the left you have ~50 peer reviewed "safe concluding" research papers, general scientific consensus, ~2 trillion GM meals and 15 years of experience. On the right you have a hand full of peer reviewed "not safe concluding" publications (which should and have been investigated further as is the nature of science) BUT with very vocal and media savvy doctrine support that is able to stir-up a lot of POLITICAL (broad sense) uncertainty.
THAT is the basis of politicians' decisions and the challenge for scientists and innovators - NOT science but communication and the trust that follows from it. Indeed "evidence is not enough" (see "Showing decision-makers the value of science" also on this site).
Gurling Bothma ( South Africa )
3 December 2012
Was this ban based on any credible scientific data?
Acevoice ( United Kingdom )
3 December 2012
For a country with so much research background to fear GMOs, the loss is not just for science but to all those in the Horn who face hunger and starvation every year. Politics never work for the good of humanity but for the self-seeker politicians.
Jonathan ( Kenya )
3 December 2012
@Aequitas,I couldn't have put it better myself-what you just said. Am a Kenyan and apparently the story of how the cabinet decision in Kenya was reached at is that the minister (who is cancer survivor) came to the cabinet and almost cried while presenting a study by a fraudulent French scientist called Seralini to the effect that GMOs cause cancer. The fact that she was alluding that her battle with cancer was caused by GMOs transfixed the cabinet such that even the other ministers who know better about GMOs didn't want to tell her outrightly that she was misleading the cabinet - apparently because she was almost in tears. What a terrible way to make decisions for a country!!
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