Bringing science and development together through original news and analysis

  • Scientists torn over Kenya's recent GM food ban

Scientists fear Kenya's ban on GMOs could threaten food security
Image credit: Flickr/CIMMYT

[NAIROBI] Scientists fear that Kenyas 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 Kenyas 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 peoples 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 governments 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 governments 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 bans 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, ABNs 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.Nets Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.