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[NAIROBI] A senior Kenyan government official has dismissed last year's ban on the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country — calling it ill-advised and lacking the backing of law.

Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, says the ban cannot be enforced because it was imposed by the cabinet, which has no authority in law to do so.

Although a "political stand" could hold sway for a time it is no substitute for a considered professional judgement, Kiome told a journalist roundtable at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi on 1 May.

The ban came into effect in November 2012 after a cabinet meeting, chaired by Kenya's former president, Mwai Kibaki, directed the then public health minister, Beth Mugo, to ban GM food imports until the country is able to certify that they have no negative impact on people's health.

But three years before the ban, Kenya had set up the National Biosafety Authority, tasked with supervising the transfer, handling and use of GMOs. The agency was established by the Biosafety Act, which was passed in the Kenyan parliament and became law by Kibaki's assent in February 2009. It includes the aim of establishing "a transparent, science-based and pr

edictable process" for reviewing the use of GMOs.

Kiome tells SciDev.Net that the biosafety authority is the only body legally mandated to manage GMOs and could not be bypassed by the cabinet.

He adds that the ban is not only unlawful but could also affect biotechnology research to boost food production in the country as there have been fears among Kenyan scientists that it could hold back progress research and development (R&D) on biotechnology in the country.

According to David Wafula, Kenya coordinator at the Program for Biosafety Systems ― a partnership between USAID and the Kenya government supporting development and use of biosafety systems in agricultural innovation in Kenya ― the ban has not been published in the Kenya Gazette, an official government publication containing new legislation and notices required to be published by law or policy.

"The ban was not informed by any evidence from competent authorities, including the National Council of Science and Technology, which is mandated to advise the government on research and policy issues," he tells SciDev.Net.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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