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Economy

Biosafety authority to decide on fate of GMO crops this month

The National Biosafety Authority chief executive Willy Tonui. PHOTO | FILE
The National Biosafety Authority chief executive Willy Tonui. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenyans will know whether genetically modified maize will be grown in the country at the end of this month.

This follows an application by a group of scientists at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation who are pushing for GM maize seeds to be released to farmers ahead of the March planting season.

The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) board failed to reach an agreement on the issue on December 22.

Kenya banned the planting and importation of GMO maize, locking out major exporters including South Africa from the local market which faces frequent grain deficits.

“We are going to make a decision on whether to grant the scientists permission to release the GMO seeds for field trials by the end of January next year,” NBA chief executive Willy Tonui told the Business Daily last week.

Dr Tonui said the decision to be made this month will touch on biotechnology maize while the second ruling in February will be on cotton.

The application follows several years of laboratory trials by state-owned Kalro and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

The scientists want the seeds released to farmers for mass production. The seeds have been undergoing research at the Kiboko Farm in Machakos.

The taskforce formed to establish the safety of GMO crops in the country following a ban, influenced by  a scientific journal that linked the crop to cancer, recommended the lifting of the prohibition.

“The taskforce noted that no GMO product has so far been tested for safety for human consumption in Kenya and the present Biosafety Act has no specific provision for testing these products,” reads the report.

It further recommends that in case of severe famine, where there is threat of loss of life the President, on the advise of the Cabinet, may instruct the food safety and quality control unit to issue a special permit for the importation of life-saving food for a limited period.

The journey to the production of GMO maize started in 2007 with the setting up of a laboratory at the defunct Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, now Kalro.

This was followed by field trials in 2012 which have led to the production of seeds whose distribution has been restricted to the facility.

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