Scientists allowed to release GMO seeds for field trials


A protest march in Nairobi last year against genetically modified crops. PHOTO | FILE

The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has allowed researchers to release Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crop for field trials, marking a new turn is the raging debate over adoption of biotechnology plants.

NBA board met on Thursday last week and made the decision following the application by a group of scientists seeking the permission for the release of the crop for field trials.

Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the proponents of the crops, made the application last year.

“As a board we have approved the release of the GMO maize for field trials as requested by the scientists,” said a board member who asked not to be named discussing an issue set to be made public today.

The decision effectively gives the green light to trials to be conducted nationwide by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and other government agencies. The period of the trials is expected to take up to two years.

After trials, seed multiplication and supply will be conducted, paving the way for large scale commercial farming of the GMO crop in Kenya for the first time.

READ: Scientists cross their fingers as biotech regulator set to announce GM maize verdict

NBA as a regulator, was required to make a decision whether to approve or reject the application between 90 to 150 days.

Decision-making was informed by the outcome of food and food safety assessment, socio-economic issues, environmental risk assessment and analysis of public comments received.

The application was subjected to a science-based review process by NBA, government agencies and independent experts to ascertain that the proposed product is safe for human and animal health.

The journey to the production of the GM maize started in 2007 with the establishment of the laboratory at the defunct Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, which has since been rebranded Kalro. The seeds have been undergoing research that was closely supervised by NBA.

The ban on GMOs in the country was effected in 2012 when a task force formed by then Public Health minister Beth Mugo declared that GMO foods were unfit for human consumption, basing the decision on earlier studies that linked the crops to cancerous tumours in rats.

But a global scientific journal retracted an article that it had published earlier that linked genetically modified food to cancer, prompting GMO proponents to call for the lifting of the ban.

The ban on importation of the GM products in the country is still 9in force and it can only be lifted by Health Cabinet Secretary.