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State now stops planting, export of GMO flowers

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Dr. Roy Mugiira, acting chief executive officer of the National Biosafety Authority. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The government has stopped the planting and export of genetically modified flowers amid fears that such undertakings will negatively impact Kenya’s access to the mainstay European market.

Europe, which buys more than 60 percent of Kenya’s roses, is yet to allow commercialisation of GMO crops in its territory.

National Biosafety Authority (NBA) acting chief executive Roy Mugiira said the regulator declined the approval of Gypsophila flower which is improved genetically to allow for colour change.

Coloured flowers fetch higher prices in the international market hence, the drive for colour change in Gypsophila.

“The reason this application was not approved had nothing to do with safety or ability by Kenya to conduct that research component. It had everything to do with social economics,” said Dr Mugiira.

“Kenya being a major exporter of flowers to Europe, then we could lose that market because Europe is averse to GMO.”

NBA had received an application in 2017 from commercial cut-flower developer Imaginature Ltd for environmental release and placing on the market of genetically modified (GMO) Gypsophila cut flowers in the country, which would mainly target the American market.

Dr Mugiira said Imaginature was not satisfied with the response and had to appeal that decision when a new NBA board was formed.

“The new board looked at the appeal and requested additional information from the applicant during the appeal process. The applicant has not come back to us,” he said.

He said as soon as the applicants assemble information giving special attention to the flower’s social and economic impact, the regulator’s experts will look at their submission and give a verdict.

Experts at Imaginature altered the genes of the flower to produce more colours, making it more attractive and profitable. They added a few genetic elements responsible for new color range —from dark purple to red, to light pink— in flowers from a model plant called Arapidopsis.

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