Kenya will lift its three-year ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the next two months, Deputy President William Ruto has said drawing protest from consumer groups.
“Scientists and especially those from the National Biosafety Authority should be able to confound sceptics. We should be able to tell the public that anything genetically modified is not harmful. Science and technology is what will take us to the next level,” said Mr Ruto at the opening of the biosafety conference.
The announcement comes as good news for scientists, including those from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), who had formally applied to the biosafety regulator for the release of GMO maize which has been on trial for commercial production.
Scientists from Kalro and the African Agriculture Technology Foundation have been researching on the production of insect-protected maize since 2007, followed by field trials in 2012.
“Various government ministries, departments and agencies concerned with biotechnology have already consulted and agreed on the necessary regulations and safety measures to be adhered to so that we can maximise on agricultural production, improve health services, conserve the environment and basically improve the living standards of our people,” said Mr Ruto.
GMOs have sparked debate in Kenya, where the ban was put in place in 2012 by a task force formed by the then Public Health minister Beth Mugo. The taskforce ruled that GM foods were not safe for consumption, basing the decision on earlier studies that linked the crops to cancerous tumours in rats.
But a global scientific journal retracted an article it had published earlier that linked genetically modified food to cancer, prompting journalists to call for the lifting of the ban.
The report of the task force which had been mandated to advise the government on whether the ban on GMOs should be lifted or not is yet to be made public months after it was revived.
Health secretary James Macharia indicated that the report had been presented to the Cabinet for a final decision.
The Consumer Federation of Kenya has opposed the move, stating that the matter has not been exhaustively addressed.
“We would like to put Mr Ruto on notice that Kenyans will not accept lifting of the ban without conclusively addressing the issues which necessitated it in the first place,” said Stephen Mutoro, Secretary General, Cofek.