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Economy

State sets conditions for Kenya GMO trials

National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) Director General Prof Geoffrey Wahungu. FILE PHOTO | NMG
National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) Director General Prof Geoffrey Wahungu. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Nema says no licence will be issued before experimental design is scrutinised to ascertain safety of the entire process

An experimental design for genetically modified maize must be tested before national field trials start, the environmental watchdog has said.

The National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) Director General Prof Geoffrey Wahungu said no licence for national open field trials will be issued before the design is scrutinised to ascertain safety of the entire process.

In an interview, the Nema boss said Kenya needs assurance that trial farms are within secured areas to minimise the risk of cross-pollination between the modified maize and the conventional variety.

“A lot has been said about our opposition to field trials and some people have also convinced some MPs to push us to issue a license and even biotechnology students have accused us hurting their future by blocking the trials. That is a lie,” he said.

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Prof Wahungu said if anything went wrong during field trials, the maize could get into the market chain, thereby causing irreversible damage.

Last year, the National Biosafety Authority approved trials but advised the newly developed maize variety proponents — the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) and their partners, Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) — to seek a permit from Nema.

This was the culmination of a five-year project named Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) that aimed to produce a drought-resistant maize variety as a way of promoting food security among Africans.

Safeguard public health

NBA said the two agencies should also work closely with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) during the trials to safeguard public health.

“We must be assured they have capacity to mitigate against cross pollination to safeguard citizens against consuming untested foodstuffs that could contain harmful toxins,” said Prof Wahungu.

BT maize trials had been sanctioned by the National Biosafety Authority which directed that Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and Nema be closely involved to ensure all adverse effects are mitigated at every step.

In a statement well-received by pro-GMO organisations, NBA’s Chief Executive Dr Willy Tonui said the approval only allowed for restricted field trials.

“The Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) and their partners, Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) have been allowed to environmentally release the GMO maize to collect compositional analysis data,” it said.

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