Firm seeks greenlight for biotech cut flowers

A commercial cut-flower developer has applied for a licence to conduct open field trials for genetically modified Gypsophila flowers, targeting the American market.

In the request to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Imaginature Ltd said they had improved the GM Gypsophila variety, enabling it to produce many colours that made it attractive and lucrative.

“We added a few genetic elements responsible for new colour range — from dark purple to red, to light pink — in flowers from a model plant called Arapidopsis,” said the notice to NBA.

Usually, Gypsophila flowers, also known as “Baby’s Breath”, are white. They are mainly ornamental and add a rich texture in floral arrangements and in-door bouquets.

The notice said Imaginature first conducted confined product development in conjunction with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo) under NBA’s supervision.

In the application, Imaginature said Kenya’s stature as a source of premium flowers would be elevated, enabling the country to earn higher revenues in foreign exchange.

NBA chief executive Willy Tonui said scientific analysis was still going on. He invited comments from professional groups and the public before a final decision is reached on the product.

“The application is undergoing a science-based review process by NBA, regulatory agencies and independent experts. The review is meant to ensure that alterations to these flowers have no adverse effects on humans, animals and the environment,” said the notice.

Dr Tonui said NBA’s final decision would be announced after safety assessments, socio-economic considerations and analysis of public comments.

Kenya is a top cut-flower grower and exporter to the US and European markets. Last year, it sold 133,658 tonnes of cut flowers worth Sh70 billion, up from 122,825 tonnes worth Sh62.9 billion in 2015. The flowers were exported to more than 60 countries.

The Kenya Flower Council says 100,000 people are directly employed by cut-flower enterprises most of which are near the fresh water Lake Naivasha, around Mt Kenya, Nairobi, Thika, Kiambu, Athi River, Kitale, Nakuru, Kericho, Nyandarua, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and eastern Kenya.

Other open field trials sanctioned by NBA include BT cotton, aimed at improving cotton yields, the pest and drought resistant BT Wema Maize — which has met stiff resistance from anti-GMO groups — fortified cassava and sorghum varieties, and sweet potatoes.

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