Lift ban on GM foods, say lecturers

Biotechnology lecturers in public universities have petitioned Parliament to lift the ban of GMO food and demanded the issuance of permits for field trials of locally developed biotech maize.

The Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (Kubic) says the government violated the Constitution when it banned the consumption of GMO food in October 2012.

Kubic reckons that it is only the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) that has the mandate to control the importation, field trials and commercial planting of GMO food.

“Although the government banned only importation and consumption, the Cabinet Secretary for Health has stopped research and technology development into GM crops, a role that should be done by the NBA,” says Kubic in the petition.

The NBA has approved field trials from firms such as the State-owned Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation, but Health secretary Cleopa Mailu stopped the planting of GMO crop.

Dr Mailu said the introduction of GMO in Kenya remains guided by the 2012 Cabinet decision banning the imports of biotech foods in the country.

The minister’s directive followed the move by National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to seek policy direction from him before issuing the licence for field trials. 

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The consortium says the ban undermines the authority of parliament, which enacted the Biosafety Act No 2 of 2009. The Act defines how GMO are handled, and set up the NBA to manage issues regarding GMO in the country. The lecturers argue that the Ministry of Health is implementing a ban that has no backing of the law.

“The ban on GM foods, which was never gazetted, is devoid of a legal basis and provisions of written law, and is in contravention of the provisions of the Biosafety Act, 2009 as the only authoritative legal framework enacted to regulate activities involving GMOs,” they say.

They argue that the Biosafety Act, 2009 outlines steps to be taken when a new risk is identified, and when a GMO or its product is to be withdrawn from the market.

The petition notes that a ban such as the one imposed in Kenya, is a mere public pronouncement by the minister, devoid of any legal basis and authority and the same cannot establish legitimate rights or expectations.

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