By Anne Sewell
December 5, 2012
Nairobi - In a groundbreaking act, Public Health Minister Beth Mugo of the Kenyan government has advised that Kenya has completely banned the importation of all genetically modified (GMO) food into the country, until exhaustive tests on health effects are complete.
Stressing that the decision was taken from genuine concern for Kenyans' health, the move by the Public Health Minister follows a directive by the ministry for GMOs to be banned, until the necessary information about their impact on health can be verified.
Around two weeks ago, Mugo was tasked by the cabinet to provide scientific proof of the safety of GMOs. Studies are continuing, and, speaking at a press briefing at Afya House, the Minister stated that the ban of importation of GMOs will remain until all studies are complete. Government agencies have been instructed to immediately comply with this directive to enforce the ban.
An extract from the Minister's speech in the video above reads: ‘I am calling upon all stakeholders and government regulators involved in importation of GMO foods to take note of this directive that no importation of GMO foods will be allowed into the country until further advice by the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.’
Mugo stressed that the protection of the consumer and assurance to the public on the safety of food is extremely important when making decisions on importation, distribution and consumption. She further advised that some countries have already banned the importation of GMOs.
In a recent statement, the Cabinet said that there is insufficient information on the dangers of such foods and ordered that the ban stay in force until such confirmed knowledge and data is available.
Not everyone in Kenya is in agreement, however.
According to Dr Silas Obukosia, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Africa Harvest , the move was misinformed and likely to deny Kenya the opportunity to increase food production through modern technology. He said that this may affect efforts by universities to enhance their biotechnology programs if the decision by the minister is not annulled.
“Mugo’s ban on the importation and trade of GMOs due lack of evidence regarding their safety is puzzling,” he said. “This is because major investments such as the approval of the National Biotechnology Development Policy by the Cabinet in 2006, and the enactment of the Biosafety Act in 2009, and gazettment [sic] of three different biosafety regulations in 2011 have been made to address the issue of safety,” he said. “A lot of money has been pumped in by universities in creating masters and PhD programmes in biotechnology which need to be supported by friendly laws.”
Currently Kenya has crops such as maize, cotton, cassava, sweet potato, and sorghum in confined field trials
Despite Obukosia's theories on the subject, a French study released in September linked consumption of GM maize to development of cancer in rats. While the reliability of the study has been the subject of much debate, the Soil Association’s head of policy Peter Melchett said the team used the same methods regulators require in their licensing processes. Shortly after this study, Russia suspended imports of GMOs and France decided to investigate further the effects of GMOs on human health.