EU head of delegation in Kenya says yes to GMOs

OFAB Kenya leads high-powered delegation to EU offices in Nairobi over the Ambassodor Briet's negative comments about GMOs. Delegation included MPs, Scientists, regulators, industry and policy makers

OFAB Kenya leads high-powered delegation to EU offices in Nairobi over the Ambassador Briet’s negative comments about GMOs. Delegation included MPs, Scientists, regulators, industry and policy makers

The head of the European Union delegation in Kenya, Ambassador Lodewjik Briet, has rescinded his earlier statement that Kenyan farmers will find it difficult to find market in the EU if the country adopts genetically modified crops.

In a statement read on his behalf by the Head of Rural Development and Agriculture at the EU regional office in Nairobi, Dominique Davoux, Ambassador Briet.  He said that the EU has no problem importing products from countries growing GM crops so long us they meet the set guidelines.“The position of EU is that we have a list of GMO products that can be imported into the EU space. If Kenya contributes there, it will have access to the market,” he said. Mr. Briet clarified that the EU has authorized the importation of 58 genetically modified crops including GM maize, soya, oilseed rape, sugar beet and cotton.The EU head in Kenya said this at meeting and press conference held in Nairobi on the 7th of November 2014 to update the biotechnology stakeholders on the pace at which the country is progressing in biotech R&D and the impact the current ban on GM foods has on biotechnology investments in the country.

The meeting, which was organized by the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBICO) in collaboration with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB-Kenya), was also intended to provide a platform to Mr. Briet to clarify the actual position of EU regarding the use and adoption of GM foods. This was necessitated by the need for him to correct an earlier statement he had made to the effect that Kenyan farmers would lose the EU export market should the country start growing GM crops.The meeting was attended by the PS ministry of Industrialization, Dr. Wilson Songa, parliamentarians, decision makers, researchers/ Universities, media and the industry. Dr. Songa in his keynote address, acknowledged the members of parliament who participated in the meeting and urged them to pay attention to the details of the scientific information from scientists so that they benefit wholly from the forums deliberations. He said that the government recognizes the role Biotechnology can play in poverty reduction, enhancing food security, and in the conservation of biodiversity and the environment, which is, captured in 2006 Biotechnology Development Policy by cabinet Memo. He noted that the cotton industry was underperforming yet Bt cotton which is widely available could easily help to resuscitate the sector of adopted.  He however regretted that the current ban on GM is affecting researchers and all levels of investment, especially the industrial sector that relies heavily on reagents and additives from GM growing countries like South Africa and USA.

He urged members of parliament to be open min

EU Kenya head of Agriculture and rural development Mr Dominque apologising on behalf of Mr Briet head of delegation during the meeting with biotech stakeholders in Nairobi

EU Kenya head of Agriculture and rural development Mr Dominque apologising on behalf of Mr Briet head of delegation during the meeting with biotech stakeholders in Nairobi

ded while alluding to the fact that his ministry does not force the technology but is informed by free choice. The PS said that drought was identified as a constraint, which can be dealt with through genetic engineering of drought resilient crops. He said that Sorghum is one of the most nutritious crops whose productivity can be enhanced through biotech. The PS observed that afforestation are issues that can be well tackled through biotechnology  and gave  his experience in Hungary and how Europe has embraced biotechnology  and wondered why Kenya has invested in research ‘yet we don’t want anything to come out of the confined field trials.’‘’As leaders in east Africa region, Kenya should not lose its competitiveness due to the ban on GM’’ Dr Songa said. He told the participants that the second medium term plan (MTP) 2013-2017 acknowledges the importance of biotechnology and Biosciences programme in its realization. It also envisages creation of jobs and the competitiveness in textile industry by use of Bt Cotton. He gave an example of countries like China which grow the cotton and outlined how competitive they are.‘’If we want investors to invest, we should embrace technology. As a Ministry we ask for biotechnology to be embraced because we want to be competent’’ Dr. Songa said and gave an example of South Africa where Bt maize is grown, narrating his encounter with farmers when he visited the country where he consumed the maize.The PS regretted that as a country we are under utilizing our own resources as we lose competitiveness. “Scientists have a lot of information which they are keeping to themselves,” he said while challenging scientists to effectively share information about science and technology. He said that the country was losing a lot through menaces such as the aflatoxin contamination in stored maize. “These problems can easily be solve through Biotechnology since conventional methods have are not effectively helped in solving them,” he added. Dr. Songa concluded by saying that the country has capacity in its own institutions to deal with bot the research and regulation of the GM technology.Dr. Richard Oduor, chairman of KUBICO, while updating the stakeholders on Kenya’s capacity for modern biotechnology and the status of research and development in the country gave a presentation titled ‘Kenya’s Capacity to develop and regulate GM technology and its products.’ The challenge that needs to be addressed through biotechnology is that of hunger which is brought about by climate change, increasing population a majority  of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, a big population that is depended upon for food production being the old as youth seek alternative white collar jobs. Therefore GM technology is a desirable alternative to ease the operations in pest and weed control, to mitigate against prolonged drought situations, to produce food that is fortified with essential nutrition e.g. Vitamin A, to reduce food toxicity, to improve food storability and enhance its usability after storage among other essential benefits. For all these to be realized there are requisite factors including the availability of research facilities and human capacity, government good will and existence of effective regulatory capacity.The participants were informed that Kenya has both the facilities and well trained resource persons to effectively handle the technology. These facilities include the  Kenya Agricultural  and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Biotechnology Center with over 30 trained personnel trained in GM technology,    Plant Transformation Laboratory (PTL) in Kenyatta University, Centre for Biotechnology and Bioinformatics (CEBIB) at UoN, BecA -ILRI Hub to mention but a few. In all these institutions, there are more than 20 scientists at PhD level and numerous others at Master’s and Bachelor’s degree levels. Turning to the regulatory capacity, Kenya has a functional regulatory agency i.e. the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) which is created from the Biosafety Act of 2009. NBA works with several regulatory agencies including KEPHIS, KEBS, NEMA etc.

Kenya PS for Ministry of Industrialization giving a keynote address during the meeting

Kenya PS for Ministry of Industrialization giving a keynote address during the meeting

The government in a cabinet memo on 8th November 2012 issued an executive order prohibiting the importation and consumption of GMO foods in Kenya which was informed by the scientifically flawed Seralini et.al, 2012 paper which was subsequently withdrawn from its publication. The paper was withdrawn because it failed to establish the relationship between GM foods and cancerous tumors (High Council for Biotechnology, HCB) which it had claimed were as a result of lab rats consuming GM maize. Other agencies including EFSA arrived at a similar verdict after a thorough probe of the report.Kenya is conducting  confined trials with Genetically modified crops such as maize, sweet potato, cassava, pegion pea, groundnuts, sorghum, rice and tomato at Kenyatta University; cotton, maize, sweet potato, cassava and sorghum in KALRO and peanut, cassava and maize at the University of Nairobi. The technology is being applied to tackle constraints to crop productivity which include biotic stresses such as diseases, insect pests and weeds –Striga as well as abiotic stresses including herbicides, allergenicity, drought and salinity. Some of the projects carrying out the trials are Virus Resistant Cassava (VIRCA) at KALRO Alupe (sub-center of KALRO Kakamega) and KALRO Mtwapa, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) and Insect Resistant Maize at KALRO Kiboko, Bt cotton at KALRO Mwea Research Center, Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) at KALRO Biotechnology Center, Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) at BecA Hub labs at ILRI campus and Kenyatta University labs and Drought Tolerant Maize at Kenyatta University among many others. Should all these projects be available in the Kenyan market they would be a driver job creation for the youth and enhanced trade and infrastructure. They would also ensure food security by improving the agricultural system to make it more productive and in the long run be an economic stimulus. All these efforts are being overshadowed by the sustenance of the wrongly placed ban.In a presentation Prof. Dorington Ogoyi of NBA reiterated that Kenya has the capacity for the biosafety regulation of GMOs. The Biosafety Act of 2009 makes provision for the establishment of a legal framework for the safe handling, use and transfer of genetically modified organisms. It thus set up the National Biosafety Authority as the national focal point of all biosafety matters in Kenya and mandated it  to exercise general supervision and control over dealings in GMO with a view to ensuring safety to human and animal health and protection of the environment. NBA is also mandated by the Act to consider and determine applications for approval for the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs; to co-ordinate research and monitor activities on all GMO work as per the Act; to strengthen national technical capacities and capabilities for biosafety and develop regulations to operationalize the Biosafety Act.NBA is also mandated to establish and maintain a Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) mechanism – web based information sharing of national database that is linked to the international BCH; promote public awareness on biosafety and biotechnology; enforce the provisions of the Biosafety Act and to provide advisory services on matters of biosafety. It does these in collaboration with various regulatory agencies namely: Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS); Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS); Department of Public Health (DPH); Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS); National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA); Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS); Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) and Pesticide Control Products Board (PCPB). The roles of these regulatory agencies include monitoring the approved GMO activity to ensure compliance with conditions of approval, informing the  Authority of any significant new scientific information indicating that an approved activity pose biosafety risks not previously known, inform the  Authority of unintentional or unapproved introduction of a GMO into the environment and propose mitigation measures.The Biosafety Act of 2009 makes provisions for a review as well as appeal mechanism. A review may be done by the Authority on its own volition or upon the request of an applicant. An appeal’s board has been established to consider applications from persons aggrieved by the decision of the Authority. Should the GMO activity pose harm to the environment, the Authority may invoke the following orders:

  • Restoration orders: to restore the environment to as near as it may be to the state in which it was before the release of a GMO.
  • Cessation Orders: issued for the immediate imposition of additional risk management measures with respect to such activity.

These orders are invoked if the Authority, in consultation with the relevant regulatory agency, determines that there is an imminent danger posed to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking into account risks to the human health.The Law provided for gazzetment of regulations that would be important for the implementation of the Biosafety Act 2009 and to date 3 regulations have been gazette including: Regulations for Contained Use; Environmental Release; Import, Export and Transit and Regulations for Labeling (2012). NBA conducts risk assessment-as a basis for decision making with the objective of identifying and evaluating the potential adverse effects of GMO to human health and environment. Some of the key considerations are food safety assessment, environmental risk assessment, review of risk assessment dossier: Local experts, relevant regulatory agencies, Technical staff at NBA, Technical committee and final decision by BOM and Public participation. It does these with collaboration over 15 PhD level experts and 7 MSc holders.

Cereal Millers Association CEO Mrs. Paloma Fernandez who spoke at the event said that they advocate for safe food in Kenya which is well spelt out in their mission, pointing out that Kenya’s staple food is maize.  She observed that challenges such as aflatoxin, restricted trade laws, high price on the local dry maize and insufficient storage are some of the  impediments to safe and cost effective food in Kenya.Mrs. Fernandez highlighted that the GM food import ban has affected their capacity and competitiveness to import maize. She further said that this ban continues to restrict investment in Kenya’s agricultural biotechnology sector and thus hampers food security efforts (which also impacts on humanitarian food assistance). She categorized the areas where the ban on the GM food imports is affecting most from the standpoint of industrialists as follows:

•             Food Security

After two consecutive poor rain seasons, Kenya’s 1.5 million food insecure population is unable to access food aid commodities, such as the corn-soy blend critical to specialized feeding programs for the malnourished. Also affected is school-feeding program implemented by the World Food Program in slums, arid and semi-arid areas.  Since the ban was effected, no humanitarian assistance containing GM products have been admitted into the country. The GM import ban also impacts food aid shipments destined for other East African countries, limiting donors to non-GM food aid or requiring diversion to other ports of assistance that would otherwise be transshipped through the Port of Mombasa.

•             Investment and Trade

Kenya is a net food importer and the in-country production does not meet demand.  Prohibiting the importation of GM foods is both costly and restrictive.  Since the ban, food imports have dropped resulting in high food prices.  As an example, Kenya can no longer import maize from South Africa thus, restricting imports to Tanzania and Uganda, which have a better priced market in South Sudan and DRC. Investors such as ACTIF (African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation) who would like to revive Kenya’s cotton industry with an investment worth over $900 million will find it difficult to get raw material.  It is only Bt cotton that can provide the volumes and quality that ACTIF requires for textiles and apparels production. Such opportunities may be taken up by neighbouring countries. Technology developers and development partners are shying away from investing in research and introduction of GM maize and cotton for production by farmers due to the stigmatization of the technology. Competitiveness of the farmers is therefore at risk.

•             Potential WTO dispute may arise as a result of the ban As a Member of the WTO, and under the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (WTO SPS), Kenya is obligated to notify WTO any new measures that have the potential to impact trade, to provide trading partners an opportunity to review and comment on those regulations, and to have members comments taken into consideration before the measure is implemented. Kenya could be asked to explain on what basis the ban was put in place and whether it was within the designated competent authority – the National Biosafety Authority under Kenya’s laws – in this case the Biosafety Act and implementing regulations.Busia Woman Representative, Hon. Florence Mutua, who last month led MPs in a fact-finding mission in Europe, urged for an unconditional lifting of the ban.“Why are developed countries that are able to feed their people coercing us to remain backward? In Spain we met farmers growing GM maize.”Hon. Mutua said lifting the ban would open the door for the commercialization of Bt cotton, which has been proved to be several times more cost-effective than traditional cotton.“It is illogical to associate cancer with GM technology because so many Kenyans are dying of cancer now yet there are no genetically modified foods in the country. Even cellphones faced opposition due to myths when they came to Kenya,” she said.All the major media houses had been invited to the event and so far 4 stories out of it have been published in the press.

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