Kenya court’s ruling on anti-GMO petition commendable

DP William Ruto called lifting of the GMO import ban in Kenya

DP William Ruto called lifting of the GMO import ban in Kenya

LAST AUGUST, anti-GMO groups filed a court petition in the High Court of Kenya on the grounds that they have imminent fear that the Ban placed on GMOs is about to be lifted.

Principally they sued the Cabinet Secretary (CS), Ministry of Education Science & Technology and The Attorney General.

They also named four interested parties including Health CS, Agriculture CS, the Council of Governors and the national Biosafety Authority of Kenya. Curiously, the petition was prompted by the newspaper reports quoting Deputy President William Ruto saying that the ban would be lifted by the government in two months.

The petitioners had four prayers: Conservatory Orders be issued to the Respondents to maintain the Status Quo with respect to lifting the ban until the petition is heard and determined; that the Respondent be ordered not to lift the ban on GMOs before there is sufficient notifications and wide consultations with the Public especially farmers at the County and sub county levels throughout the Country; that the Respondents engage the County Assemblies/ County Governments for their views on the question on the question of introduction of GMOs; and that the Respondent be condemned to bear the costs of the proceedings.

The case was immediately opposed by the Cereal Growers Association (CGA), a leading farmer organizations that represents tens of thousands of small and large scale farmers in the country. The Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBISO), an umbrella body of varsity biotechnology experts, with chapters in eight largest universities in Kenya with extensive biotechnology teaching and research projects, also came out strongly to oppose the petition.  Both CGA and KUBICO therefore through a private lawyer applied for leave to join the case as interested parties.

On October 5, 2015, there was a hearing to determine whether the court should grant Conservatory Orders and stop the Respondents from lifting the ban until the petition is heard and determined. They also argued that lifting the ban would violate their constitutionally granted rights.

To the relief of the respondents and a win for science, on October 19, 2015, Justice Onguto declined to issue Conservatory Orders (temporary injunction barring the respondent from lifting the ban before the case was heard and determined) to the applicants. In the ruling, he stated categorically that in Constitutional Application matters, the Petitioner must prove a prima facie (Latin for “at first sight.” It may be used as an adjective meaning “sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted) case and also show how their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution shall be violated if the interim orders are not granted.

More importantly, the judge further pointed out that the debate on GMOs had gone on for a long time and that the petitioners did not prove even on a balance of probabilities that GMOs are unsafe for human consumption.

On the issue of public participation, he referred to Section 54 of the Biosafety Act 2009 and Section 153 of The Constitution which make room for the public to be involved. He further stated that if given a wide interpretation the term “public” can be extended to mean the Cabinet. This is due to the fact that the ban was to be lifted only after consultation amongst the cabinet Members. Justice Onguto added that he did not want to preempt Cabinet’s decision by issuing an injunction and the Cabinet was yet to meet and make the decision on whether to lift the ban or not.

He further drove home the point by declaring that he would not consider a newspaper clipping a proper form of communication from the government and describing it as merely “speculative evidence”. The judge further ruled that he was satisfied that there are currently sufficient regulations in place to govern the introduction of GMOs into the Country.

In summary, the judge stated that the Petitioner failed to show how its Constitutional rights as claimed will be violated if the conservatory orders are not granted. The petitioners also, it was held had failed to prove in their Petition that it had a prima facie case. Even so, that did not mark the end of the case as main constitutional petition is still under-going the court process.

It is instructive to note that anti-biotech groups all over the world are more and more turning to courts as their last attempt to stop the new biotech-driven agrarian revolution. The fact is that the biotechnology narrative is globally changing from negative to positive as more framers start receiving credible information on the technology that are devoid of empty propaganda and fear-mongering. Governments are also beginning to wake up to lies and anti-development rhetoric of groups like Greenpeace thereby standing up to them. India is a good example, which countries that are still falling prey to their lies should learn from before it is too late for their farmers and economies to recover from the on-going losses.

What is more? As mountains of evidence on safety and benefits of GMOs begin to show up in the media and through interpersonal interactions and conversations among farmers, policy makers, journalists, scientists, politicians and consumers in general, perceptions towards GMOs are rapidly changing. And the groups who have made career and wealth via opposition to the technology are a very worried lot, hence their rush to court in Philippines, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, USA and India, mane them.

I highly doubt if they will find refuge in the corridors of justice where they have run using results of stage-managed, pseudo-science science such as the highly discredited Seralini et al (2012) to hoodwink the judges. It will not work, period.

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