It is time for intercontinental dialogue over GMO moral dilemma

It is time for dialogue over GMO moral dilemma

Mr Mutiso wont grow his favorite cash crop any more due to high cost of inputs and low prices

Mr Mutiso wont grow his favorite cash crop any more due to high cost of inputs and low prices

Recently an article appeared in the Standard Daily (Friday June 20, 2014) warning ‘Local farmers will find it difficult to export their crops to Europe if they adopt the Genetically Modified (GM) crops.’ The writer based the article on alleged utterances by the head of an EU delegation to Kenya, Lodewjik Briet, during a TV interview. I would like to believe that Briet was misquoted because it is inconceivable that such a high-ranking EC official could have said something that he must have known to be utter nonsense. It’s really outrageous that the head of the EC delegation said such inaccurate things, if in deed he said them.

Broadly speaking, it is notable that such kinds of utterances emanating from European sources are the ones leeched on by groups opposed to biotechnology to fuel their anti-GMO propaganda in Africa thereby instilling fear in policy makers who become reluctant to establish science-based biosafety regulatory frameworks to facilitate responsible adoption and commercialization of GM crops to improve agricultural productivity.

Such a warning could not have come at an inopportune time. Kenya Health Cabinet Secretary had just received a report of a taskforce on GMO import ban that was triggered by an unscientific report by a French Professor called Seralini. Although Seralini’s report was later retracted under heavy criticism from scientists from all over the world, Kenya maintains the ban to date contrary to evidence some of which are from the EC’s top scientific advisers like Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research Innovation and Science ,European Commission (click the link ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/fp7/kbbe/docs/a-decade-of-eu-funded-gmo-research_en.pdf. ) Sure Briet must be aware of such pioneering reports and sound scientific advice.

From the official EC database: http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm it is clearly stated that currently 29 maize events and 8 cotton events (some of which are stacks) have been authorised for import into the EU. Why then would EC head of delegation not want Kenya and Africa for that matter to benefit from these innovative technologies? Kenya has been testing Bt Cotton and Drought tolerant and insect resistant maize, among other crops, for some time, and it is hoped that these products would be available to farmers from 2015, starting with Bt Cotton.

The cotton industry in Kenya is moribund; thanks to virulent insect pests and low prices offered because Cotton Ginners are unable to compensate farmers for the high cost of production. Premier textile industries like Kisumu Cotton Mills are long dead because of lack of locally produced cotton. Farmers like Mr Josiah Mutiso fo Makueni County, eastern Kenya, are abandoning cotton farming in droves due to high costs of inputs and low prices.

Mr Mutiso wont grow his favorite cash crop any more due to high cost of inputs and low prices

Mr Mutiso wont grow his favorite cash crop any more due to high cost of inputs and low prices

Josiah is now staring poverty in the face. It is therefore morally wrong for such a high-ranking EC official to issue such baseless threats without weighing the consequences.

Kenya’s hopes of reviving the cotton sub-sector are pinned on adoption of high-yielding, low-input transgenic cotton varieties. Burkina Faso is easily one of the leading cotton producers and exporters thanks to Bt Cotton. Sudan recently joined Bt Cotton farming only because of executive fiat.  Veiled threats such those attributed to Briet does not help matters as they only add fear into the weak bellies of our policy makers.

It is instructive to note that the EU recently gave member states freedom of choice over GMOs. Although this might have other negative effects once in force, it is hoped that more progressive countries within the Union will move forward and away from the paradox and paralysis in Europe whereby GM imports are allowed but farmers are denied freedom to grow them against their will.

Surely, it is time for intercontinental dialogue between the EU and the Africa Union to deal with this moral dilemma over GMOs, really.

–Daniel Otunge

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