Kenya rules out open trials on genetically modified crops

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett. FILE PHOTO | NMG

It will take longer before Kenya conducts open trials on genetically modified (GM) crops after the government said the country was not ready for such an undertaking.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said Kenya was yet to put in place mechanism that would ensure the GM seed is not cross-pollinated, contaminating local varieties during the field tests.

The announcement comes just a month after the boards of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) met to try and resolve the standoff.

It now seems the talks might not bear much as the move will require approval from the parent ministry.  

The move is a big blow to researchers who have been arguing that the ban by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu is illegal, given that scientists wanted to conduct field trials, but not commercialise the crops’ production.

Mr Bett said further research has to be done to address the risk that GMO maize may have on the environment before it is released for trials.
“Kenya is still one of the countries that still believe we should be a GMO free state,” Mr Bett said during an interview.

Last year, Dr Mailu turned down application by scientists to conduct field trials for biotech maize, citing the current ban, drawing condemnation from scholars, because the ban that was put in place in 2012, concerns imports but not research.

The NBA had last year allowed scientists to conduct field trials for biotech maize, subject to Nema’s decision on the possible impact of the crop on the environment. “Although the government banned only importation and consumption, the Health CS has stopped research and technology development into GM crops, a role that should be done by the regulator,” said the scholars.

The trials, which were expected to take two years, were to be conducted nationwide in the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service’s (Kephis) confined fields and inspected by other government agencies.

During the field trials, Kephis was to compare the conventional seed varieties with the genetically-modified ones, with a view to determining changes in nutritional composition, yield performance and pest tolerance.