What you need to know:
- The government lifted the ban on importation and growth of GM crops in November last year to boost food security. The ban had been in place since 2012.
- The move to remove the ban was received with resistance by different groups, creating confusion among Kenyans. Four court cases were filed, including one at the East African Court of Justice to stop the implementation of the directive.
Doctors in Kenya have assured the country that the genetic modification (GM) technology is safe for use.
While supporting the use of bioengineered food crops in the country, the doctors say GM is based on science. Already, the medical field is using some of the biotech technology on vaccines and insulin, the medics add.
At the same time, the doctors are calling on stakeholders to boost awareness on the fears surrounding this technology.
The government lifted the ban on importation and growth of GM crops in November last year to boost food security. The ban had been in place since 2012. The move to remove the ban was received with resistance by different groups, creating confusion among Kenyans. Four court cases were filed, including one at the East African Court of Justice to stop the implementation of the directive.
But the top officials of the Kenya Medical Association (KMA) and the Kenya Medical Practitioners Dentists Union (KMPDU) now say they will be working with other players to help distill fears about the technology.
One of the players the associations are targeting is the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (Kubico). The entity brings together all universities that offer courses in biotech research.
These associations are working with Kubico on a policy paper on viability and safety concerns surrounding GMOs. The paper, they say, will help to demystify the myths and clear existing controversies.
Brenda Obondo, the chief executive officer at KMA, says they will generate clear insights on the GMO debate for the benefit of the public.
Dr Obondo adds that the concerns that Kenyans have raised on the GMO debate will be addressed in a policy document expected to be concluded in two months.
“We have not had the opportunity to interrogate or make a sound policy statement from a point of knowledge in this debate,” she says.
Davji Atella, the KMPDU national secretary-general, says the union believes in scientific facts, adding, “It is unfortunate politicians have hijacked the debate.”
“We have come in as health practitioners to understand the science behind this technology. We cannot speak on the issue from a point of ignorance. Our discussion with the scientists is fundamental to every question that Kenyans are seeking answers for,” Dr Atella says. Stella Bosire, the gender advisor at KMPDU, says experts will be guided by available data. She notes that the policy statement will issue recommendations on the way forward. “Our work is bound by an oath of doing no harm. We will ensure that decisions made are based on the right information and facts. We will also find out if there is any risk to human health.”
Meanwhile, the head of Agricultural Biotechnology at the University of Nairobi Joel Ochieng observes that information on GMOs is largely lacking among experts in other fields. “A majority of people think GMO is about importing the technology from outside. As scientists, we want to assure them that we have home-grown solutions and that research has been undertaken locally on developing products such as the BT maize.
Richard Oduor of Kenyatta University has assured Kenyans that for the last 18 years, research on GMO has been carried out by some of the government’s critical institutions to ascertain their safety.