Ban on GM foods was political, says Kiome

PHOTO | FILE A protest against genetically modified crops in 2009.

What you need to know:

  • Decision by former Health minister not legally enforceable, declares PS

The debate on the ban on imports of genetically modified foods has resurfaced after a senior government official said it could not be enforced as it was political.

The ban announced last November by Public Health minister Beth Mugo was not legally enforceable, stated Agriculture permanent secretary Romano Kiome.

Dr Kiome said it was only the National Biosafety Authority which could ban GMOs. “Although a political stand can carry the day, it is time-bound as opposed to a professional one.”

He said the regulatory role of the National Biosafety Authority remained and agencies working with it to promote safe trade in GMO products should not ignore its views.

Dr Kiome said the ban had, however, not affected research to boost food production and curb food shortages.

His assurance follows concerns by scientists that donors would be unwilling to pump resources into a field whose future they were uncertain about.

“Some donors could be hesitant to fund an area where the host government has shifted its policies from such an investment,” said the deputy programme manager of Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development Programme, Dr Allan Liavoga.

Mrs Mugo — now a nominated senator — had, while announcing the ban, said the decision followed a study by French researchers.

She said she had a duty to protect Kenyans from harmful foods and set up a taskforce to assess the effects of GM products. The findings are yet to be made public.

The study published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology showed that rats fed on GM maize developed cancerous tumours.

A Bio-safety Bill, which allows GM crops, was debated and passed in Parliament and was signed into law by President Kibaki in February 2009.

Since passage of the Bill, and prior to the ban, GM products have been coming into Kenya as food aid.