Raila Odinga and George Wajackoyah led in misinforming the public on genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), a new study has revealed.
The study conducted between October 2022 and January this year by the Alliance for Science, showed that Mr Odinga and Mr Wajackoyah misinformed the public by giving false claims about GMOs in a section of the Kenyan media.
“Prominent offenders were opposition leader Raila Odinga, who made many false statements alleging the negative health impacts of GMOs, and Roots Party leader George Wajackoyah, who claimed that GMOs would make men grow breasts and women grow beards,” the researchers said.
The Alliance for Science is hosted by the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, United States and has a Global South Hub located in Nairobi.
“The study found that 40 per cent of the articles published on the subject of GMOs by 14 of Kenya's top media outlets contained unrebutted misinformation over three months from October 2022 to January 2023, at the height of the recent furor after assessing 376 articles, 151 of which (40 percent) contained anti-GMO misinformation,” they said.
Pro-GMO misinformation was also found but in only one percent of articles,” the researchers observed while reminding that an earlier study found rates of GMO misinformation in the global media of nine percent during the survey period of 2019 to 2021, with rates in Africa as high as 20 percent.
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“However, a misinformation rate of 40 per cent would make Kenya potentially the worst in the world in terms of GMO media misinformation,” the researchers pointed out.
The authors of study explained that they were careful not to blame journalists and editors as majority of the stories that contained misinformation were simply repeating falsehoods about GMOs that had been stated by prominent politicians and anti-science NGOs.
“NGOs like the Kenyan Peasants League and Food Rights Alliance also made scientifically unfounded statements about GMO health effects which were repeated without rebuttal by media outlets,” they observed.
They however added that this problem is not unique to Africa.
“Previous research found that then-US President Donald Trump was the biggest single source of Covid-19 misinformation and that US media outlets were repeating his unfounded claims also without sufficient expert context or rebuttal.”
While officially releasing the study in Nairobi on Wednesday, Alliance for Science executive director Dr Sheila Ochugboju described their findings as extremely concerning.
"It will be very difficult for Kenyan citizens to make properly informed decisions about GMOs in the face of this storm of misinformation. Let us be clear, scientists around the world have assessed GMOs, and have reached a strong consensus that new techniques for breeding crops adding that any claims about the negative health effects of GMOs are 100 per cent false and must be reported as such in the media.
Dr Ochugboju was very clear that they have not conducted this research to point fingers but “assist media in doing a better job of holding prominent persons and NGOs to account when they make unfounded claims about GMOs and other issues of scientific controversy.”
She added: “It is no longer enough to simply report what someone said. Journalists and media houses must do more than simply report the controversy. In doing so they risk unwittingly spreading misinformation,” she said.