Kenya Considers Lifting Ban On GMOs; Seed Patents In Debate 28/10/2015 by Fredrick Nzwili for Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)NAIROBI, Kenya – A Kenyan government plan to lift the ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is stirring a heated debate here, with experts warning on safety and the East African nation’s preparedness for the technology. Finger millet During a biosafety conference in Nairobi in August, Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto said the government would legalise the technology in two months, meaning in November. Ruto said following intensive research, government ministries, departments and agencies had concluded that technology would improve agricultural production, health services and environmental conservation. But protests against the proposal reached peak in October with anti-GMO campaigners, rights groups and local farmers warning that Kenya is not ready for the adoption of GMO technology or consumption of the foods. “There are a lot questions around GMOs, with studies like the one done by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini linking the consumption of GMO maize in rats to the development of tumours in their lifespan of two years,” said Anne Maina, the national coordinator, Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC). The East Africa nation banned the technology in 2012 after Seralini’s study, but some scientists in the country have been pushing for lifting of the ban. The scholars argue that science has proved that GMOs are safe and can help fight hunger. They have argued that Kenya is lagging behind in adoption of the technology in the continent where only Egypt, South Africa and Burkina Faso have opened their doors to GMOs. “Kenya is ready for technology. I think the ban was ill advised and lifting it is a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Francis Nang’ayo, a scientist who is the chairman of the regulatory affairs within African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF). “We have the policies, research and a regulatory authority.” According to Nang’ayo, Kenya has been researching GMOs for several years and the research has come up with GMO products that are safe the country. “Keeping the ban is like going one step forward and then another backward. I think we are better than many other countries,” he said. Nang’ayo said it was wrong to demonize GMOs and blame the technology for everything, even cancer. “Cancer is a medical condition that needs to be addressed as such,” said the scientist. Yet Maina expressed concern that some scientists are unfairly misinforming the public. For example, some have been campaigning that Bt. Maize variety, which is intended for environmental and commercialization, is dead safe. “Available science seems to point to the contrary,” said Maina. Patents and Multinationals: Controlling the Global Food Chain? Collins Ochieng, director, Community Rehabilitation and Environmental Protection Programme (CREPP), said since some scientists are raising doubts, so Kenya should adopt a cautious approach to GMOs. “I think there are too many grey areas and it would be very risky for us (Kenya) to adopt the technology at the moment,” said Ochieng. Some of concerns are that patented seeds, whose rights are held by multinational companies will prohibit re-use of the next generation seeds and negatively affect the smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers have successfully fed Kenya using open pollinated varieties (OPVs), but patented seeds pose a threat because of cross pollination between the two types, Maina said. “The seeds are produced for the benefit of multinationals whose main agenda is profit,” said Maina “They will become very expensive together with the use of chemicals that are used to ensure GMO seeds produce optimally,” she added. The loss for the smallholder farmer will be unimaginable, warned Ochieng. Farmers have been growing traditional seed varieties, but with the GMOs they will not only lose these through transfer of genes, but also find the new seeds unaffordable due to royalties, according to the experts. “I think some forces want to control the global food chain through the GMOs,” said Ochieng. But Nang’ayo said research has showed that those who stand to gain from the GMO seeds are small scale farmers. “Those who are growing Bt cotton in Burkina Faso are small scale farmers. They are also growing it in South Africa,” he said Attempts to get comments from multinational seed companies in Kenya were unsuccessful. An official at Monsanto, global agricultural company said the people who could comment on the subject were not available. Calls to Syngenta, another global seed company with offices in Kenya went unanswered. For the market, Kenya has developed labelling regulations through the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to enable consumers choose between GMOs and organically grown foods. The code, KS 2224 on labelling, was recently revised to align it with the Biosafety Act and there is also a standard on surveillance. However, the main challenge has been in the enforcement of the labelling standard. “GM foods keep circulating in the market without labels as per the standard and labelling regulation, for example the aromat case (a spice product) and several breakfast cereals brands,” said Maina. At the same time KBioC tests in 2007-2008 found evidence of GMO maize seed in Eldoret area in the Rift Valley, according to the activist. Some imported soya-based products like sausages and baby food were also found to contain GMOs. Maize, canola, sugar beet, soya and cotton are some of GMO products in the market, but none is commercialised in Kenya. “The government must ensure the labelling is effective, so that consumers can make their choice,” said Sidi Otieno David, a former president of Bunge la Mwananchi, a social advocacy group involved in GMO issues. “I can’t say we don’t need GMO foods, but the government has an obligation to show what is and what is not GMO.” Maina said it is unlikely any local brands will be driven out of the market, since in Kenya and globally, people are resisting GMOs and moving towards consuming organic and natural foods. For Ochieng, traditional vegetables sold in the open markets and supermarkets will be the first to disappear. Image Credits: Fredrick Nzwili Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Fredrick Nzwili may be reached at email@example.com."Kenya Considers Lifting Ban On GMOs; Seed Patents In Debate" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.