GENET archive


POLICY & REGULATION: Kenya accused of ‘secrecy’ on GMO technology Bill

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: The East African, Kenya

AUTHOR: John Mbaria


DATE:   08.07.2007

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The process of preparing a Bill to regulate genetically modified technology in Kenya is shrouded in secrecy, a leading environmental Lawyer told The EastAfrican last week.

”There has been so much secrecy that most stakeholders do not even know where they should go to get a copy of the Bill,” said Maurice Makoloo.

He explained that, under Kenya’s environmental law, any proposed law or policy is supposed to be subjected to an environmental impact assessment, which would give all concerned parties a chance to interrogate its contents.

”But as for the Biosafety Bill, this has not been done? most researchers, lawyers and other stakeholders have been kept in the dark.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by representatives of Kenya’s small-scale farmers, faith-based organisations, NGOs and civil society groups who presented a memorandum to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Noah Wekesa, and Agricultural Minister Kipruto Arap Kirwa.

In the memorandum, the groups demanded the withdrawal of the Bill before it becomes an Order Paper for discussion by Members of Parliament. They also called for a national exercise of collecting views and the incorporation of the views into the Bill.

The EastAfrican has acquired a copy of the Bill, which — on the surface — appears harmless as it provides for the establishment of a National Biosafety Authority to regulate biotechnology in the country as contained in Section 5.

First published in 2005, the Bill is intended to ”facilitate responsible research” into genetically modified organisms and to ensure protection in transfer and use of GMOs. It also provides for the establishment of the National Biosafety Authority and the National Biosafety Committee, which will regulate all GM activities in the country.

”No person shall conduct any of the following activities without the written approval of the Authority,” it reads in part.

Dr Florence Wambugu, head of the African Harvest Biotech Foundation and a key pro-GM campaigner, says the Bill’s objectives ”are to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms.”

The EastAfrican has established that the new Bill is the culmination of a long-running boardroom initiative by key biotechnology bodies and national research institutes, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and giant biotechnology multinationals and their foundations.

These efforts are said to have begun in the early 2000s when it was felt that with the global expansion of research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Kenya needed a national policy and law to outline the direction of such research and to ensure safety of the public. The scheme also involved taking some MPs on a tour to Kenya’s coast to ”sensitise” them to biotechnology issues.

Seemingly, researchers have not been keen to wait for the Bill to become law before openly experimenting on the GM crops. For instance, with facilitation from US-based biotechnology multinational Monsanto and the Syngenta Foundation (associated with the Swiss-based biotechnology giant, Syngenta) researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) had been experimenting on GM maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and cotton.

At the same time, the National Biosafety Committee allowed open trials of genetically modified cotton on farmers’ fields in Mwea, Eastern Kenya, last month.

Interestingly, Monsanto offered the new cotton variety, which it hailed as having the ability to save farmers up to 32 per cent in production costs, as it does not require pesticides.

The cotton variety is said to be loaded with an organism termed Bacillus thurigiensis that is reputed to have in-built poisons that kill cotton pests (especially African bollworm).

But environmentalists now fear that the introduction of these toxins in areas that have not developed a natural ability to destroy them, could result in the decimation of beneficial plants and insects besides other hazards.

Observers are wondering why the concerned Kenyan authorities and individual scientists seem to be in such a hurry to introduce GMOs in the country. Some Kenyan MPs seem to have also bought into the pro-GMO lobby as they have in the past praised the benefits that genetically modified foods can bring to the country. Media reports published two years ago about the MPs’ workshops at the Whitesands Hotel in Mombasa showed most were receptive to biotechnology, which they believed could uplift economic development in the country, and were also supportive of the Biosafety Bill.

Analysts have now taken issue with some of the Bill’s provisions. On June 12 this year, Patricia Mbote, a professor of law at the International Environmental Law Research Centre in Nairobi, wrote in a newspaper article that though the Bill is fairly uncontroversial, it does not deal with the contentious issue of labelling. ”But Kenya’s main market for agricultural exports is Europe, where labelling requirements are strict and consumers are generally more sceptical of GMOs.”

She felt that lack of provisions on labelling will jeopardise this valuable trade besides influencing parliamentary debate. Her sentiments were echoed last week by the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KESSFF), which was categorical that farmers in the country stand to lose them European market once their products are associated with genetic modification.

”Consumers in the international markets are now after organically produced foods, but here we are being pressurised to raise GM crops... What will happen to the market for our products is anybody’s guess,” said the treasurer of KESSFF Justus Lavi.

”Our fear is that we will end up losing our traditional seed varieties and get hooked to expensive varieties from Monsanto and other international biotechnology companies,” said Gerald Ngatia, a member of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition.

He added that once this happens, Kenyan farmers will not only be forced to buy the seeds, but also chemicals and especially pesticides emanating from these companies to ensure the survival of their crops.

Another contentious issue is the fact that the Bill does not address food coming into Kenya as aid. In the past, there have been claims that international agencies that distribute food relief in Kenya during periods of famine and other natural calamities could have triggered off the entry of GM products. For instance, there has been a lingering suspicion that food aid, especially maize, brought into the country by USAid and such bodies as the World Food Programme might be from genetically modified stocks.

Dr Wambugu conceded that food relief from the US is genetically modified. This feeling is strengthened by the fact that in the US, between 50 and 70 per cent of the maize grown is genetically modified. ”There is also a policy in the two organisations not to discriminate between GM and non-GM foods when offering them as relief,” said Dr Daniel Maingi of ANAW Biowatch, an anti-GMO organisation based in Nairobi.

”For the draft Bill to proceed, the debate needs to move beyond scientists and policymakers to encompass open public discussions with all stakeholders, including farmer groups,” wrote Prof Mbote.

The Kenyan public, the anti-Bill lobby says, need to first be educated to understand what biotechnology is all about as well as the potential implications of consuming genetic modified foods. This is because evidence collected during past surveys suggests most Kenyans do not have any idea of what the two terms — biotechnology and genetic modification — entail.

”It is very important for decision makers, leaders, farmers, pastoralists, fisher folk, traders and consumers to distinguish the difference between the two terms and their implications before allowing the Bill to be discussed in parliament,” says a statement released last week to the media by the Kenya Biosafety Coalition.

On her part, Prof Mbote calls for ”unbiased information” to be provided on the benefits as well as risks of GMOs so that demand for GM regulations will be based on knowledge rather than on speculation or vested interests.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK

AUTHOR: Patricia Kameri-Mbote


DATE:   12.06.2007

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Patricia Kameri-Mbote is a professor of law at the International Environmental Law Research Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenya needs public support to force its hand on the benefits and risks of growing genetically modified crops, argues Patricia Kameri-Mbote.

Kenya’s acceptance or rejection of the 2005 Biosafety Bill will affect national and regional research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

But unless there is widespread demand and strong official backing for national biosafety regulations, we may be waiting a long time yet before the bill becomes law.

Kenya is the most advanced country in East Africa in terms of GMO research, with crops engineered to be insect or virus-resistant already in the pipeline.

Any biosafety law eventually adopted in Kenya should also help neighbouring countries optimise their own biotechnological practices. Indeed, many are relying on a ’wait and see’ approach to biosafety regulation — looking to Kenya to take the first steps.

But the question still remains as to whether the bill will ever become law. Kenya’s parliament has a poor legislative record — attempts made to legislate GMOs in Kenya as long ago as 1999 — have been to no avail.


Risking GM crop trials

It has long been argued that Kenya’s investment in genetic modification (GM) technology should be accompanied by a national policy to outline key directions for research and monitor biosafety.

As host to the meeting at which the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was opened for signature in 2000, Kenya was the first country to sign up. Ratification followed in 2003, and the Biosafety Bill was drafted in 2005 to bring Kenya’s law and practice in line with the protocol.

Even though the bill has yet to be discussed in parliament, GMO research and development has been ongoing in Kenya since 1998. Work on transgenic maize, sweet potato, cassava, cotton and rinderpest vaccine continues.

Opening discussion of the 2005 Biosafety Bill in parliament could pose a threat to any projects that fell short of legal requirements.

In August 2005, the Kenyan agriculture secretary ordered the destruction of all Bt maize crops undergoing field trials because their environmental impact had not been fully assessed. He highlighted a key concern in declaring that ”There is an emerging tendency by our scientists of yielding to pressure from international collaborators pushing to secure approvals for their research projects faster, side-stepping procedures.”

>From the GM-research community’s perspective then, working under a draft bill may actually be preferable to working with one that has arrived in parliament, when discussion could raise issues that might halt their work.

But unless a law is put in place, suspicion of GM work will continue, despite the need to increase productivity and deal with crop pests. Commercialising GMOs in the absence of a legal framework will also affect trade with key partners such as the European Union.


Draft bill limitations

The draft bill’s content is fairly uncontroversial, dealing only with applications for the contained use, field trials, import and export, and placement of GMOs on the market.

But it fails to address some key issues. For instance, it does not deal with labelling — maybe because GMOs are not yet commercialised.

But Kenya’s main market for agricultural exports is Europe, where labelling requirements are strict and consumers are generally more sceptical of GMOs. Disregarding the need for a labelling regime will jeopardise this valuable trade and influence parliamentary debate.

Significantly, the bill does not cover food aid — a grave omission given that Kenya receives food aid from countries producing GM crops.

The provision in the bill on liability for any damage arising from GMOs is vague, at best, and out of line with Kenya’s position in the Africa group in the Biosafety Protocol negotiations.

Whereas previous drafts proposed that an entity producing GMOs would be liable in cases where damage was established, irrespective of whether the entity was at fault, the Biosafety Bill of 2005 avoids this issue by stating that ”liability and redress for any damage that occurs as a result of activities subject to this Act shall be addressed by applicable laws”.


Public discussion

One area the bill does try to address is the need for public support. It establishes a National Biosafety Authority to administer the law and promote public awareness and education regarding GM activities.

But it does not recognise public participation as a basic right, which is likely to rankle with civil societies concerned about the introduction of GMOs into the country without adequate consultation and legislation.

Public support is essential for GM crops to be successfully adopted in Kenya. But it is by no means guaranteed — in 2004, as an earlier version of the bill was awaiting debate in parliament, a private member’s bill seeking to ban the introduction of GMOs in Kenya was brought before the same parliament.

For the draft bill to proceed, the debate needs to move beyond scientists and policymakers to encompass open public discussions with all stakeholders, including farmer groups. Unbiased information must be provided on the benefits as well as risks of GMOs. This way, the demand for the regulations will be based on knowledge rather than on speculation or vested interests.



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