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APPROVAL & FOOD: Kenyan authorities allow importation of GM maize since three years



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   KENYA ?IMPORTED 3M BAGS OF GMO MAIZE?

SOURCE:  Daily Nation, Kenya

AUTHOR:  Ken Opala

URL:     http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Kenya+imported+3m+bags+of+GMO+maize/-/1056/1228664/-/1001js8z/-/

DATE:    31.08.2011

SUMMARY: "The South African Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry says Kenya authorised the import before the department could issue a commodity export permit. The department then issued export permits for 240,000 tonnes of genetically modified maize for use as a commodity (not for planting), director Peter Thabete told the South Africa parliamentary Committee on GMOs. [...] The African Centre for Biosafety says South Africa exported 300,000 tonnes of GM food to the region, of which 280,000 came to Kenya. It says Kenyans have been eating GM food for the past three years."

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KENYA ?IMPORTED 3M BAGS OF GMO MAIZE?

The South African Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry says Kenya authorised the import before the department could issue a commodity export permit.

The department then issued export permits for 240,000 tonnes of genetically modified maize for use as a commodity (not for planting), director Peter Thabete told the South Africa parliamentary Committee on GMOs.

The committee is equivalent to Kenya?s parliamentary Committee on Agriculture chaired by Naivasha MP Mututho.

The maize set off a controversy, whose fall-out may have led to staff changes at the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

The agency?s chief executive, Mr Joseph Koskey, was sent packing, a move he later blamed on his firmness against the importation of ?bad maize?.

Kenya, which is seeking to fill a shortage of four million bags to feed the nation, recently allowed GM imports.

One in every 10 Kenyans faces starvation but some politicians say they doubt the safety of the GM imports.

The country is currently experimenting in disease-resistant maize, cotton, cassava, cucumber, water melon and sweet potato.

Some of these experiments are in the hands of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

Even as leaders debate GM, in South Africa, 58 per cent of the maize seed sold there in 2009 was genetically modified, according to the Johannesburg-based African Centre for Biosafety.

About 2.1 million hectares are under GM crop in South Africa, which has a maize surplus of 13 million bags. A bag of maize sells for the equivalent of Sh1,000 in contrast to Kenya?s Sh3,500.

The African Centre for Biosafety says South Africa exported 300,000 tonnes of GM food to the region, of which 280,000 came to Kenya. It says Kenyans have been eating GM food for the past three years.

Other reports indicate Kenya?s food imports from South Africa was Sh5.5 billion in 2008, a bill that went up four-fold, to Sh23.6 billion last year.

GM medicine

Some of Kenya?s pharmaceutical products are manufactured from GMOs, such as insulin used to stem diabetes.

The SA government has a law that provides for mandatory labelling of goods containing GM components or ingredients, called the Consumer Protection Act.

To accommodate markets that prefer non-GM or conventional commodities, there are separate production, storage and shipping guidelines, says Mr Thabete.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   NGOS PLOT TO BLOCK NEW GMO LAWS

SOURCE:  Nairobi Star, Kenya

AUTHOR:  John Muchangi

URL:     http://www.nairobistar.com/lifestyle/128-lifestyle/37485-ngos-plot-to-block-new-gmo-laws

DATE:    24.08.2011

SUMMARY: "The fight over GMOs reached a defining moment last week after the government finally gazetted rules to allow the controversial foods into Kenya. The regulations have been on hold since President Kibaki assented to the Biosafety Act in 2009. Scientists pushing for acceptance of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Kenya have declared this a major victory. But the gazettement now opens a new battlefront, with activists and a group of opposing scientists plotting court actions to block the regulations. ?Fears by Kenyans are well founded,? says Prof Moni Wekesa, an expert in law, science and technology at Mount Kenya University. ?Those dealing in GMOs are driven by profits, we look at the risks,? he said at a recent public forum organised by the university."

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NGOS PLOT TO BLOCK NEW GMO LAWS

The fight over GMOs reached a defining moment last week after the government finally gazetted rules to allow the controversial foods into Kenya. The regulations have been on hold since President Kibaki assented to the Biosafety Act in 2009. Scientists pushing for acceptance of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Kenya have declared this a major victory.

But the gazettement now opens a new battlefront, with activists and a group of opposing scientists plotting court actions to block the regulations. ?Fears by Kenyans are well founded,? says Prof Moni Wekesa, an expert in law, science and technology at Mount Kenya University. ?Those dealing in GMOs are driven by profits, we look at the risks,? he said at a recent public forum organised by the university.

The new laws however impose stringent testing and evaluation procedures for GM products, and an importer will only get clearance at least three months after application. The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) will license for up-to ten years such importers provided their products have no negative effects on the environment, says the authority head, Dr Roy Mugiira. The regulations impose a fine of not less than Sh20 million or a jail term of 10 years, or both, on anyone found planting imported GM seed illegally.NBA, the body that will regulate all GMO activities, says Kenyans are now well covered and have nothing to fear.

But groups opposing GMOs say the debate has simply moved a notch higher. ?It?s not over yet,? says Anne Maina, coordinator of the Africa Biodiversity Network, a regional network of groups opposed to GMOs. Anne says they have not decided their next move but claims the standards fail to address some basic concerns they raised. ?Unfortunately, the regulations do not even specify how the labeling should be done,? she says. Scientists generally agree foods with GM traces should be labeled so people make informed choices.

In Kenya foods will only be labeled as genetically modified if they have GM traces exceeding five per cent.?The information must be factual, accurate and clearly intended to enlighten consumers; it must not mislead or deceive,? says Public Health minister Beth Mugo. About 40 to 50 countries around the world have mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods, including many European countries, Japan, Korea, and China. But until they agreed to do so last month, USA - the main source of genetic engineering technology - and Canada did not require GMOs to be labeled.

The ministry of public health however feels Kenya lacks adequate equipment and human resource to test toxicity and whether foods are GM. This means the country may rely on certification from source markets when allowing importation. Dr Stephen Runo, a biotechnology and molecular biologist at Kenyatta University, however finds this notion misleading. He says you only need a simple immunology test. ?The test is a simple process similar to the HIV test. This is something the NBA and Kephis ( Kenya Plant Inspectorate Service) can do,? says Runo. A normal HIV test produces reliable results within five minutes.

GM plants are usually modified in the lab to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. For example, according to leading geneticist Dr Njiru Nthakanio, one can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert it into a different plant. The new plant will be drought tolerant. ?Genes can also be transferred from animals and insects to plants. The best known example of this is the use of Bt ( Bacillus thuringiensis) genes in maize and other crops,? says Dr Njiru, also a biotechnology lecturer at Kenya Polytechnic University College.

Bt is a bacterium that kills insects such as the European corn borer. Bt maize is the most likely variety importers will bring to Kenya later this year once they are cleared by the NBA. Some scientists warn that there is not enough evidence, for instance, to show that Bt toxins are harmless once they accumulate in a human body. ?Some GM crops are toxic to weeds, what else can they kill?? asks Prof Jasper Imungi, a food scientist and former dean at faculty of agriculture in the University of Nairobi. ?There is also a possibility of development of super weeds which will be difficult to manage.?

According to geneticist Prof Marion Mutugi, Kenyans have every right to know the composition of the foods being imported. ?A tool like a panga has no moral value. You can use it to harvest a banana and you can use it to chop someone?s head. So like the panga, the moral value of biotechnology depends on its use,? she says.

Geneticists are the experts unlocking the last few secrets of life. They are the guys who are now developing GMOs. They specialise in medicine, agriculture and crime. Prof Mutugi, who lectures at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, argues that Kenyans deserve to know what genes have been inserted into the common maize that will be imported. ?Secondly, we need to know the manufacturers of this gene. This will help us determine the history of the company in respect to its adherence to GRPs (good research practices),? she says.

Prof Mutugi further says exporters should reveal the country of origin of the maize and where the technology is registered. Also important to know is whether people in those countries consume the maize.?This information will help us decide of whether this is a case of dumping,? she says. Farmers have also expressed fears of contamination of their indigenous varieties once GM foods are grown in Kenya. American GM seed producer Monsanto has severally sued farmers in US and Canada when traces of GM maize were found in their non-GM farms following cross pollination, and others for saving seeds for the next season.

Monsanto banned seed saving among farmers and required that clients buy new seed from the company every season. Local farmers and experts fear this will arise if GM maize is finally grown commercially in Kenya.Wekesa says nothing prevents companies from creating seed cartels in Kenya in future. ?Genetic engineering is a sin,? says Prof Imungi. ?It was added to the Catholic church?s list of seven cardinal sins in 2008,? he adds. The new-age sins, published after 1,500 years, include polluting, genetic engineering, being obscenely rich, drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia and causing social injustice.

They were published in L?Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. However, Dr Runo dismissed such reports as grossly unscientific. Runo pours vitriol on what he sees as misinformation by scientists, some of whom he sees as unqualified to talk about GMOs. ?There are ecologists and real scientists like me, who are telling you the truth,? he said.

Currently, GM foods have been embraced in the Americas and in many Asian countries but are strictly restricted in Europe and Africa. The crops were commercially grown in 29 countries last year, says Dr Margaret Karembu, Africa?s head of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an industry body. In Africa, they are grown in South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso.

Kenya and seven other African nations - Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana - are expected to start large-scale cultivation of GMOs by 2015. According to Dr Nthakanio, it is not possible to stop technology.He says: ?The challenge is how Kenya can embrace GMOs without endangering traditional crop varieties and how it can increase capacity to test any harmful traces in GM crops.?