Kenyan law-makers have called on researchers to double their efforts in advancing what they called homegrown GM crops. The Members of Parliament (MPs) drawn from Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Cooperatives were speaking at a forum organized by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) and Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB-Kenya Chapter) on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.  The committee also explained recommendations of their report on GMOs that was tabled in parliament in December 2016.

Led by their chairman Hon. Mohammed Noor, the law-makers said that there is need to kick-start commercialization of Bt-cotton although the government needs to put in place biosafety measures to assure food and feed safety. “ It should not be misunderstood that the committee is opposed to GMOs, rather, we want to encourage our local scientists to develop these technologies to address our unique challenges such as aflatoxin contamination, drought and pests,” said Hon. Noor.

A host of other legislators called for stricter surveillance to ensure that the public does not consume unapproved GMO products in the market. “We want to be assured that the GMO products are safe before we can allow them in the Kenyan marker,” remarked Hon. Washiali, a member of the committee.  Dr. Willy Tonui, the Chief Executive Officer of NBA assured the law-makers that should GMOs be allowed in the Kenyan market, any products approved by the authority would be safe. “MPs as people’s representatives must have faith in the competence of NBA to assure Kenyan’s food safety even as we strive to adopt beneficial technologies in the country,” said Dr. Tonui. “Kenyans should hold me, in my capacity as NBA’s CEO , accountable for their biosafety when GM crops are allowed in the country.”

Hon. Washiali, MP Mumias East, Western Kenya, addressing participants during the meeting.
Hon. Washiali, MP Mumias East, Western Kenya, addressing participants during the meeting.

Dr. Margaret Karembu, ISAAA AfriCenter’s Director, informed legislators that GM crops have a long history of safe use in other countries. “GM technology has been safely utilized by over 18 million farmers around the world for over 20 years with no reported incident of threat to human health,” she said. “In any case, GM crops may be safer than their conventional counterparts due to the rigorous safety testing they go through before they can be commercialized,” remarked Dr. Karembu when legislators probed for safety evidence of the technology.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Mary Nyamongo, NBA Board Chairperson, urged participants to be guided by credible scientific evidence and existing laws when making decisions on GMOs. “We must allow ourselves to be guided by the Biosafety Act 2009, and the biotechnology policy in any decision that we make concerning GM technology,” she said.