GMO: Everything you need to know about lifting the ban

VIRCA Plus Products KALRO Mtwapa Hannington Obiero (right) shows some stakeholders a cassava plantation in a trial area at KALRO Mtwapa. Genetically modified cassava will be resistant to the crop threats Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Stick Disease. [Maureen Ongala, Standard]

After a 10-year battle between proponents and opponents of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, the government has finally lifted the ban on GM organisms (GMOs). In doing so, he agreed to the cultivation and importation of biotechnologically produced food crops and animal feed.

This is a huge success for individuals and organizations lobbying to lift the ban. At an agricultural biotechnology training workshop about two weeks ago, stakeholders from the Kenya Feed Producers Association (AKEFEMA) called for swift government intervention that would increase feed production and save livestock from starvation.

Kenya has an over-reliance on white maize, which is in short supply for use in both animal feed and human food production. The drought continues, threatening the lives of millions of Kenyans. Tens of thousands of livestock also perished.

The government allowed 26 companies to import 99.1 percent non-GM yellow corn in June 2022 after feed producers complained that they could not access non-GM yellow corn on the market. It was also difficult to find in the market. Animal feed continued to be scarce, GM imports were banned.

They hoped that the new government would give the green light to the importation and use of GM crops because they saw President William Ruto as a scientist who “gets it” and expected him to do what his predecessor(s) did not. And he did just that.

Professor Richard Oduor of Molecular and Cell Biology, who is currently the Director of Research Support and Dissemination at Kenyatta University, said Dr Ruto was a scientist who “expressed himself very positively towards this technology” and the ban would be lifted within a few years. before. And October 3, 2022. So today we’re going to break down all things GMO.

What is GMO?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an animal, plant or microbe whose genetic makeup has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Genes, which are made up of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that determines cell growth, division and development, can be changed.

In conventional breeding, the genes of two organisms mix to create an organism that has the characteristics of the two parent organisms. GMOs are produced more purposefully, where genes are inserted in the laboratory into the nucleus of the cells of organisms that need to be modified in order to transmit certain characteristics aimed at making the new organism “better” than the original.

The altered cell will grow and divide, resulting in the new cells taking on the specific functions contained in the inserted gene. The cells of all organisms in the regenerated plant contain that new gene.

Why the resistance to GMOs?

In September 2012, French molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini published a study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. “Long-term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and Roundup-resistant genetically modified corn.” The study caused widespread controversy and was eventually retracted on November 28, 2013 “due to strong criticism from the scientific community”.

The article claimed that rats fed Roundup-resistant GM corn for two years had a higher percentage of tumors and kidney and liver damage than normal controls. The author attributed these results to the endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup and the metabolic effects of transgenic consumption in GM corn.

Even so, the fear that genetically modified crops cause cancer persisted, with many scientists claiming that research, including “research is seriously flawed on methodological and ethical grounds.” Countries quickly banned GM crops, but some later lifted the ban.

How did Kenya react?

In November 2012, President Mwai Kibaki banned GM foods after Public Health Minister Beth Mugo raised safety concerns. The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has raised concerns about the potential cancer effects of consuming GM crops. Some experts say it’s a knee-jerk and emotional reaction. However, the ban lasted for about 10 years.

What are the authorities doing about GM crops in Kenya?

Meanwhile, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has approved a number of research projects (research) on bacterial wilt-resistant banana, insect-resistant pigeon pea, stress-resistant cassava, nematode-resistant and virus-resistant. yam, among others.

For limited-use trials, mostly at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization centres, the NBA has approved water-efficient/drought-tolerant transgenic maize in Kiboko, virus-resistant transgenic cassava in Alupe, and vitamin A-fortified cassava. Bio-fortified sorghum in Alupe, Kiboko and virus-resistant cassava in Mtwapa.

The Authority for Import and Transit has approved genetically modified products for import and cross-border movement through Kenya for humanitarian aid and relief supplies. These include: insect resistant/herbicide resistant corn soybean mix and insect resistant/herbicide resistant corn meal.

What does the country gain from removing GMO?

GMO crops are engineered to be resistant to pests, disease and/or drought. This eliminates nutritional deficiencies. Crops also grow faster and are made of higher quality. Professor Oduor says GMOs are not a silver bullet but a complementary measure to ensure better food safety.

“There is no non-GM insulin, but people use it without complaint. Many solutions to many conditions are beyond genetic modification,” he says.

How many countries in Africa grow GM crops?

According to Professor Oduor, there is no ban on the cultivation of GM crops in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Malawi, E-swatini and South Africa. Egypt backed off after being one of the first countries to opt for GMOs, while Burkina Faso abandoned Bt cotton farming due to shorter fiber lint and ginning machines that produce proportionately less lint from harvested bolls.

Why did the Kenyan government lift the ban?

According to the information sent from the Cabinet of Ministers, the decision was taken in accordance with the recommendation of the Working Group to Review Issues Related to Genetically Modified Foods and Food Safety and in accordance with the guidelines of the CBA on all relevant international agreements, including the Cartagena Protocol. About biosecurity (CPB).

“In accordance with the recommendation of the Working Group to Review Issues Related to Genetically Modified Foods and Food Safety, and in compliance with the guidelines of the National Biosafety Authority for all relevant international agreements, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), the Cabinet was discharged. its previous decision of November 8, 2012 prohibits the importation of food crops and animal feed produced through the open cultivation of genetically modified plants and biotechnology innovations; Lifting the ban on Genetically Modified Plants. According to the decision of the executive authority, the open cultivation and import of white (GMO) corn was allowed.

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