What are GMOS?
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), are crops developed with genetic engineering, a more precise method of plant breeding. The Kenya Biosafety Act (2009) defines ‘genetically modified organism’ as “an organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology techniques”.
Are there GMOs in Kenya?
Yes. GMOs are imported in Kenya for humanitarian assistance and relief supplies. These include maize and soya. The government allowed importation of duty free maize with possible traces of GMO (99.1% GMO free) into Kenya from April – July 2017 when there was maize shortage in the country.
There are GMOs undergoing research in laboratories and confined field trials such as Maize, Cotton, Cassava, Sweet potato and Sorghum. Read more at http://ke.biosafetyclearinghouse.net/approvedgmo.shtml
Who regulates GMOs in Kenya?
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) was established by the Biosafety Act No. 2 of 2009 to exercise general supervision and control over the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
How, why and when were GMOs banned in Kenya?
GMO imports and products were banned in Kenya in November 2012 by the minister for public health Beth Mugo. Minister Mugo recommended an immediate ban on GM imports and products in Kenya citing the discredited Seralini study released by a French university in September 2012 that linked cancer in rats to the consumption of GM foods. The Ministry of Public Health did not consult the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) about the proposal or ban. This action usurped Kenya’s agricultural biotechnology law, regulations and institutional authorities mandated to address the safety of GM products. The NBA is mandated to “exercise general supervision and control over the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organism with a view to ensure safety of human health and provision of adequate protection of the environment. In July 2013 parliament declared the GMO ban as illegal and asked the government to apologise for misleading the public.
Are there efforts to lift the ban?
Biotechnology professionals and organizations have been advocating for lifting of the ban for many years.
In August 2015, the deputy president William Ruto promised that the ban would be lifted. Ruto said lack of public awareness has caused fear of biotechnology. “We should be able to tell the public that anything genetically modified is not harmful. Science and technology is what will take us to the next level,” he said.
In October 2016 Health cabinet secretary Cleopa Mailu rejected a plan to carry out National Performance Trial (NPT) on genetically modified Bt Maize (Mon 810) citing the 2012 cabinet directive to ban importation and placing in the market of GMOs.
In November 2016, The National Assembly Committee of Agriculture reinforced the ban that has been in place since 2012 despite protests by GMOs advocates. "The committee noted that no GM product has so far been tested for safety by biosafety authority. The present Biosafety Act passed by Parliament in 2009 has no specific provisions for testing for safety," the report says. "The ban should not be lifted because GM products must pass a preliminary independently verified study which covers the acute and sub-acute phase of testing for human consumption."
Are GMOs harmful to human and animals’ health?
No. GMOs are thoroughly tested for many years by different regulatory bodies to ensure they are as safe as similar conventional plants. There has never been any reported case of harm caused to humans by GMOs for over 20 years that GMOs have been in the market.
Are GMOs harmful to the environment?
No. GMOs are beneficial to the environment through reduced tillage practice, reducing insecticide use and promoting use of environmental friendly herbicides. GMOs eliminate the need for more land to cultivate due to increase of yields on the available land.
How are GMOs made?
GMOs are made through Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology. Plant breeders take a desirable trait found in nature, like disease resistance, and transfer it from one organism to the plant they want to improve, or make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing. Genetic engineering differs from other plant-breeding techniques by enabling specific, predictable changes to be made to the plant. The improved plant is then extensively tested, and researchers look for differences between the GMO plant and its conventional counterpart to ensure they are safe for people, animals, and the environment.
What is the difference between GMOs and conventional crops?
GMOs are created to achieve a specific desired trait, such as tolerance to drought conditions, disease resistance, insect resistance or enhanced nutritional content. Conventional crops are developed through traditional breeding methods. However, GMOs are nutritionally the same as conventional crops.
Can GMO seeds be re-planted?
Yes. GMO seeds can be replanted after harvesting although their efficiency will reduce naturally.
Are GMO seeds more expensive compared to other hybrid seeds?
No. The seeds are sold at market rates. GMOs could be cheaper since they are more efficient and require less resources to produce.
Will the adoption of GMOs lead to loss of traditional crop varieties?
No. GMOs are just alternative crop varieties. They pose no threat to other varieties.
Wil the adoption of GMOs lead to loss of biodiversity?
No. GMOs do not lead to reduction of population of butterflies and honey bees as mentioned by some sceptics. Insecticidal protein used in GMOs is from a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringensis (Bt).
What are the myths Surrounding GMOs?
GMOs cause allergies. GMOs are harmful to the environment. GMOs are harmful to humans and animals’ health. GMOs cause cancer.
What are the benefits of GMOs?
Improved livelihoods through better crop yields
Better environment due to reduction in chemicals and pesticides usage
Crops which are resistant to stresses such as drought, salt, pests and diseases
What are the risks involved with GMOs?
GMOs are checked and passed for all risks to humans, animals and the environment before being released for commercialization. There are no plants that are strictly tested and controlled like GMOs.
Are GMO products labelled in Kenya?
The National Biosafety Authority has come up with a label for GMOs. The law requires GMOs to be labelled.
Do GMOs cause allergies?
No. GMOs are tested for allergies before they are allowed into the market. Should new evidence arise that a GMO causes allergy, it will be removed from the market immediately.
Will there be GMO in meat, milk and egg derived from livestock fed on GMOs?
No. GMOs have never been detected in food derived from animals fed on GMO crops. DNA is completely digested.
Will farmers be forced to grow GMOs?
No. GMO seeds should be available to all farmers who are willing to plant them.
Will GMOs contaminate organic foods?
No. There should be measures to prevent cross pollination between GMOs and organic or conventional plants.
Do GMOs cause death on bees and butterflies?
No. There is no evidence that GMOs cause death of bees and butterflies.
Do GMOs increase pesticides use?
No. GMOs reduce pesticide use.
How much GMO is grown in the world?
181 million hectares of GMOs were planted by 18 million farmers in the world in 2015
What is the biggest setback to GMO adoption in Kenya?
Anti-GMO politics and activism
Lack of public awareness on GMOs
Why are GMOs banned in most countries?
Only one country, Kenya, has a ban in place on GMO food imports. Every other country that has a regulatory system in place for GMOs allows GMOs to be imported for food and animal feed, including the European Union (EU), which has a thorough and comprehensive regulatory system for the assessment and approval of GMOs.
Have long term safety studies been conducted on GMOs?
Yes. GMO crops are repeatedly and extensively tested for consumer and environmental safety. Tests are conducted by government bodies, biotechnology experts and independent organizations. Major scientific bodies and regulatory agencies in the world have reviewed the research about GMOs and openly declared crop biotechnology and the foods currently available for sale to be safe.
Why Grow GMOs?
GMOs are created to achieve a desired trait, such as resistance to a pest or tolerance to drought conditions which cannot be achieved through traditional breeding. Other important traits in GMOs are herbicide tolerance, salt tolerance and nutritional enhancement. GMOs can also reduce food waste and improve manufacturing processes that use them.
What are the challenges in GMO adoption in Kenya?
Anti GMO activism
Political interference
Lack of public awareness on GMOs
Who owns GMOs?
Nobody. The technology is available for all to use.
Does use of GMOs lead to increase in herbicide use?
No. Herbicide tolerant GMOs allow farmers to use only benign herbicide to which they are tolerant. The herbicide kills most other weeds.
Have biotech professionals and companies responded well to critics’ concerns?
Questions about GMOs safety and use have been answered satisfactorily. However, it is not easy to convince sceptics.
Who are the biggest GMO producers in the world?
USA, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada